HTC's Two New Phones Are All About U

Image: HTC

HTC is reinventing itself. It's no longer the old-school Android smartphone company of a few years ago. It's leaving that behind along with its old, industrial, metal-bodied line-up of One smartphones. Instead, the new HTC is positioning itself as slick and modern, and it's doing that with two new phones built around shiny glass backs and funky colours, with AI smarts that make your life better.

HTC U Ultra: A New Flagship

The U Ultra is the first big flagship phone from HTC, which has generally played in the smaller end of the market with its 5- to 5.2-inch One and HTC 10 models in the past. That 5.7-inch display is a 2560x1440pixel Quad HD Super LCD 5 wrapped in Gorilla Glass 5, although top-end models internationally also get a sapphire glass version (which we won't see here). The big styling point for the Ultra is what HTC calls an "optical spectrum hybrid deposition" finish, which shows slightly different pearlescent colours when viewed at different angles. The Ultra is 162x80x8mm and 170g.

The standout feature of the new handset is its secondary 2-inch OLED display, taking similar inspiration to the LG V20, sitting atop the 5.7-inch display next to the front-facing camera. That display handles notifications and widgets while the main screen is on or off, and HTC is saying its new Sense Companion AI will learn what notifications you actually look at and prioritise them over the junk you don't.

Powered by a modern Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 quad-core processor running at up to 2.15GHz with 4GB of RAM, the HTC U Ultra should be competitive with other late 2016 flagships like the Google Pixel and Moto Z in terms of outright grunt. It'll have 64GB of storage when it lands in Australia, although it keeps the microSD expandable memory slot for an extra 2TB of potential space.

HTC's long-running UltraPixel naming for its camera returns, with a 12-megapixel f/1.8 backside-illuminated sensor and lens setup with large 1.55um pixels translating -- on paper, at least -- into good photos in bright and low light alike. You get all the good stuff like 4K video recording and hi-res 3D audio, and 120fps slow-mo recording at 720p, as well as laser and phase detect autofocus working simultaneously. Around the front there's a 16-megapixel front-facing camera with a f/2.0 aperture, but in addition a software feature that will boost light sensitivity by a factor of four but will output 4-megapixel images as a compromise: this is again tagged as UltraPixel.

Without a headphone jack, the HTC U Ultra will be bundled with powered earbuds that connect to the USB-C port. Those headphones will include an internal microphone that will be used to customise sound to users' preferences, in keeping with HTC's new mission to heavily personalise its devices. The 3000mAh battery will also be recharged reasonably quickly through 15 Watt Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 tech over USB-C.

HTC U Play: Same Design, Mid-Range Specs

The smaller 5.2-inch HTC U Play has a nearly identical design to the U Ultra -- with the same curved glass back and iridescent finish -- but has mid-range specifications under that fancy finish. It uses an older octa-core Mediatek Helio P10 processor, and its 5.2-inch display uses a 1080p Super LCD covered in Gorilla Glass. Inside is a 2500mAh battery and a similar sensor suite to the Ultra, apart from dual mics rather than quadruple. It's 146x73x8mm and 145g.

The HTC Sense skin on top of Android is the same as on the Ultra, and Sense Companion's AI support will customise notification display and app suggestions after initial setup and some days of use. The phone has two 16-megapixel cameras on front and back; both are f/2.0 lenses with 28mm-equivalent field of view and have similar backside-illuminated sensors, but the front camera also has that same UltraPixel mode.

The biggest difference between the two is that the Play doesn't have a standalone dual display, and so can't show notifications or quick-launch apps without the entire display lighting up. In Australia, we'll get the HTC U Play in 32GB storage variants (colours to be confirmed) with 3GB of RAM, although there's microSD expandable storage up to 2TB. The U Play also has the same HTC USonic sound support through USB-C (although running at USB 2.0 speed and 10 Watt charging).

We'll know more about pricing and a local release date for both the HTC U Play and its larger U Ultra cousin in the coming weeks and months.



    Darn. Was hoping for flagship specs in hand-holdable 5-inch screen factor. Seems HTC have got caught up in the bigger-is-better trend.

    Darn. Was hoping for front facing stereo speakers.

      Everyone seems to be walking away from forward facing speakers.. Its really disappointing.

      This. The old Boomsound speakers were a real selling point - what now sets HTC apart from all the other Android manufacturers?

    Another phone without a headphone jack. Stopped reading right there.. No sale.

      Yep. Headphone jack, big battery, waterproof, no/minor bloat ware - sold.

        For me, I don't want a headphone jack, but I do want a really good camera with decent optical zoom. That and big battery, waterproof, no/minor bloatware, minimum of 64GB fast onboard storage and I'm sold. Wireless charging would be nice too.

          There aren't many phones on the market that do optical zoom. I think Samsung made a few models like that, which were basically cameras with a phone built into them, rather than the other way around, which meant some phone features suffered or were lacking in general or in grunt/specs.

      Wireless is the way forward for heaphones. Or USB-C if someone absolutely must have cabled buds/cans.

        I have Sony MDR100abn bluetooth headphones. The amount of times the signal gets dropped from my iPhone 6s plus over my 3 hour commute is too much. I get about 3-4 disconnects a day where I then need to restart my music once it re-pairs itself. In my experience too the music sounds way better / clearer when I use this headset wired. Also when I forget to charge them I can use them un-powered.

          Test your phone with another pair of Bluetooth weapons or headphones. It might just be an issue with your phone's Bluetooth.

    I wonder if anyone will ever replace the auxiliary port with another port rather than just removing it?

    Personally I don't want headphones plugged into the charging port while I walk around, I think that will lead to a broken port and an unchargeable device.

    What is it with HTC always putting small batteries in their phones... 3000mAh is so small compared to similar phones...

      The capacity is only part of the story though. If the components (screen, CPU etc) use less power (as you'd expect from a newer generation) then the battery life for any given battery capacity should be longer.

        We keep getting told this but I never seem to experience the improvement in promised battery life from this quarters newest processor/screen etc.

        Battery size is now one of the main selling points for me.. I currently have the Mate 9 with its 4000mAh

    Not sure why anyone would buy this over the V20.

    V20 is available now, is cheaper, has a headphone jack to use the superior onboard DAC, has a slightly larger battery.

    The only thing I can see going for this is water resistance and possibly better camera, even so the V20 already has an amazing camera.

    Also I absolutely hate front finger print sensors... so awkward on a large phone to stretch the thumb down to unlock. On a smaller phone it works well, but not on a 5.7inch.

    HTC really have no idea now. They always come out with more of the same and no wow factor as a selling point of difference, resulting in a more 'meh' type of reaction.


    Headphone Jacks are going out of style, so really no concern to me. Very disappointing it's going that way, but if the Industry is taking that route, I suppose we need to adapt. Happy to hear about USB-C, though.

    Looking at the two devices, HTC U Ultra looks like a Samsung Galaxy S7, and the HTC U Play looks like an iPhone 7/Google Pixel. Design-wise, it's not bad, but if I was walking past someone, I would mistaken the device for something else - and I wouldn't take it for innovative or edge cutting.

    The only way that HTC is going to get into the Ultra-High end market like this is by undercutting the prices, which going by their history, doesn't seem that way.

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