Some form factors appeal through unique sizes and designs. Others go for features. The new Motorola Charm chooses the former as its selling point. Positioned as a messaging-centric phone, the Charm has design traits that remind us of BlackBerry devices. At just 110g and 30mm shy of being a perfect square, the Charm fits snugly in our palms.
The Menu, Home and Back touch-sensitive buttons are sandwiched between the obvious four-row QWERTY keyboard and the 2.8-inch capacitive touch screen. Messaging can be a daunting task with the keyboard's cramped layout. Occupying slightly more than one-third of the Charm's length, the keys are closely spaced for maximum effect. While we were glad to find dedicated keys for the email, camera and search features, the close proximity didn't exactly make it easy to reach the keys, or for that matter, operate the directional keys to navigate the interface.
While the shortcut panel has the right amount of touch sensitivity, we had handling issues with the 2.8-inch display. Due to its landscape orientation, the interface layout is slightly different from what we are used to, and to make matters worse, the screen has a slower response to our touch. This was illustrated by apps such as Tweetdeck and Angry Birds, which appeared awkward due to the 320 x 240 landscape resolution. As such, when we were expecting a portrait orientation for our Tweetdeck columns, we were greeted with a landscape view instead.
With its limited screen size and below average resolution level, the Charm isn't suited for video playback. Its audio quality was decent, but we weren't duly impressed with the imaging quality of its 3-megapixel camera and the lack of a built-in LED flash. The same can be said for its Backtrack trackpad, situated just beside its camera. This uniquely positioned trackpad keeps your thumbs free while your index finger scrolls through pages with the Backtrack. At least that's the idea. Unfortunately, our fingers tend to swipe the Backtrack accidentally, prompting us to keep the Backtrack inactive.
Armed with Google Android 2.1, the Charm employs widgets to enhance the user interface and experience. This includes social networking widgets that links up your Twitter and Facebook profiles. This makes sense, given that you can be notified of status updates and reply promptly thanks to the availability of a physical QWERTY keyboard.
However, that doesn't resolve the visibly slow screen transition and apps switching we experienced during our testing period. If you are the patient sort, this shouldn't be a major deal breaker. Fortunately, the trade-off for a smaller and lower resolution screen means you'll get reasonable mileage, even with its 1170mAh battery. We managed almost a day and a half from moderate usage before it went flat. Price at S$499 (before contract), this should appeal to Android enthusiasts on a tight budget and for those who're looking for something out of the ordinary.