At a Glance
Second-generation T-Mobile Shadow adds some features and cosmetic tweaks, but is expensive for what it offers.
The T-Mobile Shadow ($150 with two-year T-Mobile contract) gets a minor update over the first-generation handset released more than a year ago. The Shadow's name stays the same, but it has a handful of upgrades and new colors (drab sage green gives way to white mint and black burgundy). Sadly, while the improvements (such as support for T-Mobile Unlimited HotSpot Calling) are welcome, call quality remains a mixed bag.
Instead of a two-tone front face, the top half of this slider handset now comes in glossy piano black. Adjacent keys to the left and right of the handy jog dial (now with a button, as opposed to a more joystick-like center control)--for home and talk, and back and end--are now part of the same button. Previously, these were separate, distinct buttons. The buttons are convenient to press, and the jog dial moves with silky-smooth ease.
I still love the design of the jog dial: This navigation element, coupled with the Shadow's unique cross-bar adaptation of Windows Mobile 6.1, remains this handset's greatest selling point.
Unfortunately, in my hands-on tests in the San Francisco Bay Area, I still experienced a distinct and audible hissing noise on my end during calls. Call recipients, on the other hand, reported that the audio quality sounded great. And the hissing noise is definitely less than what I recall with the original T-Mobile Shadow I reviewed over a year ago. Voices sounded clear and did not have a tinny quality--another defect I experienced with the original model.
Other design points of this second-gen phone remain similar: Volume controls on the top left of the unit, microSD Card slot on the lower left, dedicated camera shutter button on the lower right. A custom key is at the upper right. The phone sports a slider design and a 20-button keypad (with shared character keys and predictive text for typing, like Research in Motion's design for the BlackBerry Pearl) hidden beneath the 2.2-inch QVGA (320-by-240-pixel) display. I found that typing on the keypad took some practice, even with the device's predictive-text technology; I wouldn't recommend this keypad for composing long messages.
This model also has a quad-band GSM radio (850/900/1800/1900-MHz), and a 2.0-megapixel camera (just like its predecessor). Even though this iteration's processor is supposed to be better than the first Shadow's, it still felt a bit slow navigating among different screens and functions (perhaps a byproduct of the Windows Mobile operating system as well). And the camera remains slow to use. But I like how it now lets you save to T-Mobile's Web-accessible My Album, at http://www.t-mobilepictures.com/; this is a handy feature that frees your photos from the confines of your handset.
The custom menu overlay for this Windows Mobile 6.1 smart phone (manufactured by HTC for T-Mobile) still looks nothing like you'd expect with Windows Mobile. Rather, it's a vast and fun improvement over WinMo. The only tip-off that this is indeed a Windows Mobile phone is the familiar Start icon, which resides in the lower-left corner. The menu lists the options along the left; use the jog wheel (which also has buttons for left/right and up/down navigation) to move through these options, and then navigate the choices by spinning the jog wheel or pressing the wheel left or right to cycle through them. The menu choices have been tweaked since the first Shadow: Now, the choices are MyFaves, Text Messaging, Message Center (e-mail, text messages, audio messages, and picture messages), Appointments, Music, Internet, Photos, and Settings.
A hardware note: Like other HTC-manufactured phones, this model lacks a dedicated headphone jack; this forces you to use the USB port and the cable headphones that come with the unit.
The software has minor enhancements to the photo album, and adds threaded discussions for text messaging and a copy/paste function, which was missing from the previous version. The new Shadow also is supposed to have a larger battery for improved talk time performance (we could not test the phone's talk-time battery life in time for this article's initial posting, but we will update this review when we have the results--as well as the PCW Rating for this phone).
The most notable new feature: support for T-Mobile Unlimited HotSpot Calling service via the phone's built-in Wi-Fi service and integrated UMA technology.
My first impression of the T-Mobile Shadow is, overall, identical to my impression of the initial model. The Shadow remains a decent tweener smart phone with a pretty face. Call quality isn't the best I've heard, but it's adequate. However, at $150 with a two-year contract, its price strikes me as too high for what this phone offers.
--Melissa J. Perenson