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T-Mobile Motorola Charm Review


When the Motorola Charm from T-Mobile first reared its head earlier this summer I was super excited to see if this would be the perfect smartphone for me. The Motorola Charm is the first Android phone to sport a dedicated QWERTY keyboard in a candybar form-factor. Personally, it seemed like the ultimate combination for someone who doesn’t like slide-out keyboards or onscreen keyboards. And with the name “Charm”- how could this latest phone from Motorola be anything less. Well the Motorola Charm does have some very charming aspects, but like any charming Don Draper – there is always a catch…

In the Box:
The Motorola Charm comes with a 2GB memory card, hands free 3.5mm stereo headset, USB Cable, charger, and last, but not least – TWO BATTERIES! Yes, you read that right – they have included two batteries, a standard one and an extended battery with an extra back door cover to compensate for it. Lastly there is a manual included and MOTOBLUR instructions letting you know that you must sign up first in order to use the phone.

Design and Build Quality:
The design of the Motorola Charm is actually quite adorable and reminds me of the iPod Nano 3rd Gen in some ways. In pictures I wasn’t all that impressed with the Charm, but in person it really is quite the charmer. Its short and wide design gives you a wide screen size of 2.8 inches and provides enough room for a decent sized keyboard. The construction is solid and actually feels like it’s made pretty well, which is always a question for a Motorola phone. The Motorola charm weighs about 4 ounces and feels light in your hand and can easily slip into a pocket or purse. The extended battery cover is only slightly thicker than the standard one and really doesn’t hinder the phone much at all in regards to weight.

One unique design feature of the Charm is the ‘BACKTRACK,’ a navigation pad that is located on the back of the phone that lets you scroll through your phone without touching the screen. Since the screen is smaller than say an iPhone and most other touchscreen smartphones, this enables you to view all of the screen at once, without your finger getting in the way of its visuals. The BACKTRACK is an optional feature that you don’t have to use – so you don’t have to feel like you have to learn a new way to scroll around your phone. Personally, I don’t find the BACKTRACK necessary to use, but it’s certainly nice to have the option available to you. Also, despite its wide shape, making a phone call with the Charm is quite natural feeling and comfortable. The QWERTY keyboard also feels solid in construction too and not chintzy. I certainly see how this form factor would certainly appeal to teenagers – it has a very youthful design and I imagine that text heavy tweens and teenagers will really like it.

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One of the things that got me initially excited about the Motorola Charm was that it is the first Android phone with a dedicated QWERTY keyboard that doesn’t slide out. The keyboard keys are very comfortable and it’s very easy to type on it. It’s not too small for your fingers and anyone with a BlackBerry might actually enjoy typing on this device. Because the device has a bit of a wide body – it is very ergonomic to grip. Typing emails on it is very easy and done simply without any typos. As you type – the OS will suggest words that you might be in the process of typing. So you can select the suggestion if it applies and continue typing. The keyboard also conveniently lights up in the dark. Overall, sending an email is quick and painless without the hassle of a virtual keyboard.

Well on the surface the Motorola Charm was really doing well. I was initially impressed with the construction, the neat BACKTRACK feature, and even the keyboard. However it all came to a screeching halt with the display. Yet again – just like with the recently released BlackBerry Torch 9800 – the Charm has so much potential and it’s all tossed aside by a shoddy screen. The Motorola Charm by far has the worst screen I have ever seen on an Android device. The display is so bad that it makes me feel like I am using a phone circa 2006. If you thought the display on the BlackBerry Torch was a poor showing, well the Torch’s display looks like a million bucks compared to this one. The Motorola Cliq had a better screen than the Charm’s display and the Cliq is almost a year old already. For someone who has never had a smartphone before, maybe they could deal with the sub-par display on the Motorola Charm. But anyone who has ever used a serious smartphone before this one will find that this display offers awful viewing angles, an annoying glare, and an instant headache – for me it did anyway. The display’s resolution is low at 320×240, but it’s not so much the resolution that makes the screen so dismal. Besides poor viewing angles, you can even see bands running through images and text. Forget about being impressed with websites – the colors are completely washed out. Nothing can save this display – no OS upgrade – nothing. You’d expect to see this kind of display on one of those dumb-phones that are offered for free on contract. Seriously guys, don’t even be fooled of our photos of the display – our photos make the display seem better than it actually is.

Performance and UI:
The Motorola Charm includes 2GB of Memory which is expandable up to 32GB. The actual speed of its processor seems to be mysteriously hard to find as does the actual on-board amount of ram. However Andriod OS 2.1 is installed along with the very good MOTOBLUR interface. In order to setup the phone you will have to set up a MOTOBLUR account. It’s apparent when using the device that it is certainly no powerhouse like the Nexus One or most of the other newer Android phones coming out, as it experiences some serious hiccups when moving from application to application which destroys the fluidity of moving around the phone.

Often the phone just freezes and the only way to wake it up again is to press the power button which works like a kind of kick start. Even during phone calls, when having to enter in additional information at prompts it will occasionally hang – this is not good at all. Fortunately, these instances are few and far between but still seem kind of unacceptable. Luckily pinching and zooming websites isn’t an issue, nor is there a lag while doing those gestures. Hopefully an OS upgrade will fix some of those other bugs.

The BACKTRACK Navigation Pad is a unique feature on the Motorola Charm and probably one of the more charming features of the device. It’s nice that Motorola took into consideration the screen real estate and decided to stick this in the back of the device. However, it does take a little time to get used too, but it’s actually the most intuitive part of the phone. Just move your finger along the pad and the screen will move along with you. When you want to select something – you just quickly double tap on the navigation pad and an image of a target will appear and just place it on the icon or hyperlink you want to open and it will. Still, some may find this feature a bit cumbersome and it’s just as easy to move your fingers around on the screen to get where you need to. To its credit, the Charm’s display is very responsive to your touch and requires less brain power than figuring out how the BACKTRACK works.

Camera and Video:
The Charm includes a 3MP Camera/Camcorder which again could be considered sub-par in this day and age of camera phones. There is no flash nor dedicated camera button – which is definitely a bummer. Photos taken outside are just ok and tend to lack vibrant colors. Photos taken indoors are extra grainy and tend to get blurry easily. Photos can also be geotagged by their location. Worse is the fact that you can’t even tell whether the photo you just took is blurry or not, because the display is so poor. A neat little feature that the device offers is that you can actually take panoramic shots. Snap photos from left to right – up or down, and the phone will stitch together the images. Videos are recorded in 3gp at 24fps format and are really low quality when you watch them on your computer.

Calling Quality:
Where this phone really shines –  is its call quality. Through its noise reduction CrystalTalk technology, the Charm offers super crisp clear calls. Even when using its speakerphone on a busy Manhattan street – the person on the other end could hear me clearly and I could hear them clearly too. There was no signal drop and I could easily make calls from the device by pressing the green phone icon on the screen which opens up the dial-pad. If I need to access a contact I want to dial – you just do the same thing, there is a contact icon that can be pressed on the screen to open up my contacts all within the MOTOBLUR interface.

Battery Life:
Another plus for the Motorola Charm is its battery life. Because Motorola includes two batteries, you can basically charge up both batteries and make it through two days of usage. I love that they included an extra battery. This is essential for these types of phones that tend to die within 5 hours due to heavy web surfing, emailing, and Social Media apps. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the Motorola Charm long enough to test its battery life extensively.

The Motorola Charm is running Android 2.1. It’s missing that polish and fluid movement in between apps that I have grown accustomed to on my Nexus One hacked FROYO update. However the inclusion of the MOTOBLUR interface certainly punches it up a bit. You have 7 different homescreens to rotate through that enables you to add widgets and shortcuts especially made for the MOTOBLUR interface. Just like with the Mototola Cliq – the Blur interface is easy to use and lets you easily access text messages, Twitter and Facebook updates via convenient homescreen widgets.

Setting email accounts up on the Charm is super easy as well. I set up an exchange account in less than 5 minutes as well as my other gmail accounts. Besides the MOTOBLUR interface – the Android 2.1 OS is pretty standard. There are no bells and whistles added, and sadly due to the Charm’s poor display – the Android icons, which aren’t that special looking to begin with, look even more blah than usual and one dimensional. The phone also comes with the following apps – the Amazon MP3 store, Last.Fm, TuneWiki, YouTube, as well as an FM and Internet Radio app. This is a nice collection of multimedia driven apps, but the YouTube app certainly doesn’t bode well on this display. So in regards to software – there is certainly a plethora of intuitive apps for people to use and enjoy that are included right on the device. Also, the fact that an additional battery is included makes it even more enticing for you to possibly use this as a dedicated MP3 player.

We probably should have taken it as a sign when T-mobile announced that this phone would be affordable. I was expecting the Motorola Charm to ‘charm’ me and sadly it didn’t. It was so close, in so many ways to being my new smartphone of choice – but its dismal display just absolutely killed it for me, and  the occasional freezing of the phone didn’t help either. That said, the Charm does offer a great keyboard, decent battery life, an extra battery, an average camera, fun widgets for Social Media junkies, it loads websites quickly, and is just really cute in size and has an adorable form-factor. The Charm could have actually been a great phone for those BlackBerry users trying to wean themselves off to an Android phone. However, in its current state the Motorola Charm is limited to being just a great texting phone or even an entry level phone for tweens and teenagers who have savvy parents not looking to break the bank. That particular demographic should love the Charm’s keyboard and widgets, and might not care as much about the display since the device is made well enough that it could probably withstand a beating. Sadly, this phone had so much potential, but the sub-par display kills it. In the end the Motorola Charm is more of a toad than Prince Charming. The Motorola Charm debuts today and is available in the colors Golden Bronze (brown) and Cabernet (purple) with a a two year contract price of $74.98 after a $120.00 instant rebate and a $75.00 mail-in rebate. Without a contract it will retail for $269.99.

The Good: Adorable form-factor. Keyboard is well made, comfortable, and easy to type on. Comes bundled with an extra extended battery. MOTOBLUR interface makes Android OS 2.1 less drab. Camera has Panoramic abilities. BACKTRACK Navigation pad is a unique feature and option to have.

The Bad: DISPLAY DISPLAY DISPLAY -it’s that bad. Freezes up occasionally.