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Event Coverage

Hands-on: HTC U Ultra and U Play

By James Lu - 25 Feb 2017

Hands-on: HTC U Ultra and U Play

Note: This article was first published on 15th February 2015 and is republished as the phone is now available for purchase.

First spotted at CES 2017, HTC's newest smartphones, the smaller mid-range U Play, and the larger, more premium, U Ultra (which HTC says is now its flagship model) will soon be available in Singapore.

The U Ultra will launch first, on 25th February, retailing for S$898. The 5.7-inch phone has a 2,560 x 1,440 Super LCD5 display (similar in resolution to the HTC 10) and is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor.

The mid-range U Play will follow sometime in March (an exact launch date hasn't been announced yet) for S$548. The 5.2-inch U Play has a Full HD Super LCD display and is powered by a Mediatek MT6755 Helio P10 processor.

 

Design

After years of unibody metal designs, HTC has come up with a refreshing new design for the U series. The all-glass exterior design, which HTC is calling Liquid Surface construction, uses contoured 3D glass on the rear that curves symmetrically over the edges of the phone using what HTC calls "3-axis symmetry". This differs from other 3D glass phones which just curve downwards at the top and bottom. Underneath this glass is a metallic finish that reflects different colors depending on how the light catches it. The ultra-glossy finish looks quite similar to Apple's Jet Black finish on the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. Like the Jet Black iPhone, it's also a serious fingerprint magnet. We're not sure how the U Ultra will hold up to scratches, but HTC assures us the rear is protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 5.

Four colors will be available at launch: Sapphire Blue, Brilliant Black, Ice White and Cosmetic Pink.

Like the iPhone 7, HTC has also removed the headphone jack on both the U Ultra and U Play. Unlike the iPhone, you don't get a USB-C to headphone port dongle in the box, but you do get a pair of USB-C USonic in-ear earphones. HTC recommends using these earphones rather than other alternatives because they're required to use HTC's new Ultrasonic sound software. This software uses sound waves to create a map of the inside of your ear canal, and then customizes and personalizes your audio to enhance the sound.

Both phones also retain HTC's famous BoomSound stereo speakers, but like last year's HTC 10, only one speaker faces forward. The other is on the bottom of the device.

The HTC U Ultra has a 5.7-inch Super LCD 5 screen with a 2,560 x 1,440 pixels resolution (513ppi), while the U Play has a 5.2-inch Super LCD display with a 1,920 x 1,080 pixels resolution (428ppi).

The U Ultra also has a 2-inch secondary display above the main display, very similar to the LG V20. The 1,040 x 160 pixels resolution display shows the time, date, weather and battery percentage, and also displays notifications without interfering with the main screen. You can also swipe on the secondary display to scroll through useful information such as your calendar, apps and contacts. The secondary display can be set to always-on, or can be woken up by raising the screen or double tapping the display. 

On the back of the U Ultra is a square module with a fairly prominent camera bump. The camera is 12-megapixel UltraPixel camera with 1.55μm pixels, f/1.8 aperture, optical image stabilization (OIS) and dual auto-focus (Phase Detection and laser).

The U Play has a 16-megapixel, f/2.0 aperture camera with optical image stabilization and phase detection autofocus. 

Both phones use the same front camera: a 16-megapixel selfie camera that can be switched to UltraPixel mode - which combines four pixels into one - for low light conditions.

 

Performance and Software

Powering the U Ultra is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor with 4GB RAM. While this is currently Qualcomm's top of the line processor, it's due to be replaced by the Snapdragon 835 within the next few months. Inside the U Play is the mid-range Mediatek MT6755 Helio P10 processor and 3GB RAM. Both phones come with 64GB internal storage, and you also get a microSD card slot that is compatible with cards up to 2TB.

One thing worth noting is that the U Ultra only has a 3,000mAh battery. This is fairly small for a 5.7-inch phablet, and in combination with its QHD LCD display, we don't expect battery life to be fantastic. The U Play has a 2,500mAh battery.

The U Play runs on Android 6.0, but the U Ultra has Android 7.0 Nougat with HTC's Sense UI on top. The big new feature for Sense UI is machine learning AI integration, similar to what we've seen on Huawei's Mate 9 smartphone. The AI mainly operates through HTC's Sense Companion app, which monitors your usage and learns your habits, providing helpful tips through the secondary display. For example, the phone might see from your calendar that you're going out in the evening and will remind to charge it during the day so you don't run out of battery. A built in voice assistant powered by four always-listening microphones will also let you issue voice commands at any time.

 

Price and Availability

The HTC U Ultra will be releasing on 25th February for $898 and is also available from Lazada at the same time

The HTC U Play will however launch sometime in March for $548.

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