Saturday, 9 July 2011

HTC ChaCha: Initial Thoughts

 The combination of a touchscreen with a physical keyboard is, in my opinion, the ideal smartphone configuration. HTC have been doing this for years with sliding devices such as the Touch Pro and Touch Slide, but there have only been a handful of candybar touch + physical keyboard devices. The HTC ChaCha is the latest of these, and with the addition of one-touch Facebook integration, looks to be a very interesting messaging phone. Read on for some of my thoughts of the device.

The box:
As is the trend these days, the ChaCha comes in a very small white box. On the top of the box you'll find a life-size picture of the ChaCha, which is a nice touch I suppose. Inside you'll find the charger/USB cable combo, white HTC earphones and a quickstart guide.

The phone:
On the front, you'll find a 2.6" screen above a 40-button keyboard.

On the back, you'll find the 5 mega pixel camera with LED flash, a speaker and what I assume is a microphone.

On the top, you'll find the power/unlock button, the 3.5mm headphone jack and what I assume is a microphone.

On the bottom, you'll find a microphone.

On the left side, you'll find volume buttons and a MicroUSB port.

On the right side, you'll find nothing.

The feel:
It's clear that HTC have paid a lot of attention to making sure that the ChaCha feels good in your hands. It's thin (10.7mm), but not to the point where your palms have barely anything to grip onto. The height and width of the phone allow for comfortable one-handed use, meaning that swiping down the Android notification bar shouldn't cause you any problems. At 124g, the ChaCha is quite light compared to phones of a similar form factor (Nokia's E6 is 133g and the BlackBerry Bold 9900 is 130g), some will prefer this but I personally like a phone with good weight to it.

A unique attribute of the ChaCha compared to other candybar QWERTYs is the slight curvature of the body. Beginning from just below the screen, the ChaCha's keyboard curves towards the user.
 This allows the screen to sit up in your hands at a favourable angle, while also maximising typing comfort. Similar 'kicks' are found in the design of the G1 and Hero, but I feel it has been implemented best in the ChaCha. However, the curved body can lead to pocket discomfort, especially if you keep your phone in your trouser pockets.

This is a very solid phone in terms of build quality. The battery cover, for example, fits very snugly - you'd be forgiven for thinking that the battery is non-removable. Squeezing the phone produces no audible creaks, everything is nice and tight.

One of the key selling points of the ChaCha is that its form factor allows you to start typing instantly, so there's no need to slide it open to get access to the keyboard. The keyboard itself is great, with plenty of separation between individual keys as well as a highly-satisfying click following each key press.

The navigation buttons have a slightly different shape to the rest of the keys, which might be useful for gaming among other things.

The ChaCha features a 2.6" 480x320 capacitive touchscreen. Though the screen sensitivity is excellent, it's a shame that HTC have opted for a low resolution screen in comparison to the Nokia E6 or BlackBerry Bold 9900. Despite this, the screen is still quite sharp and you certainly won't notice any pixelation on text or graphics.

The software:
The ChaCha is currently shipping with Android version 2.3.3, with HTC's Sense UI on top. I personally prefer stock Android over Sense, but that is of course subjective. This being one of HTC's 'Facebook phones', there is heavy Facebook integration. By default there is a Facebook widget on the homescreen, showing recent status updates. Clicking this takes you to a separate application from the official Facebook for Android application, which might cause some confusion.
HTC have also preloaded a Facebook chat application, but I haven't really played with that much.

Another selling point of the ChaCha is the dedicated Facebook button at the bottom of the phone. I must say, it feels odd seeing a physical representation of Facebook staring at me 24/7, but maybe that's because I'm not the Facebook diehard that HTC are targeting.

Pressing this button from the homescreen will take you once again to HTC's own Facebook application, where you'll be able to write a new status update or upload a new picture. When you're in some specific applications, the Facebook button will pulse with light, indicating that pressing it will provide a custom function. In the music application, pressing the Facebook button will gather information (from Amazon) about the song that's currently being played into a new status update, awaiting your confirmation.

Speaking of music, the audio quality of the ChaCha is pretty good. I'm not an audiophile, but I was pleased with the level of bass and maximum volume through wired earphones, but it wasn't quite as good as the iPhone 4 or Nokia N8. The quality of music through Bluetooth headphones (HBH-IS800 and BH-503) is very similar to these other phones.

The battery life, as you'd expect from a HTC Android phone, is nothing to shout about. Though the battery's rated at 1250mAh, you'll likely be looking at daily recharges if you want to avoid a dead phone midway through the second day of operation.

This is an area that most Android manufacturers are struggling with, but HTC certainly needs to work on their power consumption.

The phone lacks a physical two-step camera button, so autofocus is controlled by touching the area that you'd like to be in focus, which is a decent compromise.

As with many current smartphones, the back will become warm during prolonged or strenuous use. This becomes most apparent when browsing the internet, but it doesn't reach an uncomfortable level of heat.

The swift rise of the touchscreen on mobile phones can be viewed as both a good and a bad thing. On one hand, they've helped to place a greater influence on media consumption and user experience; on the other hand, they've placed limits on form factor variation amongst manufacturers. HTC have made an attempt to differentiate the ChaCha from the candybar QWERTY crowd with its subtle 'kick' design. This, in combination with deep Facebook integration, makes the ChaCha a very attractive option for those who require an all-round messaging phone on a budget. Though the days of innovative new designs such as the N90, N93 and N95 seem to be over, it's refreshing to see that HTC have chosen to spice up their own designs.


  1. anony

    How long does it take to charge? This is a problem i had with old htc phones they take too long

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