First look: HTC U Ultra delivers gorgeous hardware, secondary display, advanced audio, UltraPixel cameras

HTC's latest flagship, now shipping to some pre-order customers, is better than I expected, bringing the best of HTC into a single -- and quite large -- device.

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HTC announced the U Ultra in early January and as it starts to ship to early pre-order customers the press is getting a chance to spend some time with the device.

An evaluation device arrived yesterday for a couple of weeks of testing. After one day, it's clear the HTC U Ultra is better than I anticipated and brings the best of HTC into one single, and quite large, device.

Specifications

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 quad-core
  • Display: 5.7 inch 2560x1440 pixels resolution Super LCD 5 with Gorilla Glass 5 and a small 160x1040 secondary display
  • Operating system: Android 7.0 Nougat with HTC Sense
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Storage: 64GB internal with microSD expansion card slot
  • Cameras: Rear 12 megapixel UltraPixel 2 with 1.55μm pixel, f/1.8 aperture camera with OIS. Front 16 megapixel with UltraPixel mode
  • Battery: 3000 mAh with QuickCharge 3.0 charging technology
  • Wireless connectivity: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC
  • Sensors: Fingerprint, G-Sensor, Gyroscope, Compass, Ambient Light, Proximity
  • Dimensions: 162.41 x 79.79 x 7.99 mm and 170 grams

The HTC U Ultra includes the same processor found in the Google Pixel and LG G6, which is more than capable of powering the device with fast response and solid performance. It has ample RAM and internal storage, with the ability to expand storage with a microSD card.

I would personally like to see some level of water resistance, but for many that is not a necessity. I don't take my devices swimming or anything, but a level of water resistance gives me peace of mind in the the light rain conditions of the Pacific Northwest.

The Pixel XL, LG G6, Moto Z Force Droid, and Huawei Mate 9 all have larger capacity batteries in smaller form factors so I am a bit concerned about the battery life of the HTC U Ultra. This is one area I need to evaluate over the next week.

The retail box includes the HTC U Ultra, HTC Rapid Charger 3.0, USB Type-C cable, HTC clear case, HTC USonic adaptive earphones, and a dust cloth.

Hardware first thoughts

The molded glass back is labeled liquid surface and the blue one that was sent looks rather stunning. The last device I tested with a stunning blue glass back was the Honor 8, but as you can see in my image gallery the HTC U Ultra is even more brilliant than the Honor 8. It's a slick glass back and does collect fingerprints, but it is definitely an eye-catcher.

While I personally am a fan of the dual display we've seen on LG devices like the LG V20, many have slammed LG in the past for this display design. It is interesting to see HTC implement the same type of small display up to the right of the front-facing camera.

The main display is 5.7 inches with 2K resolution and Super LCD 5 technology. It looks excellent and provides plenty of room for app shortcut and widgets on the home screen.

HTC BoomSound is supported with a speaker above the display in the headset speaker and the second on the bottom to the right of the USB Type-C port. There is no headphone jack, but HTC includes USB Type-C earbuds that have the same USonic adaptive audio profile support we saw on the HTC Bolt.

The right power button has ridges so it is easy to find and press. The volume button is positioned above it. The microSD/SIM card tray is accessed through a door on the top. The single camera is found centered on the upper back with the dual LED flash adjacent to it.

The same front oblong fingerprint scanner we saw on the HTC 10, and others, is positioned below the display. It acts as a fingerprint scanner and home button, but does not actually press in.

Four microphones are present on the HTC U Ultra with a setting in the software for 3D audio recording. I am going to my daughter's basketball tournament this weekend and plan to test out the recording functionality.

Software first thoughts

The HTC U Ultra is powered by Android 7.0 Nougat. Google Assistant is currently not present and the advertised HTC Sense Companion is not yet available for the HTC U Ultra. I look forward to testing out this AI in the future.

One great thing about buying this phone from HTC is that there is no carrier bloatware installed and only a couple of HTC apps, including mail, themes, News Republic, Boost+, and UA Record.

Typical HTC widgets, wallpaper, and settings are included. These all look much like what we have seen on HTC device previously.

There are settings for the secondary display so you can choose to view events, contacts, music player, weather, apps, and a reminder when the main display is on or off. Notifications also flash across this secondary display.

Summary

HTC is showing success with the HTC Vive VR headset, but continues to struggle to solidify a position in the smartphone market. The HTC U Ultra brings together all the best of HTC, but given the stiff competition from others and HTC's minimal market share, I don't think we will see wide adoption of this new phone. HTC fans will be pleased, but that may be it.

HTC knows how to design great hardware and the HTC U Ultra is very well constructed with cool design elements. It is a very large phone though, and looks almost silly next to the LG G6 that also sports a 5.7 inch display. The HTC U Ultra is about 12 mm longer and 8 mm wider than the LG G6. This may not sound like much, but lying both down on a table or holding them in your hand makes it clear the HTC U Ultra is a monster.

The back glass black is brilliant and has a mirror-like appearance. I haven't tested it long enough yet to see if it scratches, but it is a fingerprint magnet. HTC does provide a clear case so you can use that to prevent fingerprints, protect the back, and improve your ability to hold onto the device.

I am especially interested in testing the cameras out since HTC still hasn't shown it can match the output we see from other phones. The Google Pixel is a fantastic camera and according to Android Central, the LG G6 seems to be matching up well with the Pixel camera. While not advertised, we understand HTC made the Google Pixel so it has the potential to make a great camera.

The HTC U Ultra can be ordered in blue, black, and white on the HTC website. One way to help justify the $749 price for the 64GB model is to understand you get the one-year HTC Uh Oh protection for free when you purchase the phone from HTC. This has a value of $129 or more so the $749 price is effectively just over $600.

If you have anything specific you want me to test out, please leave a comment below.

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