It comes in a plum hue and is billed as the ‘elegant’ phone which ‘lets you touch up photos so that everyone looks great’ alongside a glowing purple charm. Yes, we know. In a world where feature phones have no place, it’s rare to see a smartphone aimed at women: typically, because making assumptions about what women want in a smartphone is a dangerously reductive game, and one that automatically reduces your potential audience by half.
HTC’s announcement of the Rhyme in September then, was met with some reservations, as well as quite a lot of scorn from tech journalists online, male and female: “Apparently Girls Prefer Mid-Range Specs” ran one headline. Certainly on paper it does seem as though HTC built the phone first, and the market afterwards. With a 3.7-inch S-LCD screen, five megapixel camera and 1GHz processor, it’s a middle of the way Android phone rather than a fully blown flagship. Is that really what women want?
HTC Rhyme: Plum design
If the HTC Rhyme seems familiar, don’t be surprised: following the company’s long standing tradition of doubling up on its designs, it’s an Android powered version of the impressive HTC Radar – reviewed on page 20. That means a 119×60.8×10.85 mm aluminium casing that’s cool to the touch and light 130g weight, with only a few drawbacks: chiefly, the battery is non-removable, and the USB charging port on the side is covered by a flap that’s almost impossible to pry open without long nails. All HTC’s typical Android features are included otherwise: there’s no camera button, but a front facing camera sits snugly above the screen, and four responsive touch sensitive buttons below the screen help you navigate through Android.
Here more than usual, you’ll have to choose based on colour: the Rhyme comes in plum or white shades. The darker purple option attracts fingerprints like magnets.
Internally, the HTC Rhyme is no slouch: its 768MB of RAM is actually more than the iPhone 4S offers, and the Qualcomm MSM8655 1GHz chip, though only single-core, can handle everything but a few top tier 3D games, hitting a respectable 1700 in the Quadrant Standard benchmark, and lasting a day and a half of use with the 1600mAh battery. One disappointment may be the lack of internal storage: only 892MB is available to the user, but you can add a cheap and respectable 32GB via a micro SDHC card.
That’s also made up for by the impressive 480×800 3.7-inch screen on the HTC Rhyme: as ever, HTC has stuck with an LCD display rather than AMOLED which Samsung and now Nokia use, and typically provide better contrast, but it’s one of the best out there.
Viewing angles are wide, visibility outdoors isn’t a problem, and even the blacks are pretty deep. Of course, almost all of this is true of the HTC Desire S too, released earlier this year to positive reviews. It matches it spec for spec on hardware, including the five megapixel camera, which suffers in anything less than optimum lighting, and offers a curvier, frankly superior build quality – and a less polarizing charcoal coloured body, so men can get in on the action too.
HTC Rhyme: Sensible software
What the HTC Rhyme does offer is a slightly more up to date version of Android, Google’s massively popular mobile operating system. Running Android 2.3.5 “Gingerbread”, it’s true that it’s to be shortly superseded by Android 4.0, but HTC has made it vision clear: the modifications it makes to the software are meant for those who don’t care about the smartphone arms race, just what their phone does for them, now.
HTC’s user interface for Android, Sense, is now on version 3.5, and barring a slightly tricky keyboard (which can be replaced), is by far the easiest way to get around Android and its many oddities. The browser re-aligns text on the fly, the lock screen can be customised to quick launch apps, and the contact handling is superb: it connects your Facebook, Twitter and Google contacts with little prompting, alerting you to status updates and even birthdays whenever a friend calls. HTC Watch meanwhile lets you rent blockbuster movies, and there are thousands of apps to be had on the Android Market. Sense 3.5 is already available on the HTC Sensation XE and upcoming Sensation XL, but offers one fantastic extra on the Rhyme, which for some reason is exclusive to it: a new shortcuts and clock widget, which takes up a whole screen. Combined with the simplified dock, which offers just dial and menu icons, it makes Android very easy to use indeed.
HTC Rhyme: accessories
What makes the HTC Rhyme a female phone, rather than merely a friendly one? Its strange selection of accessories. Tangle free headphones seem like a great idea, but they simply refused to stay in our ears, weighed down by an enormous in-line remote. The easy to use charging dock brings back a convenient technology we haven’t seen since the Palm Pre, wireless charging, and we’re pleased to see it comes bundled with it. The baffling one, and the one that’s triggered all the accusations of sexism, is the Charm. A small cube on the end of a cord that plugs into the heapdhone jack, it glows whenever you missed a call. Yes, just like the LED notification light on the front of the phone, but more elaborate and pointless. If you need this accessory it’s not because you’re a woman, it’s because you’ve not discovered the volume keys on your phone so you can hear it ring.
HTC knows how to do smartphones-as-boys’-toys, but rarely does it try the same for women. But before you plump for the Rhyme, ask yourself these questions and observe the answers before you buy. Do you need more power? HTC Sensation. More style? HTC Desire S. Less money? HTC Wildfire S.
WHAT MOBILE TEST VERDICT 4/5