New HTC U duo looks great, but missing crucial aspects

New HTC U duo looks great, but missing crucial aspects

HTC held a small event in the early hours of the morning for us here in the U.S., so if you weren’t up at 3 a.m. to see it, here’s what “U” missed: two new smartphones, the HTC U Ultra and HTC U Play, both of which focus on beauty and HTC’s new AI, Sense Companion.

At first glance, it’s hard to deny that the HTC U devices are anything less than beautiful. With its stunning glass design and bold colors like Ice White, Brilliant Black, Cosmetic Pink and Sapphire Blue, the new HTC devices really do stand out. Unfortunately, the very fact that HTC chose a glass back as its material of choice for these phones kind of takes away from the excitement of the bold color choices as a case is usually recommended for these types of phones given that glass is just as well-known for being shatter-prone as it is shiny.

Moving on to the internals, you have the HTC U Ultra with flagship specs and the HTC U Play with mid-range specs and a focus on camera quality.

HTC U Ultra

New HTC U duo looks great, but missing crucial aspects

  • 5.7-inch QHD display
  • Secondary 2-inch display for notifications
  • 2.15 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor
  • Rear-facing camera: 12-megapixel UltraPixel 2, PDAF, OIS, ƒ/1.8
  • Front-facing camera: 16-megapixel, UltraPixel mode
  • 64/128GB internal memory, microSD support up to 2TB
  • Fingerprint scanner
  • NFC
  • USB-C
  • BoomSound Hi-Fi audio
  • Sense Companion
  • Google Assistant
  • 3,000 mAh battery
  • Android 7.0 (Nougat) with Sense
  • Pricing starts at $749

HTC U Play

New HTC U duo looks great, but missing crucial aspects

  • 5.2-inch 1920 x 1080 display
  • MediaTek Helio P10 processor
  • 3GB or 4GB of RAM
  • 32/64 GB of internal storage, microSD support
  • Rear-facing camera: 16-megapixel, PDAF, OIS, ƒ/2.0
  • Front-facing camera: 16-megapixel UltraPixel, ƒ/2.0
  • USB-C
  • Sense Companion
  • Google Assistant
  • 2,500 mAh battery
  • Android 7.0 (Nougat) with Sense
  • Pricing TBA

The HTC U Ultra looks good. The secondary display is clearly an idea taken directly from LG’s V series, which I would consider a useful addition but nothing we haven’t seen before. Internals look good, but they’re missing some crucial features like the 3.5mm headphone jack, support for wireless charging, waterproofing, and especially CDMA support. Lack of CDMA support shuts out a good portion of the U.S. consumer base, and everybody else who could buy the U Ultra may find its $749 starting price too much considering all that the device neglected to include. On the plus side, HTC’s Uh-Oh! protection is included, which includes one free replacement in a 12-month period, so there’s that.

The U Play is harder to gauge without a price tag. If priced appropriately, it could be a good option. HTC kept consistency between the two models by using the same hardware design, materials, and colors offered. The only thing I would change here is the inclusion of a stronger Qualcomm processor, but perhaps the use of MediaTek will make the U Play more affordable.

My thoughts on these phones are scattered. It would be hypocritical of me to discredit them based solely on the glass back as my own daily driver, the Galaxy S7, features the same build; however, I do think the Galaxy S7 has more features that justify the purchase (3.5mm headphone jack, waterproofing, wireless charging, Samsung Pay with frequent promotions, and about $50 cheaper). It’s a subjective matter, but I really wish that HTC had stuck with its iconic aluminum unibody. Sure, the design is commonplace now, but I think most people would rather have dings than shattered glass.

And then there’s the subject of HTC’s AI, Sense Companion, which is designed to learn about you (or “U”, I guess) and is less intrusive than your typical AI. I think HTC is right in thinking that AI is the future, but how willing will people be to adopt yet another virtual assistant? Given that HTC also included Google Assistant in both models, time will tell which people prefer. At the very least, adding another contender will likely further AI innovation faster.

The one question people seem to be uncertain of now is whether the U Ultra is supposed to be HTC’s successor to last year’s HTC 10 or not. Without CDMA support I am inclined to say that it’s not, but there’s no real way of telling. We may still see an HTC 11 or perhaps an HTC Vive flagship sometime this year, which I hope is the case. The U Ultra is pretty, but it’s just not enough.

Readers, what are your thoughts on the new HTC U Ultra and U Play? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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