First, a quick note.
While the HTC U Ultra is currently HTC’s highest-specced device, it isn’t a true successor to the HTC 10, HTC’s 2016 flagship and hero device. And I don’t mean that as a jab. It’s actually a stopgap between the 10 and upcoming HTC 11, made to appease Note 7 switchers with its size and design.
The HTC U Ultra is now on sale in the United States, so if you’re one of the patient ones who were really waiting for this device, your patience is rewarded.
…..Or has it?
Before we delve any further, let’s get the specs out of the way.
|SoC||Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 (MSM8996Pro), 14nm FinFET manufactured by Samsung|
|CPU||Quad-core Qualcomm Kyro, with 2 clusters in a big.LITTLE configuration. Big clusters clocked at 2.15GHz and little clusters clocked at 1.6GHz|
|GPU||Qualcomm Adreno 530, clocked at 600MHz|
|RAM||4GB of LPDDR4|
|Storage||64GB NAND with UFS 2-based storage controller with microSDXC slot up to 2TB. 128GB model available in certain markets|
|Dimensions||162.4mm (height), 79.8mm (width), 8mm (depth)|
|Display (main)||5.7” (diagonal) IPS LCD with a resolution of 1440×2560, Gorilla Glass 5 with oleophobic coating (128GB models use sapphire glass)|
|Display (ticker)||2.05” (diagonal) ticker display (presumably IPS LCD) with a resolution of 160×1040|
|Main camera||1/2.3” 12.3MP 4:3 aspect ratio (4048×3036) Sony Exmor RS IMX378 with f/1.8 aperture and 1.55μm pixels, HDR, up to 2160p30 video recording, up to 720p120 slow-motion, manual ISO, shutter speed and white balance controls, aided by laser + phase-detection autofocus, OIS and dual LED flash.|
|Front camera||16MP BSI “UltraPixel” sensor with f/2.0 aperture, HDR, video recording up to 1080p.|
|Location||GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS, Beidou|
|Speaker||Dual tweeter + woofer combo, headphone audio through USB Type-C|
|Software||Android 7.0 “Nougat” with HTC Sense overlay|
|Sensors||Accelerometer, gyroscope, proximity, ambient light, compass, front-mounted fingerprint sensor, pedometer.|
|Power||3000mAh Li-Po battery (sealed), Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 fast-charging|
|Features||U Companion, Sense features.|
From that spec sheet, your impression would be that it’s a big phone. And yep, it is, especially with a big 5.7-inch display paired up with a secondary ticker display. And with big phones come big specs right? Well, not entirely.
See, the HTC U Ultra is a big phone, but it makes very poor use of space in it. Some of which are as follows;
- No headphone jack – Presumably to follow the iPhone 7 and HTC’s own Bolt, the HTC U Ultra ditches the discrete DAC and amp combo plus the 3.5mm jack in favor of audio output through USB-C, which does have some benefits like automatic audio tuning with the included earbuds. However, there’s no good reason to remove the jack on a phone this large. While Apple can claim that they need space and Motorola can claim that their Moto Z was simply too thin for one, for a device this big and chunky, there’s simply no excuse for leaving this out other than following Apple.
- Battery – Though some of you might assume it’s due to battery, right? Sadly, nope. Despite the large size and the chunky-by-2017 8mm thickness, the U Ultra packs in a mere 3000mAh powerpack. On its own, that’s not bad, but when paired with a huge display along with a secondary ticker (both are presumably IPS LCD), the result is average battery life at best. When competitors are stuffing larger powerpacks in smaller form factors, the U Ultra really does feel like it’s not making any good use out of its extra space.
- The extras – Manufacturers would usually use whatever remaining space to stuff in whatever feature they can have, such as wireless charging and water-resistance plus dust-proofing. Sadly, the HTC U Ultra has none of those, despite its large glass back and chunky dimensions.
The biggest issue with the U Ultra, however, is the price. The device retails for $749 unlocked. That is a crapton of dough for a smartphone and you would expect a phone of that price to pack in the very best a smartphone manufacturer can offer. Sadly, the U Ultra feels more like a repackaged HTC 10 with storage and processor improvements than an actual device built from the ground up, which it probably is when you realize that this is actually a stopgap device that probably doesn’t have much development time.
For $749, the U Ultra is a mediocre device in terms of value. While it is limited to 32GB in this particular trim, the Google Pixel XL offers better battery life and faster Android updates for $20 more (if you can find one). The LG G6 is either a hair or significantly cheaper depending on carrier and you’ll get largely similar specs but with water-resistance and the upcoming Galaxy S8 will have a larger display while largely retaining the overall dimensions of its predecessors. Huawei’s Mate 9 also offers a big chassis but arguably makes much better use of its space with its 6-inch display that takes up nearly 78% of the phone’s face and stuffs a huge 4000mAh battery in a chassis that’s also thinner than the U Ultra, making it able to last a full day and then some rather easily, and is also cheaper at a mere $600. The OnePlus 3T and ZTE Axon 7 may not be of the exact same calibre, but both offer 90+% of what the HTC offers at a much lower price (The 3T goes for $440 and $480 for 64GB and 128GB respectively while the Axon goes for $400 in its 64GB trim). The Axon also gets bonus points for picking up where HTC left off, with its big brassy twin-speaker grilles offering punchy stereo audio and beefy AKM audio hardware though its 3.5mm jack. See where I’m going?
It’s not all bad, though. The Ultra is a seriously gorgeous device with really clean software that has excellent day-to-day performance and a really solid camera package. But when pretty much every other flagship and even mid-priced devices offer the same thing, the U Ultra doesn’t seem to be that worth it, and the extra AI-based features aren’t going to push this device far into the mainstream, unfortunately.
If you really want a big HTC, then maybe the U Ultra is worth it to you and if you really want one, I can’t really stop you from buying one. But to everyone else, you would really do yourself a favor by waiting for the HTC 11. Even if you have no plans to buy the 11, HTC will definitely be giving out price cut promotions for the U Ultra, which will be coming sooner rather than later as prospects of it even selling is very slim.
Maybe next time, HTC……. again.