HTC’s ‘Facebook phone’ (or one of them at least) has hit our shores and the ChaCha is about as odd as its name suggests. From the concept of Google’s Android playing nice with a social network other than Google Plus through to the crooked handset design, this smartphone has an identity all its own, baffling though it may be.
One look at the phone tells you a lot about its intended market. With a physical keyboard dominating and undersized 2.6-inch touch screen, the ChaCha has been designed with messaging in mind, almost to the exclusion of everything else. Despite it’s BlackBerry-ish profile this handset is not being pushed on the corporate market, and is instead aimed at the socially wired youth crowd – though I don’t know many in that demographic who could got the $500 price tag.
As well as eschewing the trend of minimum body, maximum screen size, the ChaCha shuns the traditionally dark palette of most smartphones for a cheery silver and white scheme. Along with its luxuriously spaces QWERTY keyboard the phone features dedicated buttons to receive and end calls as well a physical button just for Facebook-specific functions. The buttons, like the overall build, are solidly reliable.
The shape of the phone, on the other hand, is an entirely quirkier affair. Rather than sticking with the conveniently slim candy bar mold, the ChaCha has returned to a hang-up that HTC seemed to have (thankfully) given up – on the chin. At the midpoint the phone deviated from its vertical line and juts out on an angle, effectively thrusting the keyboard towards the user while the screen is held straight.
On a functional level it does make sense, it’s easier to view the screen while typing with that little bend. However if you’re using the phone for any other purpose or retiring it to your pocket it’s just an awkward, bulky and visually silly design choice.
The phone’s raison de’etre at the bottom right of the keyboard, a familiar blue square marked with an ‘f’. Those savvy enough with Android phones will likely question the need for deeply integrated Facebook functions when the social network already has a perfectly serviceable app bundled for most models, and rightly so. In truth, unless you’re a real dyed-in-the-wool Facebook addict the integration is not born of necessity – but it has been implemented very well.
A single press of the Facebook button instantly jumps to a status update screen, where a longer press kicks in location services for easy ‘check-ins’. As you go about the daily use of your phone the button will urgently flash whenever you’re performing some action that can be share to Facebook, be it taking photos, listening to music or browsing the web.
There's no denying the phone makes getting your life - all of it – posted to Facebook a breeze and if such a proposition doesn’t sound like a complete nightmare to you then you’re likely the sort of user the handset is targeting. If, however, you’re looking to get the fullest suite of smartphone functions for your dollar, the ChaCha is not for you.
While HTC has done a remarkable job of building its Sense interface into the smaller screen and accommodating the Facebook functions, with so little touch screen real estate the majority of functions beyond messaging are cramped and unpleasant. Browsing the net, usually a treat with Android, is an exercise is squinting frustrations and the phone’s Flash capabilities are laughable.
The ChaCha’s scaled back processor (800MHz) is forgivable as the device was never billed as a performance machine, but some of the cuts needed to make room for the Facebook integration are a bit too deep to justify.