According to smartphone makers, it seems that only women care about form factor and usability. Apparently, we wouldn't know a spec if it hit us in the face, with looks and accessories trumping performance. Give us a pretty UI, wrap it in an almost satiny-feel package, and we'll swoon, right?… regardless of whatever's on the inside. Well, that's what female-focused handsets like the HTC Rhyme could lead us to believe, at least on the surface of it.
Technically, both HTC and Verizon say that the Rhyme isn't just for women only, but that it should appeal to certain types of users. I call hogwash. I think these companies know exactly who they are targeting with this phone. No one throws in a charm/call indicator that's meant to be dangled out of handbags without intending to appeal to women. (And have you gotten a load of the commercials?)
There's something kind of offensive about how companies target women with mid-tier devices, and I have to admit that this line of reasoning made it hard for me to consider this handset objectively at first. Over time, however, I was able to "get over myself" and get on with the business of assessing the phone on its own merits.
So here goes my review of the HTC Rhyme. Is this device, formerly known as Bliss, anything more than just a re-branded and stylized Desire S, as some accuse it of being? Or is it worth the $199 and two-year contract with Verizon Wireless? Let's find out.
HTC Rhyme Pros
- Attractive form factor
- Compact size, easy to stuff in a pocket or small bag
- Extremely handy accessories, including a dock, tangle-free earbuds and a "charm" call indicator
HTC Rhyme Cons
- Expensive for the whole phone + accessories package. (Standalone device pricing is not available)
- Verizon only offers one color choice for now (Plum)
- Charm accessory blocks the only headphone port
- Camera quality is so-so, with seriously underwhelming low-light conditions
The Rhyme delivers decent call quality, which should surprise no one given the noise-cancelling microphones HTC stuffed in there. Call recipients say I sounded very clear, with little to no drops or "fuzzy" quality. Obviously, connection plays a part here, so quality can vary depending on user location, but from my home in New England, there were no problems with Verizon's service. The speakerphone was fine as well. Perhaps predictably, it wasn't as good as holding the handset up to the ear, but it still performed pretty solidly — well within an acceptable range, compared to other handsets.
Another aspect of the speaker is music playback. The audio came through pretty loudly and clearly, though there was a slightly tinny quality to the sound. But it wasn't a deal breaker, only a minor letdown, considering the name of this handset, as well as HTC's new stake in Beats Audio. (That was a recent occurrence, however, so for the record, there's obviously no Beats technology here. Notably, a joint HTC/Beats event has just been announced, however it's likely for the HTC Vigor/Rezound.)
External Phone Design
In general, there's not a huge amount of variation from one touchscreen phone to the next. There's a display taking up the lion's share of the space on the front, a sleep/wake button (usually at the top) and volume controls along the side. And most other Androids have another similarity — signature keys for home, menu, back and search at the bottom. Likewise, the Rhyme follows these dictates, though it does take the opportunity to beautify the device wherever it can.
The phone also features a soft-touch finish that feels really nice in the hand — almost like satin. And the aluminum band across the back even recalls a ribbon laid over a present.
The version I was sent to review was the plum color, the only color option for Verizon users. (It also comes in "Clearwater" or "Hourglass" abroad.) Not sure why the selection was limited — a sophisticated palette of choices could've helped this handset gain greater appeal, and not just relegate it for people who want a cute phone. Having said that though, the aesthetic is attractive and definitely helps distinguish this device from all the other touchscreen smartphones on the market.
In this world full of giant smartphones, this one is petite and extremely pocketable (purse-able?), at 4.69 (L) x 2.39 (W) x 0.43 (D) inches and a mere 4.77 ounces.
On top, there's a power/lock button and a 3.5mm headphone jack. A micro USB port sits on the lower left side, and the volume rocker is on the upper right. Usability wise, it would've made more sense to put the volume buttons on the other side, considering most people are right-handed and have been conditioned to expect it there. But that's a minor quibble, and likely not difficult for most people to get used to. The front VGA camera sits in the upper right corner, and the LED flash, a 5 MP camera and speaker are at the rear, on the upper left. Under the main camera lens are three gold contact points for the dock, which are necessary for it to charge, but also add a small flourish to the design.
Software and User Interface
It's no secret that I'm a big fan of HTC's Sense interface, and version 3.5 is no slouch. The new ring-style lockscreen isn't just attractive, it's also quite handy for letting users access more content and shortcuts to their favorite apps. Inside the phone, users now have the option to ditch homescreens, if seven is too many. The 3D homescreen carousel is another nifty touch, along with the enhanced widgets and the new side-situated Quick launch dock.
The dock is an interesting thing in itself — it opens to reveal more info for the default apps (phone, messages, mail and camera), all without leaving the homescreen. Then it collapses easily to keep things tidy.
The clean layout of the default full-page widget — which houses the Quick launch dock — is like a breath of fresh air. Having said that though, it seems like this was designed to fit around the default wallpaper of a girl walking in the rain. (The effect is a little less tidy with a different wallpaper.)
Underneath all that, Gingerbread, Android v2.3.4, is running the show. Given that the Rhyme launched before Google even announced Ice Cream Sandwich, that it's a mid-tier handset, and that it's a product from HTC (which doesn't seem entirely certain yet about if/how/when ICS is coming to any of its devices), it would seem that its future inside the upgrade path is not very certain.
But I'll also say this: If you have to be stuck in last-gen software, this is not a bad way to go. This version of Sense makes the platform feel fresh, with design and usability tweaks that makes it a delight to use.
I'll keep this section brief: It's Sense, so it's pretty fabulous for an onscreen QWERTY keyboard. It's responsive, keeps highly used characters (like numbers, punctuation and the @ symbol) easily selectable with a simple press-and-hold. And that tall display imbues landscape typing with a little more breathing room, which is always good.
People who love out-sized displays measuring 4.3-inches or more will definitely notice the loss in real estate, at 3.7-inches. But chances are, users who are spoiled with big screens wouldn't even be shopping in this device class. For everyone else, say those who don't mind (or may even favor) a compact phone like this, the Rhyme makes good use of the space it has. As a basis of size comparison, the Rhyme has about the same width as the iPhone 4S' smaller 3.5-inch display, but it's a little longer in height, which is very handy for watching HD video.
Sure, it's not a Retina Display, Super AMOLED or qHD, but its WVGA (480×800 pixels) screen delivers very decent graphics and sharp text for its specs.
As for responsiveness, the Rhyme's pinch-to-zoom and accelerometer feel pretty snappy, so users won't bemoan having to magnify areas or turn the screen sideways for more room.
Surprisingly fast, given its single-core 1 GHz processor. Maybe it has to do with that roomy 768MB of RAM. Or perhaps 3G coverage is just spectacular in my area. (It is Verizon, after all.) Whatever the reason, the Rhyme's web browsing and YouTube video loading even bested dual-core CPU devices at times. And app launching, homescreen swiping and application switching are equally swift. Impressive.
Access to the still capture is quick, just as the maker intended when it touted it as an "instant camera." (Sadly, the picture quality itself lacks a bit. See below.) Boot up is fast, as is shutdown, and waking from sleep happens in a blink of an eye.
This is a big win. Some Android devices take a lot of heat for battery drain, with even moderate users unable to make it even a whole day without charging up. But the Rhyme's 1600 mAh battery has been working like a champ, at least for me. Your mileage might vary — so much depends on your coverage area, usage behavior and other factors — but I've generally found that the device offers at least a few days of standby under light use, and maybe a day or two under consistent connection or more processor-intensive constraints.
The battery itself, however, is not removable. Sure, the bottom part of the case opens, but that's to reveal the microSD card slot. (It comes with 4GB built-in storage and an 8GB card. It's expandable up to 32GB.) A permanently mounted battery is likely to put some users off, but others might find that having decent life in a small form factor is an acceptable trade-off.
HTC hypes this as an instant camera. That means you have fast access to it, and once you launch it, you won't be waiting those mind-numbing seconds for it to load. True to form, the Rhyme's camera does launch pretty quickly, so you stand a better chance of getting the shot you want… only problem is, once you've got it, you may not want to keep it. Colors just weren't all that vibrant, and dim conditions yielded even poorer results. I could criticize the 5MP spec while I'm at it, but I won't. Fact is, megapixels do not correlate to picture quality. I'd rather have an awesome 5MP camera than a bad 8MP one. Having said that, having a mediocre camera at just 5MP is like the worst of both worlds.
Not that it's the worst smartphone camera I've ever seen. Images taken in full-blown daylight come out acceptably crisp, but if you tend to take a lot of shots at dusk or in other low-light conditions, this probably won't thrill you.
Images taken under same low light conditions
The HTC Rhyme comes with a set of three accessories in the box: A call-indicator dongle fashioned into a light-up handbag charm, a set of tangle-free earbuds and a desk dock.
I know I railed against the charm thingie (yes, that's a technical term), and I firmly believe that the rather precious aesthetics of this item will limit its appeal, but I have to admit that I found it to be a fairly handy extra. Not only is it well-made, but this sturdy plastic cube, attached to a fabric-covered line, can be set to light up for messages and/or as a call or voice mail alert. The only real issue that I ran into was that it blocked the device's only headphone port. It would've been handier if it was designed as a passthrough of some sort, so I could plug those tangle-free earbuds in as well. Speaking of the earbuds, it offered decent enough audio and, indeed, it never tangled once — not even when I shoved it in my bag or jacket pocket.
As for the dock, I have one question about it: Why aren't more makers offering phone docks? They seemed to have been en vogue at one time, but why would they ever fall out of favor? This thing is stupendous. Seriously, the ease of simply placing the handset on the dock to charge or play music (it has a built-in speaker) is flawness and fantastic in itself. But the fact that docking it turns the device into an attractive nightstand clock/weather station as well makes it even better. The one teeny tiny complaint I have about it is that it's covered in fabric. Again, it struck me as kind of needlessly precious, and it has been a bit of a dust magnet, to boot.
So in general, I liked the accessories and found them to be useful at varying degrees. Good thing too, since there's no device-only option. That $199.99 sticker price includes all three — whether you want them or not.
The HTC Rhyme is an extremely solid mid-tier phone, and I use the term "mid-tier" pretty loosely. It wasn't that long ago that this would've been considered an advanced smartphone. Sure, maybe it can't compete with the Droid Bionic or upcoming Galaxy Nexus, but at this point, it isn't intended to. It's an attractive phone that works well, looks great and offers very good usability.
That's not to say the Rhyme is perfect, though. The camera is kind of a bummer, as is the non removable battery. But even that doesn't stop it from being a very decent upper mid-level offering. What does, unfortunately, is the price: It costs as much as a premium handset. A $199.99 price tag for a middle-of-the-road device is a lot to swallow, even if it includes the extras. This definitely would've been more palatable if the accessories were offered optionally, to lower the cost.
So if you're considering this device, I'd suggest waiting a little bit. Given the rate at which new phones are launching these days, it probably won't be long before the price drops. Then — and only then — could I recommend this as a very good choice for the average smartphone user … regardless of whether male or female.
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