Sprint's Shift Won't Move Many Phone Buyers

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Who could have guessed that the dull task of keeping small firms connected would be the hot new darling of the cell phone biz?

But behold, the once and future king of business smartphones, the BlackBerry ( RIMM) line of devices, now faces stiff competition from such manufacturers as Motorola ( MOT), Samsung and HTC. Cell carriers such as Verizon ( VZ), AT&T ( T) and T-Mobile have been gobbling up biz-oriented smartphones from these producers of late. These units, including the Motorola Droid Pro, are usually smaller than their glamorous, all-touch smartphone cousins such as the Droid X. But they have traditional qwerty keyboards, usually are of a more durable design and support for-business tools such as company email.

Sprint ( S) entered this market recently with the HTC EVO Shift 4G ($150, with two-year plan), a riff on the company's all-touch, fast and 4G-enabled HTC EVO. I have been giving this unit the small-biz once-over. My verdict? While the Shift is solid, and can fill a role in a small business, several dings in design and execution mar the phone's overall value.

What you get
The Shift is a decent, if imperfect, alternative for business types who want to stay connected on the road.

The Shift is mostly what uber-phones such as the HTC EVO or the Samsung Epic are not. It is blissfully less massive than the EVO -- a reasonable 5 inches diagonal by my measure. So unlike the EVO it is not a pocket or bag dominator. And the business-ready slide-out qwerty keyboard gives those of us who have real work to do the means to do it.

I also liked the tough rubberized exterior, which spares us all the nonsense of add-on smartphone protective cases. And I appreciated the preinstalled business apps such as Adobe Reader and Quickoffice, along with neat downloadable apps from the Android Market such as Qik, an interesting video tool.

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