HTC U Ultra unveiled: We go hands-on with HTC’s gorgeous new flagship!

by Todd Haselton | January 12, 2017

HTC just unveiled a brand new flagship Android smartphone, the U Ultra. It’s powered by Android Nougat with HTC’s custom Sense user interface and some artificial intelligence tweaks. It offers a unique new “liquid” glass body and draws inspiration from both Samsung and LG smartphones.

Borrowing from LG and Samsung

The most obvious LG rip-off is the secondary display, which exists above the primary one and provides access to things like shortcuts, music controls and more. It’s almost identical to what LG introduced with the LG V10 and LG V20. You’ll find a 5.7-inch Quad HD display, though it does not support Google Daydream, which is kind of a bummer. As for the Samsung inspiration – the glass back panel with a bit of a metallic sheen reminds us a lot of the Galaxy S6/Galaxy S7/Galaxy Note 7 design cues. The design is gorgeous and super premium, but it also attracts some pretty gnarly finger grease.

U Ultra with sapphire display

HTC will introduce two models of the U Ultra, one with 64GB of expandable storage and another with 128GB of expandable storage. Both feature 4GB of RAM and many of the same features, but the latter will also ship with a sapphire display in place of the Gorilla Glass 5 version found on the 64GB Ultra model. You’ll also find a 3,000mAh battery under the hood with support for Qualcomm QuickCharge 3.0, which should allow you to juice up pretty quickly.

UltraPixel

The camera should perform relatively similarly to the HTC 10. HTC said it didn’t really change much, the 12MP UltraPixel 2 sensor is still in place though it sounds like there have been some software tweaks to improve performance. There’s also a 16MP front-facing camera with an UltraPixel mode that improves lowlight performance.

BoomSound

As for audio, the “BoomSound” stereo speakers aren’t making a comeback here. HTC’s including its USonic headphones that take advantage of USB-C in the box and also work with its “BoomSound Hi-Fi Edition” technology. The U Ultra also supports 3D Audio recording thanks to 4 microphones. Those mics are always listening, too, so you should theoretically be able to pull up commands like “Ok Google” at any time. Don’t worry about too much power consumption, HTC told me these mics only “sip” battery life.

HTC Sense Companion

HTC is introducing a new “Sense Companion” Artificial Intelligence engine on the phone. This applies to a variety of applications. For notifications, HTC will try to learn to show you only notifications from apps and people you care about. It’ll also try to predict battery life, among other things. “We know your calendar events and can tell if you’ll make it to the end of the day on your current charge,” HTC told me.

“It’ll remind you to charge if you want to make it to the end of the day, including commute time. Most phones prompt you at 10 percent or 15 percent but at that time it’s too late to do anything. We will suggest you turn things off.” That technology will apply to RAM management, too, recommending when to kill apps. It’ll also reach into Foursquare and Yelp, providing recommendations on places it thinks you’ll like based on your past food preferences, restaurant distance, price and more.

As for whether it’ll rain tomorrow? “We won’t tell you everything about the weather but the changes to the weather are the ones that are the most important.”

U Ultra release

I’m super excited for this phone, but I have a few reservations. It’s a gorgeous and jaw-dropping smartphone. On the other hand, I’m a bit skeptical given that Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 processor is about to make its debut, likely in the Galaxy S8 at Mobile World Congress next month. It’s also not IP68 water resistant, which HTC took a hit on with the HTC 10 and even the Google Pixel, so that’s kind of inexcusable at this point.

I’m kind of bummed about the lack of any sort of VR support, too; I really like Google Daydream, and we know that Samsung’s Galaxy S8 is going to offer Gear VR support. I’ll save my final word for the review, but it’s very tough to make a recommendation on this device with so much expected over the horizon from Samsung and other competitors.

HTC is taking pre-orders for the HTC U Ultra today. It’s unlocked and starts at $749.



Todd Haselton

Todd Haselton has been writing professionally since 2006 during his undergraduate days at Lehigh University. He started out as an intern with...