The HTC ChaCha is a castanet-clicking, hand-clapping smart phone, with a beauty mark in the form of a dedicated Facebook button. It also offers all the power of Android 2.3 Gingerbread and an excellent Qwerty keyboard.
The ChaCha is available for free on a monthly contract for around £15 per month. SIM-free, the phone will set you back around £250.
Do the ChaCha
Released alongside the HTC Salsa, the ChaCha is one of a new generation of Facebook-focused handsets. Mobile manufacturers are quickly catching on to the fact that social networking is big business, and we'd be willing to bet both of these phones will shift a substantial number of units purely because they boast the Facebook logo on their casing.
When compared to the Salsa, the ChaCha initially feels rather strange. The odd bend in the middle of the phone is clearly intended to improve the feel of the device in the hand, and it certainly does so, but it looks odd.
Thankfully, this bend makes the ChaCha's Qwerty keyboard a joy to use. The width of the phone allows you to comfortably use two thumbs for typing, and the buttons themselves are large and easy to locate, even if you have chubby fingers. They also emit a satisfying 'click' when pressed. Compared to the cramped keys on the BlackBerry Curve 8250, the ChaCha's keyboard feels positively spacious.
Sadly, fitting in all those lovely, tactile buttons has forced HTC's designers to compromise elsewhere -- namely the landscape screen. Although its resolution of 480x320 pixels offers a sharp image, this is largely down to the small size of the display -- it measures just 2.6 inches from corner to corner.
Although we've seen Android phones with similar screens before -- the Acer beTouch E210, for instance -- they're not common, and the display's shape can cause problems when it comes to using some apps. Those that appear in portrait mode, for example, require the ChaCha to be held sideways, and other apps tend to flit between portrait and landscape displays, forcing you to constantly turn the phone in your hands.
Those apps that do play happily with the landscape view suffer from other complications. Content is squashed down to fit on the screen, and scrolling through certain applications, such as TweetDeck, becomes an unnecessarily tiresome experience.
One plus point is that websites look good, as they're intended to be viewed on 16:8 monitors. Flash support is limited to animated banners and little else, though.
Another bonus is that the small screen helps the ChaCha's dainty 1,250mAh battery last for quite a while. With many Android phones accommodating gigantic, power-hungry screens, many users have become accustomed to charging their phones at least once a day. The ChaCha manages to comfortably last for longer away from the mains, if used in moderation.
All up in your Facebook
The biggest selling point of the ChaCha is its much-hyped Facebook button. It rests just below the keyboard, and is within easy reach when the phone is cradled in your hand.
In terms of functionality, it does exactly the same as it does on the Salsa. It's context-sensitive, so, if you press it when viewing a photo, it will prepare the image for upload to your Facebook account. Likewise, prodding it when looking at a Web page will share a link with your friends. It's even possible to tell everyone what song you're listening to by pushing the button during music playback.
Holding down the button for longer activates the Facebook Places function, which allows you to check in at pre-determined locations. If your current whereabouts aren't listed, you can use your phone's GPS to create a new one.
The Facebook button will get the ChaCha noticed, but it doesn't actually do much that isn't already possible via the standard Android operating system. You can share a Web page by simply pressing the menu key and then tapping 'share', so the button merely saves you a few seconds. Despite this, though, you soon become reliant on it.
With Android 2.3 and HTC's latest Sense user interface onboard, the ChaCha is pretty close to the cutting edge in software terms. The limitations of the 800MHz CPU have sadly forced HTC to remove the Watch movie-streaming application, but we're not sure we'd want to view high-definition films on the dinky screen anyway.
Another curious omission is the quick-access settings menu which was neatly concealed in the notifications bar on the Desire S, Sensation and Salsa. It's likely that this omission was made to ensure the landscape screen didn't become too crowded with options.
The HTC ChaCha's screen takes some getting used to, but the excellent Qwerty keyboard and Facebook button mean it's a very appealing device. If you already use a phone with a large touchscreen, you may find the transition to the ChaCha too painful to bear, but BlackBerry users looking for a route into Android will be absolutely bowled over by this phone.
Edited by Charles Kloet