6th Jan 2012 | 18:12
Another stylish mid-range offering from HTC…but is it offering anything particularly new?
Overview, design and feel
From stick-on Swarovski bling to mobile phones shaped like make-up compacts (ick) to laptops with 'accessorisable covers to match your outfit!' (seriously?) tech companies have always had a hard time marketing at women without making their product look and feel entirely dumb.
The HTC Rhyme may not be explicitly aimed at women (though all the mentions of purses and bags in the blurb might be a giveaway), but there's something about this tactile handset that's going to appeal to the ladies out there.
The colour, for a start. It's not pink. Fancy that! Instead, the handset is a deep, delicious plum colour, instantly giving this mid-range HTC a little something different to the blocks of black that dominate the market and, perhaps, not entirely alienating men from their target market either with their second bronzey-silvery colour that's available.
It also comes with some sweet accessories: a dock that, once the phone is cradled in it, automatically displays the time, calendar, gallery and music; Dre Beats-style headphones and a nifty little charm that lights up when a message or call is being received.
We rather like this idea, after all, it can often be a little difficult to wrench a phone out of a bag in time to catch the call…
As for the design of the phone itself, the part-rubberised, part-brushed-metal casing is smooth, also allowing for a decent amount of grip with one hand and minimising the fear of dropping it when trying to text/tweet/call on the go.
The 3.7-inch capacitive touchscreen houses the home, menu, back and the dedicated search touchscreen keys plus a VGA cam.
The soft lock key placement at the top of the chassis is a little annoying for small hands, meaning you have to shuffle the phone around a bit to unlock and then use it, but that's a minor point.
On the back of the phone, above the metal HTC stripe sits the 5MP camera, LED flash, external speaker and three sensors for the accessory dock. The battery cover takes a bit of cajoling, but eventually slides right off.
The volume rocker blends into the right side, the Micro USB is a covered dock sitting on the left side and the 3.5mm headphone jack sits on the top next to the power/lock button. The unibody design is definitely sleek.
The HTC Rhyme weighs a good 130 grams and is 10.85mm thick…not the thinnest or lightest but by no means a brick either. In fact, it has a good weight and feel in the hand that reassures you of its solid build.
Once on, the HTC Sense 3.5 overlay delights; it's quick, it's intuitive, it's pretty customisable and it looks great on the 480 x 800 resolution screen.
Running on Gingerbread and a single core 1GHz processor, this HTC doesn't keep up with the hardware packed into the likes of the HTC Sensation or the HTC Evo 3D, but it does a decent amount for a mid-range phone and of course, looks great.
There isn't much to say about the HTC Sense overlay that hasn't already been gushed over before, but we'll give it a go given the HTC Rhyme comes with the new 3.5 update.
The customisable lockscreen shortcuts are pretty awesome, allowing you to pick up to four shortcuts to get to from the lockscreen without even going into the home screens. It's especially handy for the camera given there's no physical soft key.
There's no juddering and it's quick to scroll through the menu and the seven home screens, all of which, of course, are fully customisable as well with widgets and shortcuts galore. The old standard favourite of the live weather wallpaper is also there, happily aping the conditions outside. Pinching in on the screen will bring up all homescreens at once.
To change anything is simple; tap and hold the homescreen to be faced with the personalisation list to choose either a folder, shortcut, app or widget to put on your page, or toggle the display and sound settings.
The menu is displayed in a simple list or grid form that can be ordered into alphabetical or most recently used apps, though not entirely personalised and no folders can be created here.
There's also, of course, the often-stolen notifications pull down bar from which you can enable and disable connectivity settings such as Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi hotspot, volume, and airplane mode. It also displays a list of your most recently used apps.
Gingerbread isn't a difficult operating system to pick up, especially for someone who's looking for say, a snazzier HTC Desire S; it will all be familiar.
That said, it's not even difficult for someone who's never used the HTC Sense overlay. It's intuitive, with every important app and most-used setting within easy reach and enough processing power to ensure it all keeps ticking along nicely.
Contacts and calling
Contacts are one of the aces-in-the-hole of HTC, so to speak. Their social networks integration, even for their mid-range handsets, is always superb and really sets them apart in terms of the small thoughtful details that mid-range handsets from other manufacturers lack.
The contacts (simply called ''People'' on the HTC Rhyme) can be connected to a range of your networks, including Twitter, Facebook and Gmail. They're accessed by the phone or dedicated shortcut on a home screen, which brings you through to the list populated by images, updates and oh yeah, your contact numbers. If some of your contacts are social butterflies with various accounts, it will show the most recent update.
One thing it doesn't do is match up contacts with different names in your contacts list to their Facebook profiles if the names don't match exactly, so it can get a little dull going through and manually changing those with nicknames, which is odd for HTC as it's usually a company that can link up anyone to anything using some weird voodoo magic.
Still, again, minor grumble given the depth of integration it has already.
Clicking on a contact will bring up their details, including all the ways you can get in touch with them.
Across the bottom is another menu including a universal message history inbox to capture all the conversations you might be having with said contact across text, email and call.
And, if all those ways of contacting friends aren't easy enough, there's a home screen widget to house your most-used numbers and contacts, which also displays the latest social media updates.
Adding a contact and editing their information is easy, simply press the '+' symbol at the top of the screen to reach the editor and input away.
As for calling a contact, the speaker clarity is great, plus it gets up to a decent volume too, which, along with noise cancellation, makes it a good phone for crowded spots. We had a strong signal a fair amount of the time, though would occasionally walk into some restaurant black spot despite being in the centre of London. For the most part though, it does the job of an actual phone well.
Smart dialing is a feature of the phone, either by tapping in a name or the actual number, the phone will match them all.
And, along with the dialer, contacts and groups is the call history which even provides a shortcut to your 'thread' (the universal message inbox) that you share with that particular contact.
Another small but great touch from the Sense overlay.
Messaging on the HTC Rhyme is compartmentalised into the several different platforms: email, SMS, Facebook, IM and so on. There are a plethora of ways to message someone with the Rhyme, including SMS, MMS, pre-loaded Facebook chat (but no Google Chat), and email clients.
There's no universal inbox, but it's easy enough to flip through the different apps, with the ability to put widgets and shortcuts on every home screen, not to mention holding down the touchscreen 'home' button to bring up your recently used apps.
Compose a message by clicking through one of said widgets or shortcuts to the SMS inbox, where messages are set out in a traditional list format.
If you don't like that though, there's the snazzy home screen widget that displays your messages in a fountain of texts for you to flick through like a stack of playing cards
Either way, the content is the same and composing a message is the same (again, press the '+' tab).
The QWERTY keyboards are nice to use either portrait or landscape, with the 3.7-inch screen giving just enough width to make the spacing of the portrait keyboard feasible and comfortable to use.
One small gripe about the keyboard is the need to tap and hold keys to reach special symbols, which slows down typing somewhat. But other than that, the predictive text is smart and often accurately substitutes the right word for the misspelled one, providing a range of easy-to-reach substitute options across the top of the keyboard.
This does cramp the screen somewhat, but it's useful enough that it's worth keeping it in there.
As previously mentioned, IM in the form of Facebook chat is pre-loaded onto the phone, though, interestingly enough, not a Google Chat app. It looks much the same as every other Facebook Chat app, though with some subtle changing of colours, HTC put its own stamp on it.
The Mail app will link you to your email accounts, though only showing one inbox at a time. The Gmail account worked great, however having synced a Hotmail account too, only so many emails seemed to load into the inbox, which was frustrating. And by 'only so many', we mean nine.
The Mail app is as intuitive as anything else on this phone though. Folders, accounts lists and the refresh button are all accessible through the menu button.
Tap the '+' again and you jump to the compose screen:
It's a very compact app with everything you need for checking and responding to emails on the go. Excellent.
The HTC Rhyme's connectivity capability is very good, but exactly the same as the HTC Desire S, at 14.4Mbps 3G, Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n) Wi-Fi hotspot enabled.
The pre-loaded Android browser works reasonably fast on a Wi-Fi connection, but often has trouble with loading speed on 3G. Once a page is loaded, however, the 252ppi screen is crisp and clear, with good colour contrast.
Text reflows at a tap and there's no pixellation text-wise when zoomed in but images do get a little fuzzy.
It also copes brilliantly with Flash, with smooth clear playback, though full-screen video reached through the browser (such as BBC iPlayer) does get a little pixellated too. Still, there's no juddering.
The browser can handle several windows at once, with a nice scroll view to click between them.
Thanks to the dedicated touchscreen menu, back and search buttons, navigating is easy and flows well. It's also incredibly easy to reach the bookmarks and history screens, the first of which is set out in thumbnails to create a rather fetching bookmarks screen.
If you're looking for something a little sleeker, Dolphin, Opera and Mozilla all offer different browser experiences, available to download from the Android Market.
These offerings don't render images any better but Dolphin loads pages marginally quicker on a 3G connection than the standard Android app, and is a full-featured browser with tabs and touch-navigation.
The HTC Rhyme's 5MP LED flash camera comes with an absolute glut of settings to choose from. From the manual camera-lover's ISO, white balance, contrast and exposure to the more casual scene choices (panorama, close up, lowlight, portrait), to the downright hipster (hello tint effects).
You can tap to auto-focus, post-process with effects and post to your favourite social media networks. Every setting you might ever need is available at a touch on the floating menu bar.
This camera really has it covered.
Which is a shame then, because the images produced won't blow you away. They're pretty good sure, but you can't go that step further… perhaps we're just not great photographers, but we couldn't get a good blurry-depth-of-field shot no matter how we tried. Even in macro mode.
Taken indoors in lowlight mode, the image is very crisp for one taken without a flash. The colours are a little washed-out, but all-in-all very little noise for an indoor image.
Taken at night with and without flash in auto. Despite being taken in a well-lit area, the image has far more noise than the previous and is quite grainy in places. There is very little between the images, with the colours more saturated in the flash version and the non-flash image having a softer tone to it overall.
The full-zoomed image of the two birds is quite sharp, but overall the colour is washed out by the harsh sunlight.
Another mode of shooting includes panorama, which walks you through gently panning across the view and then stitching your shot together. The outcome is great, though it needs to be viewed on a bigger screen than 3.7-inches to get the best effect, as it blurs on the small Rhyme screen.
The video output of the HTC Rhyme is a decent as the camera. With 720p HD capability you might expect a little something decent, and it doesn't disappoint.
There are far fewer settings to play with in video mode – simply image adjustments such as white balance and contrast and resolution quality, but there are a few post-processing effects you can add, such as sepia colour or a negative effect.
The HD really becomes apparent in the bright sunlight, with even the swish of the leaves on the tree captured in some detail. The colour is quite saturated with little juddering (ignoring the hand shake).
The camera doesn't cope well with shadows and sunlight, with half of the video in darkness. The image quality is great zoomed out but zoomed in it really suffers, with the whole scene becoming blurry. The swimming bird just becomes a moving black spot on the pixellated water.
This video taken on an low-lit street at night (in night mode, with the LED light on) showed the Rhyme's inability to cope without added light source. Pretty poor.
The HTC Rhyme is media-enabled the way most mid-range smartphones are these days…definitely capable, but by no means the defining feature. Arriving with an 8GB MicroSD card, the Rhyme is particularly media-ready.
The music player is a functional rather than beautiful beast (i.e. there's no iFlow-like Album view), with the choice to display the library list by Artist, Albums, Songs, Playlist or Genre.
Tap-and-holding a song title will pop up a list with several play or playlist choices.
Music player widgets are also available for home screens. You're also able to access them from the lockscreen without unlocking the phone, which makes for changing tracks easily.
The external speaker is located on the back of the chassis, which makes it too easy to cover when holding in your hands, but makes complete sense when the Rhyme is placed in the provided dock. Instant stereo sound.
The provided ''no-tangle'' Beats-esque earphones are interesting too. Following HTC's teaming with Dr Dre's Beats these are precursor earphones, so aren't actually the excellent Beats Audio earphones included with the HTC Sensation XE. You can buy these separately, though.
The sound is good quality, the balance is good and the volume is just loud enough to make it possible to watch a good film on the tube, but their flat, tape-like cord causes them to sit oddly in the ear. That said, they're more comfortable than most to wear… when you can get them to stay in your ears for more than five minutes.
Supported music file types include MP3, M4A, MID, WAV and WMA.
For the video player, a good range of codecs are supported including 3GP, 3G2, MP4, WMV, AVI, and XVID. It's a great little phone to watch video on, with the soft-touch casing and rounded shell sitting nicely in the hand, though, if you're using the external speaker as we previously mentioned it's a bit too easy to cover it up with your fingers.
One frustrating thing about video playback on the Rhyme though is the way full screen mode will slice off the top part of the film you're watching, but watching it in normal mode squishes in the view. That's a bit rubbish, we must admit.
But otherwise, the colours are beautifully rendered, even with only 252ppi and the 3.7-inch screen is a just-about-acceptable size for watching. It's also possible – in theory – to stream via DLNA to a laptop or TV using the 'output' tab, but we couldn't get our device to find our laptop.
Most of the media playing apps – music, photo galleries, FM Radio – are all reachable via home screen shortcuts and dedicated widgets.
An FM Radio is included, with a pretty cool interface (for an FM radio), though disappointingly it doesn't work when docked; that would have been a great feature.
Battery life and connectivity
Much like any smartphone in the market, mid-range or otherwise, the HTC Rhyme lasts about a day with general use before it needs to be charged. Sustained use of Wi-Fi will drain the battery in around four hours, with calls and about an hour of video use helping that battery drainage along.
Some apps will hum along in the background if you forget to exit them properly, so be sure to use the task manager app to kill any you're not using at that moment to help sustain life a little longer.
At 1600mAh to the HTC Desire S's 1450mAh and the same single core 1GHz CPU, the HTC Rhyme should by rights last a little longer, but the extra battery power doesn't translate into too many more minutes if you're really hammering the internet. The quoted 8 hours talk time is probably a tad high, we'd say you really only get about 6 hours of strong usage out of this machine.
In addition to the Wi-Fi and 3G, the HTC Rhyme is loaded with Bluetooth, a MicroUSB port, DLNA client and Wi-FI Hotspot capability.
The Wi-Fi Hotspot app makes it laughably easy to hook up your laptop to your 3G connection and the speed is actually not that bad – we managed to stream a five minute YouTube clip without too much hassle.
So in those emergency no-coffee-shop-or-train-Wi-Fi times, this would definitely make a decent substitute, though, needless to say, a ten-minute browse killed a good 15% of the battery, if not more. Charging will be needed (and an understanding data tariff too).
Connecting to a PC or Mac is easily done via the MicroUSB cable, which, when connected, offers several ways of connecting to the PC including 'charge only' and 'mount disk drive', the option that enables drag-and-drop media loading.
The desktop client HTC Sync is available to use, but must be downloaded onto your computer first. For forgetful moments, there's also htcsense.com which will sync to your phone and from which you can call it when you can't find it – as useful for when it's hiding under the duvet as for the thievery-blocking potential.
Maps and Apps
The HTC Rhyme comes to the user as a fairly blank slate apps-wise. Perhaps this is a nod to the burgeoning choice of the Android Market store, but the only things pre-loaded on the handset of note are Twitter, Facebook, Tango (a Skype-like calling app), Polaris Office, Gmail, Reader e-books, Maps and a fantastic-looking fitness app called Endomondo. That's pretty streamlined: not a single game/game preview in sight.
There are some minor functionality apps though which are good – the flashlight app, mirror, task manager and Wi-Fi HotSpot are amongst the handiest touches.
It's interesting that a fitness app should be one of the biggest apps pre-loaded onto the HTC Rhyme, but Endomondo truly looks awesome, with options to track your workout via GPS, set a goal, beat a friend's PB or just beat yourself.
It would be interesting to know if HTC included that for the female market specifically or whether they included it to entice the male buyers who are less entranced with purple phones.
The Android store is well-stocked with all the big-hitter news and social media apps plus the ubiquitous mobile games. What's a nice touch is the way most can be used not just as shortcuts from the home screens but as their very own widgets as well.
The Tumblr one, for example, is particularly nice; a simple dashboard bar that allows you to shortcut to say, the camera for snapping and quick uploading of a photo.
The Foursquare app also has to widgets – one to display friends' latest check-ins and one to display the nearest places to you for easy check in.
The mapping capability of the HTC Rhyme is, of course, excellent with Google Maps and Locations as standard. Once opened the GPS is quick to lock on and very accurate.
All the usual excellent navigational tools are included such as sat nav and the various satellite/terrain/transport line views.
Locations takes a fair whack of data and time to download the country-specific maps, but with a Wi-Fi connection it's not really too much of a bother, and handy to have if you find yourself somewhere without an internet connection.
Hands on gallery
The HTC Rhyme leans more on included accessories and the new coloured-chassis design than it does on massively upgraded specs. It is, essentially, a HTC Desire S with a little more battery power, a refreshed HTC Sense and a pretty face.
Maybe it will only appeal to women, maybe the second non-purple colour will save it. Still, we have a lot of love for HTC and even for 'mid-range' phones they have a lot of capability – the HTC Rhyme simply displays that to a tee.
So, what we liked: we liked the solid build and swish soft-feel/aluminium unibody design. We even liked the purple colour, which we think looks pretty classy.
The Sense 3.5 update had some nice touches, such as the lockscreen shortcuts. The camera is only 5MP but still produces some nice shots, and the phone is essentially a capable blank slate with some cool accessories that you can customise to your heart's desire.
We didn't like that it is, essentially, a purple remake of the HTC Desire S with very few different elements. The battery isn't removeable, so if it does spark out or freeze it's difficult to kickstart. It's also still a single core CPU, which puts it far behind the a good chunk of the HTC output in terms of processing power.
While the HTC Rhyme is a stylish version of a phone that's already great in its own right, this mid-range smartphone doesn't bring anything new to the table except a few fancy accessories - but will attract those stylistas looking for something that isn't yet another iPhone clone.