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HTC ChaCha Review

What Mobile
July 27, 2011

What’s in a name? HTC’s two phones with Facebook access have dance-related monikers. There’s the Salsa and this one, the ChaCha (you can just call it your Facebook phone)

Like the Salsa, the HTC ChaCha has a special key badged with the Facebook logo. It sits beneath a Qwerty keyboard on this Android-powered phone. HTC is famous for the chin it puts on the bottom of some of its phones and here it has the effect of making it look a bit like a BlackBerry that’s been creased in the middle. It still looks like a classy handset, with a brushed metal stripe across the back, around the screen and behind the keyboard. It sticks closely to HTC’s clear design language: even if there weren’t a chin on it you could put it alongside HTC’s Flyer tablet and see they are clearly related.

It’s a touchscreen, so a bit like the upcoming BlackBerry Bold 9900. The screen isn’t huge (2.6ins) and much smaller than most Android handsets. At times it can look cramped and if you pinch your fingers together it shows thumbnails of each home screen. You can have up to seven of these and they’re a tight fit on screen together.

Still, that’s the cost of putting a Qwerty keypad on a phone. The keys, by the way, are comfortable and well-spaced so that typing text messages is easy and relatively quick. Not as spectacularly good as BlackBerry’s keyboards but highly usable. Like BlackBerry, there’s no @ symbol in a lower-case position which seems an oversight as typing email addresses is hard to avoid. Worse, it doesn’t have the handy shortcut that BlackBerrys have where you can touch the spacebar and an @ will be inserted. Beyond that, though, it’s a great keyboard that’s a pleasure to use.

Making Sense

The ChaCha uses the latest Android software, version 2.3.3 aka Gingerbread. But of course this is an HTC handset, so the most important part of the Android experience is HTC Sense which transforms the chaotic, scrappy Android into a gorgeous, stylish beast, masking the shortcomings of the original beautifully.

Sadly, it doesn’t have the latest 3.0 version of this comprehensive Android overlay, but it still looks great, with cuter icons, menus and software styling than vanilla Android or the overlaid systems from other Android handset makers.

One highlight is the lock screen. On most smartphones, you wake the phone from standby by tapping a button followed by an unlock tap or swipe. Here the lock screen shows four icons: Phone, Mail, Camera and Messages. Drag one of the icons into a ring at the base of the screen and it launches the appropriate application. You can personalise the phone by replacing any of those four icons as you please. It’s a neat, effective way of making your phone more personal and is just one of many delights HTC Sense offers, like the facility to decline a phone call with a text message. Handy if you’re in a meeting, say. The default reply text says “I am busy right now. I will call you later.” But you can personalise this, too.

Face the facts

Anyway, back to the Facebook button. Touch it and you’re taken straight to a screen where you can post your latest status update. If you’re looking at a photo onscreen when you press the button, it knows to offer to upload the image to Facebook for you. You can also share what track you’re listening to, or the web page you’re enjoying. And a long press takes you to Facebook Places to upload your location.

It’s a neat system that’s both easy and accessible, though the fact that the widget for Facebook is front and centre on the home screen slightly lessens the impact. And this is a special widget which includes date and time as well.

One tap on the widget and the Facebook app becomes full-screen with access to all Facebook has to offer. The small display, made smaller by the need to include bars at the top and side, means not much content can appear at any one time. So you’ll spend a lot of time scrolling.

Dance moves

The ChaCha is a nimble and fun phone beyond its Facebook capabilities. The keyboard makes it easy to type emails and texts as well as status updates. The camera is a decent, 5-megapixel resolution model with flash. The images are easily good enough for uploading to Facebook, of course, but work well beyond that, too. Although, frankly, Facebook is often the easiest way to show friends your favourite shots.

And although there’s no 1GHz chip here, the 800MHz processor manages all its tasks well, without leaving you waiting. The music player is decent, if not exceptional. And the browser is efficient and makes the most of the limited screen size. Call quality is good – HTC knows where to position microphone and antenna to make the most of the available signal – and battery life is reasonable.

One might have hoped for something outstanding given the small display the device has to power, but it’ll get you through a full day with ease.

Verdict

In terms of Qwerty phones, it’s hard to beat BlackBerry for its keyboard and businesslike efficiency. The ChaCha comes close, but it’s aimed at a different market, adding the funkiness of Android, the class of HTC Sense and above all the convenience of a Facebook button. If you like watching video on your smartphone or want an expansive screen for browsing, look elsewhere. But for keen status updaters who’ll enjoy the easy-to-use keyboard and special access button, this is hard to beat. And unlike a BlackBerry, this has hundreds of thousands of compatible apps.

Ratings (Out of 5)

Performance: 5
Features: 4
Usability: 5

OVERALL: 4

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