HTC ChaCha Review

Before becoming smitten with the iPhone, I was an HTC user and gained an appreciation for their products that has not been shattered since. Despite the unfortunate plague of Android tearing through the mobile market, although to be fair it’s a little better than the Windows Mobile I used back in the day, HTC continue to make thoroughly brilliant products that frequently come close to tempting me to the dark side.

The HTC ChaCha, provided by the good folks at Three, may strike smartphone users as somewhat of an odd choice, its not your typical smartphone and subscribes to a form factor that most people would more readily associate with the BlackBerry. But it’s not targeted at BlackBerry users, and I wouldn’t be so bold as to recommend it to them. The average BlackBerry is adorned with little touches that the ChaCha lacks, not least of all a UI that is comprehensively button navigable.

Aesthetically the HTC ChaCha would seem more based upon Apples design ideologies, it’s uncompromisingly pretty from every angle, and it’s fusion of white plastic and aluminium in a two tone contrasting style is nothing if not visually pleasing. It’s bottom half curves slightly forward, providing a hand-friendly ergonomic and bringing the screen to an optimum viewing angle when the keyboard is held with two hands.

The ChaCha will almost certainly evoke images of the Palm Treo, if not the BlackBerry, and when comparing it to these well-known keyboard-endowed phones its shortcomings become evident; it lacks buttons dedicated to navigating the phone, instead relying on a liberal amount of screen thumbing and, when operated with one hand, an awkward dance of grip shifting between screen interaction and the keyboard.

The keyboard includes a full compliment of keys, although the numbers require a function modifier to access. There are also arrow keys which arguably should have been placed directly beneath the screen in the form of a 5-way navigator, or Blackberry-esque trackpad. The keys take a little getting used to, but ones mastered are clearly better than a soft keyboard. The ChaCha is slimmer and more readily pocketable than a slide-style phone

And this is where I’m somewhat disappointed in the ChaCha. It leans heavily on the touchscreen, which feels profoundly wrong in this form factor. I’m not saying it shouldn’t have a touchscreen, but all the stock software should be usable without one.

Also missing from its hardware compliment is a jog dial. These seem to have faded into obscurity lately, perhaps they’re too cumbersome to make, or too complex to rely upon. But the idea of a little rolling wheel, tilting dial or rocking switch which allows for web-page and list scrolling with just one thumb is something I’ve loved on Compaq PDAs, Sony phones and the Vaio Picturebooks throughout the years.

The proliferation of Facebook has also made its mark on the ChaCha, which includes a dedicated FaceBook button. This isn’t much use if you’re big on Twitter, and I can’t help but think there could have been a slightly larger compliment of “Social” buttons to handle the other popular networks. However, it’s so difficult to pick what these should be that the choice of Facebook only is fairly understandable.

The ChaCha is what it is. A thoroughly Android phone with a dash of Treo and BlackBerry blood to make it far more comfortable for the social butterflies out there. The reliance on touch-screen navigation isn’t really as bad as I make it out to be, the arrow keys will get you around a browser fine for example. It’s aesthetically pleasing, without a doubt, and delivers an essential keyboard-equipped phone to a market which is rapidly running out of them. Indeed, with even the mighty BlackBerry trending toward, and making an absurd song and dance about, touch-screen input, keyboard-equipped-phone fans could soon be marooned on an island of dwindling product choice.

Thus, the ChaCha should be respected and nurtured in the hopes that HTC will overhaul and evolve it, and continue to fill that essential niche for those who can’t abide prodding at a touch screen.

Finally, the ChaCha tariffs are pretty good. It’s not seen as the latest, greatest, must-have, super-expensive phone and therefore, at time of writing, is free at £20 a month.