Like many HTC phones, the Rhyme looks great. It is both aesthetically pleasing and comfortable in hand, though the rear cover is flimsy
HTC Sense 3.5 is a mature interface and it maintains the best aspects of Android while adding numerous clever tweaks. There are flaws and it means firmware updates can take time, but it remains the best Android skin on the market
Excellent on paper, but a lacklustre camera and iffy call quality bring down an otherwise solid feature set
Menu navigation is fast and Sense's UI adds welcome polish to Android 2.3.4's rough edges. Web browsing is a relatively pain free experience, but call and camera quality let the side down
The Rhyme's battery life is a notable highlight. It will last a day even with heavy usage and with most Android phones long dead by then it is commendably practical
Review by Sunetra Chakravati,2/2/2012 3:14:13 PM
Look and feel
Ease of use
Slick design, unique accessories make the Rhyme stand out from the pack, and *whisper it* there is female appeal
Poor camera, mediocre call quality, overpriced for the performance it musters
Approaching women. Just the phrase is enough to make grown men tremble. When young, the most common solution is to pretend it isn't an approach at all, and since it was formed in 1997, it’s clear HTC is one terrified teen. According to the Taiwanese firm, the HTC Rhyme isn't targeting women. It just so happens to come in purple/dark pink, have matching accessories and bundle a 'Charm' indicator for your bag that provides soft glowing pink notifications to signal incoming calls and messages. What? Clearly the Charm could be for a briefcase!
To HTC's credit, while it may hide the Rhyme's true audience under a pile of politically correct marketing rhetoric, it doesn't talk down to them. The Rhyme keeps pace with the Taiwanese manufacturer's increasingly adept design aesthetic, creating a smartphone that cleverly blends the flat fascia and rear with heavily rounded corners and gently curved sides. This produces a handset that is equally pleasant on the eye as in the hand. It is what an iPhone 4S might feel like if it were left in a stream for a thousand years. It isn't all good news though. HTC describes the Rhyme as having a unibody design, but the 3.7-inch screen and bezel are clearly separate from the rest of the metallic fascia and the rear is in three parts. The lowest of these slides off to reveal the (non-removable) battery, microSD and SIM card slots. The problem is it’s so flimsy it could be snapped in one hand.
Thankfully, the Rhyme isn't all show and no go. Squarely positioned as a mid-market device, HTC has equipped it with a single-core 1GHz processor, a healthy 768MB of RAM and 1GB of internal storage bolstered by an 8GB microSD card for the 32GB compatible slot. The record and snap brigade are sated with a five-megapixel camera with auto-focus and LED flash as well as a VGA front-facing camera and 720p HD video recording. DLNA is thrown in too so you can wirelessly stream media to DLNA compatible TVs, consoles and DVD/Blu-ray players. Meanwhile, connectivity is decent too. Internet comes courtesy of 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and HSPA-capable 3G. Bluetooth 3.0 makes an appearance as well with FTP/OPP for file transfers, the A2DP protocol for wireless stereo headsets and PBAP for phonebook access from car kits. Given that women clearly can't understand directions there's also GPS, a gyroscope and digital compass.
Of course, specs count for little if the Rhyme is a dog to use and questions start to arise even before the handset is switched on due to the omission of an oleophobic layer. This increasingly common feature minimises fingerprint marks and without it the Rhyme collects them in CSI-worthy detail. Outdoors or in direct light this really affects the readability of the screen and in prolonged use you will find yourself wiping the screen constantly. This is a shame because otherwise the 480x800 pixel S-LCD display has vivid colours and a virtually unlimited viewing angle. It may not wow like more expensive AMOLED displays, but it is also less garish. What is less controversial is HTC's hugely popular Sense UI. Here, Sense has reached version 3.5 and it is both intuitive and cleanly designed. A notable highlight is the notification shortcuts that provide quick access to core features and settings, but there are caveats. The default home screen is simple, but wastes space and doesn't allow other shortcuts to be added. In addition if you flip between home screens too quickly Sense produces an unnecessary spinning effect that cycles all the home screens in a loop. That said, beneath Sense 3.5 is Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread and both work well together. General navigation is smooth and it is responsive throughout. There are some slowdowns when navigating complex or Flash-heavy sites (Adobe Flash is installed by default) but for a mid-range phone it ticks along admirably. One note of caution: HTC has left the Rhyme out of its initial Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) upgrade cycle, meaning any upgrade will be months away, if ever.
Beware the megapixel myth (more = better) because the Rhyme's five-megapixel camera is not good. Pictures are heavily pixelated in all but ideal conditions and in low light it is close to useless. Unfortunately video is a letdown, too with stop-start 720p recording and panning in particular producing a lot of stutter. You won't want to put either result on a big screen, though they may be good enough for Facebook. These are both regular weak points for HTC and it needs to do better.
The Rhyme isn't any better at being a phone. Smartphones often make the mistake of being portable computers first and a phone second and the Rhyme doesn't break the mould. Call quality is weak and voices sound flat and monotone even in areas of good signal. Where it does do better, however, is battery life. Android handsets typically leave owners feeling nervous by lunch, but the Rhyme exceeds expectations and will comfortably see out a day even with heavy use. It is definite highlight.
Where the Rhyme breaks from the pack and puts some thought into its discreet audience are the bundled accessories.
The most revealing of these is the Charm (above), which alerts (we'll stick with HTC's cover story) "users" to notifications when the phone is stored in their purse, uh, bag. In theory this is a good solution to a common problem, but it isn't well executed. The Charm connects to the 3.5mm headphone jack and its build quality is reasonable, but the glowing alert is simply too faint to notice easily in anything other than low light. The idea has potential, but unless you're a vampire (not the sun loving sparkly kind) it will prove a disappointment.
Just as heavily marketed is another accessory: the charge dock. Unlike rival bundled docks it both holds the phone in a landscape position and works as a loudspeaker.
The latter is a clever differentiator but the sound is no better than a cheap bedside radio, and with no built-in battery, it must be constantly plugged in to work. Irritatingly, the dock also doesn't charge via Micro USB but by three contact charge points on the Rhyme's back. This allows the Rhyme to lift easily out of the dock, but means it will also not work with any other handset.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning the earphones, though only as a tale of warning. Sound quality is abysmal, lacking both bass and treble, and though the flat cable limits tangles, the impractical flared design of the buds stops them from being fully pushed into your ears so they constantly fall out.
Ultimately, for a mid-range phone the Rhyme is a very solid proposition. The problem is HTC's £345 RRP places it on the verge of flagship devices and above older but far more capable models like the dual-core LG Optimus 2x and Motorola Atrix. These phones are far superior in every respect and the Rhyme's styling and clever, but poorly implemented, accessories are not enough to justify the outlay. By all means check carrier deals, but their subsidies will have to be good.
We want to like the Rhyme a lot more than we do. Whether HTC admits it or not, it has gone after a female audience and done so more creatively than most. The Rhyme is stylishly designed with strong battery life and accessories that are clever in concept. Performance is also nippy, Sense 3.5 is by far the best Android skin and there is plenty of functionality. On paper it is a compelling product, but the reality is somewhat different: the Rhyme's call and camera quality are poor, the accessories are poorly made and the pricing is unrealistic. Unless you find a cheap deal on contract there are better truly gender-neutral alternatives.