HTC is no longer the smartphone power player that it used to be. The smartphone market has gotten a lot more competitive since 2012, with OnePlus, Oppo, Vivo, Huawei redefining how one views the idea of a premium, Android phone. In fact, it is now possible to get a smartphone with great specifications, design and features all for under Rs 30,000.
HTC U Ultra, though priced at Rs 59,900, is a premium phone that looks like nothing else on the market. But is there space for an HTC U Ultra in the market? Is it the premium contender that can make for a worthy choice? Let’s find out in our review.
Specifications: 5.7-inch 2K LCD 5 display (513 ppi) | Snapdragon 821 processor @ 2.15Ghz | 4GB +64GB (expandable to 2TB) |12 MP HTC UltraPixel rear camera + 16MP Ultrapixel front camera | 3000 mAh battery | Android 7.0 with HTC Sense
Price: Rs 59,990
HTC U Ultra
So HTC U Ultra is supposed to be a phone around ‘U’ if you go by the marketing. Apparently it has a ‘liquid surface’ body; well that’s what HTC calls the glossy, all glass and metal body of this 5.7-inch phone. Also this phone doesn’t have a headphone jack, so there.
Now we got the Sapphire blue version, and there were mixed feelings towards this colour. While one person in our team seemed totally turned off by the glossy blue, I liked it. It’s everything that a blue should be; not too dark, reminds me of a nice eyeshadow shade. But sadly the glossy back is a fingerprint magnet.
The glossy back also explains why HTC has included a back cover in the box, although it is a transparent one. However as with all things shiny, remember, you use it without a cover, then this phone is probably going have more than just smudges. Glossy is also equal to slippery, so if you are clutz like I am, better get a solid case for this.
The camera is bang in the middle of the rear, with the HTC logo below that. On the front, it’s all glass with pill shaped button, that’s also got the fingerprint scanner, and two capacitive buttons on each side that light up when you are using the phone.
The other unique thing about the HTC U Ultra is the secondary display on top, which can be customised. You can display your top five apps, favourite contacts, music, the weather, and just keep sliding right to get the relevant information. This is also the ‘Always On’ part of the display. When you pick up the phone this secondary display lights up, and it can provide quick access to your most used apps. But this isn’t the best implementation of the idea of an extra screen. I’d still say the S7 edge side display looks and feels a lot better than this odd strip on top of the HTC U Ultra.
So what’s good?
HTC U Ultra sports a 5.7-inch Quad HD LCD 5 display with Corning Gorilla Glass 5. I used this phone to watch all my pre-downloaded Netflix episodes on a long-haul flight, and it is a top notch display. The blacks are deep, and the phone has nice viewing angles, but again like the rest of the device, it is smudge city here as well. I’d also advise getting a tempered glass for this as I noticed some scratches.
On the performance front, HTC U Ultra comes with the Snapdragon 821, and sure it doesn’t quite feel like the flagship for 2017. After all the Snapdragon 835 is yet to make an appearance on smartphones, thanks to one major player. But performance is not an issue; it can easily handle multi-tasking, games from Lara Croft Run to Asphalt 8 without any hitch. It doesn’t score on top in benchmark tests, but that shouldn’t bother you. This is still one of the fastest phones on the market, but hey you wouldn’t expect any less at this price point.
Software is where HTC has started keeping things simple and clean. Yes, BlinkFeed is still there when you swipe right from the home screen. The Google Photos app is the default gallery app, and HTC has added a few of its own customisations in the settings. The fingerprint scanner works accurately. Finally, there’s talk of artificial intelligence as well.
Now HTC U is supposed to come with HTC Sense Companion, which is the company’s own AI-driven assistant. Except I don’t see this voice-assistant opening up, say when I long press the home button. However, it looks like the Google Assistant has arrived on this Android Nougat 7.0 smartphone and I did set that up.
I can unlock the phone with my voice, which is one of the things promised by the HTC Sense Companion. Although to unlock the phone requires me to say “Ok Google.” The phone unlocks sure, but the Google Assistant will tell me it can’t do so, which is strange. The Google Assistant can be triggered by long-pressing the home button, and just like on the Pixel phones, the experience is pretty good.
Moving onto the camera, this has been one of the key points for HTC phones. HTC U Ultra sports a 12 MP HTC UltraPixel camera on the back with 1.55 um pixel size. The front has a 16MP HTC UltraPixel camera. While the HTC UltraPixel branding doesn’t mean much for the ordinary consumer, as far as smartphone cameras go this does an excellent job when you have great lighting.
The phone is capable of capturing some memorable shots and I used it extensively. Be it bright daylight, shots of flowers, even indoors at night, the HTC U Ultra performs well. The camera is fast, there’s virtually no shutter-lag, and the colours are accurate, though a bit more saturated for my tastes. The selfie camera should also keep most selfie-fans happy. However, the camera is not all perfect in low-light, which I’ll discuss later on.
Audio on this phone is another experience. Thanks to the HTC BoomSound Hi-Fi Edition of audio, the gaming experience is further enhanced. Even if you’re using it to listen to music, the speakers are the best you’ll get on a phone. I’ve not used the LG V20 so I can’t really compare, but the U Ultra delivers on the audio front.
On the headphones side, you’ll have to use the Type-C powered ones provided with the phone. Now HTC also has something called HTC USonic, which according to their marketing claims “analyzes your inner ears with a sonic pulse, and then adapts to you.” You can go to settings, and set up a HTC USonic profile with the earphones.
There’s a difference in the sound quality, if you are listening closely with the beats becoming a lot more prominent. However I’m not sure everyone will be so bothered about this when considering a phone to purchase. Do note, if you use a different set of headphones, you have to create another ‘audio’ profile.
So what’s not good?
The software is not all perfect. There were times when tapping on certain settings in the drop-down menu would get no response. For instance, I found myself tapping Hotspot quite a few times, before it would eventually respond. I don’t expect this in a phone which is worth Rs 60,000.
In low-light, HTC U Ultra can’t compete with the iPhone 7 Plus or the Google Pixel. At the times the whole scene feels artificially lit up and way too bright and the colours are just wrong.
The secondary display seriously feels an unnecessary function, and looks like an ugly band on top. Seriously I’m not convinced about this idea.
On the battery front, the HTC U Ultra scored 4 hours 30 minutes on the PCMark test, which is not great considering the pricing of the phone. It can last 10-12 hours, but then I was using it in a place with relatively stable networks. However, I did find myself charging this phone everyday, so be prepared to carry it around.
HTC U Ultra is a gorgeous looking phone, and it works like a charm. It comes with the latest Android Nougat 7.0 with the Assistant already here on this phone. The camera is great, though not yet in the iPhone league.
There’s no headphone jack, and HTC says the audio will be customised to ‘your’ needs’ though I’m not sure everyone will care. Also the ‘Sense Companion’ has not yet been rolled out for Indian users. Battery for me would still be a flaw on this flagship phone. But finally what doesn’t work in HTC’s favour is the price.
For a lot of users, the OnePlus 3T with the same processor is an option, simply because it costs nearly half of HTC U Ultra and works just as well. Plus if you consider the Galaxy S8 launching later this month, the U feels even more overpriced. Unless you are an HTC fan, you might not consider this on your list for now. There’s no doubt the HTC U Ultra is a valiant effort from the company, but it still lacks the extra edge that could justify the price tag.
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