HTC ChaCha review: Status update
Sense UI goes landscape(-ing)
The ChaCha runs Android v2.3 out of the box. As usual, it is skinned with the HTC Sense, but a slightly different version. It's listed as “version 2.1 for Messenger” but it packs a lot of goodies from the 3.0 release we saw on the HTC Sensation (the great lockscreen included).
Here’s a video demonstration of the HTC ChaCha user interface.
The interface has been reworked to make better use of the landscape screen. There’re two virtual buttons available but they're visible only on the first homescreen. The left one opens the App launcher, while the right one brings up the "Personalize" menu. You can always tap the Home key to go back to the first homescreen (or you can do Menu key, All apps from any homescreen). Still, it's a bit annoying not having immediate access to the main menu from all screens.
The scrollbar at the bottom is just an indication of which homescreen pane you’re on, which auto hides after a few seconds.
Leap view is available on the ChaCha for easier navigation of homescreen panes. Tap the home key (while on the first homescreen) or do a pinch gesture to zoom out to display the thumbnails of all seven homescreen panes at once. With a press and hold you can rearrange the homescreen panes as well.
Seven homescreen panes is all you get though – there’s no add or delete option. With all those widgets (which are quite useful too) you’ll want to keep all of them anyway.
The call keys also serve as shortcuts. The green one opens the call log just as you'd expect. The red one is a bit inconsistent: it will go to the homescreen most of the time but some times it won't (e.g. it doesn’t close the main menu). Still, it's a tactile alternative to the capacitive Home key.
HTC Sense makes use of Scenes – essentially five custom homescreen setups (Work, Travel, Social, Play and default). Each scene changes the wallpaper and the widgets on the homescreen. For instance, the Work scene has a Stocks widget, while the Social offers a Twitter widget. Those can be customized, of course.
You select a Scene within a fancy-looking 3D card interface. You can modify existing scenes and you can get more scenes at the HTC Hub.
Switching between scenes takes a couple of seconds but sure allows wide customization – the business and personal modes that some competing phones offer seem quite limited compared to the HTC Scenes.
The HTC Sense has another customization option called Skins. Every skin changes the look and feel of most of the onscreen buttons, application screens, option menus, and other items. They also come with unique wallpaper and can set different colors to various UI elements. They can also replace the standard dock, lockscreen and widget frames with custom ones or change their shape.
Unfortunately, the ChaCha comes with only two skins pre-installed, but you can always get more off the HTC Hub.
The main menu has the typical grid layout with vertically scrollable pages (just like we saw on the HTC Sensation), or you can switch to a list. You can use the keyboard to quickly find apps - just start typing the name and ChaCha will list matching apps instantly.
The main menu has three tabs: All apps, Frequent apps and Favorites. They are quite useful especially when you have lots of installed applications.
Tapping the Personalize button brings out a whole screen of things to choose from – for the display (scenes, wallpapers and skin), for the homescreen (widgets, shortcuts, folders, etc.) and even sounds (ringtones, alarms, notifications and Sound set).
In the widget section, both types of widgets (custom HTC and stock Android) are placed on the same page. There are so many of them you may find the seven small homescreen panes short. You can download new widgets off the Market or the HTC Hub.
When you select a widget you are prompted to choose between several versions – most widgets have at least two styles. The different versions typically offer at least two sizes of the widget and different skins. For example, there are five different clocks. Picking a small version of a widget makes a lot of sense with the ChaCha. It doesn’t exactly have screen real estate to squander on large widgets, though truth be told, smaller widgets can be hard to read on a screen this small.
Some widget styles even offer different functionality. One version of the Friend Stream widget for instance shows updates from the people you follow and lets you update status or tweet. The second version is more compact and only allows status updates and tweets. A third one is also available showing only your friends’ status updates with no option to update yours. There's nothing stopping you from using all of them, of course.
The notification area is simplified compared to the one in Sense UI 3.0. It only lists the missed/ongoing events, there's no recent app list or an extra tab with power toggles for Wi-Fi, GPS and the like.
We didn’t have high hopes for the ChaCha performance at first but when HTC announced that they will be upgrading it to an 800MHz processor (instead of the originally announced 600MHz), we made a note to benchmark it and see how it performs against similarly powered competition.
Benchmarks showed the performance is what you'd expect from an old-gen single gen chipset running at 800MHz. Results were on par with the Samsung Galaxy Ace, whose relevant specs are identical, and ahead of the refreshed Wildfire S model.
We didn’t have a matching set of benchmarks for the HTC Desire Z, but the much better BenchmarkPi results (2059 for the ChaCha and 1282 for the Froyo-running Z) show that having newer architecture is more important than pure clock speed.
The new lockscreen that impressed us so much in the Sensation makes an appearance in the ChaCha too. By default, it has four shortcuts and a ring at the bottom. You drag the ring towards the center of the screen to unlock the phone.
Or, you can drag any of the shortcuts into the ring to unlock the phone and launch the corresponding app. You can assign any four apps to the lockscreen that you like. You can install other lockscreens too, each with a different function. You'll have to visit HTC Hub for that one though as the ChaCha comes with only one lockscreen preinstalled.
The fast boot feature is enabled in the HTC ChaCha but it won’t work if you have removed the battery – in that case it will do a regular slow boot.
The cool thing is apps preserve their state after the restart – so if you were browsing a website before shutting the down phone, the browser will restore your session.
Our guess is, HTC has used some sort of Suspend or Hibernate logic as we know them from regular computers to implement the fast boot.