Ladies, the perfect phone for you has arrived! …or at least that’s what you could be forgiven for assuming HTC and Verizon would like you to think. While the marketing for the HTC Rhyme is carefully silent on the issue of gender, it’s hard to deny that the color scheme, accessories and feature-set are, at least from a corporate perspective, aimed right the fairer sex. But the draw for the mid-range Rhyme lies in those same accessories (unless you’re just dying for a plum-colored smartphone) and the implementation thereof. Does the Rhyme cross the gender divide, or is it just the latest in a long line of pandering “girl phones”? Let’s find out.
If you’ve ever gotten your hands on a Nexus One, HTC Desire or DROID Incredible, you know what to expect out of the Rhyme. Aside from the ostentatious color (a more muted steel gray is also available) there’s nothing particularly head-turning about the device itself. The 4.68 x 2.39 x .43-inch frame will slip easily into just about any pocket, and with a weight of 4.6 ounces, you might just forget it’s there. The 3.7-inch Super LCD display is fine for those upgrading from a featurephone or smaller Android phone, and while a resolution of 800 x 480 isn’t anything to write home about, anything higher wouldn’t make sense at this size. For anyone with (ahem) smaller hands or who just doesn’t want to enter the realm of 4 and 4.3-inch superphones, the Rhyme is just right.
The build quality on the Rhyme is great, exactly what you’d expect from an HTC device in this range. While it doesn’t have the rock-solid frame of the Legend or similar devices, there’s no flexing or creaking, and it feels solid despite its relatively light weight. Aluminum and soft-touch plastic combine throughout the case to make the design feel like a modern phone, even if there’s not anything groundbreaking about it. The finish is top-notch, and dares you to make fun of its plum coloring. The screen is bright and clear, with no visible light or dark patches. It doesn’t hold up particularly well in sunlight, however, and you probably won’t make it through a couple of chapters in A Dance With Dragons in the Kindle app before your eyes begin to strain.
Capacitive navigation buttons and a multi-colored LED status light share the front of the device with the screen. The right edge has only the volume buttons, while the left has a Micro USB port tucked behind a plastic protector. The little door is tricky to open, but doesn’t feel like it’ll break off any time soon. On back of the phone sits the camera, flash, various holes for sound-canceling microphones and speakers, and three electrical contacts for the included dock. The top has the standard power button and 3.5mm headphone jack, while the bottom is completely bare.
If you sent the Rhyme back in time two years, people would be lining up around the block to to take home a phone with its specifications. But in fall of 2011, it’s decidedly mid-range: it will do everything you ask it to, but probably won’t keep up with even entry-level Android devices in a year or so. A 1GHz processor is bolstered by 768MB of RAM, plenty of juice for everything but the highest of 3D gaming or video decoding. HTC includes an 8GB SanDisk MicroSD card, and a good thing too, since less than 1GB of the device’s internal memory is available to the user for app storage. The card can be swapped without removing the 1600 mAh battery, probably because the battery isn’t removable. Drat.
What can I say about HTC Sense that hasn’t been said before? If you must have a manufacturer’s software layer running on top of Android, then Sense is the one to have, and version 3.5 brings some much-appreciated upgrades to the user interface. The quick-access lock screen is a nice touch (I honestly don’t know why Google hasn’t implemented something similar by now) and at just about every part of the OS there’s something pretty or helpful added by HTC. What’s even more promising is that the animations, transparencies and 3D effects run smoothly on the relatively dated hardware, at least until you start a couple dozen apps. HTC’s apps and widgets are mostly functional and only occasionally annoying. Underneath the glossy, shiny homescreen is Android 2.3 Gingerbread, which you should all be familiar with by now.
There’s a surprisingly small amount of bloatware included with the Rhyme. Verizon includes a 5-device mobile hotspot (extra monthly charge required), the My Verizon account manager, and a trio of V CAST apps for music, videos and the oh-so-superfluous Navigation. Amazon Kindle, Google Books, Facebook, Polaris Office, a basic QR scanner and the social exercise tracking service EcoMondo are included (all non-removable, of course). Other than that, it’s your basic Google/HTC loadout – not a trial game in sight!
Apps launch quickly and are generally responsive. Little slowdown can be found in the browser or YouTube player, and when I fired up my copy of Reckless Racing, it performed as well as I’ve seen on any phone. The Rhyme didn’t handle processor-intensive Flash video very well, but unfortunately, that’s par for the course on anything but the latest hardware. Switching between apps and the homescreen is quick and painless, but connecting to a dekstop or laptop via the included MicroUSB port was frustratingly slow. During my time with the Rhyme I had zero reboots or crashes, but as with all Android phones, that’s likely to change once dozens of apps start fighting for resources and permissions.
The real star of the show for the Rhyme is the included accessories. Inside the color-matching box you’ll find a customized, matched set of earbuds with an in-line volume rocker, a dock for your desk or nightstand, and the unique Charm device. You also get a standard Micro USB cable and a travel charger, though disappointingly, the charger needs the cable in order to function.
The Charm is HTC’s real differentiator for the Rhyme, so I’ll tackle that first. Its basically an extended LED status light that plugs into the headphone port on the top of the device, then hangs out of a bag or purse to let you know when you’re getting a call or message. It’s an odd little extension: the only time I can see anyone using it is when they’re 1) carrying their phone in their bag and 2) keeping the phone on silent. The Charm is well made, with a cloth cord and a bright flashing light, though unfortunately it’s only got the one color (plum, naturally).
What bothers me about the Charm is that it’s not an all-purpose indicator. It flashes when you get calls or texts of course, but apparently it only works with HTC’s applications otherwise. Even new messages on my Gmail account didn’t set the thing off – I guess you’re supposed to use HTC’s mail client. That diminishes the usefullness of the Charm a lot, so much so that I can’t imagine people keeping it plugged into their phones on a regular basis, even as a “purse anchor” as demonstrated in HTC’s promo videos. There’s also the fact that it means you can’t connect any headphones, though you’d hear the updates in that case.
The included headphones are stylish, and match the phone well. The flat, ribbon-style cord means it’s a lot less likely to get tangled in your pocket or a bag – a nice touch. Sound isn’t particularly deep or rich, even to my tin ears, but they’re a lot better than most of the included headphones I’ve been given over the years. The Rhyme is not equipped with Beats drivers as far as I can tell, despite the partnership with HTC.
Without a doubt, the nicest included accessory is the dock. If you’ve ever used a Nexus One or a Desire with their manufacturer’s desk or car docks, you know what I’m taking about. Thanks to the electrical contacts on the back of the phone, all you have to do is drop the Rhyme on the dock to begin charging – no plugs required. The phone is held in place with a small magnet. Even better, once you connect the phone it immediately pairs with the Bluetooth-enabled speaker hidden within, immediately becoming a speakerphone/clock radio. Unfortunately, the dock can only charge the device, and it won’t connect to a computer.
The dock itself is nice, if a little flimsy. It’s encased in a soft cloth that’s got a good feel, but the whole thing is very light and moves around too easily. At one point I had to snap the phone tray back into the side of the dock – not a testament to its longevity. On the plus side, the Bluetooth speaker is loud, easily heard from down the hall. Rhyme owners will surely be using the dock as a desktop charger or nightstand accessory, and in that purpose it shines.
Phone and Data
The Rhyme gets a signal as good or better than my daily driver, also on Verizon, but the call quality lags just slightly behind. When the other party was on a landline things were fine, but when we were both using cell phones there was noticeable audio drop and hiss. Your mileage will vary on call quality, of course. The 3G-only CDMA radio won’t win it any races when it comes to data, but it keeps pace with my beaten-up Droid X on the Speed Test app.
The speaker on the front of the phone is loud enough for just about anybody whose hearing is still mostly there, though the speakerphone on the back is a little too weak for my tastes. Slipped the phone in my shirt pocket while listening to Pandora and doing the dishes, and I had to strain to hear.
The 5 megapixel shooter is pretty dated, and won’t stand up to any 8 MP Android phones when it comes to picture and video quality. That said, it’s still better than your average feature phone, and for well-lit snapshots or quick YouTube uploads, it’ll serve. If you’re the video conferencing type, the VGA front-facing camera will work without making you look like an HD movie star. All in all, the best camera is the one you’ve got with you, and if all you need are some Facebook-quality snapshots, the Rhyme will serve.
The Rhyme includes a surprisingly roomy 1600 mAh battery, and it lasted for a day and a half on browsing, light app usage and a few 10 minute+ phone calls. The longevity of the device is surprisingly good, and makes up for the undeniably frustrating fact that you can’t remove and replace the battery yourself. If you’re in the habit of charging your phone up every night and don’t spend hours a day on YouTube or Netflix, it’s unlikely that you’ll exhaust the juice on a regular basis.
If the Rhyme included just the phone and a charger, as many do these days, I’d say that there are far better choices for $199 on Verizon. But the included earbuds and especially the dock (and, fine, the Charm as well) make it worthy of a second glance if it’s in your price range. The solid build and acceptable specs may not be worth an extra $100 if you’re looking for a budget phone, but the price is likely to drop sooner rather than later, and if you look around you can find the whole kit and kaboodle for a surprisingly low price.
Whatever your gender, if you’re looking for the latest and greatest in mobile hardware, the Rhyme isn’t for you. There’s just too many solid phones on Verizon, and to be honest, women without an OS preference are more likely to go for the new iPhone 4S at the same price.
The included accessories make for an interesting value add – matching earbuds, a dock and a random add-on might cost you a hundred dollars at retail. That being said, I can’t help but wonder how the Rhyme might have fared on its own, as a budget-priced update to the aging Desire hardware. If (like me) you love to dock your phone, or you really are Charmed by the notification gadget, give the Rhyme a good hard look. If not, there’s plenty of other Androids to choose from.
Still can’t decide? Have a look at our hands-on unboxing and the gallery below.