The HTC Rhyme is an Android 2.3 smartphone with a 3.7-inch screen and a unique range of bundled accessories, including a glowing charm and docking station.
If the plum colouring, glowing phone charm and cream leather carry case weren't enough of a reason buy the HTC Rhyme, the first appearance of HTC's latest Sense 3.5 user interface may draw you in.
However, the phone lacks a dual-core processor and has a relatively small
3.7-inch display. It's also running Android 2.3, which is soon to become outdated when Google releases version 4.0 in the next few weeks.
The phone's 5-megapixel camera is decent rather than breathtaking, and it captures HD video at 720p rather than full HD 1080p. There's also no way to replace the battery, which is a rarity on an Android device.
Taking all of this into account, it's obvious that the Rhyme isn't going to be of interest to those Android fanatics who are getting hot under the collar about the forthcoming Galaxy Nexus.
However, for the phone's fashion-conscious target audience, the entry-level specifications will be less important. The Rhyme's big selling points are that it looks great and comes with a range of attractive items which you'd usually have to pay additional cash for.
If your primary concern when purchasing a mobile is how good it looks rather than how well it performs on 3D graphics benchmarks, then you'll find a lot to like with the Rhyme. However, those of you expecting a cutting-edge rival to the iPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy S2 should direct your attentions elsewhere -- towards the likes of the HTC Sensation XE and XL.
HTC's Sense interface sits on top of Android's Google operating system and offers a raft of improvements, tweaks and exclusive applications. It's arguably one of the most appealing of all the manufacturer-made Android skins.
The HTC Rhyme is one of the first handsets to boast version 3.5 of the Sense UI. The general setup is the same as ever, but there have been a few changes in terms of animations and overall look.
The most striking difference is the new home screen widget, which displays a bank of shortcuts and a small digital clock at the bottom of the screen.
Although it initially appears to only occupy two-thirds of the screen, this widget actually takes up a full panel, leaving a large space to showcase your home screen wallpaper.
You can't drop widgets and shortcuts into this space although it looks as though you should be able to. The reason for this is that each of the icons on the left-hand side of the screen has a fly-away tab; these can be expanded to reveal additional information, such as unread emails, text messages and your current music track.
There's also a new animation when scrolling through your home screens. A single swipe of the finger will simply transition to the next panel, but repeated swipes result in a zoomed-out carousel effect; here you can see all of the available home screens spinning around as if stuck in a tornado. It's a basic cosmetic alteration, but it looks impressive.
Sticking to the topic of home screens, you can now remove unwanted panels if you feel that seven screens is too many. It's possible to re-add them at a later date, but the total number remains limited to seven (which is still two more than stock Android 2.3 allows).
With Android 4.0 just around the corner, you could say that the timing of the Rhyme is unfortunate. HTC has already stated that it intends to update most of its recent portfolio to Ice Cream Sandwich, but that's no guarantee that the Rhyme will be coming along for the ride -- especially when you consider it's only equipped with a single-core 1GHz CPU.
Version 2.3.5 of Gingerbread is installed here, which puts the Rhyme ahead of phones like the Xperia Arc S and Xperia Ray -- if only by a nose. You can do all of the usual Android tricks, such as download apps and games from the Android Market, sync your Google accounts, share to various services such as Twitter, Google+ and Facebook, and so on.
Also included in this version of Gingerbread is the ability to conduct video calls in Google's pre-installed Talk application, thanks to the inclusion of a 640x480-pixel front-facing camera.
With HTC's Sensation leading the dual-core CPU charge, one might have expected the Rhyme to follow suit. Unfortunately, the manufacturer clearly decided that your average purple-phone-fan-about-town doesn't require such brute technological power. Perhaps that's why it has packed the handset with a single-core 1GHz processor.
It's backed up by 768MB of RAM, which offers a smoother experience than you might expect. However, there are times when the phone is reduced to a crawl -- usually when processes such as downloads and syncing are occurring simultaneously, and you have multiple applications running.
While a faster CPU would have been very welcome, it's important to remember that this is cheaper than most high-end phones.
The Rhyme has 4GB of internal storage, and there's an 8GB microSD card included with the device.
The Rhyme is a fairly typical example of HTC's recent mobile output. It combines a metal unibody chassis with rubberised plastic sections, creating a feeling of quality while maintaining that all-important grip.
The phone's metal frame runs around the 3.7-inch screen and the back of the device, where it divides the rubber-coated top section and the similarly-clad SIM card and microSD card cover.
You'll have noticed we didn't use the term 'battery cover' there because the Rhyme's power cell isn't user-replaceable. Those of you accustomed to the Apple iPhone will already be familiar with this built-in obsolescence, but most Android phones allow you to change the battery. It's disappointing to see that HTC has taken this route, but we're guessing that the choice was instrumental in giving the handset a thickness of just 10.1mm.
Also on the back of the phone you'll find the 5-megapixel camera with LED flash, and below this, a trio of peculiar metal dots. These allow the Rhyme to charge when placed inside the bundled dock.
On the left-hand side of the phone you'll discover the USB charging port, which is protected from the elements by a thin plastic cover. We're pleased that HTC has taken steps to prevent the ingress of dust and other detritus, but the cover itself feels loose and worryingly flimsy. Even with delicate handling, we can't imagine it will stay in place for very long.
The HTC Rhyme comes with plenty of accessories. Unique among them is the glowing cube-shaped charm, which gently pulsates when you receive a phone call or text message.
This particular item is supposed to clasp around the handle of your handbag so that it remains visible at all times. We can imagine this working quite well in a situation where your phone is in silent mode or you may be unable to hear the ringer over environmental noise, but there could be negative repercussions too.
By having the charm on public display, you're making yourself a target for savvy thieves who could easily pull the Rhyme from your bag by grabbing the cable.
Also included in the box is a charging dock, which is covered in soft fabric. This connects with the Rhyme via the charging points on the back of the phone, which means you don't need to mess about with cables or wires to top up your battery.
The dock also doubles as a handy nightstand, or a viewing platform for watching movies and looking at treasured photos. The dock also contains a pair of speakers that turn it into a portable music player. The quality of the audio produced by these speakers isn't stunning, but it's good enough to serve as an impromptu music centre when you're away from home.
A pair of unusual headphones are included too. These replace the traditional wire cables with strips of plastic, almost giving the impression that you've got strings of flat spaghetti dangling from your lugholes.
While these earphones match the Rhyme's plum colour scheme, the quality of the sound they produce is disappointing. There's a distinct lack of bass as well as tinny mid-tones -- in short, they're about as far away from the HTC Sensation XE's awesome Beats Audios phones as you can get.
Given the Android world's recent preoccupation with massive screen sizes, it's surprising to see that HTC has opted for a modest 3.7-inch display on the Rhyme. This puts it above the 3.5-inch panel seen on Apple's iPhone 4S, but the 480x800-pixel resolution is noticeably worse than the iPhone's 640x960 Retina screen. While the former manages 252 pixels per inch, the latter boasts an industry-leading 330ppi.
Like so many of its HTC siblings, the Rhyme uses Super LCD screen technology. This grants a decent image quality with good viewing angles, but the colours are noticeably weaker than those seen on Super AMOLED-packing devices, such as the Samsung Galaxy S and Nexus S.
The tempered class panel harnesses capacitive touchscreen tech for maximum precision. However, the combination of Sense 3.5's lush animation and the relatively lowly 1GHz processor result in a worrying number of swipes and taps going unheeded. Sense 3.5's processor-intensive functionality would appear to be better suited to dual-core handsets, which makes you wonder why HTC picked this phone for its debut.
With this being a HTC Sense phone, you can expect the usual suite of associated applications and widgets. Although it's not enabled by default, the iconic HTC Weather Clock widget is still included, along with a staggering 16 other clock types.
Elsewhere, we have the HTC Watch app, which allows you to rent and buy movies on your phone. The selection of titles available is still a few classics shy of being totally respectable, but you'll find many recent hits up for grabs, including Sucker Punch, The Dark Knight, Paranormal Activity 2 and The Hangover.
HTC's Reader app is also present, along with a cool home screen widget. This grants swift access to all of your available ebooks. Reader connects to the Kobo online bookstore, which is populated by thousands of titles.
Much has been made of HTC's attempt to take on Google Navigation with its Locations app, but in reality it's a rather half-hearted challenge. While the Locations app itself is well constructed and genuinely useful, the fact you're expected to pay for turn-by-turn navigation renders it a distant second to the entirely gratis Google equivalent.
Finally, we have HTC's Hub and Likes apps, both of which require you to have a registered HTC account. We're very wary of having to sign into a phone multiple times to get things working, and to be honest it's barely worth the effort in this case. Hub brings together information you can easily obtain elsewhere; HTC Likes is basically a showcase of items that you can download via the Android Market.
As for third-party applications, the most notable addition here is Dropbox. This popular app comes pre-loaded. As per HTC's recent agreement with the cloud-storage provider, you get 3GB of space for a year as soon as you link your account via the Rhyme itself.
This brings your initial storage quota up to 5GB, which matches the amount of iCloud storage Apple is offering to iOS users. This total can be increased to a maximum of 8GB if you encourage others to sign up with Dropbox via their phones or computers.
With a 1GHz processor, the Rhyme just about meets the minimum requirement for running Adobe Flash. This means you'll get a more content-rich web browsing experience but don't expect it to be smooth.
Sites with interactive content and Flash images are a pain to navigate, largely because of the Rhyme's slightly weak processor. The 3.7-inch screen also feels like something of a step down when you've used to surfing on the likes of the HTC Sensation and Samsung Galaxy S2, but the respectable resolution means that detailed pages are easy to read.
The Rhyme's 5-megapixel sensor is capable of capturing some decent shots and boasts good exposure and moderate colour balance.
HTC's camera software has come on leaps and bounds since Sense 3.0. It now offers a whole range of shot types and post-production tricks.
You can apply effects to snaps as you take them, such as sepia tones, artificial depth of field and even crude pixellation. There's also a panoramic sweep mode similar to the one seen on Sony Ericsson's Xperia Arc S.
Once you've taken a shot, you can enhance it, apply a filter or even add a frame.
It's pleasing to see this level of functionality, especially when you consider that there are stand-alone apps on the Android Market that charge money for such features.
The Rhyme is also able to capture HD video in 720p. The standard of the footage is decent enough for a mobile although colours do have a tendency to appear duller than in reality.
The HTC Rhyme has 2G and 3G mobile data connectivity. This allows you to download apps, surf web pages and sync data over a cellular network. It also comes with Wi-Fi covering the b, g and n standards.
Because it's running the latest version of Android, you can harness your 3G signal to turn the phone into a portable wireless hot spot, allowing you to connect other Wi-Fi devices.
HTC has infused Sense 3.5 with impressive DLNA options. The Connected Media application allows you to quickly send images, music and video to nearby devices, and many of the phone's apps have quick links to DLNA sharing.
On top of all of this you naturally get good old Bluetooth 3.0, which can be used to send small files and connect wireless headsets, amongst other things.
The HTC Rhyme has no real shocks in store as far as battery life is concerned. The 1,600mAh cell is possibly a little overzealous for a phone of such modest stature, but HTC Sense 3.5's various activities ensure that it's given a solid workout through the course of a day.
We were impressed with how the battery coped with our various multimedia pursuits. Even after a solid day of music playing, HD video recording and gaming, the Rhyme had more juice in the tank than we were expecting. Used sparingly, you could well get away with charging the phone once every two days -- and in Android terms, that's quite an achievement.
As we've already mentioned, the battery in the Rhyme cannot be removed, so if you're a fan of carrying a spare for those times when you're away from home, you're not going to be able to do so with this device.
There will be many people who only need to take one brief look at the HTC Rhyme's plum casing and gorgeous accessories before deciding that this simply has to be their next phone.
We'd be willing to bet that not many gadget-obsessed blokes will want a phone that comes with a glowing charm, however.
There's still lots to like about the Rhyme. The collection of accessories will appeal to some people, even if the earphones are poor quality and the dock has tinny speakers. It would have been welcome had HTC included a pair of the iBeats earphones that shipped with the Sensation XE, but that's probably asking a little too much.
Despite the positives, the Rhyme seems like an odd choice for the debut of Sense 3.5. The 1GHz processor gets the job done but it struggles when burdened with too much work. The resultant stuttering and slowdown do much to dent the otherwise positive impression offered up by Sense 3.5.
The Rhyme is unlikely to blow your socks off if you're in the market for a cutting-edge device. But it does manage to combine good looks with an impressive range of accessories.