“It’s a Facebook BlackBerry”: my answer to the almost inevitable “what the hell is that?” question I’d get every time I pulled out the HTC ChaCha to check my email or get some directions. I took the ChaCha with me to the USA recently as my local phone. That’s my M.O. as a gadget guy: one phone with a local prepay SIM card, one with my kiwi SIM card.
The ChaCha is an eye-catching little phone. Stark white and brushed aluminium, with a broken-looking bend in the middle, this is the device you want to carry if you enjoy people asking about your phone. The hardware qwerty makes it look a bit BlackBerry, but the HTC Sense UI on the touchscreen is very recognisably Android. It’s a little bit disconcerting, but it works.
This is a definitely Facebook phone. There’s a dedicated f-button below the keyboard that is context sensitive and lights up to prompt you when it’s time to book some faces. For examples:
- When browsing the web, the f-button lights up. Clicking it will prompt you for a comment and share the URL and comment on your timeline.
- When taking photos, the f-button lights up. Clicking it will share the photo on your timeline.
It all works jolly well if you’re an avid facebookalist. For people like me – I’m more of a twerp – I’d hope someone could hack the f-button to drop the f-bomb. That way I could just tap it to add tasty flavour to my tweets. And on that note, the included HTC Twitter app is adequate. It’s a bit stupid in that replying to direct messages has you composing a public reply, but otherwise it’s serviceable. Avid tweeple would be better off installing an alternative twittering application.
It’s Android 2.3 under the covers, which is a Good Thing. 2.3 means smooth scrolling, fast performance, and good memory management. It also comes with the accoutrements you expect from a late-model Android: GPS, WiFi hotspot function, multiple home screens, and all the other jazz.
If you’ve read my Android reviews in the past, you’ll know I’m not a fan of OEM add-ons to Android. Google built Android pretty well (version 2.2+ at least), so it bothers me that OEMs layer their crapware on top of a perfectly good OS. However, in this case, HTC’s already competent Sense UI makes a huge amount of sense (punny!). Sense takes the ChaCha’s unusual screen dimensions into account, and provides the user with a bunch of widgets (weather, clocks, Facebook, etc.) that work really well with the layout. Google’s first-party apps (e.g. Maps, Gmail, contacts) also work well on the smaller screen.
Third party apps on this device are hit and miss. The screen must report itself to Android as a landscape layout, rather than a wide portrait. This means that apps like the (otherwise excellent) IRB Rugby World Cup app, or Vodafone’s pre-installed MyAccount app are displayed small and in landscape mode. There’s no way that I could find to rotate them to portrait. The only option was to turn the phone sideways and get tapping on the touchscreen. Workable, but side-tappin’ is going to catch on like N-gage side-talkin’ did. A lot of other apps (e.g. Twitter, Seesmic) display in correct orientation with reduced vertical screen real-estate.
The hardware is HTC-quality. Super solid, no creaks or wobbles, and lovely in the hand. The keyboard is really clicky. I’ve become adjusted to the super light touch of capacitive touchscreen keyboards, so found myself typing pretty slowly on the ChaCha’s keys. I’m sure they’ll become smoother with time, and would be better for someone coming from another device with a hardware keyboard.
It’s a really nice piece of hardware with solid software. If you need a qwerty and love your Facebook, this could be your phone. The only deal-breaker might be if your favourite Android app doesn’t render properly on the screen.
You can grab it from Vodafone for $599, or less with a plan.
If there are any particular apps you want me to test on it, just ask in the comments.