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HTC U Ultra Review: Big Revolution

We review HTC’s U Ultra!

HTC, the Taiwanese manufacturer that silently exited the Philippine market more than 3 years ago is coming back. And they’re looking to kick off their comeback plans with a bang, offering two high-end handsets when they return later this month: the newly launched, flagship U11 and the U Ultra which we’re taking a look at today. The U Ultra is a new direction for the company in both design and build quality – will it be enough to woo customers to the brand again?

HTC U Ultra

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor
  • 4GB of RAM
  • 5.7-inch QHD display, 1440 x 2560 resolution panel with Corning Gorilla Glass 5 protection
  • 64GB of storage, expandable via microSD
  • 12-megapixel rear camera, f/1.8 aperture lens, OIS, laser and phase detection AF, dual LED flash
  • 16-megapixel front camera
  • Dual SIM
  • 3G, LTE
  • WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, A-GPS, Fingerprint scanner, USB Type-C connector
  • 3000mAh battery
  • Android Nougat

 

Trading aluminum unibodies for glass and metal

Way back when phones were made out of plastic, HTC was one of the first people to offer full metal, aluminum unibody designs for their phones. While the U Ultra is not crafted from a single piece of aluminum, HTC’s experience with creating finely crafted metal smartphones come into play here. It’s the first smartphone from the company to use metal and glass, but boy did HTC nail it the first time. The phone’s build quality is impeccable.

And it should be, since the HTC U Ultra is the company’s biggest smartphone to date. While it has a screensize of 5.7-inches, it’s quite a bit bigger than similarly-sized smartphones thanks to the secondary display set on top of the main panel. The phone uses a metal frame that’s sandwiched between two panels of Gorilla Glass 5 on the front and back.

While the design isn’t groundbreaking, HTC utilized a unique and extremely reflective, mirror-like finish, dubbed Liquid Surface onto the back to make the phone stand out from the crowd. It’s a deep blue shine that shifts depending on how the light hits the phone. Unfortunately that finish is easily smudged by fingerprints, and in time the Gorilla Glass 5 panel in the rear will get scratched with use. The body is pretty slippery to hold as well. HTC’s included a plastic case to hide your phone behind to keep it immaculate, but it feels like such a waste hiding that gorgeous design in a clear plastic case.

The 12-megapixel rear camera juts out a few mm from the back of the phone, which just ruins the overall aesthetic for us. We just wished HTC would have made the camera bump smaller or made the phone thicker to offset the thickness of the camera and to add a bit more juice to the U Ultra (more on this later).

The power and volume buttons are located on the side, while the microSD/SIM slot tray is on the top. On the bottom sits the USB Type-C plug. Unfortunately HTC has joined Apple and a few other manufacturers in removing the 3.5mm jack, which means you’ll have to completely rely on the included USB Type-C headphones if you want to listen to your tunes in peace.

Just like most phones nowadays, the HTC U Ultra has a front mounted fingerprint scanner that pulls double duty as the home button, with the two illuminated Android capacitive keys flanking it. It’s fast, quick and does the job rather well.

The display is a 5.7-inch Super LCD5 Display with Quad HD resolution, and it looks freaking great. It’s sharp and vibrant, with enough brightness to give it that much needed punch when vieiwing it outdoors.

Right above the display is the secondary display. It works the same way as the ones found in LG’s smartphones, namely it provides another space for notifications to pop up, as well as serves as a quick launch tray for apps. It’s not always on, though it wakes up the minute you pick up the smartphone from the table which is nice.

Top-tier performance from last year’s flagship chipset

The HTC U Ultra is armed with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 821 chipset, and is paired with 4GB of RAM and in our review unit with 64GB of expandable storage. While the Snapdragon 821 chipset is getting a little old, it’s still a potent processor, able to keep the phone running smoothly without any problems.

Our time with the HTC Ultra was a pleasant one, and we didn’t encounter any issues while using the phone in our week-long trip in Taipei. It felt generally smooth and we didn’t encounter a single hiccup while we were using it.

On to the other stuff – audio is great from the U Ultra. The included headphones, the USonic earbuds, worked great. HTC even includes an option to tune the sound coming from the headphones to your exact acoustic environment. With the headphones off, the U Ultra still delivered surprisingly loud (and full) sound thanks to the two speaker setup it utilizes – one in the front located in the earpiece, and another in the bottom.

LTE and GPS signals are great, and we used the HTC Ultra as our main navigation guide while we were navigating Taipei’s streets.

Good enough camera for most situations

HTC’s previous phones may have been beautifully made, but they stumbled quite a bit when it came to the camera department. It’s not surprising then the HTC U Ultra’s camera has been improved by the company quite a bit, offering far better performance than before.

The camera on the HTC Ultra is a 12-megapixel, Ultrapixel deal with f/1.8 aperture lens, OIS, laser and phase detection AF, dual LED flash. There’s a variety of shooting modes for the U Ultra, which includes a comprehensive manual mode and an option to shoot in RAW as well. For our tests, we shot completely on automatic mode.

Photos taken with the U Ultra look great, with the camera locking on to subjects quickly before each shot. Images look clear and crisp, though you do take a hit once you start shooting in low light. But as far as cameras go, the one in the HTC U Ultra look pretty legit.

Disappointing battery endurance

The HTC U Ultra is armed with a 3000mAh battery, far less than other smartphones its size. Paired with the Quad HD display and Snapdragon 821 processor, that may not be enough juice for people who want to use the U Ultra for extended periods of time.

The battery will last you a day if you manage it right, but honestly for the size of the phone we were expecting a little more juice. The included fast charger takes a little bit of sting out of it, but not much.

Verdict: A solid flagship to herald the return of HTC to the Philippines

HTC’s U Ultra isn’t perfect, but really, very few smartphones are. It’s a little on the large side, plus the battery life could be better. In exchange for those negatives you’re getting a fairly powerful phone with a large screen and a great camera that looks great to boot. We’re reserving final judgement pending local pricing, but if this phone manages to retail under 30K when it’s offered in the Philippines, then HTC definitely has a solid product in their hands to spearhead their return.

John Nieves

John is a veteran technology and gadget journalist with more than 10 years of experience both in print and online. When not writing about technology, he frequently gets lost in the boonies playing soldier.

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