HTC U Ultra Review
Back in January, HTC introduced their new smartphone lineup – the U series. One of them is the 5.7-inch phablet with a secondary screen, Snapdragon 821 processor, and a 12MP Ultrapixel camera – the HTC U Ultra.
One of the best things about it is it’s going to be officially offered in the Philippines. Will the U Ultra help solidify HTC’s return in the country? Find out in our review.
Design and Construction
The first thing you’ll notice about the U Ultra is its size. At 162.4mm tall, it’s taller than the 159.5mm Samsung Galaxy S8+. That said, one might expect that it sports at the minimum a 6-inch display, but in reality, it only has a 5.7-inch screen with Quad HD (1440 x 2560) resolution.
Does that mean it has thick bezels? Not really. The taller build can be partially attributed to the secondary display placed above the primary. It’s 2.05-inches in size and has a resolution of 160 x 1040. It’s conveniently located beside the 16MP front camera and just below the earpiece.
Navigation is handled by the capacitive buttons below the display. In the middle is the Home key that also doubles as a fingerprint scanner. Do note that this one is fixed like the one found on the iPhone 7, so it doesn’t move inward. On its sides are lit capacitive keys for Back and Recent Apps.
Located on the right-hand side are the volume rocker and the textured power button. The top houses the microphone and the hybrid SIM tray. Down below are the loudspeaker, USB Type-C port, and microphone. You’ll also notice five antenna bands placed on the corners of the device.
Take a look at its back and you’ll see where the U Ultra stands out. For one there’s the protruding 12MP Ultrapixel camera that features Laser and Phase-Detect AF, and dual-tone flash. Placed below near the bottom is another microphone.
While the frame is obviously metal, the back is all glass and features what it calls a liquid surface. The result is a highly reflective surface (to the point that it hides the HTC logo) with an effect that is a mix of pearlescent and metallic. It’s actually eye-catching and emphasizes the color of the device.
Although a large device and a bit difficult to handle with one hand, we like holding the U Ultra. Primarily because of the premium materials – Corning Gorilla Glass 5 with curved edges on the front, glass back that also curves to the edges, and metallic frame. It’s also pretty thin at 7.99mm.
What we’re not a fan of is how prone it is to fingerprints and smudges. Good thing there’s a dust cloth and clear case included in the package so you can start protecting it from those right out of the box.
Display and Multimedia
One of the main features of the U Ultra is the display. It has a 5.7-inch Super LCD 5 display with Quad HD resolution or equal to 513ppi. As expected, quality is good, crisp, with rich yet accurate colors and deep blacks. It doesn’t stop there though as it also has a secondary display just like with the LG V20. Quality is also good with punchy colors and shows your notifications as well works as a quick access to your contacts, shortcuts, and music controls.
When it comes to audio, the U Ultra offers more than your standard smartphone thanks to the built-in dual speakers consisting of a down-firing loudspeaker at the bottom of the device, and the front-firing speaker located at the receiver. These two speakers work together to provide the user with stereo audio, However, they don’t have the same level of output as the one at the bottom is louder. It feels off at first but you’ll get used to it over time. Besides, the experience is still better compared to a single speaker.
Audio quality is above average, it’s crisp and loud but lacking in bass. You can also toggle audio profiles (Music and Theater) via HTC BoomSound inside settings. So far it will suffice for some private listening, but if you want better audio then you might want to use the HTC USonic earphones that are included in the package.
The HTC USonic are wired earphones that connect to the U Ultra via USB C port (no 3.5mm port here). It has a special feature that scans your ear structure with a sequence of specially tuned sounds. From there, the USonic audio platform automatically adapts the sound profile to optimize the user’s listening experience. So far it works great and we can see a huge improvement compared to the default settings. Audio is not perfect though and sometimes can be too bassy. Still, it’s one of the best-sounding earphones we’ve used in a smartphone package.
Imaging-wise, the U Ultra can definitely keep up with the competition with its 12MP Ultrapixel 2 rear camera. It has a wide f/1.8 aperture, uses Phase Detection and Laser Auto Focus for fast focus speeds, and OIS to help keep shots stable. It’s also loaded with in-camera features like Pro, Panorama, Zoe Camera, Hyperlapse, and Slow motion.
Overall, we like how the camera performs, it’s quick and had no problems taking photos in various lighting conditions, including low-light. Resulting images have accurate colors with plenty of details. The 16MP front camera is also good as long as there’s abundant lighting. Check out the samples below.
As for video recording, the U Ultra can shoot videos up to 4K resolution in Matroska / WebM format, while audio is recorded in FLAC. It’s also worth noting that it is capable of 3D Audio recording by using four built-in high-sensitivity omnidirectional mics. The result is a good quality video with immersive audio. Watch the sample below.
OS, UI, and Apps
In the software department, the U Ultra uses Android 7.0 Nougat with HTC Sense, but the layout is pretty much similar to other Android devices, with the addition of a news feed when you swipe to the left of the home screen. It uses an app drawer that can be arranged alphabetically, most recently used, or custom, while the icons sport a flat design which matches Google’s own design.
Pre-installed apps are present like Under Armour Record, TouchPal, Inception VR, and News Republic. These can be uninstalled which is good. Google’s own apps are also here but we liked how HTC decided to depend on some of it for the phone’s basic functions like with Google Calendar and Google Photos, thus avoiding redundancies.
HTC’s own apps are also here like Viveport which is HTC’s app store for virtual reality, and HTC Sense Companion which provides custom reminders and suggestions based on your personal device usage and location.
Storage-wise, you’ve got plenty to start with at 64GB with 10.37GB for the system ad 52.83GB available to the user. Should you find the need to expand, there’s a microSD card slot that can support up to 2TB cards, but at the sacrifice of the dual-SIM functionality.
Performance and Benchmarks
Powering the U Ultra is a Snapdragon 821 SoC, Adreno 530 GPU, and 4GB RAM. Although the chip used is Qualcomm’s flagship from last year, it’s still powerful and can definitely handle most tasks you put it through, even gaming. We noticed that the back tends to get warm in the middle, but not hot enough to be of serious concern.
The 4GB RAM, on the other hand, is more than enough to provide fluid multitasking, while the storage chip achieved Read/Write speeds of 403.9 MB/s and 157.97 MB/s, respectively. It’s slower compared to the performance of a UFS 2.0, but not a big downer. Check out the benchmark scores below:
* AnTuTu – 132,236
* GeekBench – 1,645 (Single-Core), 3,749 (Multi-core), 6,958 (RenderScript)
* Vellamo – 2,865 (Multicore), 3,391 (Metal), 5,021 (Chrome)
* AndroBench 5 – 403.9 MB/s (Seq. Read), 157.97 MB/s (Seq. Write)
Connectivity and Call Quality
For a smartphone with this caliber, you can expect it to be packed with connectivity features. There’s 4G LTE Cat 11 (up to 600Mbps) with support for FDD bands B1/B2/B3/B4/B5/B7/B8/B12/B17/B20/B28, as well as VoLTE. In addition, there’s NFC, Bluetooth 4.2, HTC Connect for wireless streaming to entertainment systems, USB 3.1 Type-C, and Gyroscope.
Call quality is good as well thanks to noise cancellation. We didn’t experience any problems with mobile data as long as we’re in an area with good coverage. GPS also works as advertised.
If there’s one area where the U Ultra is lacking, that would be the battery life. Given the hardware configuration, we’re expected at least 3,300mAh like the LG G6. Unfortunately, we’re treated to a 3,000mAh capacity. We average around 9 hours with constant WiFi connectivity, heavy social media browsing, moderate photo-taking, and light calls and texts.
Our video loop test only got us 10 hours and 50 minutes. That said, it can still be considered decent, but we’d recommend bringing a power bank or a charger with you all the time. As for charging, it takes about 2 hours from zero to full using a Quick Charge 3.0 charger.
Note: PC Mark crashes on the U Ultra so the result is not available.
All in all, the HTC U Ultra is a solid offering for those who are looking for a premium-tier smartphone. It has a beautiful design and construction, high-resolution display, good camera, and performance. The only thing we didn’t like here is the battery life, but you can easily remedy that with a power bank.
As for the price, HTC is yet to reveal it, but we’re hoping it will be priced competitively to help solidify the company’s return in the Philippine market.
HTC U Ultra specs:
5.7-inch Quad HD Super LCD 5 display
2.05-inch 160 x 1040 secondary display
2-inch notifications screen
2.15GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 quad-core CPU
Adreno 530 GPU
microSD up to 2TB
12MP Ultrapixel 2 rear camera w/ OIS, Laser AF, PDAF, dual-tone flash
16MP front camera
4G LTE Cat.11
WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
UBS 3.1 Gen 1, Type C
GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS, Beidou
HTC BoomSound Hi-Fi Edition
3000mAh battery w/ Quick Charge 3.0
162.41 x 79.79 x 3.6-7.99mm
White, Blue, Black, Pink
What we liked:
* Beautiful design and build
* High-res display with secondary display
* Good camera
* Good performance
* Good speakers and 3D audio recording
* Bundled with HTC USonic earphones, clear case
What we didn’t:
* Small battery capacity given its specs