Editors' note: The screen size was incorrectly reported in our original review but has now been updated.
The T-Mobile Shadow was first announced at CES 2009 as the replacement to the original Shadow, boasting a fresher look and some new features, such as a faster processor and UMA support. The Windows Mobile smartphone is now available through T-Mobile for $149.99 with a two-year contract, but we can't help but feel a bit disappointed. There are some nice design tweaks, but it's the negative elements, such as the shoddy dialpad, that leave a more lasting impression. Also, while we appreciate the additional features--especially the UMA support for making calls over a Wi-Fi network--we would have liked to see more, such as 3G support, integrated GPS, or a better camera. In short, the Shadow doesn't bring any real innovation over its predecessor and we don't think there's a compelling reason for current Shadow owners to upgrade. That said, the T-Mobile Shadow has a place and purpose. It's a good fit for T-Mobile customers who are ready to make the jump from regular cell phones to their first smartphones. It includes all the extra functionality of a smartphone, but offers a easy-to-use interface and still feels like a regular cell phone, making it a nice transition device.
From afar, the T-Mobile Shadow looks like a hipper, more modern version of the original Shadow. By the numbers, it's the same size as its predecessor at 4 inches tall by 2 inches wide by 0.6 inch deep and 5.3 ounces, but the smartphone now sports curved edges, a shinier face, and a new paint job that gives it a fresh look. We received the white and mint version (it's also available in black and burgundy) and found it quite attractive, especially the back where it slowly transforms from white to mint.
However, that's about where the attraction ends. Up close and in the hand, the T-Mobile Shadow looks a bit like a toy, and we didn't really see any vast improvements or benefits over its predecessor. In fact, we almost favor the original model's design. For one thing, the new Shadow's 2.6-inch QVGA display doesn't look all that sharp or bright, showing just 64,000 colors at a 320x240 pixel resolution.
We do like the user interface for its cool animated effect and how it organizes the phone's applications into eight main categories, all of which are accessible right from the Today screen. For example, all your messages--text, multimedia, Outlook, personal, and so forth--are grouped into one section from where you can then scroll through each sub-section of messages. It just makes the Windows Mobile OS easier to use and understand, especially for first-timers.
To help you navigate the phone, there are a number of controls and shortcuts below the screen, including two soft keys, Talk and End buttons, a Home page shortcut, and back button, and a navigation wheel. The latter is similar to the one found on the first Shadow in that you can spin the wheel clockwise or counterclockwise to help you scroll through lists, photos, e-mails, and such. You can also use it like a traditional directional keypad and press up, down, left, and right. That said, the toggle felt a bit plasticky and cheap and we would have liked a bit more feedback when turning the wheel, since it feels pretty loose.
The Shadow offers the same slider design as the first Shadow. To access the SureType 20-button keypad, just slide the screen up. It requires a good push, but the sliding mechanism feels strong and the screen securely locks into place. What greets you when you finally open the phone, however, is a bit disappointing. Here's an example of what we mean.
Two co-workers happened to be around when the smartphone arrived (one who was actually considering purchasing the T-Mobile Shadow for herself) and as soon as I pushed up the screen, they both immediately went off about how worn down and ugly the keypad looked--that's never a good sign. But they're right. While the buttons are large and easy to press, the backlighting is really uneven, dim, and only illuminates about five buttons. It just looks bad. It's even more disappointing considering that HTC made the Shadow, and the company has quite a reputation for making some high-quality devices. It completely falls under the "What were they thinking?" category.
On the left side, you'll find a volume rocker and a microSD expansion slot, and a user-programmable shortcut key and a camera activation/capture button on the right side. The power button is located on top and there's a proprietary power/headset connector on the bottom. Obviously, we're not happy with the fact that there's no 3.5mm headphone jack, but it's even worse that it is not a standard mini USB port, so be sure to hang on to the included accessories. Last but not least, you'll find the camera located on the back.
The T-Mobile Shadow comes packaged with a travel charger, a USB cable, a wired headset, an audio adapter, a carrying case, a software CD, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check our cell phones accessories, ringtones, and help page.
The T-Mobile Shadow brings a couple of new features to the table. To start, the Shadow now ships with Windows Mobile 6.1 Standard Edition out of the box. The update doesn't bring any major changes to the operating system, but it does include a handful of useful enhancements, such as threaded text messaging, more robust Windows Live capabilities, and pan in/out capabilities in Internet Explorer Mobile.