HTC ChaCha review

HTC ChaCha review
HTC ChaCha
If you don’t use Facebook, look away now. The whole design of HTC's ChaCha revolves around the social network. There's a QWERTY keypad to help you type status updates and send messages, the number keys are picked out in Facebook blue and there's a little blue 'f' button on the phone's chin, which unlocks a number of Facebook-specific functions.

If you press the 'f' button while on the home screen or in a non-supported app, you're prompted to write something on your own Facebook Wall. If you have the camera open, you can press the button instead of the shutter control to take a photo and be prompted to upload it to Facebook. If you press it while in the Music app, it'll fill out a status message saying "I'm currently listening to [song name]" - in all cases, you're prompted before you upload, so there's no danger of accidentally uploading a picture of the inside of your pocket.

The ChaCha is definitely cute, with its fun name and soft, rounded edges. It's slightly angled in the middle, so that the screen tilts towards you, making it comfortable to hold. The keyboard is well laid out, although the Space key has been narrowed to make way for a set of cursor controls, which are useful for tasks such as navigating text or moving between fields on a web page. The keys feel well-spaced and have a distinct click that provides excellent feedback, and overall the phone feels solidly built. The four common Android controls - Menu, Home, Back and Search - are handled by touch-sensitive controls under the screen, and there are hardware call answer and end buttons below that.

The 2.6in screen is smaller than that on most smartphones, but its 480x320 resolution is still the same as the HTC Legend's and is incredibly sharp, with vibrant colours and strong contrast. HTC has customised its Sense interface to fit as much as possible on the home screen - the trademark HTC clock is flanked by app icons, and some apps have a bar on the right for further options, such as switching between different groups of contacts. Compared to the 4in screens on most smartphones it feels a bit cramped, but it's adequate for most tasks. Browsing web pages pushes the limits of the screen's readability, though - you have to zoom in to read text and zoom out to navigate the page.

The phone HTC is angled in the middle, which makes it comfortable to hold
The phone is angled in the middle, which makes it comfortable to hold

HTC's Sense interface, which runs on top of the ChaCha's Android 2.3 operating system, is a series of interface enhancements as well as a collection of apps. It also provides the Facebook integration. Most of the standard Android apps are unchanged, but HTC's Gallery replacement is unwelcome - instead of Android's standard gallery, which provides a 3D wall of photos linked to your Picasa account, HTC's Gallery is a more plain thumbnail interface with links to Facebook and Flickr but not Picasa.

Other changes to Android are more subtle. We liked the way Sense now adds unread counts to the email app's icon, and its News app works brilliantly, linking automatically with our Google Reader account to pull down our favourite feeds. The People app helpfully links contact records for people across multiple services such as Twitter, Facebook and Google, and prompts you when they update their status, upload new photos or send you messages.

The ChaCha's camera is also good enough for Facebook images. It has a five-megapixel sensor and an LED flash, along with auto-focus and face recognition. In shots with bright backgrounds, we found that the ChaCha had problems with metering, making the foreground too dark. You can touch anywhere on the screen to force it to focus on that point, but it won't balance the lighting to match. Shots are noisy and colours a bit muted, but they're good enough for the web.

HTC Cha cha Camera
An LED flash makes night-time shots possible, but image quality is distinctly Facebook

There are some problems. Some apps can't work with the screen's landscape orientation, so you have to turn the phone sideways to use them. The 800MHz processor isn't terribly fast, and we noticed some lag when running multiple apps, but overall performance was good. The phone only has 91MB free for apps, though, so you'll need to buy a microSD card and use Apps2SD if you want to install a large selection. Battery life is also mediocre and as with most smartphones, you'll need to charge the phone every night.

The ChaCha is a cute but powerful phone, and a hardware QWERTY keyboard is always useful. The Facebook integration is well-implemented, too. If you're a Facebook fan this fun and well-designed phone is a good buy, but serious web browsers would be better off with the larger screen of Motorola's Defy (see What's New, Shopper 277), which still holds our Budget Buy crown.


Main display size2.6in
Native resolution480x320
Second DisplayNo
CCD effective megapixels5-megapixel
ConnectivityBluetooth, Wi-Fi, USB
Internal memory512MB
Memory card supportmicroSDHC
Memory card included0MB
Operating frequenciesGSM 850/900/1800/1900, 3G 900/2100
Wireless dataEDGE, HSPA, WCDMA


Operating systemAndroid 2.2
Email clientPOP3/IMAP/Exchange
Audio format supportMP3, AAC, AMR, WMA, MIDI, WAV, OGG
FM Radiono
Web BrowserWebkit
Accessoriescharger, USB cable
Talk time6 hours
Standby time17.9 days
Tested battery life (MP3 playback)18h 44m


The ChaCha is perfect for heavy Facebook users, but the small screen makes it trickier to surf the rest of the web