The Good: High-quality, multifeature smartphone with excellent battery life
The Bad: Call quality varies
The Bottom Line: A great device for providing wireless multimedia and Web access
The age of the mobile Web may finally be dawning. New data from research firm comScore (SCOR) shows that the number of U.S. consumers using wireless phones to gain access to news and information from the Internet climbed to 22.4 million in January, more than doubling from a year earlier.
And while iPhone maker Apple (AAPL) may deserve much of the credit for stepped-up wireless Web use, other mobile-phone companies, including Research In Motion (RIMM), are eager for a share of the growing market.
Ditto for T-Mobile USA, the U.S. wireless service provider owned by Deutsche Telekom (DT). Case in point: Shadow, a multimedia smart phone released by T-Mobile and HTC more than a year ago. The newest version of the Shadow was released in January and I recently took it out for a spin for several days.
Easy to Use
The device packs just about everything you could wish for in a multimedia smartphone, not only holding its own against the iPhone in many areas but even outdoing Apple's music-playing mobile handset in some key ways.
First, a rundown of the features shoved into the Shadow. You'll be able to use the device to access e-mail on Microsoft's (MSFT) Outlook, capture crisp videos and photos, listen to music and browse the Web via T-Mobile USA's cellular and Wi-Fi networks. Based on Microsoft's Windows Mobile software, the device is easy to use. Still, you'll at least need to skim the manual to learn how to tap the Shadow's full potential and pick up on nifty tricks like twirling the scroll wheel to zoom in and out of photos.
Lookswise, the Shadow resembles the iPhone, though it doesn't have a touchscreen, and it's slightly thicker at 0.6 in.—mainly due to its slide-out 20-key Qwerty keyboard, a feature the iPhone lacks. You can store photos and videos on memory cards, using a microSD conveniently located on the side; many smartphones have the slot hidden behind the battery, making it more difficult to swap out memory cards frequently.
Call Sound Quality is Wanting
The Shadow will set you back $150 with a two-year contract, less than $199 for the comparable iPhone 3G with 8 gigabytes of storage from AT&T Mobility (T) and $199 for RIM's BlackBerry Curve 8900, sold through T-Mobile. The Shadow comes with a headset, which can be used for music or hands-free conversations.
The only beef I have with this phone is call sound quality, which wasn't always crystal clear—even in areas where T-Mobile's signal is strong. Sometimes voices came in with a slight hissing noise in the background. Other times there were brief interruptions in the conversation. But the sound quality issues weren't big enough to hinder me from thoroughly enjoying this phone.
Unlike the prior model, this Shadow offers Wi-Fi connectivity, so you can browse the Web at high speeds at T-Mobile hotspots and at home. You can also use the phone as a modem by hooking it up to a computer's USB port.
Good Battery Life
The mix of applications that come with the device will appeal to a professional on the go and a tweener who has with a busy mobile social life—and a host of groups in between. It offers basic PowerPoint and Excel. I used the Shadow to check my Hotmail e-mail account and read news on MSN, shoot video and photos, and to listen to music. With a headset on, music sound quality was excellent. And perhaps best of all, the Shadow has one of the best battery lives among smartphones I've tested. It offers up to eight hours of talk time or up to eight hours of playing media files.
For anyone who wants a strong alternative to the iPhone or BlackBerry, the T-Mobile Shadow is well worth considering.
Kharif is a senior writer for BusinessWeek.com in Portland, Ore.