Google IO 2017 Coverage

HTC U Ultra review: HTC is almost back in the game

The U Ultra might not be HTC’s flagship for the year, but it’s still a high-end device you should pay attention to. The company vowed to switch its focus to premium hardware in 2017, and the U Ultra is just one culmination of the efforts. It really is a premium device with most everything you’d expect out of the a flagship — powerful hardware, a gorgeous display, a large battery and so on.

Design

As far as design goes, HTC nailed it with the U Ultra. This is without a doubt a beautiful smartphone. It comes in a variety of colors — Brilliant Black, Cosmetic Pink, Ice White and Sapphire Blue. The model we received for this review was of the Sapphire Blue variety and it is quite the looker. The color really appears fantastic on this phone, and the glossy look to it definitely makes it shine; however, it’s not just a glossy look but a feel, too. And that can be a bit of a problem.

One thing that’s very important to note is just how slippery this phone is. In the hand, you can grip it pretty decently, but set the phone on something with even the slightest angle and it’s going to slide off and hit the floor. That said, a case is definitely recommended, and if you don’t want to hide the phone’s beauty, even a clear case will do just fine.

The U Ultra feels great in the hand. It’s comfortable and you really aren’t going to strain to use it. It’s a large phone, and thus the most comfortable option is using it two-handed, but you can use all of the important functions easily just one-handed — calling, messaging, scrolling through social media, and whatever else you normally do.

The phone is a little tall for me, and some of that is because you have a secondary display. You have your main display and then the secondary above that, which is similar to the LG V20 in that it’s a quick access for certain things.

Button placement is strange by the way. Both the volume rocker and the power button sit on the right side of the phone, which normally doesn’t matter. The power button sits below the volume rocker, which feels a little weird when you try to reach it one-handed. It’s uncomfortable, and something that could’ve been solved by putting it above the volume rocker. It does, however, have a nice textured feel to it.

At the very bottom of the phone, you have a speaker grille and the USB-C port. The phone has no headphone jack, but the U Ultra does come with a pair of USB-C headphones.

The phone doesn’t have any physical buttons on the front either as they’re all capacitive, including the home button, which also doubles as a fingerprint scanner.

The top of the phone is where the SIM card tray resides, and is where you can also expand storage with a microSD card. Around the back, you have the camera with dual-LED flash and laser autofocus.

All in all, HTC did an excellent job with this phone’s design. The U Ultra is beautiful and it’s comfortable in the hand aside from some weird button placement.

Hardware

 HTC U Ultra
AnnouncedJanuary 12, 2017
ReleaseMarch 2017
Display5.7-inch (2560x1440) Super LCD 5 with 2-inch (160x1040) secondary
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 821
RAM4GB
Storage64GB / 128GB with microSD card slot
Rear Camera12MP with optical image stabilization, BSI sensor, laser autofocus, phase detection autofocus, dual-LED flash
Front Camera16MP with UltraPixel mode, BSI sensor
Battery3000mAh (non-removable)
ChargingUSB Type-C with Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0
SoundBottom-facing speakers with HTC USonic, HTC BoomSound
SoftwareAndroid 7.0 Nougat with HTC Sense Companion
ConnectivityBluetooth 4.2, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
SensorsAmbient, proximity, accelerometer, gyro, compass, barometer, fingerprint
Measurements162.4 x 79.8 x 8mm
Weight170g
ColorsBrilliant Black, Cosmetic Pink, Ice White, Sapphire Blue

Performance

With the HTC U Ultra, you’re getting a large 5.7-inch Super LCD 5 display, boasting a Quad HD (2560×1440) with 513 pixels per inch. Anyone who picks up this phone will be happy with the screen. Everything is crisp and clear. Watching videos or viewing pictures is a pleasure, both because of the size and how crisp it is.

Text looks sharp and is easy-to-read. Viewing angles are great, too; however, I did notice that the U Ultra was difficult to see in direct sunlight, which is something the LG G6 didn’t have an issue with.

And, of course, one of the staples of the U Ultra is the secondary display. It’s a 2.05-inch (1040×160) ticker for quick access to things like weather, favorite contacts, and events.

One thing that’s worth noting is that, with the 64GB model, the display is protected with Corning’s Gorilla Glass 5. But, if you want even more protection, pick up the 128GB model and you get Sapphire crystal glass. It’s hardness is second only to diamond, meaning you’re getting a very durable product in this larger storage model.

As for the processing package, you get the Snapdragon 821 processor and 4GB of RAM. As mentioned above, you get storage options of either 64GB or 128GB. The only difference between these two models is the storage capacity — going with the higher model won’t give you more RAM, as it’s just a flat 4GB across the board.

You do get a microSD slot for expanding the storage if what you have isn’t enough. The U Ultra has support for up to a 256GB microSD card, so you have plenty of options if you ever want to download movies or TV shows to your phone for traveling and the like.

Overall, the phone is extremely fast. Sure, it doesn’t have the latest Snapdragon 835 processor (that’s probably been saved for the HTC U 11), but the Snapdragon 821 still flies. There’s absolutely no hang-ups and it’s virtually able to handle everything you throw at it, even the most demanding of games.

Battery

The battery is a non-removable 3000mAh unit. You can expect to get about a day out of it, depending on what your usage looks like. It’s really like every other phone in this sense. With moderate usage and taking it off the charger early in the morning, I would still have a decent amount left by the end of the work day. Again, it’s really a “your mileage may vary” thing.

It does have Quick Charge 3.0 support, so throwing it on the wire for 10 to 15 minutes when you’re getting low should give you a good charge for another couple of hours. The phone does have a power saver on it, so you might be able to eek some more juice out of it that if you’re not able to access an outlet.

Software

The HTC U Ultra comes with Android 7.0 Nougat, and on top of that you have the typical Sense UI skin that comes with HTC phones.

HTC Sense really hasn’t changed. BlinkFeed is still here. Once you’re on the home screen, swipe left and there it is. You can choose to disable it or add content to it, as per the norm. The app drawer is a bit different in that you scroll vertically to go through your apps instead of side-to-side. The unit we received didn’t have too much bloatware, but did have some. But, if you get a model straight from a carrier, it’s likely that you’ll have all the carrier bloatware to deal with, and there’s usually a substantial amount there.

Built into Sense is also HTC’s first foray into AI — the HTC Sense Companion. It felt limited and broken, unfortunately. HTC says, that by learning your behavior, it’s smarter than Siri and Google Assistant. If you have an event coming up and it doesn’t think you have enough of a charge to make it through, it’ll remind you to charge up your U Ultra. But, when it comes down to it, it’s very basic. I feel like HTC would’ve been better off working with Google to integrate Assistant for smart, contextual AI instead of going off on its own here.

Overall the software is nice. Like I said, Sense hasn’t changed too much, visually. But, the good news is that it’s quick and smooth. In some of the earlier days, Sense was buggy and had a lot of hang-ups, but Sense today is smooth as butter.

Camera

The HTC U Ultra comes equipped with a 12-megapixel rear camera using HTC’s own UltraPixel 2 technology. It has f/1.8 aperture, Optical Image Stabilization (OIS), laser autofocus and a dual-LED flash.

Honestly, photos look fantastic on the U Ultra. I took a handful (as seen in the gallery below) and they all came out great. In low-light scenarios, you can notice a bit of a quality drop, but it’s not too bad. I also noticed that it can pick up a bit of a haze, but this was fairly rare. Check them out for yourself below.

The front-facing camera is actually very rare for a smartphone. You get a massive 16-megapixel snapper. That said, you can take some great looking selfies from this angle, which is something the LG G6 had difficulty with. So, if you take a lot of selfies, the U Ultra would be perfect for you.

In conclusion, the Camera app has many of your standard features — Panorama, slow motion and a handful of different selfie options. Also remember that, because this is Sense, you get something called Zoe. It’s basically a way you can capture a 3-second still — you could almost think of it as creating a real-life GIF.

Closing

All in all, the U Ultra is an excellent phone. The biggest thing it has against it at this point is HTC’s unwillingness to market its devices properly. The smartphone market is full of fierce competition, and year after year, HTC just seemingly cannot keep up. The U Ultra is a phenomenal phone, but because of this, it’ll unfortunately be forgotten in no time and won’t be competing with the big players. HTC really needs to change their approach there, and hopefully they do by the time the HTC U 11 comes out.

Another thing is that it’s pretty pricey at $750 when you buy straight from HTC. Fortunately, you can more often than not find it a whole lot cheaper brand new on Amazon or eBay.

When it comes down to it, the U Ultra is a phenomenal phone, and you’re not going to regret picking it up

Buy it now: HTC


About the Author: Brad Ward

Brad is a tech enthusiast, writing and tinkering with all things technology since 2011. He currently bounces between the LG G3 and his beloved Moto X! His interests include reading, entrepreneurship, the gym, and of course, queso.


  • David Martrano

    Sorry, this phone does not compete with the top flagships. It’s grossly overpriced & missing too many premium features. HTC is definitely missing the mark with this offering. No ip68, no wireless, no headphone jack plus a 2016 processor. What is so wrong with this company! WTF!

    • Major Sceptic

      Yes it’s really pretty under featured for such a huge device , I’ve been looking for a nicely featured phablet for some time , this would have fitted the bill perfectly had htc not been so stingy with features .
      I would forgive some features lacking on such a big device if the basics where right ,
      and by basics being right I mean nice big battery , head phone jack at the very least , the camera already looks decent so htc was half way there Alas ……… No cigar.
      Most of the 820 powered devices now have 7.0 and are much smoother , so performance improvement if any is marginal ,
      even going from my beat up G5 there is almost no incentive to swap for the ultra other than screen realestate.
      Htc doesn’t even give you an adapter for your 3.5 headphones , which is unfortunate if your one of the many people that hate ear buds .
      Imo Htc missed an opportunity to really do well with sales on this one , add to that the pixel like asking price ☹️.

      • David Martrano

        It’s like HTC is saying, yes we left out many premium features but we still want 750.00. Who’s on first, what’s on second. To me this is a mind blowing situation.How can anyone think about purchasing? We’re not talking about a 400.00 dollar phone. Asking 750.00 is instant death as far as I can see!

        • Major Sceptic

          Spot on David , if it at least had one good feature in its favour like a mate 9 sized battery or water resistant you could perhaps forgive some of the other lacking features ,
          alas it seems HTC’s only option is to keep dropping price and hope eventually it may get some sales..
          Cheers .

          • David Martrano

            Major, I am really trying to like this phone but the price just doesn’t do it for me. For 30 less I can purchase the s8. The choice is rather simple. If the the ocean isn’t a stellar release HTC might as well file bankruptcy. Their losses continue plus how many Bolts and U Ultra’s are actually gonna sell? These are sad days for a once great company!

            • Major Sceptic

              Yes same here David , I have looked at reviews over and over again , on a couple of occasions I had almost convinced myself if I bought it I wouldn’t have buyer’s remorse afterwards ,
              so I watched another couple of reviews and found further items the device does not have that it really should .
              HTC really wasted an opportunity to make this a much better more attractive standout device .
              Cheers..

  • Goran

    There is no excuse for 3.5 removal, htc’s 3.5 was the best which makes this move insane. And 3000mAh on phablet that size is simply not enough. Basic mistakes. HTC is a king of metal and sound. Ultra completely disappoints on these fields. It simply won’t stand weaponless clash with S8. Even if it’s smoother and better in real life. It misses too many features for a glass phone. I think even 600 price wouldn’t help Ultra. It’s a dissapointing phone for htc fans and too weak to attract those it is addressed too, galaxy and iphone buyers.

    • jimmy cychowski

      Agree with you mate I’m using a Htc10 and other than average battery life, I’m loving the smartphone, here’s hoping the successor to the 10 will be as good, but with all the rumors of headphone Jack removal I ain’t to sure..loving the headphone amplifier and dedicated Dac in the 10

      • Goran

        I really do think htc 10 is the best phone htc ever made. Who knows the values of htc, knows exactly what it means. Durability, reliability, no loss in performance speed over time, great sound. No phone is perfect, 10 is not as much feature packed as Galaxy series, but in real life, 10 is as great as Galaxies, even better in some fields.

    • David Martrano

      I would take the 10 all day long over the U Ultra! Just saying, especially now the price is right! I don’t know what HTC is thinking but it’s not in a positive direction. The U, glass phone no wireless, no ip68. No headphone jack. I don’t think they will be knocking any doors down with sales. Even at 600.00 still overpriced! Yikes!

      • Goran

        The problem for htc Is that they can’t deal with reality. Either make price lower, or pack more features in and advertise it as aggressively as Samsung and Huawei, or close the biznis. It seems that Taiwan manufacturers can’t compete with Chinese, Asus is also in problems, making phones there seems more expensive. Removing 3.5 was a big mistake for htc. Don’t know why they did it, but that could seal their destiny. The future for sound is not USB C, neither it is superior over 3.5. The future is wireless audio. And we all know in what state it is now.