A few years back, not many people had ever heard of HTC. These days, we can't open our inboxes at CNET Australia without being told about yet another HTC mid-range phone. Already this year, we've had the Wildfire S, the Desire S and the ChaCha. You can add to the ranks of HTC's mid-range offerings the HTC Salsa. It's named, like the ChaCha, for the Spanish dance, and not so much to a spicy tomato-based sauce per se.
What it looks like is an HTC phone. Almost like the generic HTC phone, it's got touches of the Wildfire and Legend design, boiled down into a phone that also features the same "f" button for direct Facebook sharing found on the ChaCha. Like the ChaCha, it's a Vodafone exclusive handset, although unlike the ChaCha there's no outright purchase option; if you want a Salsa you'll have to sign up for a minimum 24-month AU$29 contract, giving the Salsa an effective AU$696 price tag.
The HTC Salsa and ChaCha are paired not only by the presence of the "f" button, but also by very similar internal specifications. The Salsa runs on an 800MHz processor with 512MB of RAM and Android 2.3 ("Gingerbread") and Sense 2.1, just like the ChaCha. The rear camera is a 5-megapixel model, also just like the ChaCha. They're both Bluetooth 3.0 and 802.11b/g/n compatible. Where the ChaCha and Salsa differ externally is in the Salsa's more traditional Android design, as there's no physical keyboard and, as a result, a much larger display screen, measuring in at 3.4 inches to the ChaCha's 2.6 inches, although both share the same 480x320-pixel resolution. The Salsa also comes with a slightly larger internal battery at 1520mAh. HTC reckons that's good for up to 585 minutes of talk time and 465 hours of standby time.
The Salsa features a 5-megapixel camera with flash that's stated to be identical to the ChaCha, so we set out with one of each phone as well as the much higher-end Samsung Galaxy S II to see how well the Salsa's camera fared. Most mid-range phones feature mid-range cameras that do a passable but not great job, and camera clarity has been a notable problem for HTC in the past.
The Salsa performed adequately for a smartphone, and was a little easier to shoot with than the ChaCha simply due to the better screen making framing and steady shots easier. It had much the same tendency as the ChaCha to slightly oversaturate colours and sometimes leave a slight pinkish hue to some shots that the Galaxy S II totally avoided, although it's well worth noting that the Galaxy S II is a much more expensive phone.
(Credit: Alex Kidman/CBSi)
(Credit: Alex Kidman/CBSi)
With an 800MHz processor, we'd expect decent but not great performance, and the Salsa lives up to that kind of billing. There are moments when it gets unexpectedly laggy, but not terribly so. The Salsa's battery was good for a single day's testing quite easily for us, but struggled to make it through two days; like most smartphones unless you use it terribly sparingly (or are very frugal with your settings) you'll need to charge it every night.
HTC Sense is exactly the same beast it's been for some time; a relatively unobtrusive way for HTC to add small new features to the otherwise vanilla Android experience. One trick that the Salsa shares with the ChaCha is the circular lock screen arrangement. Flicking the circle upwards will unlock the phone, but you can optionally drag any of four icons of your choice down to the circle, which will unlock the phone and launch the application of your choice. We thought this would be gimmicky when we first saw it demonstrated, but quickly found it surprisingly useful.
What we found less useful was the "f" button for direct facebook access from multiple apps. For a start, it just looks out of place. It's not configurable, so if you're not a Facebook user it's totally useless, but even if you are, the vast majority of Android applications include sharing functionality that covers what the "f" button does, and for many more sharing services. It's not a bad button, but as a key selling point it's kind of weak.
We've constantly compared the Salsa to the ChaCha in this review for a very good reason. While you can't buy the Salsa outright at the current time from Vodafone, it does offer both phones at the same contract price points. Of the two, the Salsa is arguably the superior — unless for physical reasons you simply must have an actual keyboard.
Putting aside other Android handsets from other carriers, there's a problem with that calculation, however, in the form of the Nexus S. Currently, Vodafone offers the Nexus S for exactly the same price and contract as the Salsa and ChaCha. Sure, it's a more bland phone in that you don't get HTC Sense or the "f" button, but it's also a more powerful and responsive phone, and we'd argue strongly that this is a better thing to get a phone for. While, like many others, we've had issues with Vodafone's network over the past year, if we were going to spend AU$29 per month on a phone from the carrier, the Nexus S is the phone we'd currently opt for.