HTC U Ultra phone: full, in-depth review
HTC’s new flagship Android smartphone looks amazing but what else?
- Looks stunning
- Fast at everything
- Good audio features
- No headphone jack
HTC's flagship phone brings some interesting features to the top of the market including great looks and 24-bit audio. But there's better value elsewhere.
Price$ 1,199.00 (AUD)
Update: Before you choose a phone, check out the amazing Samsung Galaxy S8 review.
Phone aficionados have a soft spot for HTC. The company’s hardware almost always seems to be very well made and only occasionally tainted by dodgy software or pricing. Here’s the new HTC U Ultra. It’s a bit of a tongue twister to say out loud, but you only need to glimpse at it to see how it’s one of the prettiest phones around… probably ever. But the premium phone market has some amazing choices including the Google Pixel XL, the Huawei Mate 9, the iPhone 7 and the forthcoming Samsung Galaxy S8. So where does this sit on an impressive list?
5.7in, 1440 x 2560 LCD screen, secondary screen 2in, 160 x 1040 LCD, 64,128GB/4GB RAM, Quad-core Snapdragon 821 CPU, Adreno 530 GPU, 12MP rear and 16MP front cameras, microSD (dual SIM slot on some models), USB-C, no headphone jack, 24-bit audio, Android 7, 3000mAh battery, 162 x 80 x 8mm, 170g. Full specs here.
Handling and Design
We keep raving about the colourful, metallic finish of the U Ultra, but just look at it. It’s actually a curved glass finish constructed from Corning’s ‘super tough’ Gorilla Glass 5 - on the 64GB model. The 128GB model goes one step further and is finished in a premium-watch like Sapphire Crystal.
We didn’t have the heart to drop test it but doubtless some videos will appear on YouTube over the coming weeks. The finish rivals, if not surpasses, Apple’s Jet Black special-edition glossy variant and, unlike the glassy (and explodey) Samsung Galaxy Note 7, sticks to your hand and isn’t as slippery as a fish. HTC also bundles a clear plastic case to add some protection while letting you still see the chassis. We preferred to use the phone without it but if you’re dropping a load of money on this, it’s a good idea to protect it somehow.
One concern we do have is for the protruding camera lens. Without a case you’ve got to choose between scraping the front screen or the camera when putting it on a table. Hmm.
It’s a deceptively-large phone. Despite being only 8mm thick at 162mm in length it’s one of the largest on the market. There’s not much wasted space above and below the screens though. At the bottom is a function button which doubles as a fast fingerprint reader and directly above the main, 5.7-inch screen is a 2in secondary screen. If you’ve small hands or don’t like phablet-like big phones, this probably isn’t for you – but if you like the look of it, check out the smaller-yet-similar, single-screened HTC U Play, which we’ll be reviewing soon.
We’re normally suspicious of second screen-like features as they can be gimmicky, not very useful and battery vampires. However, the U Ultra’s can be genuinely useful. It shows you notifications without waking the whole phone up, there are many different apps and shortcuts that it can display and it offers a high resolution and looks good. The fact we used it and didn’t want to turn it off speaks volumes. The exception here is with the Highlights news feed content, which we found as annoying as every other smartphone news/information service. We’d turn that off moving forward.
The main screen is as crisp and vibrant as we’d expect from an Ultra High Definition LCD screen and we’ve no complaints there. Ultimately, beyond the ability to customise themes, there’s little here that doesn’t feel like a native Android 7 phone in general usage. That’s no bad thing.
The processor is the Snapdragon 821 (with Adreno 530 graphics chip) which is the same as the Android Flagship, Google Pixel XL. As such everything flies along as fast as you’d hope and responsiveness is almost instant.
Audio quality is something HTC raves about and usually for good reason. The BoomSound system is back here which includes 24-bit audio compatibility but there are caveats. Firstly, there’s no headphone jack... FFS. In a phone this big there’s surely not much excuse for it to be missing and hopefully this fashion trend will be short lived. There's no 3.5mm-to-USB-C adapter either. HTC does, however, include a USB-C-connected pair of 24-bit earbuds. Naturally, you can’t charge the phone while using them, unless you find a compatible adaptor from somewhere.
When you first plug in your earbuds the phone's 'USonic' feature will offer to ‘tune’ them to your ear canal in order to enhance audio quality. Whatever it does at this point, whether it's smoke and mirrors or bona fide science, the quick tests it runs deliver up some noticeable audio improvements which you can test by turning the enhancements off and on while a test track plays. There’s even a graph.
Whenever you subsequently play music, USonic tells you that it's performing a (very) quick background noise check to ensure that 'sound levels are balanced.'
However, for those wanting the loud-and-clear external speaker performance of previous HTC devices, it’s not here this time. While the external speaker does get quite loud the treble tops-out and distorts quickly and there’s next-to-no, bass-rich punch. If you miss this feature, those around you might be grateful.
The U Ultra also has four different microphones for recording. It helps make the U Ultra particularly good for conference calls and recording audio with video.
Next Camera, Battery Life and Conclusion
Join the newsletter!
Most Popular Reviews
- 1 HP Envy x360 13 (Ryzen): Full, in-depth review
- 2 Dell G5 review: Easy to live with
- 3 D-Link Omna 180 Cam HD DSH-C310 review
- 4 Ring Video Doorbell review
- 5 Sony Bravia 2017 TVs: Full, in-depth review
Latest News Articles
- The latest Windows patch is breaking even more PCs with antivirus installed
- Acer CEO Jason Chen explains why his PCs are going niche
- Samsung's Galaxy Fold appears more fragile than expected
- Microsoft launches its Surface Hub 2S collaborative PC for $9,000
- Nvidia's next Game Ready driver will add 7 new G-Sync Compatible displays
PCW Evaluation Team
As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.
The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.
This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.
Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications
I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)
It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!
- Huawei P30 Pro: Australian review
- Samsung Galaxy S10 review: Messy decisions mar smart evolutions
- Panasonic Lumix S1 review: Hands-On Australian review
- Which flagship TV is best? Sony 4K HDR Bravia 2016 versus LG 4K HDR OLED 2016
- 10 Blu-ray movies / Best looking Blu-ray movies