HTC U Ultra First Impressions

16 January 2017

What is it?

The U Ultra is HTC's flagship smartphone for 2017. Eschewing HTC's long running love for aluminium, the U Ultra is almost entirely made from glass.

One of the key new features is an artificial intelligence called Sense Companion. Rather than trying to build an artificial intelligence that replaces Google Now, Sense Companion is more so designed to provide suggestions based on how you use your phone and your day-to-day actions.

Sense Companion - based on the times you typically leave and come back home - might tell you to should charge your phone before you go, as otherwise it will run flat before you make it home. Sense Companion can also provide restaurant recommendations, or alert you to the fact it's raining, which could mean you need an umbrella or to leave for work earlier.

Key specifications for the U Ultra include a 5.7-inch Quad HD display, a secondary 2.05-inch display, a Snapdragon 821 quad-core processor, a minimum of 64GB of expandable storage, 4GB of RAM, a fingerprint reader, a 3,000mAh battery,  a 12MP rear-facing camera, and a 16MP front-facing camera.

What did we think?

I didn't get to spend too much time with the HTC U Ultra, but it seems like a promising device. The U Ultra's glass body is gorgeous - especially in blue - but it does make fingerprints obvious. While glass is more prone to breakage than metal, HTC says the aluminium rim joining the front and back acts as a bumper in the case of a fall. Additionally, the front and back are both made from Gorilla Glass 5, which can survive 1.6 metre drops onto hard surfaces 80% of the time.

I'm not 100% convinced phones need a second screen, but I can definitely seeing the U Ultra's secondary display being useful, especially if HTC manages to get its AI right. If the secondary display can actually show useful, contextually relevant information without interrupting what you're doing, that's definitely a win.

The HTC U Ultra's lack of water-resistance is an odd omission, given that it's rapidly become a standard feature on flagship phones. There's no headphone jack either, but that's a little less surprising these days.

I do love that HTC is trying to make headphones smartphone though. The buds you get in the box will analyse the shape of your inner-ear with a "sonar-like pulse", and adapt sound based on the reflected tones. This tech will also adapt to the noise level of the environment you're in. I didn't get to try this, but it certainly sounds nifty.

When can I buy it?

The HTC U Ultra looks like it will go on sale in Australia around March or April.

How much will it cost me?

HTC has yet to confirm Australian pricing, but based on an international price of USD$750, don't be surprised if the HTC U Ultra sells for around $1,000 when it launches.

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