HTC ChaCha Review


Well wouldn’t you know it, our good pal Chris Davies over on our sister site SlashGear had TWO Facbeook Phones up his sleeve. That is the HTC Salsa and now the HTC ChaCha as well! Word of this device was released back at the same time as the Salsa at Mobile World Congress 2011, this particular sibling of the Salsa having a full QWERTY keyboard below a landscape screen, both of them toting the all-powerful physical Facebook button. Will this half of the equation add up to be a whole?

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Note before we go any further that this device has one other name, and that is the ChaChaCha. For the full story on that, head back to a post all about the strangeness of Spain. Moving forward, let’s have a look at this white fury:

Hardware

When you’ve got all the HTC devices lined up in a row, this device appears to be rather unique in its bodily design. On the other hand, it does come with a lot of the same design cues that the recent set have shown: the separated nature of the Salsa on the back, the same white plastic as the Flyer, and even a similar basic camera setup as the Sensation. That said, it does move along the same lines as the greater BlackBerry family and the Motorola XPRT / DROID Pro. Candybars abound!

This device gives you a 2.6-inch 480 x 320 pixel resolution touchscreen with the four basic Android buttons underneath, under which there’s a full QWERTY keyboard and two buttons in between: call and end-call. This is unique in the modern HTC line. There’s a volume rocker and microUSB port on the left, power/lock button and headphone jack on the top, and essentially nothing anywhere else. This device also features what’s been being called the “HTC chin,” that being a bit of a lift in the bottom bit of the device where you’re supposed to hold for typing. This feature also allows the entirety of the front of the device to be lifted off the surface of whatever you’ve placed the device on if you’ve placed it there face-down.

The ChaCha is supposedly 4.5 x 2.54 x 0.42 inches, but given that this appears to be the thickness of the chin, aka the thickest point, we’ve got to note that it’s thinner than it looks. The display is 2.5-inches which is indeed small, but still carries the same resolution as the slightly larger HTC Salsa which has a 3.4-inch display. This small screen is fine for viewing, but those used to using a BlackBerry or similar such QWERTY plus display candybar designs will be left wishing for a trackball or optical joystick.

Hands-On Overview

That said, the keyboard is magnificent, tapping easily without too much give, TicTac sized keys with a 2x sized keyboard and an up-down-left-right set of buttons are complimented by tab, FN, SYM and a secondary set of keys activated with the shift key. Two functions you may want to check out: FN plus period equals camera, and FN plus spacebar equals Settings – though our review unit did not appear to be having this second combo activated for one reason or another. Then of course there’s the Facebook button.

The similarities between this device and the HTC Salsa begin right there, at that button, continuing on with Both use an 800MHz single-core Snapdragon processor, 512MB of RAM and 512MB of ROM. That camera on the back is a 5-megapixel autofocus with LED flash, on the front is a VGA webcam, there’s a microSD card slot, 3.5mm headphone jack, micro-USB port and GPS. Finally there’s connectivity along WiFi b/g/n and Bluetooth 3.0, along with – on the European model – dualband 900/2100MHz HSPA/WCDMA and quadband GSM/EDGE.

Software

This device runs Android 2.3.3 Gingerbread out of the box and runs another new version of HTC Sense. This version is the third we’ve seen in the past few devices, that being one for the Flyer using Sense 3.0 (and the Sensation being basically the same,) one for the Salsa with a modified 2.1, now this one using “2.1 for Messenger.” Changes include moving the suit to a landscape orientation and switching the color scheme to gray.

This new setup has the main subject sitting on the left while a menu often pops up on the right. In a similar fashion, your default homescreen panel is the leftmost of seven rather than the center. This screen has the app menu and customize keys in its bottom corners by default, which is nice, but there’s a few changes in the notifications bar: no recent apps scrollbar, and no quick access to settings. We’d grown fond of such settings in the past iterations of Sense, thusly this, and such oddities as the end-call button doing nothing but end calls, can be frustrating.

The lockscreen with the four customizable quick-access shortcuts is still here from Sense 3.0, but there’s no awesome weather widget. This new UI is enjoyable to explore, but as Davies notes, can be a mixed bag for usability. One of the more positive changes comes in the aforementioned menu sitting on the right of the screen, this feature showing up in your apps menu, Friend Stream, and Gallery App. As for apps loaded on the device when you get it, you’ll be grabbing all your recent HTC favorites such as Books, Friend Stream, HTC Hub, HTC Likes, Mirror, Peep and the WiFi Hotspot app.

Facebook

As is featured on the HTC Salsa, you’ll be able to tap that Facebook button to access your ability to instantly share a new status message to your Facebook wall. You’ll be able, again, to share a music track, webpage, or upon long-pressing, your physical location using Facebook Pages. This functionality does not yet cross over to third-party apps.

Hands-On with Facebook

At this point you’ll begin to think twice about your decision to purchase an Android device with such a small screen after having used device after device with much and in some cases MUCH larger displays. Your menu to the right of the screen inside Friend Stream allows you even a smaller screen with which you’ll be able to view your friends updates, photos, etc., why HTC didn’t decide instead to have this menu disappear whenever the user does not need it, we’ll never know.

Camera

Surprisingly, though we found the brother of this device, the HTC Salsa, to have not such a fabulous camera loaded on it, the HTC ChaCha is coming out swinging. One oddity we did find was that the occasional photo would look next to terrible on the ChaCha’s screen while transporting the photo to Facebook or the desktop showed the result to be just fine. For example:

5-Megapixel Photo Example

720 x 480 Video Example

Phone and Battery

Call quality appears to be basically perfect to and from this device, while the top end of the speakerphone function does crack just a tiny bit. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there’s no reason why, in this modern age, that we can’t have perfect call quality when we’ve already moved beyond the voice call into social multiplicity. This device features a 1,250 mAh battery, that being almost 300 less than the HTC Salsa, the reason being, we assume, the much smaller display. This size batter on this device afforded us a total of about a day and a half with HEAVY use.

Wrap-Up

What you’ve got here is an update machine. Though it’s not the most fantastic device for viewing content, take one look at how large the display is compared to the keyboard and it’ll become clear what this device is truly meant for. The display bows down to one of the greatest QWERTY keyboards we’ve ever laid thumbs on, and the chicklets will no doubt remain true. That said, the software leaves room for improvement, but as HTC has the ability to improve with a single software update, and as I’m sure the manufacturer and the carriers will no doubt be pushing, there’s more to it than Facebook.

We’d like to thank Three for the loaner handset! Also note: head back over to SlashGear for Davies’ full look!

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