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.