The HTC Salsa boasts Facebook integration that allows you to stay connected with your friends on the go.
By CHONG JINN XIUNG
THE word Salsa brings to mind something that is fun and exciting and in some ways, HTC's latest mid-range Android phone of the same name, wants to embody those exact qualities.
The HTC Salsa together with its sibling the ChaCha, are a new breed of HTC phones that capitalise on social networking integration with a built-in Facebook function.
On the outside, it is an elegantly designed phone with a sleek metallic casing and a build quality that is on par with higher-end phones like the HTC Desire S. It also feels remarkably light and comfortable in the hand.
It actually bears close resemblance to the last year's HTC Legend. In fact, the two look almost identical save for the fact that the Salsa has a slightly larger 3.4in screen.
The screen quality is one area that the phone is lacking. Though the HVGA resolution (320 x 480-pixels) has good contrast and decent viewing angles, the screen's low resolution makes text on full webpages appear small and unreadable.
This means you will need to zoom in and out a lot when browsing pages on the Web.
We liked how there's a proper camera button on the Salsa as it is something that we rarely see on smartphones these days. You can even do a half press to pre-focus and snap a picture by fully pressing down.
There isn't much to see around the back except for the Salsa's 5-megapixel camera and speakers.
Everything else is where you would expect them to be - the 3.5mm headphone jack at the top while the volume rocker and microUSB port can be found on the left side of smartphone.
The Salsa's performance is generally fluid for most regular tasks thanks to its 800MHz Qualcomm processor. However, it is not well suited for running processor-intensive games - less demanding games such as Angry Birds run fine on the device.
Another downside is that the browser does not support Flash, so you will miss out on watching certain Flash videos and playing Flash games from Kongregate on your mobile.
Running on Android 2.3.3, the Salsa comes with the usual HTC Sense interface that is overlaid on top of the default operating system. For the most part the Sense interface feels similar to other HTC phones but there's a new interactive lock screen that you can use to access commonly used apps like the Phone, Messages, Camera and Mail.
All you have to do is drag one of the icons into the circle to instantly open the app so you can read your messages, make a call or snap a picture right away. It is a simple yet effective feature that greatly improves the phone's usabilty.
The default browser handles tabbed browsing in a unique way. Just pinch the screen and a scrolling icon list of opened webpages comes up, similar to how it appears on your desktop browser.
It's not perfect though, as the zoomed out view responds slower when pages are being loaded.
The Salsa's battery performance did not impress us. Considering that this a social networking phone that needs to be constantly updated it was rather disappointing.
After using the phone to check on our Facebook updates, browse the Web, post pictures and make the occasional call, we found that the phone could just barely get through the day on a single charge.
All about Facebook
What makes the Salsa different from your run-of-the-mill Android phone is its Facebook integration. It has a dedicated Facebook button that streamlines the processing of posting content directly to your Facebook wall.
The feature works across multiple applications so when you take a photo for instance, the button will glow to indicate that you can upload it to Facebook.
Similarly you can use the button to share links viewed on your web browser, share videos and tell everyone what music you're currently listening to.
By "long pressing" on the button, you can check in at your current location via Facebook Places. You can also instant message your Facebook contacts using the included FB Chat app on the phone.
Additionally there's a ticker at the bottom of the clock application on the home screen showing you the latest Facebook updates.
Though it only shows a single update, you can click on it to take you to HTC's new Sense Facebook interface. Here you can get a full view of all Facebook updates from your friends and even sort them by links, check-ins, videos or photos shared.
While it is a nice app to have to sort through your friend's updates, it does seem redundant against the existing Facebook app that you can get off the Android Marketplace.
You're not limited to just Facebook though, as you can also get updates from other social networks Twitter and Flickr on the Salsa.
Not great for pictures
The Salsa's 5-megapixel camera is good for taking casual pictures, or the occasional video, to upload on Facebook.
However the camera isn't the best that we've seen - the picture quality is passable at the very least and only performs well when shooting outdoors. Shutter lag is quite significant on the camera so it is next to impossible to capture moving subjects on it.
The LED flash does help when snapping pictures in the dark though the results often come off as being too artificial or washed out by the flash.
The video quality of the camera isn't anything to shout about. In an age where HD video capture is increasingly common, the Salsa's VGA quality recordings look sadly outdated. You can also shoot in widescreen (720 x 480-pixels) but there's not much difference in terms of quality.
Still, the camera is good for taking close-up shots and the quality is acceptable for uploading to Facebook.
Speaking of which, since this is a Facebook-centric phone after all, the Salsa has a useful auto upload feature that can be set to upload pictures directly to your Facebook account after they are taken.
It's cool feature to have if you want to immediately share your pictures with your friends.
However, it indiscriminately uploads anything you record or snap, so be sure to switch it off to avoid uploading embarrassing pictures by accident or using up all your mobile data for the month.
As a social network orientated phone, the HTC Salsa has got some things right, like having a dedicated Facebook button to make it easier to share your thoughts, links, pictures and videos with your friends.
Furthermore, the new interactive lock-screen is very useful for accessing frequently-used apps, and web browsing feels good thanks to the improved handling of tabbed browsing.
The phone does, however, have a couple of low points - the camera is poor and its weak processor makes it underpowered for playing games or run processor-intensive apps.
All in all, if you are just looking for a smartphone that specialises in social networking and has integrated Facebook functions, then the HTC Salsa might be right up your alley.
Pros: Sleek design; Facebook integration; tabbed browsing; interactive lock-screen.
Cons: Low resolution screen; poor camera; weak processor; no Flash support; unimpressive battery life.
Social networking smartphone
NETWORK: GSM 850/900/1800/1900, HSPA 900/2100
OPERATING SYSTEM: Android 2.3.3 (Gingerbread)
DISPLAY: 3.4in capacitive multi-touch screen (320 x 480-pixels)
CAMERA: 5-megapixels autofocus; LED flash; VGA video recording; VGA front camera
CONNECTIVITY: Bluetooth 3.0, WiFi 802.1, micro USB
MEMORY: 512MB RAM; 512MB internal phone storage
EXPANSION SLOT: microSD, up to 32GB
STANDBY/TALK TIME: 530 hours/ 7 hours 50mins
OTHER FEATURES: Facebook integration, interactive lock-screen
DIMENSIONS (W X D X H): 109.1 x 58.9 x 12.3mm
Review unit courtesy of HTC Malaysia Sdn Bhd, (03) 6201-6433