As you can imagine, AT&T was eager to show off its newly minted HTC Status at its holiday preview event, right up there along with a blue Xperia Play and the HP Touchpad 4G. If you'll recall, the Status is the HTC ChaCha that was announced a few months back, and what makes it stand apart from other Android handsets is a dedicated Facebook button for liking things on these very internets. In AT&T's case, it's also the carrier's first phone running Android 2.3. We're taking one home to review, but in the meantime we couldn't resist giving it the full hands-on treatment. You know the drill: photos below, video and early thoughts past the break.

HTC Status Hands-On (AT&T)

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Hardware

After spending some quality time with HTC's Flyer and EVO View 4G tablets, we were struck by how much this lilliputian phone resembles its 7-inch cousins. For one, HTC went and combined a band of metallic metal with white plastic, much the same way it did with the gray-and-white Flyer. That color-blocking extends onto both the front and back sides of the phone, with a metallic strip stamped across the rear, and that same flat finish stretching across the front and between the QWERTY keys.

Also like its tablet cousins, the Status has a contoured shape that looks something like the little dipper when you examine it from the side. The idea is to bring the screen closer to you, and generally add some personality to what is otherwise a middling handset (our words, not HTC's ours). Alas, though, it's a portrait QWERTY, so we're not sure why HTC didn't just stick with clean lines.

One area where HTC did keep things simple: the sides. Both the bottom and right edges of the handset are devoid of buttons or openings. That leaves just the power / lock key and 3.5mm headphone jack on the top, and a volume rocker and mini USB port on the left. On the back, of course, is where you'll find the 5 megapixel camera, along with an LED flash. In the upper right-hand corner of the bezel, you'll find an LED light for notifications, with a thin, finely grated speaker grille stretching across the top of the 2.6-inch display.

Keyboard

Using the Status reminds us just how much we miss physical QWERTY keyboards, and how underrated portrait-style ones are, in particular. The keys are tactile without feeling too chintzy, and we had a smooth time adjusting to the layout. We didn't make any typos, and were up and entering URLs right away. The dedicated ".com" button -- something that's missing from, say, our old-school Droid -- is a welcome touch.

Display

Not our favorite. That's partly a function of the size, but mostly it's the resolution. With a 480 x 320 pixel count, everything -- text, photos -- looks blurrier than you're probably used to. And that's not even mentioning the extra scrolling you'll do when looking at websites, your Facebook feeds, and any manner of apps. The viewing angles aren't great either. Even in a dimly lit room, where the overhead lighting was kept to a minimum and the rays coming through the window weren't overwhelming, the display was still too reflective to really make out from the sides.

On the plus side, the touchscreen's as responsive as you'd want it to be, as are the typical Android haptic controls sitting below it. In general, we found it quick to respond as we flicked through the five home screens and tapped on shortcuts to launch apps. As for the Like button, it's pretty seamless. As soon as we used it on our own Engadget post (narcissists that we are), we saw a small onscreen dialog box letting us know it was posting to our wall. In fact, you'll move away from whatever it was you liked on to your Facebook wall, where you'll have a chance to add a comment before posting. All we can say is, thank goodness for lock buttons -- we'd hate to accidentally like something from our pocket.

Software and Performance

The good news: the Status is AT&T's first Gingerbread handset. The bad news: it runs HTC Sense. Now, don't get us wrong: we can appreciate Sense on larger-screened devices like smartphones and tablets. But even after spending a few minutes playing with the Status, we still, for the life of us, couldn't understand what it was doing on a phone with such a diminutive display. Even swiping the ring on the lock screen, we felt our finger come close to moving off the touchscreen. It's not unlike attempting multi-touch gestures on a trackpad that's just too narrow. Once you're in, you'll find that Sense's widgets simply overwhelm the screen. Sure, they take up lots of space even on larger-screened devices, but in this case it's especially infuriating that the widgets actually take precedence, leaving precious few pixels for shortcuts, even key ones like email, Facebook, and messaging. As it is, the display is small and the resolution laughable. Why make the user experience more difficult by burying icons around a faux-analog clock, of all things?

In better news: we're optimistic about AT&T's HSPA+ speeds. It's too early to draw any conclusions at this point, but it is at least comprehensively faster than Verizon's 3G network at the same location.

Battery

The handset has a small 1200 mAh battery, which came almost empty out of the box. Of course, we'll resume judgment on the longevity until we put it through its paces in a full review.

Early thoughts
And there you have it, folks. We've spent just a few minutes with the ChaCha Status, and we have some mixed feelings: we're mostly keen on the hardware, though only time will tell if we can find a place in our cold, vanilla Android-loving hearts for a 2.6-inch display with Sense stealing the show. Stay tuned for that full review, and in the meantime enjoy some hands-on shots of this little guy in the flesh.


Zach Honig contributed to this report.

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