HTC U Ultra Review
Sometimes smartphone manufacturers keep their lineups simple: a clear flagship (maybe in a couple size options), then possibly a spread of mid-rangers, and maybe even a super-budget model. And while all those phones can be very interesting for their own reasons – for as much as we love a bleeding-edge hero phone, a really well-executed lower-end model that's still a stunning value can be even more important – it's not uncommon for us to build our expectations of a company's yearly stable of phones around such a product.
That's what makes 2017 so unusual for HTC. Not only are we on track to see the launch of fewer total smartphone models than we saw arrive last year, but HTC is switching things up in the flagship department, as a company exec confirmed that we shouldn't be expecting an HTC 11: a direct follow-up to last year's HTC 10.
There will be a high-profile flagship at some point, sure, but likely with some new branding – and maybe even filling a slightly different role in the manufacturer's lineup.
While we wait to get the full story on the rest of HTC's plans for the year, we've already seen the company get off to a quick start, launching a pair of HTC U models back in January. While the smaller HTC U Play will stick to international markets, the US is getting the larger HTC U Ultra phablet. With high-end specs, a big 5.7-inch screen, and a seriously flagship-level price tag, is the U Ultra a fitting replacement for the HTC 10, or will HTC fans want to keep waiting for a possibly more petite handset? Here's what you can expect from the company's first major smartphone of 2017.
In the box:
- HTC U Ultra
- USB type-C to standard-A cable
- Fast charger
- Cleaning cloth
- HTC USonic USB Type-C earbuds
- Protective case
- Warranty booklets
How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful – with an emphasis on “big”
Sometimes it's easy to reduce a phone's design to a single thought, and with the HTC U Ultra, the most apt words that come to mind are “big and shiny.” With a 5.7-inch screen, that “big” aspect is largely to be expected, but even in the world of similarly equipped phablets, the U Ultra is on the chunkier end of the spectrum. Its 162.4 x 79.8 mm face makes it bigger than the ill-fated Galaxy Note 7 (and even bigger than the Note 5), and we'll spare the U Ultra the embarrassment of comparing it directly to the LG G6. Now, it's not like HTC is just wasting that space, and the U Ultra does deliver extras those phones lack, like an LG V20-style secondary display. But again, even the V20 is a smaller, more pocket-friendly phone than the hulking U Ultra.
As for “shiny,” the U Ultra offers an attractive glass-topped, polished-metal back panel in your choice of three colors; in addition to the stunningly bold blue you see here, the phone is also available in black and white. That high-gloss finish is nothing short of eye-catching, but the near-featureless expanse of reflective material also turns the U Ultra into one of the more fingerprint-sensitive handsets out there. We're not talking about how you unlock your phone, either: every single little touch you impart on the U Ultra's body shows up, clear as day. It's a beautiful phone, until you start actually using it; let's just say that it didn't take long to understand why HTC saw fit to include a cleaning cloth in the box.
Continuing our tour of the U Ultra's hardware, we've got our volume rocker and pleasantly-textured power button on the right edge, the hybrid SIM/microSD tray up top, and the main speaker and USB Type-C port on the bottom. As you've probably noticed by now, that means no analog headphone jack, just like on last year's HTC Bolt. Instead, you'll use the included USB headphones.
It's worth mentioning, while we're talking about design, that the USB port here looks like it doesn't fit very well. It's not exactly centered along the phone's profile, and introduces a bump that interferes with the bottom edge of the handset's back panel. We've heard of camera bumps before (and the HTC U Ultra very much has one of those), but a USB bump? That might be taking things a little too aggressively with the drive for curved-edge construction.
Just like on the HTC 10, we're looking at a front-mounted fingerprint scanner in the phone's home button, flanked by a pair of capacitive Android buttons. HTC's shifted front-facer placement since the 10 to accommodate for the U Ultra's secondary ticker display, and we also find a much smaller earpiece grille here – which also doubles as a secondary speaker for stereo output.
Secondary ticker displays are just not a good match with LCD screen tech
HTC is stepping out of its comfort zone a little with the screen on the U Ultra, introducing a phone with the sort of secondary auxiliary display we most often associate with LG's V series. The implementation is a near perfect copy of what LG was up to with those phones, with a little extra strip of screen that sticks out above the main display, and extends about two-thirds of the way across.
That sort of setup creates some new opportunities for HTC, but also introduces fresh problems. We'll take a closer look at those in a second, but first let's check out the main screen.
Like the HTC 10, we're looking at a Super LCD 5 panel with a Quad-HD 1440 x 2560 resolution. But by stretching things out from 5.2 to the U Ultra's 5.7 inches, we're dealing with a corresponding decrease in pixel density. The good news is that at this kind of high resolution, the phone's got pixels to spare, and the image quality on the U Ultra doesn't suffer as a result of its increased size.
Color accuracy isn't bad, either,
though it does tend to over-saturate at times. Screen brightness is
also decent, and there's a much-appreciated control panel setting to
adjust color temperature – not that the screen on our unit needed
All this sounds good – and really, HTC doesn't make any huge missteps. At least, that's true about the main display.
Sadly, the secondary screen suffers
from some of the same kind of issues we saw crop up with LG's phones
– and the chief one there is some distracting backlight bleed. Say
you're watching a full-screen video on the U Ultra. Since the display
doesn't turn off the secondary screen's backlight independently of
the main screen, and unlike an AMOLED panel, an LCD is going to still
be partially illuminated even when it's trying to display pure black,
you get this gray rectangle just sort of floating out there to the
side of your video. It doesn't outright ruin the U Ultra experience,
but it doesn't look great, either.