HTC Status review

Introduction:

HTC’s Status is “the Facebook phone,” previously known as the ChaCha. It was released in America by AT&T on July 17th for $399.99 outright and $49.99 on a two-year contract with a minimum data feature of $15. The contract price and lowered data requirement make the Status a bargain entry for a new Android phone, and happens to ship with Gingerbread, version 2.3.3.

The Facebook button, which allows for quick sharing and easy access to other FB app features, isn’t the only aspect of the phone geared towards social interaction. The full hardware keyboard is mostly comfortable and of high quality, though users with larger hands might find it a bit cramped. The phone is small, and for that reason, will likely be most appealing to younger users.

Design/Specs:

If there’s one point of the Status’ design that can’t be argued against, it’s the gadget’s visual appeal. The soft touch white plastic (purple and black models of ChaCha have been released in other countries), the silver strip that wraps over the QWERTY and around the back of the body, the angled HTC chin, and the blue highlights make for a beautiful piece of technology that rivals some of HTC’s sexier devices. And it goes without saying that HTC phones rival any other brand in terms of aesthetics. The battery door can be a bit of a hassle, but how often will you bother with that? I can’t say I’ve found anything to complain about regarding the looks, layout, or form of the device. On the other hand, what’s packed under the hood will be a point of contention for many would-be buyers.

If there’s one aspect of the Status that will cause shoppers to balk, it’s the specs. Namely, the 2.6-inch, 480 X 320 display. There’s only two ways to make room for a full, always-exposed hardware keyboard on a cell phone: stretch the body into unreasonable proportions or trim the screen. In a market dominated by all-touch devices, many of which break the 4-inch mark, Status’ diminutive display will feel like a step backwards to some. Gameplay is hampered, browsing is merely acceptable, Maps Navigation is a waste of time (and possibly a road hazard), and navigating the UI can cause minor claustrophobia. But, when the Status is used for texting, emails, social interaction, and simple photo work, the display does its job satisfactorily.

The same can be said for the other prominent spec points: 800MHz processor, 512MB ROM/RAM, and 1250mAh battery. The battery life deserves special consideration because the limitations of the phone ensure that you won’t be wasting juice on 3D games or watching full movies. If you don’t consider those activities a waste of juice, the Status probably isn’t for you. But when used as a very smart feature phone, Status can last two days. App storage is limited with just 130MB available when unboxed, but HTC has included a 2GB microSD card.

Other notable design elements include hardware send and end buttons (remember those?) and of course, the Facebook button. A trackball would have been an excellent addition, especially considering the size of the display and the tiny text that fits within it. Then again, perhaps the form factor simply calls up memories of similar gadgets that do feature a trackball. I consider the lack of a trackball–or even a trackpad–a mistake.

Software:

Status runs Android version 2.3.3 and features HTC’s Sense with Scenes, Themes, and HTC Hub support. Customization is a matter of a few taps and swipes and allows the user to makeover the phone quickly. Aside from a few optimizations for the Status’ smaller display, there isn’t anything unusual going on in terms of the interface or underlying operating system–if you know Android and Sense, you know how to operate the Status.

The most intriguing software additions here have to do with the dedicated Facebook button, which also acts as a camera button. The configuration takes advantage of the FB button depending on context. If you tap it from the homescreen, you’ll be taken to Facebook’s status update field. If you press it while the camera app is open, you’ll be prompted to upload and share and image after snapping, as seen below:

These features may seem excessive or gimmicky to the average user, but for social junkies, they might be a godsend. Teenagers take note. Also worth mention are the send and end keys, with alleviate some of the hassle of dealing with a small display. Tapping send opens the phone app and the alt-characters of the keyboard that represent numbers function without holding the Alt key. If you hit a letter key first (without a numerical alternate) the phone app will begin a search of your phonebook by name. If you start with a number and then hit a letter, the numbers pressed switch over to letters, so dialing and searching contacts are handled correctly.

Camera:

The Status’ primary camera is 5MP with a flash and can record video at 480p. A VGA secondary graces the face of the phone. Photo and video quality is good with a lot of light, but suffers dramatically when the environment is dim. The flash is strong, however, and will suffice for those dark barroom shots and close-up nighttime street interviews.

The still samples below were scaled down from 2592 X 1728. The videos are 720 X 480.

Stills:

Outside, Daylight:

Inside, Dim Room:

Video:

Daily Use:

Using the Status as a daily driver is fun. Then again, I’m not huge on gaming or video. If I can make calls, send emails, text rapidly, and take an occasional photo, I’m happy. I also tend to listen to MP3s in bed, but that’s really the extent of my “mobile” media consumption. When the device is appropriate, I’ll read an ebook, but obviously, the Status is not the device for devouring long stretches of text.

Call quality has been good, even though I’m not in the best AT&T coverage area. Here’s a sample recording:

As for the hardware limitations that will put bleeding edge tech junkies off of Status’ path, I never had any issues. The speed offered will handle the tasks that the phone was designed for. This is not a gamer’s device. Many games won’t even run on the phone, and those that do often require turning the gadget sideways to look at that tiny screen with a very awkward grip. If you love portrait mode, or your favorite apps do, this is not the phone for you. But for the texting/emailing/social animal, the device is comfortable to hold and delivers a surprising amount of life from the 1250mAh battery. Again, no games.

Conclusion:

Budget Androids are exactly what they used to be. By that, I mean that you can buy yesterday’s hottest top-of-the line phone for a pittance, without contract. For that reason, I don’t think Android addicts will be flocking to HTC’s Status simply for the $49.99 (on contract) entry fee. This phone is aimed at those who are constantly using a hardware keyboard and don’t want to mess with a thick slider. The Facebook button is pretty neat, actually, but really won’t be of much value to a casual social sharer. This thing is for the junkies. And while there are exceptions, I think the Status is squarely aimed at the teen set. Not to mention that parents of teens are more likely to like that little price tag when looking for a birthday present than they are likely to care about what bargains can be had on a used recent device. Since families often get a group plan, AT&T will be the only carrier considered for many parents shopping for that kid’s phone, and the little “f” and the base of Status’ body screams out buy me for your daughter! Then again, it seems a lot of mothers are hooked on Facebook these days.

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