Reviews

Motorola Charm Review: Android’s Not-so-Smartphone

September 8, 2010 | by Andrew Kameka

Android Phones and Devices, Motorola, T-Mobile

motorola-charm

The Motorola Charm is a peculiar device. Though one might be inclined to call this a smartphone because of its operating system, the feel, experience, and likely consumer of the device lends more to what would typically be considered a messaging phone.

The Charm represents three important developments in Android. It’s a sign that Motorola plans to continue its Android assault by offering the most diverse phone models, and that T-Mobile will continue targeting “regular” consumers with its phones. The Charm is also the first Android with a portrait QWERTY keyboard, a form factor that has long been overlooked in the U.S. market. Will this be the phone that finally converts the keyboard die-hards?

HARDWARE

Bigger is better according to current mobile phone trends, but the Charm opts for a more compact form. The phone is a palm-sized 67.2 x 98.4 millimeters with metal siding and a slick, rubber back. Inside is a 600 MHz processor, 512 MB internal memory, and 512 MB RAM.

A bar QWERTY keyboard is half of the Charm’s appeal, just as it is almost half of the devices physical makeup. Directly below the glass controls for menu, home, and back functions sits a collection of slim plastic keys. Buttons are raised in the center, curving sharply on the thin letters packed into the devices slab design. The layout is tight but surprisingly accurate, so a nimble pair of fingers can type at a decent speed (portions of this review were actually composed on the Charm). The keyboard also includes well placed shortcuts for the universal inbox, camera, and search functions, and a direction pad used in the lower right corner.

The other half of the phone is far less charming. QVGA phones are typically less appealing, but only because the small screen size hampers the app selection of the Android Market. The Motorola Charm’s use of a 2.8-inch TFT LCD screen is far worse because the screen is simply dreadful. Colors are oversaturated and images are pixelated, making the Charm reminiscent of a Gameboy Color. Text can also be blocky and grainy to the point that reading can be displeasing. The limited visibility also affects interaction with the software. For instance, the live wallpapers that typically look so beautiful on other devices lose all appeal when crunched into the confined space and poor display.

Similar to the Backflip, the Charm features a rear gesture pad that provides a third control option. Backtrack is more valuable in this case given the Charm’s small size and bar design. A trackball might provide more pinpoint accuracy, but the gesture pad actually serves as an easy and fast way of navigating. A prime example includes playing Guns n’ Glory. While i complained of a poor mechanism for traveling through large maps on the tower defense game, swiping with Backtrack proved to be an excellent solution for that problem. General browsing with the pad is equally convenient, so this form factors lends itself well to rear navigation.

Watch the unboxing video for hardware impressions

SOFTWARE

Motorola gave the Charm the Android 2.1 version of its custom MOTOBLUR software. By now, most users are already familiar with this socially-oriented system that integrates connections with Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter into the phone. Through the use of widgets and a universal inbox, every means of communication is readily available and organized how users see fit.

However, MOTOBLUR and Android run into problems because of the screen’s pint-size make-up.  The home screen is jumbled and filled to the brim, so the widgets that make MOTOBLUR appealing look jumbled and unattractive. Imagine Shaquille O’Neal and Stacy Kiebler squeezing into Mini Cooper and you will have an idea of how MOTOBLUR looks on the Charm.

T-Mobile and Motorola have placed a few pre-loaded apps onto the Charm. QuickOffice can manage files and read Microsoft Office documents; My Account shows minutes usage, Pays bills, alerts when roaming; and My Device manages CallerTunes, ringtone, and wallpapers.

CAMERA

At only 3 megapixels, the Motorola Charm’s camera is passable in some moments and paltry in others. Sun light or bright, direct lights will produce very solid photographs if you have a steady hand. The camera struggles in moderate and dim lighting settings. There’s no flash, so don’t count on getting any help in that regard.

The Charm has a fixed focus lens that doesn’t perform well with moving objects, so don’t count on this to do anything but catch friends cheesing for the camera. You’ll also have 4x digital zoom to get closer to your subject. It’s no always advisable but sometimes proves useful.

Here are some examples of the camera and camcorder

See Video #2 and also be sure to See Video #3

BATTERY LIFE

The strength of a battery can sometimes determine the strength of the phone. This is one of those times. Motorola ships the Charm with a 1170 mAh battery that fades far too soon. Even on standby with minimal use – a few phone calls and light web browsing – the battery fails to make it through one day without needing to be recharged. Motorola wisely includes a second extended “bonus” battery (1420 mAh) that extends usage favorably, so you need not worry about keeping a charger around at all times.

CONCLUSION

The Motorola Charm is at war with itself. On the side of good, it adopts a new form-factor that is sure to please many who have waited for a different approach to Android. On the side of evil are the faults that make this a device that could turn off a substantial portion of current Android users looking to upgrade. Anyone who has used an Android device will discover that this is most likely a downgrade to what they currently own.

If you are highly-social, young, and converting from a feature phone, the Charm will initially meet your needs. The entry-level build and surprisingly capable physical keyboard make this a device worth considering. But if you are a BlackBerry hold-out waiting for the right device to bring you into the Android fold, this Droid’s not for you.

Problems with the screen will likely prove maddening to anyone who has smartphone experience to draw comparisons. But for someone who has only used feature phones, this could be a decent transition device. The solid keyboard, comparative simplicity, and cheap price also makes this ideal for someone looking to purchase a phone for their child or text happy teen. The Motorola Charm is not a powerful device by any means, but it is a cute phone with a smarter than average OS.