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HTC U Ultra first impressions: Will the bold gambit pay off ?

HTC has launched the U Ultra smartphone in India, and here's our first impressions.

Written by Anuj Bhatia |
February 22, 2017 7:12:49 pm
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HTC which made Android a household name — also the brand that started the trend of metal-clad smartphones — is looking to gain some much-needed momentum in the premium smartphone market with the release of its U-series. Its latest smartphone, the U Ultra, is trying to differentiate itself on the basis of design, secondary display, AI based software and 3D audio. But is it enough to turn the tide?

Here’s what I think about the premium smartphone that aims to take on the likes of Apple iPhone 7 Plus, Samsung Galaxy S7 edge and LG G5 after using it for a bit during the launch.

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Design

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HTC has taken a whole new design approach with the U Ultra, moving away from the full metal unibody design to a new curved glass back. HTC is pretty excited about the U Ultra’s design. It, again and again, made a mention of the “liquid surface”, meaning the smartphone appears to have different colours when held at different angles.

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I like the design of the U Ultra, it is totally different from its previous offerings. However, I’m not entirely convinced by the company’s bold claims. As I said, I did like HTC U Ultra in terms of look and feel. Though, it somewhat reminds me of the Galaxy S7 and Honor 8. Yes, the design is heavily inspired by Samsung — sorry HTC. Also, I’m not clear how tough the glass is, in case there is a mishap. One more thing: I did notice that the device was uncomfortable to hold, particularly while clicking photographs with one hand.

Display

Talking about the display, the U Ultra has a 5.7-inch QHD (2560 x 1440) Super LCD display, while a secondary 2-inch (60 x 1040) sits above the main display. The concept is not new as LG already offers the V20 smartphone with a secondary display.

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In terms of advantage, the secondary display comes really handy, at least, when your phone has a large 5.7-inch screen. It is useful because it provides shortcuts, notifications, favourite contacts, event alerts, weather and reminders, and more. The main 5.7-inch display is sharp and displays bright natural colours.

Performance

Under the hood is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor paired with 4GB of RAM. The unit which I saw at the demo zone has 64GB of internal memory. I’m yet to test the device fully, but performance seemed smooth during the brief hands-on. The U Ultra comes with a 3,000mAh battery inside, but I’m yet to see how this performs in my daily use.

The smartphone, like the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, has ditched the headphone jack and instead opts for audio over USB-C port. As the company told me, the company will bundle its HTC USonic earphones that analyse your inner ears with a sonar-like pulse, and then adapts to suit you. I tried using it for a brief period of time, and it impressed me a lot.

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Software

Software-wise, Android 7.0 Nougat is present; which means you will get the latest version of Android with Blinkfeed on top of it. I’m sure once I use the phone for a longer duration, I’ll like the software experience a bit more than I did on HTC 10.

The U Ultra is the first smartphone from the manufacturer to come with HTC’s Sense Companion app baked-in. To clear the confusion, it is like AI assistant — similar to Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant and Samsung’s S-Voice. Say, for example, it will let you know when to charge your phone or recommend you nearby restaurants. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to test the feature at the launch event. I was unable to test the phone’s voice recognition feature.

The phone comes with a four mic set-up, which will allow you to record 360-degree audio. Since the handset is “always listening” you, omnidirectional mics capture will recognise your voice and commands much faster.

Cameras

The rear-camera on the U Ultra is identical to the 12-megapixel Ultrapixel sensor seen on the HTC 10, but now comes with a Phase Detection Autofocus (PDAF) feature. I couldn’t test image quality, but HTC is promising the U Ultra to be one of the best camera phones in the market. The camera app loads fast – – quicker than my Asus ZenFone 3. The front camera is rated at 16-megapixels. It seemed to deliver superb image quality even in low light.

Conclusion

HTC U Ultra seems a bit confusing for me now. While its design is likeable, the addition of a secondary display is convincing, alongside its voice recognition capabilities. I still feel that something is missing from the smartphone. And on top of that, I cannot ignore its frightening price tag of Rs 59,990. If you purely consider the price, HTC’s U Ultra is a big let down. Though I can’t say the same about its performance until I get my review unit because the phone will be available in the market from March 6.

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