HTC Rhyme Review: Great Software, Average Hardware

I was excited about the Rhyme when I first heard that it was coming to Australia, a little over a month after its US release. Android 2.3 Gingerbread, HTC Sense 3.5, cool accessories bundled in at no extra charge... it sounded good on paper at least. But then I got my hands on one and found the catch: the software is too good for the hardware.

The HTC Rhyme is marketed overseas as a phone for the ladies, but locally HTC are selling it as a phone for young professionals of either sex, ditching the plum-coloured casing for a more gender neutral bluey-green one. The only hint that this phone might be great for the girlfriend is the LED charm that comes bundled with it. The idea is that you can hang it out of your handbag and it'll blink when you have notifications or get an incoming call.

Notably, the Rhyme is the first HTC phone to ship with an unlocked bootloader, five months after the Taiwanese manufacturer promised to do so. While most people probably don't give two hoots about this, it's nice to know that you can get rid of Optus bloatware and put on a custom ROM if you want to.

What We Like

Like all of HTC's other phones, build quality is excellent and reminds us a little of the old Desire S. Its rubberised and aluminium unibody form factor looks like it'll survive a fall, but if you're used to a larger phone like the Sensation, it'll feel a little light at 130g. The screen is a little small for my liking, coming off the 4.3-inch EVO 3D, but iPhone users will have no trouble appreciating the Rhyme's sharp S-LCD 3.7-inch screen. The only downside is the lack of Gorilla Glass, which is a disappointing omission considering we're supposed to throw this phone in our handbags along with our keys so that we can make the most of its LED charm.

The Rhyme also comes with a bunch of cool accessories at no extra charge. The docking station not only charges your phone, but it also plays music on your phone via Bluetooth and the built-in speakers. The speakers aren't really good enough to make you want to use it as a music centre, but the docking station serves as an excellent alarm clock and charger by itself. Also included in the bundle are tangle-free, in-ear headphones and the quirky little LED charm that glows in order to tell you that you need to check your phone.

I've raved about the camera software on HTC's phones before, but the Rhyme takes it one step further with an awesome panorama feature that I can't stop playing with. It tells you how to take a panning shot and then stitches it together for you. It's quick, intuitive and the results are really impressive.

Battery life is surprisingly good considering that Gingerbread and Sense together is bound to be quite memory intensive. Sense in particular is a RAM hog, but the 1600mAh battery comfortably makes it through a day's worth of moderate usage.

The HTC Rhyme also comes with Gingerbread, which is the latest and greatest iteration of Android. It probably won't get the Ice Cream Sandwich update due to the hardware limitations mentioned below, but it does ship with HTC Sense 3.5 -- the newest version of HTC's Android skin -- even if it doesn't set me on fire with its mostly cosmetic changes. I can't stand the new Shortcuts & Clocks widget -- it takes up a whole screen and isn't the least bit customisable.

Specs 119 x 60.8 x 10.85 mm 130 grams with battery 3.7-inch 480x800 S-LCD touchscreen 1GHz Android 2.3.5 Gingerbread HTC Sense 3.5 768MB RAM 4GB ROM microSD up to 32GB, 8GB included DLNA connectivity 5MP camera with autofocus, LED flash 720p HD video recording 1600mAh battery

What We Don't Like

Here's the major problem with the HTC Rhyme: It's all good having the latest software, but what's the point if your hardware specs aren't strong enough to handle it seamlessly? The Rhyme's single-core 1GHz is slow to respond to taps while editing photos, apps will occasionally become unresponsive, and Sense restarted on me once or twice for no apparent reason. It's the first phone to make me truly see first-hand why older Android phones get left behind in the upgrade cycle -- the hardware just isn't cut out for it.

On the whole, the phone is a pleasure to use; just be prepared in certain situations to wait for the phone to respond to your taps. It's hardly a dealbreaker, but to be left wondering whether the phone picked up your tap or not is an annoyance we were supposed to have moved past a long time ago.

The HTC Rhyme is available exclusively at Optus from tomorrow for $0 on the $59 cap. If you're thinking about getting it outright, you'll be waiting a while as Optus says it'll only be available on its 24-month caps and plans. [Optus]

Here's a video of the HTC Rhyme in action:

Video music: Kevin MacLeod/Incomptech