HTC U Ultra
You might be waiting patiently for the HTC 11 but the Taiwanese firm has a new range of smartphones to tempt you with first. The new mid-range U handsets consist of the smaller U Play and this, the higher-end U Ultra. We got some time with the phones ahead of the announcement so here’s our HTC U Ultra hands-on review.
Release date and price
At our briefing, HTC said the U Ultra release date will land around ‘mid-February’ in Europe, although it should be available in Asia prior to that.
It’s yet to be disclosed as to how much it will cost but Carphone Warehouse has a preregistration
page. What we do know is that the new U range sits below the HTC 10 flagship and the firm describes the U Ultra as ‘upper mid-range’.
Going by previous HTC phones like the HTC One A9, we’re estimating the SIM-free price for the U Ultra at £450- to £500.
HTC considers itself ‘the master of metal’ but the design mantra of the U series phones is ‘Liquid Surface’, achieved with glass.
Although the U Ultra has a metal frame similar to recent devices, the big selling point here is the eye-catching rear cover which is ‘ultra thin’ and ‘visually sheer’ using ‘3-axis symmetry’.
It’s nice to see HTC do something different and the U Ultra is certainly that. While HTC’s phones have typically been variations of grey with a sleek brushed finish, the U Ultra is altogether more striking.
Whether it’s striking in good way will depend on your personal taste. There are four colours to choose from and we like the Sapphire Blue and Brilliant Black option, the latter has a slightly green tint. However, the pearlescent Ice White and Cosmetic Pink colours are more garish but perhaps that’s what you’re after.
The curved glass makes for a comfortable fit in the hand and although the material may be strong the metal and harder to scratch, it has various downsides. The lack of friction makes the device slippery, it’s a fingerprint magnet and, we suspect, prone to shattering if you drop it. A clear case is included in the box to help with some of
these issues. A Sapphire Glass limited edition of the U Ultra will be available featuring 128GB and Sapphire front glass.
You may have noticed the lack of a headphone jack on the U Ultra so HTC is following in the footsteps of Apple and Motorola on this front. It’s a shame that the USB-C to headphone jack dongle is not included. However, you do get a pair of USonic headphones which utilise the reversible port. The U Ultra retains HTC’s BoomSound stereo speakers but like the flagship 10, only one faces forward.
The HTC U Ultra is a phablet by the firm’s own admission with a 5.7in LCD 5 screen that has a Quad HD (2560x1440) resolution. While that’s pretty normal for today’s standard, the Ultra has something more distinct about it.
Reminiscent of the LG V10/V20, the phone has a second screen above the main one which is 2in (1040x160) which is there for various reasons. In short, it’s able to provide information and shortcuts, and so on.
For starters, it can provide notifications without interfering with the main screen – handy if you’re busy playing a game or something. You can also scroll through different panels to get the weather, calendar, apps and contacts.
Without needing to switch the main display on (lift or double tap), the second screen will provide information such as the time, date, weather and battery percentage.
Despite rumours of the new Snapdragon 835 processor, the U Ultra has the older Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 which is still a high-end chip. Behind that glossy exterior are 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage which can be added to with the microSD card slot.
As mentioned earlier, there’s just a USB-C port (no headphone jack) and the U Ultra features a fingerprint scanner which doubles as a home button and a 3000mAh battery.
HTC typically has round cameras but the U Ultra has a square module which sticks out a fair way. The firm said it has responded to previous criticism here with a 12Mp UltraPixel camera, which has 1.55μm, and f/1.8 aperture, optical image stabilization (OIS) and dual auto-focus (Phase Detection and laser).
At the front is a whopping 16Mp camera so you can get nice high-resolution selfies. However, you can switch it into an UltraPixel mode for situations
with poor light – this combines four pixels into one. Some hands-on time with both cameras suggest the U Ultra will be a decent option for photography but we’ll need to test it out further.
As you’d expect from a new smartphone in 2017, the HTC U Ultra comes preloaded with Android 7.0 Nougat which is the latest version of Google’s mobile operating system.
While not a huge amount has changed with the UI since the HTC 10, the big new selling point is AI integration. With the rise of systems like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant, HTC has created its own voice assistant but it says it’s not a rival to the aforementioned.
The main reason for this seems to be the fact that it doesn’t talk back to you so doesn’t have that
level of interaction. What it does do it listen and learn, then help where possible.
All of this manifests in the HTC Sense Companion, an app on the phone which links into the Phone, Contacts and Notifications on the U Ultra and U Play to start with. HTC is also looking at bringing it to the HTC 10.
It’s the kind of thing we need to test with our own account, information and habits but it theory it will do all kinds of things starting with notifications via that second screen. HTC calls it a ‘companion that provides thoughtful reminders and suggestions’.
Four always listening microphones mean you can interact with it any time hands-free (handy if you remember something you need reminding about while driving, for example) and use your voice to unlock the device. HTC claims it won’t allow someone else to send a text with voice.
As well as managing things like storage and memory, the built-in AI will aim to be more helpful. Examples include letting you know that it will rain tomorrow following a few days of dry weather and giving you a reminder to charge the device during the day if you’re going to run out of power in the evening when you’ll need it.
Setting priority contacts for notifications will help but the phone will suggest changes if you’re missing out a frequently contacted person.
You can also dismiss or snooze and alarm with your voice and the assistant will do things like suggest a change of alarm time if it’s something like a bank holiday the next day so you don’t get woken up at your normal time.