- Gorilla Glass 5 on the front and back
- High quality design, fit, and finish
- Vibrant HTC BoomSound speakers
- Included good quality earbuds
- Four mics for high quality video recording
- One of the largest modern flagships
- Terrible fingerprint magnet on back
- Lacking a headphone jack or included audio adapter
- No water resistance
- Average battery life
While the HTC U Ultra is a stunning looking device, especially in sapphire blue, there are other more compelling smartphones that offer more for less and I think I am going to pass this one by. HTC fans are likely to be very pleased with the U Ultra, but the competition is fierce once again this year too.
- 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 uses the same high quality Snapdragon 821 processor found in the Google Pixel, LG G6, Moto Z, and others. While some may lament the lack of a Snapdragon 835, it appears only the Samsung Galaxy S8 will launch with that before the summer. The 821 is a proven processor and the U Ultra is a snappy performer.
I am disappointed with the 3,000 mAh battery though. The Huawei Mate 9 is a smaller device and has a 4,000 mAh battery while the much smaller 5.2 inch HTC 10 also has a 3,000 mAh battery. I would expect to see at least 3,500 mAh in a phone of this size.
The HTC U Ultra presents a radical departure from HTC's signature aluminum unibody design language. We now see a metal frame, but front and back panels of glass. Unlike most others though, HTC is using Gorilla Glass 5 on both the front and back so that should offer better resistance to breakage than other all glass phones. I am curious to check out the upcoming drop tests that we are likely to see on YouTube.
The glass front Super LCD 5 display is beautiful and looks fantastic. HTC has always used LCD screens and does well with this technology. There is also a small secondary display, just like what we saw on the LG V20. I liked it on the LG V20 and like using it here too.
The display is 5.7 inches, which is the same as the LG G6. The U Ultra is about 15 mm longer and 9 mm wider than the LG G6, which looks and feels massive in comparison. The Huawei Mate 9 has a 5.9 inch display and is 6 mm shorter and 1 mm narrower. The HTC U Ultra is just too big for what it provides.
The back glass panel is advertised as liquid surface and it honestly is stunning. It reflects like a mirror and I have never seen a phone with this much glossiness. However, that also means it is slick to hold onto and a terrible fingerprint magnet that looks like a greasy mess after using it for a couple of hours. I spent a lot of time buffing the back to show off the gorgeous blue. An included cheap clear shell case looks terrible and is not worth covering up the back to eliminate fingerprints.
The rear 12 megapixel camera also protrudes out from the back a bit so the phone will rest on the camera rim when set down on a table. The camera performs similar to the HTC 10, which means it does fine yet is not as stunning as the Google Pixel, LG G6, or iPhone 7 Plus. I was hoping we would see similar performance to the Google Pixel, but it seems Google gets to keep that crown for now.
There is no headphone jack and while Apple calls this a courageous move, I'm still not a fan and appreciate that Huawei, LG, and Samsung continue to use this standard audio connector.
HTC provides a good set of USB Type C earbuds in the retail box and this connects to the bottom port with USonic adaptive audio technology. Sound is used to customize the audio experience to your particular ear, similar to how sonar works to scan the sea floor. Audio sounds great through these earbuds, but I would still like to see a 3.5mm headset jack. HTC blew me away with its powered amp on the HTC 10 and I want that same experience here.
Speaking of audio, HTC continues with HTC BoomSound and its dual speaker arrangement present on the HTC 10. One speaker is in the phone handset speaker above the display with the other speaker on the bottom. Watching videos or listening to tunes with these speakers is awesome and I expect every high end flagship to use a similar dual speaker arrangement.
There are four microphones on the HTC U Ultra and a toggle for 3D audio recording in the video app. While the LG V20 sets the bar for optimized video and audio recording, the HTC U Ultra also does a great job at accurately capturing audio content while recording videos.
The traditional front facing oblong fingerprint scanner and home button is found on the U Ultra. It's fast to unlock the phone and I appreciate this front-facing button when the phone is resting on a table.
The HTC U Ultra launches with Android 7.0 with HTC Sense. It looks very similar to what we saw in the HTC 10 with a very clean interface and super fast responsiveness. We can finally customize the upper quick controls in the notification shade and everything you would expect from Android Nougat is here.
There is a setting to manage the secondary small display, positioned to the right of the front facing camera. You can customize what is shown when the main display is on and when it is off. The events only show what is on your Google Calendar, but since I use Outlook I cannot see any events if I toggle on this option. Other options include contacts, music player, weather, six app shortcuts, and a personal reminder. You will also see notifications appear on this display, including incoming calls and texts, which proved to be one of the most useful aspects of this display for me. I like being able to quickly call or text my key contacts from this display and personally find it to improve productivity.
The HTC Sense Companion was advertised as HTCs enhanced AI for the U Ultra. It just appeared in the Google Play Store a couple of days ago and I installed it to check it out. So far, all I see is a display that tells me to hang in there while it gathers data. A couple of prompt screens have appeared to ask if I want to see some specific information, but it's not clear if a firmware update will be coming to fully enable this functionality. I understand it is built on top of Google Assistant and has a voice element, but so far all I am seeing is Google Assistant.
Pricing and competition
The HTC U Ultra is available now directly from HTC for $749. You can buy it in blue, white, and black. This 64GB storage with Gorilla Glass 5 is the only available model with a sapphire glass and 128GB storage model launching at a future date.
For comparison, we see the Google Pixel XL 128GB model priced at $869, the iPhone 7 Plus 128GB model also priced at $869, the LG G6 likely appearing in the $650 range, and the Huawei Mate 9 at just $599.
HTC doesn't have an overwhelming market share so I was hoping to see aggressive pricing on a device like the U Ultra. Something in the $599 range would be fantastic, but even then the device may be too big and the battery capacity too small for many people to justify.
Daily usage experiences and conclusions
The HTC U Ultra is probably the best looking phone I have ever experienced and the glossy blue back is stunning. The device is rock solid with cool metal edges and not a single creak or groan when I hold it in my hands and move it around. HTC knows how to make solid hardware and the U Ultra is one of its best.
Audio has been great on the U Ultra through the dual speakers and included USB Type C headset. I listen to music and podcasts during my commute and enjoy the experience.
The camera is fine, but doesn't impress me as much as the LG G6 and Google Pixel XL. I'm still not sure what a Zoe Camera shot is used for and am not pleased that HTC took away its Gallery app. Google Photos doesn't offer me enough so I enjoy when companies like LG and Huawei provide a full featured editing suite in gallery applications. IMHO, HTC went too far in removing its apps to align with Google.
I've had to charge the HTC U Ultra during the day to ensure I can make it through my full 18-19 hour day. If the HTC U Ultra was about the size of the LG G6, had water resistance, and a 3.5mm headset jack then I would likely pick one up for myself. As it is, there are just too many compromises at the $749 price for me to commit to one now.