By Anton D. Nagy | July 20, 2011 10:38 AM
This February HTC announced the HTC ChaCha together with the HTC Salsa– two social network-oriented Android phones — in Barcelona at the Mobile World Congress. The Internet and the blogosphere in general called them “Facebook phones” due to their dedicated Facebook buttons as well as the deep Facebook integration.
The HTC ChaCha isn’t your state-of-the-art Android phone in terms of specifications. There is no dual-core processor and there’s no gigabyte of RAM. Instead, you’ve got a single-core processor clocking in at 800MHz the phone was initially announced with a 600MHz CPU but HTC changed its mind and 512 MB of RAM and ROM — but guess what? It’s enough for the needs of the typical user in the target audience. The phone delivers solid performance even though occasionally you’ll have to wait a second or two. Is it worth buying? It’s available in the U.S. as the HTC Status on AT&T so read our full review to find out what it’s all about!
The HTC ChaCha comes with a 2GB microSD card pre-installed, a wall charger, microUSB cable for syncing and charging as well as a pair of headphones, in addition to the typical literature.
One of the main advantages of Google’s Android platform is the fact that it does not require high-end internals to run decently. The ChaCha sports an 800MHz processor which is single core and has 512 MB of RAM and ROM. The screen is rather small, measuring 2.6 inches in diagonal, but it comes with the territory when you have a fixed full QWERTY keyboard in a candybar form factor. The resolution is half VGA with 480 horizontal and 320 vertical pixels.
There’s a five-megapixel camera at the back aided by an LED flash which takes average pictures, but unfortunately won’t even record in 720p. 480p video is what you’ll get if you want to film, and pictures are a tad dull and washed out. The VGA camera on the front will serve you well as a mirror (HTC even has a mirror application installed) or for video calls, but Skype just didn’t work for us, and we’re assuming that the internals aren’t powerful enough for the ChaCha to handle the application.
Then there are your usual suspects: WiFi b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0, GPS, G-Sensor, digital compass, proximity sensor, ambient light sensor, LED inside the speaker grill for notifications and a radio which supports quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE in the 850/900/1800/1900 MHz bands. Powering all there’s a 1,250mAh battery which gives you enough juice for up to two days, even though Android 2.3.3 Gingerbread and the Facebook apps running in the background could sometimes be battery drainers.
In terms of build quality and materials used HTC doesn’t wander away from its previous, well-defined path. The back of the phone is a combination of metal and plastic which gives it a great unibody feel. The backplate of the QWERTY keyboard is also metal, and the keys are just about right: not too big, not too small, with a decent travel and clicky feedback. We found typing on it to be a real pleasure even if it takes a bit of time getting used to the special characters. Materials used are top-notch and the phone is well built — with no squeaky sounds — and tight tolerances.
The design itself is nothing unique or revolutionary. You might instantly think about the HTC Snap or any QWERTY-enabled BlackBerry, but the truth is there’s really nothing to innovate in terms of a form factor which is a winner when it comes to heavy typing. Facebook, Twitter, e-mails and text messages require heavy text input and the hardware keyboard is a welcome addition. So is the slightly arched design, which brings the screen closer to your face/eyes when you type, improving ergonomics.
The top part of the phone holds the ambient light and proximity sensors placed inside the speaker grill, on the left side. The right side of the same grill is home to the LED which lights up amber when charging and blinking green when there’s a notification. Then comes the 2.6-inch HVGA screen which offers great outdoors visibility and natural colors. In the upper right corner of the screen you’ll find the VGA camera for video calls, while the bottom part of the display features the four capacitive Android buttons for Home, Menu, Back and Search.
Right below these there are two dedicated buttons for Call Start and Call End with a huge empty space between them where HTC could have fit the Facebook button and maybe shaved a couple of millimeters in device height. Instead, they chose to place the Facebook button in the lower right corner, just below the full QWERTY keyboard.
The bottom holds the microphone and not much else, while the top part has the 3.5mm headphone jack and a secondary mic for noise cancelling right beside the power button. There’s nothing on the right side and the left is where you’ll see the volume rockers. There’s no dedicated camera button on either side so you’ll have to rely on your steady hands tapping the on-screen shutter release soft button.
The back has an additional microphone for capturing sound while recording right beside the five-megapixel camera. The LED flash does a so-so job in lighting up close objects in the dark. On the left you’ll see a grill enclosing the speaker which delivers medium quality and volume sound, good for a quiet room but it doesn’t stand a chance outdoors.
The HTC ChaCha is 114.4mm tall, 64.6mm wide and 10.7mm thick but the phone itself feels good in hand. The 120 grams feel lighter and the thickness is rather deceiving since the ChaCha is arched, but if you take the measurement at the middle you’ll see that it’s really not that “thick”.
A permanent landscape screen, such as the one on the HTC ChaCha is nothing like your ordinary phone, especially if it has an HVGA resolution. HTC had to get its hands dirty and redesign the software in order to become both usable and good-looking.
Without a doubt, HTC has managed to do a great job in adapting its own Sense user interface to the screen on the ChaCha, which is neither Portrait nor your regular WVGA resolution. From the boot animation to the Lock Screen, from the Home Screen to Widgets, from the Application list to Settings, everything has a neat, well organized and pleasant aspect. The ChaCha is simply usable, and a lot of fun at that!
HTC Sense was always one of the major selling points of the Taiwanese manufacturer because it brought a unique experience to its owners, making HTC-made phones stand out. The ChaCha is no different and the Sense version bundled with the phone is 2.1 for messenger. You might be tricked into thinking that it’s running the Sense 3.0 you’d find on the Sensation or EVO 3D because of the Lock Screen ring concept, but it’s basically just your Sense 2.1, in a landscape orientation.
There are seven home screens on the ChaCha, just as on any other Sense-enabled, Android-powered HTC phone. You can customize each page like you’d normally do, although there are a couple of special widgets, like the clock and social widget. Aside from redrawing in order to fit the smaller resolution, HTC changed the clock widget so that now, on the ChaCha, it shows you the clock, date and location plus your Facebook News Feed. After all, it’s a “Facebook phone”!
Because of that, the ChaCha features a special Facebook Chat application which works very well! It features notifications for when you receive an instant message on Facebook and, aside from the fact that it’s always connected unless instructed otherwise, it brings you the desktop Facebook chat experience. You can have as many conversations as you like and you will see a list of your currently-online friends.
The regular shortcut icon bars you’d find on the bottom of portrait Sense devices have been moved to the right side of the screen in order to save some screen real estate. They’re also ergonomic because you can easily reach out with your right thumb and make a selection. This is consistent throughout the system, regardless if we talk about the application list or the e-mail client.
The main selling point of this phone is its deep Facebook integration. The ChaCha not only ships with Facebook preinstalled but the HTC software takes advantage of the “Facebook button”. Whenever the handset recognizes content which can be shared on your Facebook, the button will simply glow, let that information be a webpage, picture, video or music. Pressing the Facebook button allows you to either post a message to your (or someone else’s) wall, or quickly share a link, upload a photo, video or share a song.
There’s also integration with the HTC Hub, the manufacturer’s free offering which allows you to download new skins, themes, wallpapers, ringtones, HTC widgets, and more. The ChaCha is featured on HTCSense.com so you can always find your phone, lock it or remotely manage it. Special HTC-specific apps like Mirror, which turns on the front-facing camera or HTC Likes which provides app recommendations, are also included. If you’re more into sharing the pictures you take, the ChaCha has the ability to edit your pictures, no matter if you just want to simply crop them or add special color effects.
The main camera on the HTC ChaCha is a five megapixels unit and the front-facing webcam captures VGA resolution images. Don’t expect stellar quality from pictures taken with the phone and you won’t be disappointed. Quality is in the mid, mid-low range, with images taken in bright sunny outdoors looking good — but once you go indoors you’ll see lots of noise and quickly lose focus, colors, contrast, sharpness and overall quality.
Even though it has a five-megapixel camera, the ChaCha will not record 720p videos. It only does 480p, but given the rather modest specs and the overall purpose of the phone, videos taken at 480 resolution should satisfy your needs to quickly grab some frames and upload to Facebook while on the go. As with pictures, videos captured in bright sunny outdoors look good but once you go indoors you’ll lose framerate, details and all the bad stuff you know about.
Despite the 800MHz processor, Android 2.3 Gingerbread with all animations enabled, HTC Sense with the bells and whistles, the ChaCha is not a slow phone. It also copes with multitasking rather well so you’ll barely run into situations when you’ll have to wait for it to finish anything you throw its way. You might meet some occasional hick-ups when an online service or even Facebook itself times out due to a connection error but all the other day-to-day tasks are well handled.
That is until you want to fire up Skype and have a voice call with someone; even on WiFi, you will not be able to have a decent discussion as the call quality is too much for the ChaCha to handle while on high quality audio. Generally, a couple of exceptions aside, the phone will satisfy you in terms of performance maybe because there are 512MB of RAM that help the processor do its thing.
Nothing extraordinary to mention here, the ChaCha delivers solid performance with no dropped calls. The handset reproduces a natural sound both ways but the speakerphone tends to be a little too silent and when you crank the volume up you’ll hear some distortion.
Reception is in the range of what you’d expect from a phone these days. It will most probably pick up the same amount of bars as any other modern phone, in the same conditions. Once it locks on to the network though, it holds on to the signal and you’ll probably never run in a situation where you’ll drop a call or lose your Data Connection (if your usage scenario doesn’t imply bunkers or basements).
Battery life is where the ChaCha really shines! The 1,250mAh battery will give you easily two days of usage with a normal day-to-day operation (browsing the internet, listening to music, social networking a lot since it’s a Facebook phone, chatting, a dozen e-mails, text messages, and phone calls).
This is mainly because of the lower clocked processor as well as the smaller screen which consume less power. While talking about battery life and screen, the display on the ChaCha is rather bright so you will rarely run into a situation where you’ll need more than 50% of screen brightness.
PURCHASING AND AVAILABILITY
You can purchase the ChaCha from retailers like Negri Electronics, where it goes for $398.50 unlocked or you can import it from overseas retailers such as Clove Technology. It is available on AT&T as the HTC Status for a great price given you sign a two-year contract.
+ Excellent build quality
+ Great QWERTY keyboard
+ Facebook button and integration
+ Good battery life
+ Solid performance
- Non hot-swappable microSD card
- Medium camera quality
- Processor is rather slow compared to nowadays’ dual-core CPUs
- Screen might be too small for some
There’s no doubt about the target audience for the HTC ChaCha. People who are also living their lives on Facebook will love this phone and so will those who send lots of text messages and e-mails. The QWERTY keyboard on the ChaCha is great and typing can be a real pleasure. If you’re into Facebook, Twitter and all of the above, the ChaCha, or the Status on AT&T, is for you!
You shouldn’t expect super-performance from the phone; it won’t deliver gaming or HD video playback. It wasn’t built for that but it will definitely deliver solid performance for what it was indeed built, and that’s keeping you connected with your friends, family, coworkers, browsing the internet, taking pictures, sharing content and taking it anywhere with you. Android 2.3 is fast, HTC Sense is looking great and we can’t help but recommend it if you’re the social, always connected type.
We rate the HTC ChaCha a 3.5/5.