After a successful HTC 10, the company returns to the beginning of the year with a new high-end smartphone, a flagship worth its name. It’s true that HTC was a having difficult situation with the lack of innovation lately. So, in order to get back to leading the competition, the Taiwanese brand introduced, in January 2017, the first two elements of a new range called U. It’s actually a game of words: U Play and U Ultra. The latter is a high-end phablet with a premium design and energetic platform, two elements that could have positioned the U Ultra as a competitor to the Galaxy Note 7 if it had not been withdrawn from the market a few months earlier. Its format is the same and their technicalities are kind of alike. But what’s so special about the HTC U Ultra?
Starting from the design of the device, we can say that the HTC U Ultra is a strange apparatus in many ways. It is a huge smartphone with two front screens of a diagonal of 5.7 inches. It has also abandoned the metal shell signature of the brand to switch to a highly reflective glass.
Change of course at HTC is not perceived as a failure. The U Ultra thus bears its name well and carries generous dimensions and the smartphone still has that exemplary finish. The design that is introduced here, however, may not please everyone.
The back of the device is made of a glass, known as “innovative crystal surface with elegant contours” by HTC. The back is slightly curved on the edges and it is the most beautiful effect when you unbox the phone at first and the colorful reflections changing according to the light gives it a unique look. However, after a few tens of minutes of us, the rear gets transformed into a real tableau having all your fingerprint traces on it. The visualization is no more as attractive. In hand, the shape of the U Ultra has a nice grip while it correctly fits the palm. On the other hand, the large screen might be bothersome for those who are not used to big phones.
For the matter of fact, HTC has failed to contain the dimensions of its U Ultra, whose screen occupies only 69% of the front panel. The edges are quite wide, especially the lower edge, which actually gives an impression of wasted space. Sadly, the user can’t enjoy the smartphone to the fullest with one hand. That’s due the volume buttons which are placed a little high on the right edge. They are hard to rich with the thumb, luckily the locking key is way better positioned.
Overall, the new HTC’s frame is made of metal on the edges and glass on the back. It’s available in four colors: black, blue, pink and white. Also, note that a premium version of the HTC U Ultra exists with a synthetic sapphire crystal glass for the screen and 128GB of internal storage.
The size of its screen is the same with a 5.7-inch Super LCD 5 panel that displays images in QHD, that is 2560 pixels in height and 1440 pixels in width. The resolution reaches 513 pixels per inch. Above this slab is a 2.5D mineral glass made of Corning’s Gorilla 5. To the right of the frontal cam, we can find a small secondary screen with the always on function, as on the LG V10. It is used to display notifications when the screen is off and to provide tactile keys and contextual shortcuts.
The WQHD resolution delivers a resolution of 513 dpi that provides a very thin display. The contrast ratio remains one of the only defects on this side. We measured it at 1256: 1, just correct for LCD, but far from the results obtained by the Oled slabs. The maximum brightness of 463 cd / m² permits correct legibility in full sunlight, although the reflection rate could have been lower (14%). Moreover, by default, the colorimetry of the HTC U Ultra is very good, with a delta E measured at 2.9.
The particularity of this HTC U Ultra is having a small screen of 2.05 inches (approximately 5.2 cm) just above the main screen. This small display makes it possible to have a quick eye on a notification, to display the time, and offers shortcuts to applications or contacts. All, whether the main screen is on or off. A feature that we had already crossed on the LG V10 and V20.
Moreover, the U Ultra’s performance in multimedia is exemplary. Its large screen is perfectly suited for playing series, even movies and the integrated player reads without a problem the vast majority of the current formats.
It’s fair to say that HTC has been successful in the adaptation of this first big screen on its new smartphone.
Under this slab hides a Snapdragon 821 chip from Qualcomm, here clocked at 2.1 GHz. It is, therefore, the sub-clocked version of the second quad-core Kryo of the American founder. It comes with 6GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage (expandable by microSDXC up to an additional 2TB). The battery reaches 3000 mAh. It is compatible with Quick Charge 3.0 and is recharged via a USB 3.1 type-C port. It is compatible with LTE category 11, WiFi ac dual-band, DLNA, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS and NFC. A fingerprint reader embedded under its screen. Like the iPhone 7, it does not have a 3.5 mm jack, the hands-free kit can be plugged into the USB port. For audio, the Ultra U is Boomsound compatible to improve sound quality, and Usonic, a technology that adapts listening to the listener’s ear. The phone is also equipped with the famous headphones ultimately named USound.
HTC based its U Ultra on Android 7.0 Nougat, with Sense Overlay and HTC’s Virtual Assistant, Sense Companion. Even if the interface is somewhat modified graphically compared to the Google OS, the navigation of the smartphone remains close.
For HTC, innovation therefore passes through three points: big format, dual display, but also AI. When the phone was announced, HTC had promised that an AI – named Sense Companion – would accompany the user on a daily basis to remind him of his appointments, to offer him restaurants near his location, to offer him to recharge his phone, but also learn from his habits to better display relevant information. According to representatives of HTC, it will be introduced via an update, a few days before or after the marketing of the phone.
When it comes to photos, the U Ultra is equipped with a 12-megapixel main sensor, the second generation of the manufacturer’s Ultrapixel technology. Each of its pixels measures 1.55 microns. Its lens opens at f / 1.8 and is protected by synthetic sapphire. It is accompanied by an optical stabilizer, a true-tone flash and a hybrid autofocus (phase and laser detection). At the front, the webcam is 16-megapixel backlit model with lens opening to f / 2.0.
When the light is sufficient, the U Ultra does a good job globally. It manages to capture a quantity of detail comparable to that of a Galaxy S7 edge and produces shots of fine quality. The dynamics are excellent, but the colors are not the neatest. The big disappointment comes from a slight lack of reactivity, not when it comes to the focus, but when capturing photos. A tardiness is felt when recording, leaving the U Ultra behind the Galaxy S7 edge or the LG G5.
In low light, the observation is more mixed. On the one hand, the HTC U Ultra manages to capture a good amount of light, but it does so at the cost of a fairly marked loss of detail. There’s a treatment that smooths out a lot and that puts a more pronounced emphasis on contrasts. We find ourselves thus with forms that are clearly visible, but poor in small details that have disappeared. There is no loss of reactivity under these conditions, fortunately.
Recording videos with the Ultra U can be done up to a UHD definition. As almost every time, the performance is still more satisfying in Full HD, the micro-slowdowns fade and the image quality does not diminish. Exposure measurements and monitoring development are good.
The front sensor of 16 Megapixels also does a pretty good job. Like many of its competitors, the Ultra U applies to self-portraits a smoothing that is found too pushed, losing interest in the number of pixels present. However, it is still ranked among the best developers in the category, without forgetting its improvements in low light conditions.
HTC arrives with a smartphone far from being devoid of interest. However, the U Ultra accumulates many small defects that prevent it from actually coming to play the spoils in the hierarchy of the market of current smartphones. It has a tendency to heat. It is sensitive to fingerprints. The Audio quality is disappointing and there’s a Lack of LCD panel contrast. As of the autonomy it is quite too limited.
Beside this, while looking at the rest as major advantages we can say that the HTC U Ultra has all the attributes of a high-end smartphone.