HTC U Ultra is the latest flagship phablet from HTC. Offering a variety of unusual features, the device is undoubtedly crafted to attract users and buyers away from Huawei’s P10 Plus, and to fill in the gap left by the Galaxy Note7’s flameout earlier this year.
On the other hand, the HTC U Ultra is the first major device released by HTC under its own name since the HTC 10 launched last Spring.
There are two noteworthy things on the device – a ‘secondary’ screen that resides just above phone’s primary screen, and the Sense AI feature that is touted to help the U Ultra learn about your usage habits so that it automatically take actions or preempt interactions on your behalf.
A mélange of many things, not all of which seem complementary to a singular goal made us take a deeper look at this device, to establish it’s market-worthiness. Curious? Read on!
The primary display on the device is 5.7-inch, Super LCD5 panel, and it looks… absolutely amazing. It is sharp and vibrant, with a lot of contrast and brightness. It’s larger than the display on the HTC 10.
That said, at 513 pixels per inch it’s slightly less pixel-dense than the screen on HTC’s last flagship, but offers the same crystal-clear picture. Which means you won’t be having any complaints when it comes to whatever it is that you are viewing on the device.
At Chip-Monks we’ve long said, beyond a point some specs become academic. Human eyes really can’t see the infinitesimally small increments in display quality offered by shovelling in infinite numbers of pixels! Beyond a point, increments are meaningless.
The banner feature of the phone i.e. the secondary display that sits above the main screen is a new overture that’s not fully described by HTC. In fact, HTC has not even provided the specifications of the screen.
What we see of it though, is that this secondary screen exhibits some of the same characteristics as the LG V20 – display your notifications, provide shortcuts for things some apps like your contacts, and it will also occasionally pop up application-specific controls for things like Music – all of which are pretty useful.
There’s news that you can also customise this screen – which is a nice thing (and something Samsung learnt the hard way after launching their “Edge” enabled devices.
The phone’s brightness settings though, may be something that you might find a tad bit irritating. The screen is usually bright enough in the indoors, but not bright enough for the outdoors at times. It becomes reflective and hard to use in areas with too much light, even with the brightness at the full. What doesn’t help much is the auto-brightness setting’s sluggish response time. I believe this has to do with software and how the hues are crafted in the current user interface. Maybe it’ll become better with some OS updates…
The HTC U Ultra is HTC’s biggest device, so far. With that 5.7 inch screen shoehorned into a frame that is larger than that of the iPhone 7 Plus and very slightly smaller than the Samsung Galaxy C9 Pro, the HTC U Ultra takes some getting used to
The closest size comparison you can think of is going to be Google’s Nexus 6. The silver lining is that at 170 grams, it’s the lightest of the three!
There’s a large bezel at the bottom on the front of the device, and a irregularly shaped one up-top (to accommodate the secondary screen). To clarify, the all U Ultra variants come with a black screen on the front (unlike the iPhones – where the front varies depending on the colour at the back). This black screen helps hide the “irregular” shape of the secondary display, as it coexists with the front camera in the same space.
The large size of the device puts one-handed use almost out of question, unless you’re the Hulk!
Below the display rests the home button, which also doubles as a fingerprint sensor. The fingerprint sensor is fast and accurate, but capacitive navigation keys that flank it are not without-issue. They sit far too low towards the bottom edge of the phone, and their imprint is quite small, making them hard to tap with any accuracy, whatsoever.
The power and volume buttons are on the right, and there’s a hybrid dual-SIM tray on the top. On the bottom, you’ll find a USB Type-C port and a speaker grille. The dual-LED flash and laser autofocus window, the ridged power button and narrow fingerprint sensor, all resemble the HTC 10’s design.
HTC U Ultra maintains the build quality that HTC has displayed in its older devices. And this is despite the device featuring a completely new build when compared to their previous smartphones. The phone has made a jump to an all-glass unibody construction. The glass back, however, is not something that many are appreciating.
The back has a unique and extremely reflective mirror-like finish that looks fantastic and definitely catches the eye when the phone is pristinely clean. But it is a smudge magnet! Also, it is not the best idea from a durability standpoint for those people who tend to drop their phones a lot; it might break far too often for their liking.
Even the company admits that, and has included a clear shell within the box. The glass back also comes in colours, by the way. You have a choice of Sapphire Blue and Brilliant Black in India – HTC isn’t selling the White and Pink variants here.
There are two design choices that seem odd for the device. One is the camera bulge on the back, which just feels a little awkward, and the second is the lack of a headphone jack, about which we will discuss later.
There’s no mention of water, dust, or shock resistance is also surprising. The omission of a microSD slot is another minor annoyance. There is the option of putting in a microSD card in the second SIM slot but then you miss out of the second SIM option.
Under the hood, the phone comes with Qualcomm Snapdragon 821, which is the processor from last year’s flagships. Is that a downer?
The word is, that owing to the cornering of this year’s top-drawer Qualcomm processor, the Snapdragon 835, by Samsung and Xiaomi for their respective 2017 flagships, and also due to some production issues, most other companies are being placed in a tricky position where they have to either choose to delay the launch of their flagship or ship it with last year’s SoC. HTC choose to do the latter.
Back to the question – is the inclusion of last year’s Snapdragon 821 a downer? No.
The CPU and memory configuration on the phone is more than good enough and they enable the HTC U Ultra to speed through everything from web browsing to intensive 3D gaming. Everything on the device is as smooth and fluid as expected, the touch response is excellent, and it is quick and easy to open, close, and switch between applications
The phone comes with 4 GB of RAM that would be helping grease the processing.
On the storage front, 64 GB of storage, with microSD card support going up to a theoretical 2 TB is more than enough space you’ll ever need, but do keep in mind, you do lose the ability to use a second SIM if you expand the memory externally.
4G and VoLTE are supported, as is Wi-Fi 802.11 ac, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC, GPS, and GLONASS. Sensors include a gyroscope, magnetometer, and the usual ambient light, motion and proximity sensors. So you have the standard package there.
The battery on the phone is 3,000 mAh, which explains the ‘diet’ level weight of the phone. The sad part though, is that 3,000 mAh is definitely not enough for a phone this size, which means you don’t get to go through an entire day without hugging the wall!
You may also grumble about the charging options – while the device does come with fast charging capabilities, the more tech-savvy folks might rue the fact that the HTC U Ultra does not have wireless charging built in.
The OS and the interface of the phone are one of it’s few strong points. The handset runs using Android Nougat and HTC’s nifty Sense skin.
The inclusion of Android Nougat on any device is of course a point of cheer. It is the latest version of Android to date and thus brings a host of useful features and under the hood upgrades. The best of these include improved battery-saving ‘Doze’ powers, better multi-process support and an improved UI and notifications system.
Skins on top of Android OS are not always a good thing. They have a tendency to add bloatware and delay how quickly handsets can be upgraded to new versions of the OS. But with HTC’s Sense, you wont be complaining much.
The Sense may be starting to feel a little dated at this point, but it still remains one of the cleanest software skins out there. It comes with the usual features, such as BlinkFeed and the highly customizable Theme engine, but you still get a lightweight, stock-like look and feel.
There are a few good things that HTC has adopted over the last few year. One of them is not installing duplicate applications on their devices. So unlike on competing skinned devices, such as the Huawei P10, LG G6 and Samsung Galaxy S7, you won’t see multiple music, photos, calendar and marketplace apps on the U Ultra.
Another thing you are going to appreciate on the device is the Sense Companion. Sense Companion is a feature that aims to offer recommendations on things like nearby restaurants it thinks you’ll like, or upcoming events based on the U Ultra owner’s user habits. The feature is definitely cool, but instead of bringing their own thing, they could have used similar features that exist on Google’s Assistant. Especially given the latter company’s background in data analytics and machine learning will inevitably be better supported.
The phone comes with 12-UltraPixel sensor on its back, with f/1.8 aperture, laser and phase detection autofocus, and optical image stabilization, and on its front is a 16 megapixel selfie shooter, with an UltraPixel mode for lower light and auto-HDR.
UltraPixel is the name for the imaging tech that HTC began peddling at the launch of the original HTC One smartphone. The idea is that it lets the camera capture up to 300% more light by using larger pixels than regular cameras. It is something that has been quite much of a hit and miss in the past.
The camera application is clean and easy to use, and offers a handful of shooting modes, including a Pro mode that comes with the ability to shoot in RAW. The camera launches quickly, and focuses fast enough. The photos takes are quite good; they are crisp and clear, color reproduction is pleasant, and it does quite well with handling exposure even in high contrast situations. The image quality is at par with the camera of the Google Pixel, and just like the latter, the U Ultra camera shoots with HDR mode enabled by default.
The picture are quite good even in low light; the overall level of detail and clarity is still quite good, courtesy of the larger pixel size and the built-in OIS.
The video on the camera is also going to be more than satisfactory. It can record at 2160p at 30fps and 720p at 120fps, which is more than good enough for the odd holiday short. So unless you plan to take it out for something professional, you should be good to go.
The phone is missing a headphone jack. That might have become a trend lately, but it is still something a lot of people will find annoying. This will force buyers to invest in wireless headphones or rely on the USB-C set included in the U Ultra’s box.
The included headphones are quite good. But the lack of a headphone jack means that you can’t really use them while you are charging your phone, and that can be quite irritating for people who are used to do that.
Now, lets come to the included USonic earbuds. When you pop the buds into your ears for the first time, you’re ushered through a quick customization process that automatically tunes audio specifically for your head. The earbuds are also meant to change the way that same audio sounds based on your environment, so you’ll continue to get great sound even when you move around and change your locations, thus altering the background. But the only thing is, it’s a manual process that requires you to tap a notification every time you want to retune based on ambient sound.
HTC has been known for its quality front-facing speakers, but, like the headphone port, these are missing from the HTC U Ultra. The BoomSound technology that HTC has been doing quite well with is not present on this one, and it doesn’t make sense why. Instead there’s just one sound driver, meaning you lose a lot of the ‘oomph’ when listening to audio out loud. So, if you’re looking for a phone that can play you your average song, you’ll be fine. But given HTC’s superior audio capabilities in previous phones, and we can’t see why it would omit decent speakers on a high-end phone.
One good thing though, thanks mostly to the high-resolution and super-bright display creating a beautiful picture, watching anything on the device is a beautiful experience.The phone doesn’t include its own video app, but if you want to play files directly from the phone’s storage you can launch a simple video player. For your streaming, you can always download the likes of Youtube and Netflix.
You are also going to like the phone if you are a gamer. It is likely to suit your tastes whether you want to test out the odd puzzler or play the latest and greatest mobile titles. Most games will run smoothly. The heavier ones might take a bit to load, but once that is done, you can expect it to be a beautiful ride.