HTC launches Rhyme smartphone

Yesterday afternoon, HTC revealed its latest mobile phone in New York. David Phelan checked it out
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The Independent Tech

HTC, the Taiwanese mobile phone company, knows a thing or two about industrial design. Its handsets have a clearly recognisable style - sometimes to the point that the company is criticised for not showing enough variety. So when it was announced that the company was about to release a smartphone aimed at a more lifestyle audience, it was an event to be anticipated.

The launch took place yesterday in the High Line Stages in New York, a warehouse studio near the newly redeveloped High Line railway viaduct network. Lusciously decked out in white leather sofas and fluffy rugs, the new phone was the elegant HTC Rhyme, a handset with a definite feminine appeal. Phones aimed at women are usually condescending affairs, notable for pink casing and little else.

But this phone was distinctive thanks to HTC's determination to create something to appeal beyond the tech-friendly elite. As Jason Gordon, Global Director of Communications at HTC, exclusively told The Independent: "We feel we've made ourselves known to the gadget lovers. But an awful lot of people don't care how big or small their phone's screen is, or how fast the processor ticks over. The HTC Rhyme is designed for them, to address how they want to use their phones."

So the Rhyme (which has a 3.7in screen and a 1GHz processor, tech fans) aims to be good-looking, versatile and essential. HTC prides itself on its people-watching, using this approach to build in features that are actually useful rather than merely showing off what the manufacturer can do.

With smartphones using the Android operating system, HTC skins the software with its own, called HTC Sense. This has icons that look smoother and classier than the originals, and adds functionality to make applications more engaging. In the latest version, for instance, when you tap on a friend's contact information, it shows you all your recent interactivity with that person, including texts and calls. And the flip clock - an HTC signature feature showing the time in a retro digital clock, with weather or social networking information attached - has been elegantly updated with a neater font and greater transparency so it dominates the screen less but still stands out.

The phone comes in two colours, Plum and Clearwater. The latter is a chic golden hue. One of the initial impulses in designing the Rhyme was to offer an antidote to the ubiquity of black or dark-coloured smartphones available. Both colours stand out as different. And neither is pink.

The Rhyme is certainly a powerful and capable handset, but the real attraction is the raft of extras. The phone comes with a charging dock which can sit by your bed. Plonk it in and the phone screen is angled to make it easy to see, and the screen background spins so the flip clock enlarges enough to make it a decent bedside clock. It's not clear if the phone screen will automatically dim at night time, let's hope so, or if you have to dim the display yourself.

There's also a pair of headphones which have a cable that not only matches the colour of the phone but promises to be tangle-free. And there's a charm: a tiny purplish cube that attaches by wire to the headphone socket and can clip to the edge of a handbag or rucksack. When a call or text comes in, the cube flashes, which should be easier than diving into your bag every minute to check if you've missed a call.

In the next few weeks, Apple is expected to launch its new iPhone. For now, HTC has grabbed the spotlight and has come up with a cute, powerful alternative. The Rhyme has outspoken looks and understated functionality which could widen its appeal to mainstream customers - of both sexes.

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