After a point, reviewing Android phones becomes like evaluating school examination papers. There’s an underlying sameness to all of them. Most stick like superglue to a successful rote formula. Half of the attempts are lazy. A few bravely try to deviate from this path and think out of the box. Most fail.
The Charm, at first glance, appears to belong to the top percentile. It has a strange form factor, some interesting attempts at new features and a compelling price. On the whole, however, it doesn’t quite have the charisma to pull it all off.
The Charm looks like the unholy child of a BlackBerry Bold and the Motorola Quench. It has a four-row BlackBerry-like Qwerty keyboard tacked on below the 2.8-inch touch-screen display. On the back is a trackpad like the ones on the BlackBerry, which you can use like a mouse. While most curious onlookers may have dismissed it as “too square”, the Charm is a striking phone. It’s comfortable to hold and use, and feels solidly constructed. The keyboard is excellent. Call quality is good and battery life is halfway decent for a smartphone. The usual Android advantages apply here—it’s great for the Internet and social networking, and the 100,000 strong app store is a den of distractions.
Motoblur, Motorola’s custom layer on top of Android 2.1, is awful. It’s slow and unwieldy and makes many strange omissions to the interface. The volume rocker seems to switch randomly from adjusting the call volume to media volume, making switching to and from silent mode a pain. There’s no quick button, like other Android phones, to switch data services on and off. The custom versions of the call log and the photo gallery are worse than the perfectly fine stock Android ones. Tapping text boxes still brings up an on-screen keyboard, in spite of the presence of an actual physical one.
But the advantage with an open OS like this one is that you’re not stuck with this. Switch to a custom launcher like ADW Launcher (available from the marketplace) and the phone starts behaving pleasantly again.
The Charm appears to be stuck on Android version 2.19 (“Éclair”) for the foreseeable future, with no indication of updates to 2.2 (“Froyo”) or 2.3 (“Gingerbread”). While the trackpad on the back is a good idea, it performs sluggishly—most people will prefer to switch it off altogether.
The Charm is available for Rs 13,990. That price bracket is chock-full of Android phones and the Charm compares favourably with most of them. Three others—the Sony Ericsson X10 Mini Pro, the Samsung 551 and the Acer beTouch E130—sport keyboards. The X10 Mini Pro is a much better put together device and the Samsung 551 has Android 2.2 on board.