Motorola Charm Review – T-Mobiles Newest Motorola Smartphone with QWERTY Keyboard

The Motorola Charm - Exclusively for T-Mobile

The T-Mobile Motorola Charm is quite an interesting phone. At first glance, it may seem like a BlackBerry clone with its small screen and full QWERTY keyboard. Similar to the Samsung Blackjack, the Motorola Charm looks like an attempt by Motorola to try and emulate the functionality of a BlackBerry. However, looking closer at the Motorola Charm, you can cleary see that this phone is by no means a BlackBerry clone, and is in fact a rather strong entry level smartphone that can stand on its own.

Motorola Specifications:

  • Dimensions: 3.87 x 2.65 x 0.45 inches (98.4 x 67.2 x 11.4 mm)
  • Weight: 3.88 oz (110 g)
  • Display: 2.8 inch Color TFT, Multi-touch capacitive screen, 320 x 240 pixels
  • Memory: 512 MB + MicroSD Slot
  • OS: Android OS 2.1 with MOTOBlur
  • Processor: 600 MHz
  • Camera: 3 MP camera Connectivity: UMTS T-Mobile 3G (1700/2100 MHz), GSM Quad-band phone capable of global roaming (850/900/1800/1900 MHz)
  • Data: EDGE/UMTS/HSDPA 3.6 Mbit/s/HSUPA 2.0 Mbit/s
  • Bluetooth: Bluetooth 2.0, Stereo Bluetooth
  • GPS: GPS with A-GPS
  • Battery: Li-Ion 1170 mAh

Design and Display (3 out of 5)

The Motorola Charm from T-Mobile has a very familiar design, a rectangular phone with slightly curved corners, a QWERTY keyboard covering the bottom half of the phone and the other half a wide, but small display screen. At first glance, many would say it is designed just like a BlackBerry and it’s hard to argue that fact. This is quite a unique design for a smartphone using Google’s Android OS. Other Motorola smartphones such as the Droid and Droid X have large, vibrant screens covering the entire phone, while the Motorola Charm has a tiny 2.8 inch touch screen.

On the back of the phone is Motorola’s new ‘Backtrack’ navigation pad, first introduced with the AT&T Motorola Backflip. It’s a small navigational pad on the back of the phone that you can use to swipe and tap without having to block your screen. It’s an innovative idea, but ultimately fairly useless, unless your fingers manage to block the entire screen.

Underneath the smaller display screen are the usual touch sensitive buttons found on most other Android phones, menu, home and back. Beneath them is the full QWERTY keyboard. The Motorola Charm’s keyboard actually feels larger and more spacious than BlackBerry QWERTY keyboards, and is slightly shifted to the left, which takes a bit of adjustment. The slight shift is due to the addition of directional keys on the keyboard as well as shortcut buttons for your messages, the camera and search.

Going around the phone, the volume rocker and micro USB for charging are located on the left, the power and lock along with the 3.5 mm headphone jack are located on the top, and on the back resides the 3 megapixel camera and the Backtrack navigation pad. All in all, solidly built and follows the tried and true design for ease of use. No big surprises with buttons being in weird places.

User Interface (2 out of 5)

Motorola Charm - Small Screen and MotoBlur Brings Clutter

The user interface is fairly easy to use but can get very cluttered. The Motorola Charm comes equipped with Android OS 2.1 but has the MOTOBlur overlay built on top. For those unfamiliar with MOTOBlur, it is Motorola’s proprietary add-on to enhance the social networking aspect of the phone. It gathers your Facebook, Twitter, weather, news feeds, you name it, on one screen to provide you with a rush of information, all on the home page. Motorola has commented that recent releases of the MOTOBlur will feel less cluttered and can be resized. Normally, that would be the saving grace, but on a small screen, like the one on the Motorola Charm, all the information just clutters the screen. Resizing didn’t help matters that much.

Now you can easily choose not to use the MOTOBlur widget, but even without the widget, the small screen is harder to navigate and use than any other Android powered device. At times, it feels as though you are limited because of the small screen, and you have to wonder if the QWERTY keyboard covering half the space is even worth it. Navigating your way around on the small screen can be cumbersome, and it seems like a waste to use Android on a phone like the Motorola Charm.

Hardware and Software (3 out of 5)

The Motorola Charm feels well built and solid when held in your hand. It doesn’t feel like plastic, which many users of the Samsung Vibrant have commented on. The QWERTY keyboard has nice rounded buttons that are easy to use and feel solid. It’s very easy to type on the Charm’s keyboard and it feels less claustrophobic than a BlackBerry keyboard.

The Motorola Charm has a 600 MHz processor, which is comparatively much weaker than its competition. Running on Android 2.1, one would expect that the phone to come with at least 1 GHz to match up in performance and to run different memory burdening applications. The Motorola Charm, at times, did feel ancient as it chugged along in opening applications and there were times where lag was noticeable.

Features (3 out of 5)

The feature set is the usual Android 2.1 feature set, which most people are familiar with. The 7 home screens that can have applications on them, active sync, Gmail integration and the Android Market for more applications are all on the Motorola Charm. There have been no press releases on whether the Motorola Charm will be upgraded to Android 2.2. Knowing Motorola’s track record of not updating their previous phones with MOTOBlur, one would assume that the Motorola Charm will not be getting an upgrade to 2.2.

The camera is a bit of a let down, only offering 3 megapixels. This is quite a surprise considering the other competitive phones out there with a minimum of 5 megapixels. A 2 megapixel difference may not seem that much, but often photos taken with the Charm came out a bit blurry and didn’t provide that sharp contrast that many of the newer phones currently can. The Motorola Charm does offer Kodak Perfect Touch processing but it still isn’t enough to make the photos turn out nice and clean.

Connectivity and Call Quality (2 out of 5)

The Motorola Charm uses T-Mobile’s network, which, depending on where you are, could be

T-Mobile - Fastest 3G with HSPA+ but Only in Certain Areas

extremely fast due to their HSPA+ upgrade or extremely slow, stuck on their EDGE network. T-Mobile’s biggest weak point compared to their competitors is their coverage. In the city, the Motorola Charm did extremely well when it came to connectivity, able to load pages quickly and download items faster than my home connection during peak times. However, outside of the city, there were times when the phone switched back to T-Mobile’s EDGE network, and it felt as though the Motorola Charm suddenly went back in time to the day of 56k modems.

Worst of all is the fact that T-Mobile’s band for connectivity can’t penetrate certain types of walls. There were times where the signal was fantastic but the minute the Motorola Charm was brought inside someone’s home, it completely died. Not on the EDGE network, or one bar, but absolutely nothing. The phone became rather useless in certain areas of the home and could not receive a signal. It wasn’t until one golden corner was found in the room, nearby a window, that the Motorola Charm decided to pick up one bar.

The call quality on the phone was average, there was nothing too bad or too great about the quality. Hearing people on the phone was simple and easy enough and receivers were also able to hear clearly without any problems.

Verdict (2 out of 5)

It’s very hard to understand who the Motorola Charm is supposed to be aimed at. The small screen doesn’t help in offering anything new to the Android OS, the QWERTY keyboard, while useful, doesn’t provide any real extra benefit. In fact, the keyboard actually seems to kill the advantages that Android 2.1 brought. Swype is out of the question on the Motorola Charm and the virtual keyboard cannot work on the small screen.

If the phone had come out 2 to 3 years earlier, it may have been a marketable phone, but with the release of phones such as the Epic 4G and the Captivate, one has to wonder what the point of the Motorola Charm is. It’s solidly built and has some usefulness but similar to the AT&T Backflip, it looks like it’s on its way to the pit of oblivion.

In addition, it doesn’t help that the T-Mobile network can be very unreliable in certain areas of the United States. And without a solution in place for those who can’t seem to receive a signal from inside certain buildings, it really kills the demand to get a phone from T-Mobile. The Motorola Charm may be a great phone for new smartphone users with no experience with Android, but for all others, it’s definitely a pass and not worth the $75 to purchase with a contract.

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