Not content with sucking up the touch screen smart phone market with its wide and varied range of Android handsets, HTC now looks like it intends to dig a scoop or two out of BlackBerry’s market share with the ChaCha, which augments its touch screen with a BB-style QWERTY keyboard.
Design and build
The ChaCha is neatly slim and fairly light too at 114x65x11m and 124g, with a curve in the middle that not only lends a classy look to the design, but also helps it to sit more comfortably in the palm of your hand.
Style-wise it manages to combine cool efficiency with a degree of warmth, courtesy of the brushed aluminium casing with its flashes of white rubberised plastic.
Beneath the screen are the four standard Android buttons on a touch sensitive strip, but beneath them is a 40-key QWERTY keyboard that looks very similar to the design of many recent BlackBerrys. It’s a good one too, with good-sized keys made from tactile rubberised plastic raised just enough from the casing to make them easy to find under the thumbs and to provide a decent level of feedback when pressed.
A little click tells you when you’ve pressed enough, which is nicely reassuring and there’s a good amount of space between each of the keys too, helping to reduce the number of wrong presses.
Tucked away down at the bottom of the handset, beneath the keyboard, is a solitary blue button emblazoned with the letter ‘f’. Unsurprisingly, this is the Facebook button, and it turns out a bit of thought has gone into it besides the obvious branding kudos.
If you press it once, you’ll go straight to an update page so you can get your latest musings online straight away. Press and hold it and you’ll go to the Facebook Places function, which lets you log the places you’ve been and look up where your friends have been.
The Facebook button also offers different actions depending on which app you’re in when you press it. From the camera, a single press instantly takes a picture and gives you the option to post it to your wall immediately. Press it while you’re browsing or listening to music and it will offer to post a link to whatever it is you’re enjoying. It’s a neatly integrated system that offers genuine value for hardened Facebookers – roll on the ‘t’ button!
While the keyboard is a joy to use, that’s not really the case with the rather cramped screen. The 2.6in display doesn’t offer a great deal of space to show off Android’s icons and menus at their best, especially since it’s inherently landscape resolution, and most Android phones are portrait.
The fact that it’s a small screen means the 480x320-pixel resolution actually looks a bit sharper than you might expect, but there still isn’t enough room to get the benefit of the full Android experience.
Interface and OS
Android 2.3 is the operating system and HTC’s latest Sense 2.1 is the user interface. So you get the security ring at the bottom of the locked screen, which opens when you drag the ring up and to the side. You can also set up four shortcut icons to appear on the locked screen and get to each of them instantly by dragging one into the ring – very handy when you want to send a quick email or take a speedy snap.
There are seven homepages which you can populate with the usual Android shortcuts and Sense widgets, including the ever more elaborate animated weather app and FriendStream, which handily pulls all your social networking updates into a single scrollable stream.
The processor is 800MHz rather than the 1GHz models we’ve seen on HTC’s higher end handsets. But despite Sense 2.1’s fancy graphics, it does a pretty good job of keeping things running smoothly, multi-tasking with aplomb so you can surf the web, check on emails and listen to music all at the same time, with no great impact on the speed.
The 5 megapixel camera isn’t particularly great but it’s certainly not a disaster either. Features include autofocus, face detection and geotagging, plus a not terribly powerful flash. But while good light and a steady hand are essential to get anything like a decent photo, it passes muster for getting some quick snaps onto Facebook, which is what it’s likely to be best suited to.
Apps and browser
Not all apps from the Android market seem to fit terribly well into that landscape-oriented screen. Rather like HTC’s Flyer tablet, it’s a case of suck it and see, and for some you’ll need to turn the phone on its side to view them properly, which is hardly ideal.
Web pages tend to fit the screen well however, since it’s closer to the computer display orientation they’re generally designed for. Flash support is only the Lite variety however, so while you’ll get some animated features, you’ll miss out on sites with Flash-heavy graphics.
Media and connectivity
Films look a bit rubbish on the tiny screen, so you’re not likely to get this phone if you plan on doing a lot of video viewing. The Android music player is as good as ever though, even if you’ll probably want to upgrade the tinny supplied headphones. There’s only 512MB of memory on board for your music, pics and videos, but you can bump that up to 32GB via microSD card.
Performance and battery life
Despite its rather petite 1,250mAh battery, the ChaCha put in a pretty good performance of stamina, delivering two days of fairly intense use.
- Classy curved casing
- Excellent QWERTY keyboard
- Sense 2.3 UI
- Android 2.3
- Clever Facebook button
- 2.6in screen is a bit cramped
- Not all Android apps are suited to the screen shape
- Accessories are quite pricey
- On the chunky side
Verdict: The excellent QWERTY keyboard marks a move on BlackBerry’s territory and the clever Facebook button is a bonus. It’s a pity the screen seems a bit too small to deliver all of Android’s possibilities but for texters and ’bookers this is a must-see.
More info: HTC ChaCha spec