HTC U Ultra Review: Too Much of a Good Thing?

by Reads (1,332)
  • Editor's Rating

    Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

      • Service, Warranty & Support
      • 8
      • Ease of Use
      • 7
      • Design
      • 8
      • Performance
      • 7
      • Value
      • 7
      • Total Score:
      • 7.40
      • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10
  • Pros

    • Impressive design and durable finish
    • Outstanding sound quality and active environment noise reduction
    • Fluid performance and above average image quality
    • Relatively clean software, without bloatware
  • Cons

    • Average battery life
    • The device is not waterproof
    • Questionable use of gimmick novelties like the secondary display and AI

HTC decided to try something different with the company’s ‘flagship before flagship’ model called the U Ultra. HTC wants to emphasize the fact that they’ve modernized their smartphone offerings – whether it’s the finish, adding a secondary display, switching over to a digital audio-jack or a software upgrade of the Android OS with a smart assistant. The HTC U Ultra is a big, 5.7-inch device with QHD resolution on the primary display and a 2.05-inch secondary screen. This phone also comes with Qualcomm’s upper mid-range chipset, a quad-core Snapdragon 821 with 4 GB of RAM.

The device is equipped with a 12-mega pixel rear-facing camera, as well as a 16-mega pixel selfie-camera, a 3000 mAh battery, Android OS 7.0, and a glass body available in four colors. Apart from the previously mentioned specs, it comes with features which still make it one of the best picks for users who frequently listen to music on their phones, thanks to the Usonic sound, active microphones intended to reduce environmental noise and the included headset which adjusts the sound to each individual’s ear anatomy. The list of novelties which HTC has implemented in the U Ultra is arguably objectionable, as it seems that previously seen gimmicks were chosen here at random, but the fact is that, in the end, this is an exceptionally reliable and attractive model which offers a near-flagship experience.

HTC U Ultra Build & Design

The HTC U Ultra’s finish has been largely modernized compared to the traditional finish the company used for more than three years. The new glass finish is slightly rounded in the center of the rear panel, but the curvature increases towards the edges of the device (just like on a windshield) and it provides a pleasant and secure feeling when held in hand. Such curvature, HTC representatives claim, provides a greater resilience to damage if the phone is hit or dropped, due in no small part to the five layers of glass that make up the phone’s unibody. Its colors have a stunning visual effect, depending on the viewing angle. HTC uses a marketing term called Liquid Surface for this finish, which is not far from the truth and it comes in blue, pink, white and black. The display’s surface is covered in Gorilla Glass 5, which offers additional reliability and resistance to breaks.

Still, such elegant design and the use of a large amount of glass is a double-edged sword, because fingerprints are very visible on this phone, much like specks of dust – even after a few minutes of use. All of this is quite easy to wipe off without leaving the device blurry or with wiping streaks … but you will have to wipe down the phone frequently. A wiping cloth is included in the phone’s package and it does an efficient job of removing all impurities from the surface. On the other hand, it is hard to imagine that users will be carrying it with them at all times – many do not even wipe their glasses that often.

The body includes the Home key in the front, as well as the Back and Menu capacitive keys, which are a part of the rim, not the user interface, while the bottom side holds the USB Type-C connector. There is no 3.5-mm audio-jack and, interestingly enough, the smartphone does not come with an adapter which would allow the use of ‘old’ headphones, but just in-ear headset connected with USB Type-C.


The phone’s upper side includes a nano-SIM and microSD card slot, as well as a perforation for one of four microphones, while the embossed Power key is located on the right side, at thumb’s height. The volume rocker sits above it, while the left side is entirely blank. The back side includes the camera with a bulging rim, a double LED flash and the IR sensor for autofocus. The HTC logo sits lower in relation to the camera, along with the perforation for yet another microphone. The smartphone is not waterproof, despite the fact that it cannot be opened and that it does not have a replaceable battery.

HTC U Ultra Display

The HTC U Ultra has a QHD 5.7-inch LCD 5 display with 1440 x 2560 pixels. This results in 512 ppi of pixel density, which is approximately ten percent less than what the 5.2-inch HTC 10 had (also with QHD resolution); however, the image quality is equally positive. We don’t have any objections with regard to image sharpness, color saturation, contrast or the display’s response to finger movements. The Super LCD 5 technology which HTC uses once again provides a comfortable and outstanding feeling when the device is used, plus it is very economical when it comes to power consumption. Given the not particularly luxurious battery capacity, this is an important matter. If there is one thing to be criticized about the display, it is the fact that such a huge body could have had significantly smaller bezels. The screen only takes up about 70 percent of the front panel, meaning that you will have a rather large phone in your hand which does not use its space well.

The important novelty is the secondary display, situated below the ‘real’ one, even though it is not a market novelty in itself – we had the opportunity of seeing it on LG models V10 and V20. This additional display has 2.05-inch dimensions, a 160 x 1040- pixel resolution and is used for displaying notifications, shortcuts etc. As soon as the phone is picked up from a desk, this display will turn on and provide information like the date, time, current temperature, battery level etc. The user can adjust the settings to select whatever they wish to use this screen for when the main display is turned on or off. For example, it is possible to set up icons for favorite applications or create a favorite contacts list or use both (and plenty other apps) and then swipe through all these mini screens. Actual usefulness of the secondary display is, of course, questionable and it is clear to see it is here simply because there is enough room for it on such a large device. The fact of the matter is that it is necessary to experiment with it in order to get used to the secondary display, until you come across something you really want to have available to you at all times.

HTC U Ultra Performance and Battery Life

The HTC U Ultra comes with Qualcomm’s quad-core Snapdragon 821 and 4 GB of RAM and this is mostly the reason why not even HTC calls this device a flagship model – there are products on the market today with the more up-to-date, faster, more powerful and (relatively) economic Snapdragon 835. Still, the phone had no issues, not even when more intense tasks were at hand and such a hardware platform seems a rational choice. Anyway, the HTC U 11 will be smaller, a shade richer in options and equipped with Snapdragon 835.

The battery capacity is relatively humble for the size of this phone – 3000 mAh. Furthermore, using the secondary display, no matter how small it may be, will surely not help to extend battery life. With intense use, HTC U Ultra still managed to make it through the day, until late in the evening, but a day and a half or even two days would be a difficult task, even with less use. Fortunately, the package also includes Qualcomm’s quick charge technology which supports QuickCharge 3.0, thus, half of the battery’s capacity can be restored in just half an hour.

HTC U Ultra Software and AI

Artificial intelligence is currently one of the trends that tech companies aggressively insist on and it is not a surprise that smartphone manufacturers are joining in, including HTC. Apart from the standard Google assistant, HTC U Ultra includes its in-app personal assistant called HTC Sense Companion – it becomes smarter and smarter with time, thanks to deep learning and notifies the users on things they might find important. ‘Take your umbrella, it looks like it’s going to rain’ or ‘charge your phone because your battery won’t make it until your next meeting entered in the calendar’ are some of its notifications. There will be fewer notifications in the first few days of use because the AI software simply requires time to ‘learn’ the user’s everyday habits.

Just like with the HTC 10, the U Ultra has also been freed from excessive applications and all are based on Google’s well-known solutions. HTC provides 100 GB of additional space on Google Drive with its phone for a period of two years, while the Boost+ application is also interesting – it efficiently cleans the phone from unnecessary software, including troubling applications which drain the battery and it can also lock certain applications from curious members of the family.

USonic Sound

HTC has an important novelty on the U Ultra called Usonic – this technology adjusts the way the sound is reproduced based on the hearing of individual users. The headset which is delivered with the phone has built-in microphones, as well as the so-called ultrasonic beam which scans the inside of both ears and based on the readings creates a personalized profile. It then adjusts the sound with a type of automatic equalizer so that it sounds the best that it can to the specific user. Thus, according to HTC representatives, every user can enjoy the superior experience of listening to music. Additionally, the existence of Usonic justifies the removal of the analogue 3.5-mm jack, given that it does not have two-way communication like the USB Type-C connector has and as such cannot forward the information the ultrasonic beam reads to the phone’s processor.

Similarly, thanks to the microphone in the headset, but also four active built-in microphones, noise reduction is quite successful on this phone. As far as sound playback without headphones goes, HTC U Ultra does not have a couple of stereo speakers in the front, but the sound is reproduced like on HTC 10 – lower frequencies are reproduced through the speaker along the bottom side on the phone, while the speaker usually intended for making phone calls is in charge of the higher frequencies.

HTC U Ultra Camera

According to specifications, the Camera on the HTC U Ultra is the same as the one featured on HTC 10; however, the quality of the images is a shade better – clearly because of the polished software processing. The sensor’s resolution is 12 mega pixels, it has 1.55.micrometer pixels, phase autofocus with the so-called laser focus, optical stabilization and F/1.8 aperture. It also features manual mode, as well as automatic HDR. Videos can be recorded up to 4K,while hyperlapse and slow motion recordings are particularly easy to do.

The quality of taken images is above average and compared to any other HTC predecessor, it is convincingly the best. The sharpness, level of detail, exposure or color saturation cannot be criticized for images taken in daylight, while the level of details could be a bit greater with night lighting if the images were brighter. Still, this is the first HTC phone which has the quality of images that can be compared to the flagship range, in most features.

The famous HTC 16-mega pixel camera is in the front, which can be used in 4 MP UltraPixel mode.

HTC U Ultra Conclusion

A wide range of novelties may not be welcomed by all users, but odds are there is something for everyone to like in the HTC U Ultra. The finish has indeed been adjusted to the market’s modern demands and represents a significant step forward when it comes to aesthetics. That said, the device will hardly always look as spectacular as it does if you don’t have that cloth handy at all times. Novelties like AI, the secondary display and digital audio-jack have already come across plenty of resistance in the competition’s camp.

On the other hand, fantastic performance, the display which cannot be criticized, a clean installation of software and above average reliability guaranteed by the manufacturer make the HTC U Ultra one of the most attractive upper mid-range smartphones.

To put it short, there is no harm in having extra features and HTC can surely count on users who want something extra.

Pros:

  • Impressive design and durable finish
  • Outstanding sound quality and active environment noise reduction
  • Fluid performance and above average image quality
  • Relatively clean software, without bloatware

Cons:

  • Average battery life
  • The device is not waterproof
  • Questionable use of gimmick novelties like the secondary display and AI



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