2011 has been very hectic year for HTC. With competition heating up the company has done well in keeping up with it. From the Desire HD to the Sensation, each smartphone has enjoyed considerable success both commercially and critically. However in the midst of all the glittering high end smartphones with specs that scream out to you, it's easy to forget that there's a market for those who want to settle for the mid to low end. In fact it's the lower to mid end of the portfolio that makes up most of the sales for HTC.
With the Desire achieving almost cult status, to the much loved Desire S, comes a brand new Android smartphone from HTC that adds a bit of style previously missing. Today we will review the HTC Rhyme.
On first looks Rhyme looks like your run of the mill smartphone. However on closer inspection you'll see the finer touches HTC has made to add a bit of style and flair. A 3.7 inch WVGA screen dominates the front with four capacitive buttons beneath it. I criticized HTC for skimping on a quality screen on the Sensation XE however with Rhyme I have no complaints. The screen, though quite small, produces rich and vibrant colors. S-LCD technology insures AMOLED like viewing angles and even though WVGA sounds like a resolution of yesteryear, here it produces a very sharp image with no pixelation what so ever.
The silver accents on the border continues all the way to the back and forms one of three strips. On the top is a 5MP camera with an LED flash. In the middle is an HTC logo etched on a silver piece of plastic which also continues all the way to the front of the phone wrapping itself around the display, almost reminiscent of a unibody structure. The battery cover is a lighter shade of grey. Pop it open to reveal a 1600mAh battery along with the SIM card and MicroSD slot.
Look closely and you'll see three small electrical contacts besides the camera and flash. These line up with the contacts on the supplied dock. The dock can be powered via micro USB cable and you can use it to charge the phone. Placing the phone on the dock automatically enables the dock mode so you can have a quick glance at the time and weather. I had no issues with the dock, it's very solid and beautifully crafted and it looks quite stylish; even if it serves little purpose.
On the side is a volume rocker which is flushed into the body. However unlike other HTC phones it has a nice solid feel to it. On the top is a power button along with a 3.5mm jack and noise canceling mic. The left houses the micro USB port protected with a thin piece of plastic. It feels quite flimsy and I doubt its longevity. On the bottom is another mic. The phone does not record video with stereo sound so I suppose this secondary mic aims to eliminate background noise.
As a whole I'm extremely pleased with what HTC has done with this phone. Despite being a middle of the road offering, it has a very solid built with little to no creaks under pressure. The weight is just right and gives a very reassuring feel in the hand. To top it off you have a striking design and neat looking accessories which stands out from the increasingly boring and similar looking smartphones these days.
HTC Rhyme is one of few phones that come with Android 2.3.5 preinstalled. Along with this you get HTC's proprietary skin a.k.a Sense. Rhyme is the first phone from HTC that comes with the new Sense 3.5. Compared to Sense 3.0 there isn't a whole lot that has changed. The lock screen has gotten a minor visual makeover. It still retains the same functionality. From awesome looking weather animations, to stock updates or social network feeds, the Sense locks screen is truly a world apart from the competition.
Unlock the phone and you'll immediately notice the new launcher buttons. Gone are the three soft keys we've been seeing from the first iteration of Sense. It's now replaced by two, one on the left for the app drawer and one on the right for calls. It feels a little awkward initially but you eventually get used to it. The rest of the UI has remained largely unchanged. There are a few color variations here and there coming from Sense 3.0, for example the app drawer background.
Sign up to HTC Sense and you can download more themes, wallpapers and sound profiles. This is one area where Sense pretty much leaves the competition in dust. It's just a visually appealing UI and even though I'm a stock UI lover, Sense is what I'd pick if I had no other choice. The phone comes with an 8GB microSD card bundled with the accessories which is enough for most users. You can obviously buy a bigger one if you have a large multi media collection. Speaking of multi media, thankfully there's no Beats Audio on this phone so the resulting music experience was a breath of fresh air coming from Sensation XE. Heck you even have full equalizer support which was not present in Sensation XE. Amazing how you end up with something decent when you don't try to overhype it.
Leaving visual changes aside, the biggest change in Sense 3.5 has been performance. Sense 3.0 struggled immensely on a dual core, 1GB powered Sensation. There was noticeable lag and choppiness. That is no longer present in Sense 3.5 for the most part. Under normal use the UI is silky smooth, home screen transitions are butter like and HTC has even gone as far as adding rotation animations. That being said it is still a single core CPU with a rather anemic GPU so things can become a little choppy under moderate to full load. This is most noticeable in the stock browser when viewing heavy pages or videos. Pinch to zoom is laggy and scrolling becomes a struggle. However this something you should expect from a mid range offering and Rhyme still fares better than the competition.
Overall I have no qualms with the software part of HTC Rhyme. Sense 3.5 is everything Sense 3.0 should have been. It's better late than never so I'm glad HTC has worked out some of the niggles with the older version.
Camera and Performance
HTC equipped Rhyme with a run of the mill 5MP camera with a LED flash. This wont replace your dedicated digital camera but it still gets a decent enough job done. Under good lighting the results are rather impressive and with everything set to automatic the resulting pictures have a very natural tone. There's no over saturation of any sort. Naturally if you zoom in you will see the effects of noise reduction but that is to be expected from a cellphone camera.
The phone struggled under complex or low light conditions. That's a trade off for a sensor that would fit in a cellphone. That being said the resulting pictures were passable.
The camera UI allows several different effects like distortion, vintage, dots etc which can be rather fun to mess around with. Other than this it supports touch to focus, scene settings and even the ability to turn off auto focus.
I've covered the performance of the phone in real time before but now lets get down to a few synthetic benchmarks. They're not representative of the 'real world' performance but do tend to give a fair idea of the hardware packed inside a phone.
Rhyme is fitted with a 1600mAh battery which at best can give you one days worth of moderate usage. Anything higher and you'll be charging it before the end of the day. It's pretty typical of an Android Phone so I was neither overly impressed or disappointed. Battery timing will naturally vary immensely on how you use your phone. From the number of applications running in the background to their update intervals, they will all end up deciding how long before the phone begs for a recharge.
The original Desire is a tough act to follow. For its time it was a phone to die for. Both hardware and software merged into a beautiful smartphone. We haven't seen a true successor for it yet. Yes there was the Desire S but every time I used it I felt there was something missing. It was almost as if HTC made it out of obligation. However with Rhyme there is none of it.
For starters it's beautifully built. HTC has finally gone out of their shell, thought outside the box and came up with a refreshing design. It's an unknown territory for them but if recent 'design experiments' like the Flyer are an indication, then the future is bright, and it starts with Rhyme. From the moment you unbox it to reveal the stylish accessories, you know this is a phone with a specific purpose. And that purpose is style with functionality. It sounds like a cliched statement but unfortunately it has rarely ever been pulled off. Fortunately with Rhyme, HTC has done just that.