If you think all Android phones come with big beautiful touch screens, think again. The Motorola Charm is a decidedly different take on the Android smartphone, with a square touch-screen design like that of the Motorola Flipout, except that it doesn't twist open. The Charm is also only the second phone to have a Backtrack sensor after the Motorola Backflip. Though the Backtrack works as advertised, we didn't think it was necessary, and though we like that Motorola refined its MotoBlur interface, we thought it still overcrowded the Charm's small display. That said, the Charm does have the Android 2.1 operating system, a 3-megapixel camera with Kodak Perfect Touch technology, a full HTML browser with Flash Lite, and it supports Wi-Fi in addition to T-Mobile's 3G network. More importantly, it's only $74.99 with a two-year contract, making it one of the most affordable Android phones out there.
You would be forgiven if you thought the Motorola Charm was just another messaging phone or a simple BlackBerry clone. Its squared-off design gives that impression, not to mention its small display and the full QWERTY keyboard right underneath. We even think it looks a lot like the Peek e-mail handheld, with a similar calculator-like aesthetic. At 3.9 inches long by 2.7 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick, the Charm is very compact and slim despite its wide face. It also weighs around 3.7 ounces, which gives it a solid feel in the hand. The Charm is available in two colors; cabernet and bronze. The backing is slightly soft to the touch, and there's a strip of silver all along the sides of the phone.
After seeing the massive displays on other Motorola Android phones like the Droid X and the Droid 2, the 2.8-inch size of the Charm's display looks positively diminutive. The 320x240 QVGA screen also doesn't look as sharp and vibrant as the others and it can be a bit of a strain when viewing Web pages especially. However, we did like that it is a capacitive touch screen display--we found it easy to swipe and navigate our way through the phone despite the small screen size. You can double-tap the screen to zoom in, and there's a proximity sensor on the top left that will shut off the screen during a call when you hold the phone up to your ear.
If you'd rather not use the touch screen, you can opt for using the unique Backtrack navigation pad on the back of the phone. Like the Backtrack on the Motorola Backflip, it works like a trackpad, letting you interact with the phone with finger swipes and taps. Since the Charm's screen is so small, the idea is that the Backtrack will allow a more unobstructed view of the display. However, we really didn't think this was necessary. For one thing, the screen size isn't that small, and it's not like you have your finger on the screen all the time. Also, the Backtrack does feel a little awkward because you have to reach behind the display to use it--not seeing where your finger is while navigating the phone can be a little disconcerting. Perhaps we just need more time with it, however.
Underneath the display are the usual touch-sensor Android hot keys for the menu, home, and back functions. Below that is the full four-row QWERTY keyboard, which is quite roomy when compared to that of a BlackBerry. The keys have a raised dome surface that result in a good tactile feel. The keyboard is ever so slightly aligned to the left to make room for arrow navigation keys. It feels a little odd at first, but we soon got used to it. Also on the keyboard are shortcuts to the messaging in-box, the camera, and search.
Rounding out the phone's design are the volume rocker and Micro-USB charging port on the left, and on the top is the power/screen lock key and 3.5mm headset jack. On the back of the phone is the camera lens, located to the upper left of the Backtrack pad. The microSD card slot sits behind the battery cover.
T-Mobile includes the AC adapter, USB cable, an extra battery, an extra battery cover, a wired headset, and reference material in the Charm's package. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and home page.
The Motorola Charm ships running Android 2.1 with a revised version of the Motoblur software overlay. The Motoblur interface, as you might recall, features home screen widgets for social networking services, the weather, news feeds, favorite contacts, and more. Motorola says that the new interface won't take up as much screen real estate as before, and you can even resize the widgets to have more room.
We can understand how this might be advantageous on a phone with a large screen like that on the Droid X. However, the Charm has such a small screen that the new "cleaner" MotoBlur interface doesn't feel that different from the old one. The screen still looks much too cluttered when we enabled all of our social networking and messaging services, even after we resized the widgets to the absolute smallest size.
Of course, you can also add Android widgets like shortcuts and folders to the seven home screens. A small toolbar appears on the top of the display to show you which screen you're on as you're swiping. However, you can't quickly jump to a page, which you could with the HTC Sense Leap feature that gives you a thumbnail view of each screen. On the right side of the home screen are shortcuts to the phone dialer, the main menu, and the universal address book.
We do like that MotoBlur gives us the option for a universal in-box and contacts list, and we understand that the social networking widgets might be useful if you need quick access to them, but the Charm's small screen is ill-suited to all that widget clutter. As usual, you can customize the user interface if you like, and you don't need to use the MotoBlur widgets if you don't want to.
As we said, the Motorola Charm ships with Android 2.1. However, we have not yet heard from Motorola if it will be upgradable to 2.2. Of course, 2.1 isn't that bad either--you do get the multiple home screens, live wallpaper, speech-to-text, voice control, the ability to use more than one Gmail account, and more.
The Motorola Charm has a rather disappointing 3-megapixel camera. Though colors looked nice and natural, the images were a bit blurry and not as sharp as we would like, despite the Kodak Perfect Touch processing. There's also a video recorder that can record up to 24 frames per second. The music player is similar to other Android phones.
Android users will be familiar with some of the other core Android features. They include Gmail, POP3, and IMAP e-mail support, Microsoft Exchange synchronization for e-mail, calendar, and contacts, a unified e-mail in-box view, and the Android Webkit browser with Flash Lite support. Some of the voice features include speakerphone, speed dial, voice commands, conference calling, and text and multimedia messaging with threaded chat view. You also get Bluetooth, compatibility with T-Mobile's 3G network, Wi-Fi, and GPS. Other apps included with the Charm are the Amazon MP3 store, MySpace, Quickoffice, Google Maps with Navigation, and YouTube. Of course you can always get more apps via the Android App Market.
We tested the Motorola Charm in San Francisco using T-Mobile and call quality was pretty good. On our end, conversations sounded mostly clear, though the voice quality was a touch more echo-heavy than we expected. We detected a slight hiss in the background, but little environmental sound otherwise.
On their end, callers said the same thing. They also thought the voice quality was strangely deeper than normal, but nothing too out of the ordinary. They heard very little background sound as well. On speakerphone, they said our voice was noticeably tinnier, and they had to ask us to speak up so they could hear us. We also detected a tinnier and hollow voice quality over the phone's tiny speakers.
We were mostly pleased with T-Mobile's 3G network. We experienced decent download speeds most of the time--we loaded the mobile BBC page in around 10 seconds, and CNET's full site loaded in 40. We also streamed some YouTube clips without too much buffering. Video quality was quite murky, though, and wasn't enhanced by the Charm's low screen resolution.
The Motorola Charm has a rather dinky 600Mhz processor, but it was still quite responsive in general. However, once we started to open multiple apps, we could see it chug a little when switching among different screens.
The Motorola Charm has a 1,170 mAH lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 5 hours talk time and 13.9 days standby time. The Charm had a tested talk time of 5 hours and 59 minutes. According to the FCC radiation tests, the Charm has a digital SAR of 1.23 watts per kilogram.