HTC ChaCha review: Status update
Sub-par 5 megapixel snapper
The HTC ChaCha packs a 5MP camera for stills of up to 2592x1952 pixel resolution. The phone does D1 (720x480) videos @ 24fps too. There’s a single-LED flash, which can also be used as video light.
The camera interface is nearly identical to that of other HTC phones with minor differences. There's a virtual shutter key at the bottom of the screen and a zoom slider on the left. On the right you get four controls - the still/video mode toggle, back/front camera toggle, flash settings and a shortcut to the gallery.
What's missing is the effects key - you can access those using the menu key and you'll find all sorts of other settings there (ISO, image adjustments, etc.). The ChaCha also has fancy features like face detection, touch focus and geotagging.
Continuous autofocus lets the camera focus as you reframe – quite useful given the ChaCha doesn’t have a proper half-press enabled shutter key and you can’t do that with the virtual shutter key either.
A particularly nice touch is the option to automatically upload all your photos to your Facebook account and use that as a backup.
We weren't expecting miracles from the ChaCha camera and we didn’t get any. There's visible noise despite very little fine detail making it past the post processing stage. Most annoying however is the massive pink spot dead center, which basically alters the color balance of the entire photo.
Not to mention the lens issue that our ChaCha unit had - it's not the first time we've seen this in HTC phones and it's a worrisome trend. On the other hand – the original Samsung Galaxy S has one too though not as prominent.
Contrast is fine for what that's worth but you might want to process the images to fix the colors anyway. And watch out for lens issues when buying a ChaCha.
You can check out the camera samples below.
Photo quality comparison
The HTC ChaCha enters our Photo Compare Tool to join the other 5MP shooters. The tool’s page will give you enough info on how to use it and what to look for.
If you haven't seen a pink spot before, check out the first chart - that's supposed to be black lines on white paper. The second chart shows off the contrast (look at the squares around the central circle), which seems to be one of the best characteristics of the camera.
The squares to the right (especially the one next to the grass and gravel squares) highlight how aggressive the noise reduction is. The third chart once again highlights just how far off the ChaCha is when it comes to color reproduction.
As you can see for yourself the ChaCha camera falls behind most of its competitors and will surely not satisfy the average user. As we said above the biggest problem we met is the unsatisfactory captured detail.
D1 videos with frame rate issues
The interface of the camcorder is similar to the still camera’s, though understandably, there aren't as many customizable options. You can set the video resolution, white balance, exposure, saturation, contrast and you can even add effects. Audio recording is optional, too.
Autofocus works here too, but you will need to activate it manually. The ChaCha normally focuses before you start shooting a video and locks the focus, but a tap on any part of the screen will make it refocus, while shooting.
Videos are stored in 3GP format and while that's not our first choice for a video container, it should be good enough for D1 video. The amount of captured detail is pretty good but the ChaCha struggles to maintain 22-23fps rather than the intended 30fps and that ruins the videos.
The cars in our sample appear to leap frog - they go for a while then freeze for a few frames and then start again. We were hoping that the beefed up CPU will prevent such issues but it turns out it won't.
Here goes an untouched D1@20fps video clip (18s, 7.5MB).
Or you can check out this sample we uploaded to YouTube to see the level of choppiness that spoils the videos.
The HTC ChaCha has a commendable connectivity set, including quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE and dual-band 3G (7.2Mbps downlink and 384kbps uplink).
The local wireless connectivity has Wi-Fi b/g/n (no DLNA here though). The Bluetooth version is 3.0, but you should not expect high-speed transfers either.
When you plug in the microUSB cable you’re presented with a long list of options - Charge only, Disk drive (mass storage), HTC Sync, USB tethering (use the phone as a modem) and Internet pass-through (the phone uses the computers Internet connection).
Last, but not least, is the HTC Portable Hotspot. It can support up to 8 devices, you can WEP, WPA or WPA2 encrypt the hotspot and you can enable only “allowed users” to connect or leave it open for anything (unsecure, but the quickest setup).
The app can be set to power off automatically after 5 or 10 minutes of inactivity, saving your battery in case you forget to switch it off manually.
Good web browsing, but Flash is a no-go
The HTC ChaCha has the latest Android 2.3 Gingerbread web browser, which does bring some advantages over Froyo, but full Flash support isn't one of them in this case. The small screen also puts a limit on the browsing experience. It does have decent pixel density going for it.
The user interface keeps mostly out of sight, which leaves the entire screen to the web page. The minimalist UI is still quite powerful – hit the menu key and six keys pop up (they along with the URL bar cover almost the entire screen, which is a bit annoying).
There are back and forward buttons, adding and viewing bookmarks and managing the open tabs. Finally, the More button brings out yet more options – anything from finding on page and text selection (which works just like in the messaging app).
The ChaCha browser also supports pinch/double tap zooming and text reflow, which makes it easier to even read texts on the phone display. Without text reflow you will either have to zoom out until the text fits (but then it’s too small to read comfortably) or scroll sideways to read each line.
Once you select some text, you can copy it, launch the Quick lookup app (which offers Google Translate among other things) or share the text over a message or social networking.
The bookmark list shows a thumbnail view of the bookmarked pages and you get a “most visited” list in addition. Tabs are displayed as 3D cards too – a really neat trick is that if you pinch zoom out beyond the minimum zoom level you go straight into the tab selector. This may be a cool way to manage tabs but too many of them open at once will seriously slow down the browser.
The HTC ChaCha comes only with basic Flash support courtesy of HTC. It manages to play YouTube videos inline but it uses the 240p stream, which is intended for underpowered feature phones and is very heavily compressed. You can't switch to the 360p version.
You could always use the YouTube app, but Flash games are out of reach.
Mind you, the Android 2.3 browser has support for HTML5 and its video tag but that is a few years (at best) away from becoming the norm.