Thursday, June 9, 2011

HTC ChaCha first impressions

Yesterday evening I had the opportunity to play with, and take home, a HTC ChaCha at a tech bloggers meet-up hosted by the wonderful people at Three UK.

The HTC ChaCha is a mid-range smartphone running on Google Android, complete with Facebook integration on a hardware and software level. It features a monoblock design and comes with a QWERTY keyboard on the front. While not the first HTC smartphone to feature a front QWERTY keyboard, the ChaCha is still a rather unique phone. There aren't many Android phones with a similar form factor, and none by HTC. Despite that one can almost immediately recognise this (at least the top half) as a HTC phone due to the familiar recent HTC design language.

Like the HTC Salsa, the ChaCha has a dedicated Facebook button that makes posting updates, pictures and check-ins onto your Facebook profile easier. Instead of opening the Facebook application, pressing the button will bring you to a screen that allows you to immediately compose your update and if you choose to, attach a picture either from the Gallery or by taking a new picture using the Camera application. Pressing down the button for long allows you to check in to Facebook Places, similar to Foursquare. While cute, the Facebook integration isn't as deep as one would expect from a device that has a Facebook logo on it. It certainty isn't on the level that Sony Ericsson has demonstrated with the recent Facebook Inside update for the XPERIA Arc and Play.

Powering the phone is a 800MHz ARM CPU (up from 600MHz as originally announced) with 512MB RAM and 512MB ROM. The latest Android Gingerbread 2.3.3 and HTC Sense UI optimised for landscape orientation ensures that the phone feels smooth and fast. It also comes with an accelerometer, digital compass, proximity sensor, ambient light sensor, WiFi 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0 and GPS receiver. Rather disappointingly, the ChaCha is only equipped with dual band HSDPA/HSUPA, so this is definitely not a world phone - at least not if your primary concern is mobile internet speed. A 2GB microSDHC memory card is bundled together, though the device can easily take a 32GB microSDHC card. The microSDHC card slot is not hot-swappable.
While the 2.6" LCD capacitive touchscreen display may be small and cramped, the HVGA resolution is decent. Still the screen here has already been outclassed by the recently announced Nokia E6 and RIM's Blackberry Bold Touch 9900, both of which offers 640x480 resolution. You will find a VGA front camera on the top of the display, so video calls is a possibility with the ChaCha. On the back you will find a 5MP camera with auto-focus and LED flash. Picture quality is decent as long as there are plenty of available light. I will touch more on that in the full review.

The device as a whole is well constructed with liberal amount of metal used on the outer shell, and at 124g, the ChaCha is reasonably light and pocketable. The QWERTY keyboards are plastic in nature and provides a good amount of key travel and tactile feedback. Four directional keys can be found on the bottom right of the keyboard. It works as how a d-pad should, so I am baffled as to why HTC decided not to have the four keys on the centre of the device below the screen, where it is more usable. It certainly makes more sense to have a proper d-pad on a device with such a small screen. Pulling the plastic battery door on the back reveals a 1250mAh battery - a decent amount for a device with such a small display. Having said that, Nokia has managed to squeeze in a BP-4L 1500mAh battery on their new E6 smartphone, so it would have been better if HTC was able to match that.
Like all of HTC's Android smartphones, the HTC ChaCha comes preloaded with HTC Sense and an array of other HTC applications. A new lock screen, similar to the one first seen in the flagship HTC Sensation, is present. It offers a quick way on unlocking the screen by dragging application icons onto the unlock zone to simultaneously unlock the device and launch the application. The Sense installed here is version is 2.1 for Messenger and is optimised for landscape mode. I have my gripes on the way Android works on compact landscape orientated screens, and the number of unoptimised applications, but will leave that for the review. I only hope that Ice Cream Sandwich will fix this huge flaw.

I will be using the HTC ChaCha as my primary phone while away on holiday for the entire of next week (where I suspect I may be posting more than usual to Facebook!). Look out for a review soon after that. In the meantime, if you have any questions fire away on the comments section of via twitter and I will address them as soon as I can. In the mean time check out the hands-on video by Three UK starring the fabulous Sedge:

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