Before we get into the specifications of the U Ultra and U Play smartphones understand that HTC places a lot of stock in its brand credibility and longevity – chances are you have used an HTC device sometime this century, especially if you were an early adopter of Windows Mobile.
But then the Taiwanese original design manufacturer also made phones for Dell, Fujitsu, Siemens, HP, Compaq i-mate, O2, Palm, Sharp and others. Recently it made some Nexus models and the highly successful Google Pixel.
Which is a long way of saying that there is not much more you can do with a glass slab that every other maker has not done — and in Australia there are at least 10 other mid-premium makers: Samsung, Apple, LG, Moto, Sony, OPPO, Huawei, ZTE, Alcatel and recently Google — paddling in the mid- to high-end space.
So, let’s be clear HTC U series are not competing on specifications, but what HTC can do better than the other makers. It calls that “AI” but not as you know it. HTC means “Accelerated Intelligence” and it is all about learning what you do, and what you want, bundled into HTC’s new Sense Companion to make it a more valuable device for you.
This article focuses on the 5.7” U Ultra – the 5.2” U Play shares most of the software features in a smaller, lower cost unit.
U Ultra features a dual display (like LG’s V20) 12MP UltraPixel 1.55μm camera; stereo hi-res audio recording; HTC USonic BoomSound and 3D audio; HTC Sense Companion for more intuitive use and control; is powered by Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 821 Pro; and has 4/64GB/microSD.
Gone however is the distinctive HTC One design (I liked the speaker bezels on the M8/M9) and in its place a very “Samsungesque” glass slab. To be fair the look is unique – it is called Liquid Surface and comes in Sapphire Blue, Brilliant Black, Ice White and Cosmetic Pink.
HTC Sense Companion
Thomas Dexmier, director of Product Marketing for HTC, gave iTWire an overview of the HTC Sense Companion. “HTC has been around for a long time. While handsets kept evolving on a hardware level [and they were all basically the same with a Qualcomm chip] we needed to take stock and have a bit of a reset. Everyone can make hardware but who can bring fundamental changes to the way we use them?” It was a rhetorical question of course.
Sense Companion is always learning from you. It analyses your calendar, contacts, emails, and more to become a knowledgeable “butler” that reminds you to take an umbrella even though the sun is shining as the weather is destined to turn later that day. Or it will look at your schedule and then at the remaining battery and suggest a quick charge or to take a power bank. That is just the beginning.
Then there is its voice recognition. Dexmier said that it also learns how you use the phone and can navigate the phone, do searches, take or reject calls, set/snooze/dismiss alarms and more. It is his hope that it will reach Amazon Echo like functionality.
Dual Screen – Big/Little
The U Ultra has a 5.7” screen with a separate 2” notification ticker screen above it – it is called Big/Little. But the ticker functionality appears to be far greater with support not only for HTC and Google native apps, but a growing range of third-party apps that can incorporate its API. For example, HTC/Google Music Player will show in the ticker but Spotify will also work there.
Its key use is for notifications that you can respond to from the ticker and as a quasi-always-on-display.
Audio is where HTC can make a hardware difference and I was impressed with its HTC USonic USB-C (no 3.5mm audio jack) headphones (buds/mic) that can analyse your inner ear “geometry” and adjust to your personal sound profile that you can also change to suit your tastes.
Its BoomSound uses a top firing tweeter and bottom firing woofer to produce excellent, clear sound. It also has Hi-Res audio DACs.
Its four omnidirectional, noise cancelling, microphones record 3D (360°) sound up to 5 metres away, are always on and along with various sensors know more about your location or situation and can act accordingly. It will even support biometric voice login.
HTC introduced Ultra-Pixels – essentially larger sized pixels on the sensor that take in more light. Apple, Samsung and others now use large pixels with similar effect.
The rear camera is an evolution of the excellent HTC 10 that scored a DXOMark of 88 (the top is the Pixel XL at 89 and HTC make that). It is fair to say that this should outrank the Pixel.
It has 1.55μm pixels (most others use around 1μm). Add to that a wide f/1.8 aperture, OIS, PADF, Auto HDR, RAW support dual flash, sapphire lens, 4K record, and on paper it is probably the best camera at present.
The selfie camera is a 16MP or 4MP Ultra-Pixel with screen flash. It also has Auto HDR, Panorama (wide angle) mode, and should be great in low and ordinary light.
Cat 11 LTE (600.50Mbps) with bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 17, 20, 28 TDD: Bands 38, 39, 40, 41 with 2CA, 3CA. VoLTE and Wi-Fi calling.
Price and availability – from 8 March.
Vodafone is the exclusive telco. The handset cost is $8 per month (two months’ free access on an $80 or higher MyMix Red Plan).
Or via JB Hi-Fi or Harvey Norman at $1199.
The U Play is $799 outright or the handset cost is $5 per month on a $60 Vodafone Red plan.
Before I attended today's launch I was beginning to get a little jaded at the tsunami of good quality Android handsets that seemed to offer much of a muchness.
But I get HTC’s take – it is not about the hardware, but what you can do with it and from what I have seen, albeit only over an hour or so, it seems to deliver on the promise of Accelerated Intelligence and that is a significant differentiator.
Reviews will happen over the next few weeks so take this as very preliminary first looks.
HTC U Play
HTC U Ultra
|5.2 inch, FHD, 1920 x 1080, 428ppi, LCD, 68.7% screen to body ratio, Gorilla Glass||5.7 inch, Quad HD 25660 x 1440, 513ppi, LCD plus 2” 1040 x 160 Ticker covered in Gorilla Glass 5, 69.7% screen to body ratio|
|MediaTek HelioP10, Octa-core, 64-bit||Qualcomm® Snapdragon 821, 64 bit quad-core, up to 2.15 Ghz|
|3/32GB and microSD to 2TB, OTG||4/64GB and microSD to 2TB, OTG and Flex Storage support|
|Rear Camera: 16MP, 1 µm pixels, f/2.0, OIS, PADF, Auto-HDR, RAW format support, dual LED flash, 1080p record||12MP, 1.55μm pixel, f/1.8, OIS, PADF and Laser Focus, Auto HDR, Sapphire lens, RAW format support, Dual LED flash, Panorama, Zoe, Slo-mo, 4K|
|Front camera: 6MP, with HTC UltraPixel mode, 1 µm pixels, f/2.0, Auto HDR,||same|
|Battery: 2500mAh with fast charge, USB-C||3000mAh Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0, USB-C|
|Single SIM and separate microSD slot||same|
|Wi-Fi AC, Dual Band; Bluetooth 4.2; GPS; NFC; Wi-Di; Fingerprint sensor||same|
HTC Usonic (buds)
Dual microphone with noise cancellation
HTC Usonic (buds)
HTC BoomSound Hi-Fi edition
3D Audio recording with 4 microphones
Hi-Res audio stereo recording
Hi-Res audio certified
|Cat 6: Bands 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 20, 28 38, 40||
Cat 11: Bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 17, 20, 28,
38, 39, 40, 41 with 2CA, 3CA
VoLTE,Wi-Fi Calling (varies by region and operator)
|Android 6.0 with HTC Sense||Android 7.0 with HTC Sense|
|145.99 x 72.9 x 3.5 ~ 7.99 mm, 145 g||162.41 x 79.79 x 3.6-7.99 mm, 170g|