Motorola Charm

The Motorola Charm is the embodiment of the "smart-messaging phone."  It runs Android, but make no mistake -- it's not what you would expect from your typical Android phone.  It has an excellent qwerty keyboard, a small screen well designed for messaging applications (but little else), and a price point that makes sense.  Hit the break to see my impressions of Android's version of the Kin.

When I first got the Charm, I took a quick look at the hardware.  That's a great place to start.

YouTube link for mobile viewing

The Charm is built well, and its primary function (in theory anyway) as a phone is great.  It has dual microphones for noise canceling, call quality on both the earpiece and speakerphone is excellent, and Blur's dialer is easy to use and very intuitive.  Overall, you would be very pleased with the fit and finish.  The touchscreen, while small and permanently stuck in landscape mode, is responsive, and the 600 MHz OMAP processor is more than enough to power the Charm for the things it can do.  Here are the full specs:

  • Android 2.1 with MOTOBLUR UI
  • 600MHz OMAP processor
  • 2.8-inch 320 x 240 pixel Gorilla Glass touchscreen display, multitouch support
  • Physical and virtual QWERTY keyboards
  • BACKTRACK navigation pad on rear of device opposite display
  • Quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE, dual-band WCDMA (1700/2100)
  • CrystalTalk PLUS noise reduction technology
  • 3-megapixel fixed-focus camera, digital zoom, video capture (24 fps)
  • Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n), Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR, USB 2.0 connectivity
  • GPS
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • MicroSDHC support up to 32GB
  • Accelerometer, light sensor, proximity sensor
  • 1170 mAh battery, 300 minutes talk time, 334 hours standby (3G)
  • Size: 67.2 x 98.4 x 11.4 mm
  • Weight: 110 grams

Charm -- front Charm in hand

Charm -- bottom Charm -- top

Qwerty keyboard Charm -- USB port


Its size is a bit odd, being rather short and wide,.  We can look at the specs and know exactly how it measures out, but I'm a visual guy, so here are a few pictures to give you an idea.

Length measurment Charm width measurment

Charm and Evo

One last bit of the hardware we need to look at, and that's the battery.  Or batteries, because the T-Mobile version of the Charm I'm reviewing comes with two, as well as an extended battery door to cover it up.  It's a good move, as the stock 1170 mAh battery doesn't cut the mustard, and the 1370 mAh barely gets me through a day's use.  Mind you, I'm an email machine, and it's not unheard of for 500-plus email messages to go in and out of my Gmail in a  day.  I call that the BlackBerry curse.  Anyhoo, the extended battery and cover looks just fine on the phone, and the little bit of thickness actually helps me type on the qwerty a bit better.  YMMV.  Look below to see the difference between the battery doors, and a comparison of the batteries.

Stock batery door Extended battery door

Battery comparison

The software

Here's the fun part.  The Charm runs Blur.  Full-on, love-it-or-hate-it Motoblur atop Android 2.1.  Oddly enough, if you keep in mind that the Charm is a smarter messaging phone, Blur works well.  And because of the screen size, orientation, and resolution, you're not going to be playing games or watching full length videos on the thing, so I'm not going to hate on it too much.  Blur gives you access to every kind of messaging service known to modern man, it's integrated into everything, and keeps you in touch.  Honestly, heavy social media users would love it if they can get over the stigma that goes along with the Blur name.

But not all of Blur works well on the Charm.  The screen size and poor resolution makes most of the widgets downright useless (the settings widgets being the exceptions), and if you're like me you'll end up with a mess of empty homescreens, and some shortcut icons filling the void.  The widgets are fully resizable, just like every other iteration of Blur out there, but the tiny screen just doesn't let it work.  Here are a few snaps of just what Blur on the Charm looks like.

Huge widget Big widget

resizing the widgets small widget

As I said earlier, the dialer and contacts work really well, without being overly complicated.  Just don't expect a lot of eye candy.

Blur contacts dialer

Blur accounts

Multimedia options out of the box are pretty sparse, but you'll probably be able to fix that via the Android Market.  The Charm does come with a local and streaming music player, with ShoutCast built in, as well as an FM tuner.

Shoutcast playlist Shoutcast player

FM tuner Gallery

The Charm's camera is a non-feature.  It's a fixed focus (no barcode scanner for you!) 3 MP shooter that's perfect for taking snaps of friends passed out to text to other friends, but not much more.  Motorola did include Kodak's enhancement feature which helps, but don't go into it thinking this will replace any camera.  The video camera is even worse.  CIF resolution (maximum) combined with mediocre hardware just doesn't cut it.  We saw the same outcome with the Motorola i1's video camera, and like then I'm not going to waste the bandwidth to even show an example.  Just pull any dumbphone out of your desk drawer, shoot a few seconds of video and that's what you get.  I hope this isn't a trend, as tweens and messaging junkies deserve better.  Here's a few stills, at full resolution and untouched to judge for yourself.

Close up, indoors Macro, indoors

Bright lighting, indoors Halloween decor

motion shot Busy colors

It does pretty well with motion, see the waving flag, but lots of colors seem to really mess with either the CCD chip or the software.  I tried about 25 different shots of the stained glass lantern against the cherry tree, and that was the best of the lot.  Of course, YMMV.

A final rant about software.  I'm not very pleased that I'm required to download Windows drivers to do something as simple as charging the battery via USB on the Charm.  Motorola, you can do better. We know you can do better.

We've talked about the good and the bad, but what's my final verdict on the Charm?  That depends on what you need it for.  Don't go into it thinking you'll take advantage of the thousands of apps on the Android Market, because the phone wasn't designed for that.  On the other hand, this is the phone your teenage daughter wants.  It's perfect for keeping in touch, and because it is running Android the benefits of Google's services put it a huge step above your run-of-the-mill texting phones.  The keyboard is great, dare I say on par with my old favorite the BlackBerry 8830, and as many of you know that's saying a lot.  The phone runs well (better than I expected actually), and Blur isn't the dealbreaker on this one that it may be on Motorola's powerhouse phones like the X or the Droid 2.  As long as you go in knowing what you need, and what to expect, the Charm could very well be for you.