By June 28, 2011

HTC ChaCha review

HTC ChaCha review One of the most interesting phones to come out of Mobile World Congress from HTC was the HTC ChaCha. The Market hasn’t been kind to front facing keyboard, Android devices and there has never been a hit model for this form factor.

Instead of going the whole hog and building a much rumoured Facebook phone, HTC decided to cover both popular form factors, the Candy bar and front facing keyboard, and focus on a heavier Facebook integration. To date the front facing keyboard has only been address by Samsung and Motorola in a more professional yet lower quality approach. HTC saw a gap in the market and pushed out a higher quality, yet cost conscious front facing, Qwerty keyboard phone.

Combining their popular HTC Sense over a popular texting form with the social network manic in mind, how could HTC fail?


The 10 Second review:

  • Device: HTC ChaCha
  • Price: £250
  • Summary:
  • Best of: Front facing Qwerty Keyboard, flash, dedicated Facebook button
  • Worst of: Smaller screen, Camera
  • Buy it now from:
  • Also consider: Samsung Galaxy Pro (No, don’t!) Palm Pre 2

What’s in the box?

  • HTC ChaCha handset
  • Mains charger
  • Battery
  • MicroUSB sync/charge cable
  • headphones

HTC ChaCha specification:

  • 2G Network: GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
  • 3G Network: HSDPA 900 / 2100
  • Dimensions: 114.4 x 64.6 x 10.7 mm
  • Weight: 120 g
  • Display: TFT touchscreen, 256K colours, 480 x 320 pixels, 2.6 inches
  • QWERTY keyboard
  • Gorilla Glass display
  • Accelerometer sensor for UI auto-rotate
  • Proximity sensor for auto turn-off
  • 3.5mm jack
  • Memory: 512 MB ROM, 512 MB RAM
  • microSD, up to 32GB
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Wi-Fi hotspot
  • Yes, v3.0 with A2DP
  • microUSB v2.0
  • Camera: 5 MP, 2592 x 1944 pixels, autofocus, LED flash
  • Secondary Camera: VGA
  • Android OS, v2.3 (Gingerbread)
  • 800 MHz processor
  • GPS with A-GPS support
  • Facebook dedicated key
  • Digital compass
  • Standard battery, Li-Ion 1250 mAh Battery
  • Stand-by: Up to 430 h (2G) / Up to 660 h (3G)
  • Talk time: Up to 7 h 30 min (2G) / Up to 7 h (3G)



Starting with the front of the device. At the top is the main ear speaker on either side are fairly standard notification lights. Below this is the screen, a 480 x 320 TFT touch screen. The screen is bright and luscious, it does feel limited in size, especially when using the browser. Under the screen are soft buttons, back, home, menu and search, all standard on most Android phones.
Under this again are two calling buttons. Nice to have some calling buttons again, I’ve missed them, however given the screen size I’m sure the necessity of the hard calling buttons became clear when trying implement them. We have a generous front facing Qwerty keyboard. The keys have a generous amount of space between each key and this is something you will quickly appreciate when using the phone.  Finally, at the bottom there is the Facebook button. A hardware shortcut that will link whatever you happen to be doing on the phone to you Facebook profile. Post pictures with ease, update your status, broadcast your location and more.

HTC ChaCha review-front
One of the major criticisms of the keyboard setup is the lack of an optical track pad and inclusion of cursor keys. The Cursors, whilst better than nothing, do not come close to the obvious, missing track pad. There is an area above the keyboard and below the screen that is screaming out for a track pad. Also, the location of the cursors is a little weird. It seems like the perfect location for Facebook button rather than having it sit out from the keyboard like Norman Nomates. Odd decision but nothing you could really call a fault.

On the top is the 3.5mm headphone socket and the power button.



On the right? There is nothing.



On the bottom is the hole for the microphone and a larger hole for a lanyard or a phone charm.


On the left is the volume rocker and the MicroUSB connector.


Finally, on the back there is a silver band dividing the top from the hatch that you can slip off. Above this is the housing for the 5mp camera and it’s flash to the right. On the left is a grill for the loud speaker.



Many other recent models in the HTC range at the moment are made from a single piece of aluminium. Unfortunately, this one is not. The metallic band across the back is in keeping with the HTC range however. The device is made entirely of plastic, with a matte finished. It feels very natural to use and thankfully is probably the least finger-printy device I have used for a long time.



  • Facebook integration
  • Generous keyboard
  • solid build


  • Subpar camera
  • Small screen size
  • No optical track pad



Android phones are coming in all shapes and sizes now and it’s nice to be able to have your pick of form factor. It’s daring of HTC to put together a combination that will directly resemble the Blackberry and negotiate a deal with the biggest social network to put their key features at the touch of a button. HTC’s announcements at MWC did not exactly present the most ground-breaking line-up. However, each one has since received it’s fair share of glowing reviews and praise.  This is the only device, aside from the HTC Flyer, that was a break from the norm. The HTC Salsa, being this phone’s sister of sorts, feels like an HTC Legend with a Facebook button added in for good measure.

At the time of the announcement the HTC ChaCha featured a 600mhz processor. Not the worst in the world but obviously a cost cutting measure as the phone seemed to have everything else you would expect from a medium to high end phone. Fast forward a few months and HTC ripped out the 600 and replaced it with a more eye catching 800mhz alternative. By todays standard 800mhz isn’t particularly stellar however it’s still enough horsepower to keep that little green Android chappy happy.

Size was on of the immediate concerns, it’s wide. the angular bend of the device helps hide some of the thickness but the width is something that front facing phones have managed to avoid for a good few years. However, for the seasoned typist on a Blackberry, zooming over the keys can always resort in some misspellings along the way. On the ChaCha, any gripes about the width are quickly dispensed with once the users accuracy is realised. The buttons are comfortable to type on, the spaces between them help avoid any collisions with surrounding buttons and the feedback is spot on perfect. Suffice to say, this is easily the finest front facing keyboard I have used.

One might think this is high praise however it’s not without it’s not quite perfect. The button layout will take a considerable amount of time to get used to. Secondary functions and punctuation are laid out in a fairly unconventional pattern. On of the biggest peeves was the fullstop (period) button. On a Blackberry you have to hit the function button then the M key to do a fullstop. Here, as you blaze away at typing you will, all too frequently, be typing to fast to remember and hitting the function button and the fullstop will boot the camera. A maddening delay to your fast paced communication. Thankfully those extra 200mhz make for a speed turn around and the camera is gone in a few seconds.

The ChaCha is beautifully weighted. Just right is about all I can say here. One of those devices that feel good in the hand thanks to the matte texture and the balanced weight. Perhaps this might have been different if the device were “carefully honed from a single piece of aluminium by naked, Swedish virgins” as with all the other HTC devices.

The screen is the only thing I really felt annoyed with. It’s just too small. HTC have spent a lot of time customising the HTC Sense overlay to fit and as Matt has outlined/blethered on about a couple of times in the Podcast, if you can hear him over the snoring of the other podcasters, the screen is the right way round. Also, it is worth noting that there is no bezel around the edge meaning that it is all too easy for your finger, when interacting with the touchscreen, to accidently touch on the the soft buttons resulting in the menu popping up or worse still going back or home and loosing where you were. It’s very easy to do given the screen size.

The big problem was on the Internet Browser. By the time the space was used for the notification bar and the address bar at the top and the status bar at the bottom, there really wasn’t too much space left for the actual browsing of the Internet. The same problem was also evident on the SMS app and the Friend Stream interface.
I’m sure Blackberry users will not have much to moan about, being used to interacting with such cramped conditions but anyone coming from an iPhone or other candybar phone will have a tough time acclimatising to it.

The notifications drop down is very standard to HTC Sense. There is nothing new here. A bit of a missed opportunity. Samsung have taken the liberty to add power controls to the drop down. Something I was hoping to see here.

An interesting note when the device is first switched on is that there are a couple of extra options to get you on your way. First is the ability to transfer stuff from your old phone. The imagery used here depicts a dumb phone and suggests you transfer things across by Bluetooth. This is obviously for those who do not have all their information stored on an exchange server of some description.
There is also a featured Facebook set up. Given that the phone has Facebook heavily integrated into the operating system this seems like an essential inclusion. Anyone looking to bypass this screen has obviously bought the wrong phone.

easy transferhtc watching youfacebook

Facebook isn’t the only account available to set up. Flickr, Activesync and twitter all make welcome appearances.

social networking
The Home screen has been tweaked from previous incarnations to take advantage of the home screen’s landscape orientation. Make no mistake, nothing has been cut out of the HTC Sense experience. It’s all here, widgets, scenes and themes. It’s notables that the home screen layout is similar to Samsung’s, given that the extended home screens are laid out to the right. the home screen is on the extreme left and pressing home will take you back to here, when most Android home screens have 2-3 screens either side of the home. There are four in total and you can populate them with all manner of widgets.

homequad home

Most of the widgets and home screen setups are very tidy. Non-intrusive and well judged to delivery the most relevant information. Given the tiny screen size, this is crucial. It is also limited. As you will note from the screen shot, there is only space for one Facebook update. Better than nothing I suppose. However, getting rid of other shortcuts and widgets will allow for a larger widget to keep you better informed. It’s a difficult trade off, always has been, but here it is ever more evident. Blackberry has worked for years to make the most of this and HTC’s first big attempt is a success but has a long way to go before you feel as informed as you would with a Blackberry.

Whilst HTC Sense is an obligatory overlay that you cannot remove, HTC has allowed you a little bit of movement when it comes to Personalisation. Whilst you can change the Scenes depending on your mobile mood you can also fiddle around with them an essentially making your own, with the pieces of themes already provided.


Scenessound scheme

If you don’t fancy delving into the millions of combinations you can resort to the Skins collection and if you register with the HTC Hub, an online store and feature set, you will find a great many more. skins

The biggest addition is the Facebook buttons. Pressing it once will allow you to update your wall. Holding the button in brings up the Facebook Locations feature. Very handy and unique however it does only really save you having to either boot the Facebook client or in the case you are watching a Youtube video and want to update your status to say so, having to Share it from the relevant client. The time saving is tiny using the button, however it might just be enough that you might do it a little more.

button locationbutton wall post

The phones’ own social networking hub Friend Stream acts as a one stop shop for all and sundry on your Facebook and Twitter pages. It’s easy to use and presents everything simply and unobtrusively.
The SMS client proved to be just a little tricky. There is a lot of space given over to the composing for you message, so much so that you can only really see one SMS at a time. The speech bubble illustration is not handy, and I found myself wishing for the old style lined, threaded message. There is a lot of wasted space here.


The Market has the landscape orientation. Something you don’t see terribly often. Again, there is a shortcut to HTC apps in place of the shortcuts to your own personal apps. A shortcut that has bothered me before, as if you will be using HTC’s apps more often than those you have purchased yourself. Instead you have to click the menu button and you can access your app from there.
Whilst on the topic of apps, it is important to note that there are a few incompatibilities with current apps. Not as many as I had originally imagined. The screen resizing works very well, however there were some that you just could not use as buttons were placed off the screen. And example is Thrust, an app of choice at the moment for me. During the initial setup you cannot complete as the final button is inaccessible.


Opening the drawer will reveal all the apps you have and HTC have nicely categorised the apps on the right of the screen. All apps is you complete collection, Frequent are 12 of your most used apps and Download distinguishes between that which HTC provide and that which you have added yourself.

all apps3frequent appsdownloaded apps

Included on the device are a number of extra apps HTC recommend. Most are standard under HTC Sense. Google Books was on that interested me as I cannot imagine too many people sitting down to read Tess of the d’Urbervilles: A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented or the similarly themed Frankenstein on this tiny screen, regardless I have added a screen shot of what you can expect from the ebook reader.



The Internet browser, something I have already rattled on about is worth taking a closer look at. Since fiddling with the phone a bit more I have found the browser to be a little less cramped. Of course having the track pad would have made moving around a website a great deal easier. Flash works quite nicely and doesn’t really slow down the performance. Of course opening videos in the dedicated client will result is a smoother, more pleasant experience.



When making the phone HTC must have realised that the camera was to be an important part and the user would be using both the 5mp camera to record events straight to Facebook and the front facing 1.3mp camera. So the question has to be asked why didn’t they spend a little extra time sorting the cameras out to take good pictures?




In the case of the 5mp camera the ChaCha produces dark results with an over-sensitive ISO. Take note, in ideal conditions, how the camera darkens when the angle of the phone is changed slightly and picks up the smallest amount of extra sky. It’s very easy to come away with an overly darkened picture when there is a bright object on the frame.


The front facing camera is perfectly competent for making video chats or video blogging.


Once overcome the picture quality is serviceable for the price of the phone. It’s not going to blow you away but it will be enough to upload to Facebook, oh wait, that’s the point!
There are a decent amount of settings on the camera but lets face it, 99% of the people how get this phone will resort of auto mode more often than not.


Located on the Internet Browser is the ability to pick up an RSS subscription. The subscription is then dropped into the News client. Much like Google Reader the News client monitors your favourite work and play websites and updates you of an changes.

Confusingly, beside the News application is the New and Weather application. This one is not so customisable and once you have the News app running with all news relevant to you then the News and Weather app becomes a little redundant. Of course there is always something to read there if you have exhausted the New app.

Hang on! This is a phone, first and foremost. The Dialler is straightforward and standard. Having the additional calling buttons makes things quicker to use. No multiple button presses to make or end a call here. In fact I figured it was too simple, I accidentally called someone I hadn’t spoken to for a couple of years at 1am. They were so pleased to hear from me they even stopped sleeping! SO pleased!

One thing did like was the contacts application scanned the list of contacts and looked for ways to link rogue information together. A simple link in a chain appears, you press it, it links the contact information together. Keeping everything tidy. I was glad of this as it sorted out my rather untidy Google Contacts list.

Updating is simple. I know, because there was an update the other day. It took it’s sweet time installing mind you and there was no indication that I would loose all the information on the phone, or at least that I noticed. The phone notified me, I agreed and away it went. 5-6 minutes later I was downloading all my synced info from Google again.


In an attempt to identify if this phone was “down with the kids” I gave it to a 13 year old social maniac called Hannah. I couldn’t quite imagine a Barrister walking around excitedly updating Facebook about a recent “injunction lodged successfully against a multinational corporation in relation to the unlawful procurement of oil reserves lol,” and the resulting status ‘likes’ from the social misfits said Barrister calls friends. Instead Hannah, agreeing to write a paragraph for this review and chickening out in the days before having to do the work, spent two days connecting with her friends in all manner of ways. Hannah saved most of her enthusiasm for the keyboard, it’s was fast, comfortable and easy to type on. Having vanilla Android on her San Francisco she did find HTC Sense a little confusing to start with, finding her way on around the device came quickly and in the end she was somewhat taken by the Sense interface, not to happy about being dumped back with the San Francisco.

I’m glad that the HTC ChaCha is my first time on an Android front facing keyboard phone. There have been a few reviews and previews for similar phones recently that have been less than favourable.
HTC have seized the opportunity of appealing to the teenage Blackberry user and built a phone that not only looks and acts the way you would want but it’s something that the kids need to see and use.

It’s rare that a device comes along that I am really interested in buying and the HTC ChaCha is one such device. HTC have set the benchmark for the front facing keyboard, Android phone and it will be a tough job for any other company to best the ChaCha.


Review by: Gareth

Posted in: Phones, Reviews
Tags: ,

About the Author:

Seasoned tech blogger. Host of the Tech Addicts podcast.
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