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HTC U Ultra (S$898) Review

The HTC U Ultra is a rather eye-catching device. It’s glossy exterior and sapphire blue body certainly puts a plus point in its aesthetics department. The 5.7” phablet isn’t just a pretty face, it’s hardware and specifications, which include the latest Snapdragon 821 processor and a surplus of RAM makes it a power-packed device as well. It also comes with many interesting and novel features, but their usefulness still remains to be seen at the moment. At S$898, the device is priced fairly and is worth considering if you want a smartphone geared towards media and photography.

Design

Without a doubt, HTC has struck gold when it comes to the design of the U Ultra. It is an incredibly beautiful smartphone, with a glimmering body and sturdy build. The phone gives off a very luxurious feel when held onto, perhaps due to its sturdy frame.

The U Ultra is however, fairly big. It has a dimension of 162.4 x 79.8 x 8 mm and weighs a little heavy at 170g, which is slightly above the average even for phablets. This might be due to the fact that the U Ultra has a second screen, similar to the LG V20, which is also a heavy device at 174g, so in retrospect, the U Ultra’s weight is still acceptable.

On the bottom of the phone, there’s a capacitive fingerprint sensor, which looks a little small compared to other phones, but it’s really responsive.

The base of the smartphone holds a USB Type C port which is the latest USB 3.1, and a BoomSound speaker.

The right frame of the U Ultra is studded with the volume rocker and power button. The power button however, is textured, so even without looking at the smartphone, you can easily know which buttons to press to lock, unlock or power on the smartphone.

Display

The HTC U Ultra has 2 displays, a primary display, and a secondary display. This set-up is quite novel and rare, but it is found in devices like the LG V20.

The primary screen is a superb 5.7-inch, 2,560 x 1,440px  Quad HD Super LCD5 screen with a high pixel density of 513ppi. This is once again, exactly the same as the LG V20. Unlike an AMOLED screen which lights up pixels only when necessary and hence giving you “true blacks”, the Super LCD5 screen lights up every single pixel all the time, but it gives you the added benefit of viewing the screen from every angle in great detail and turning the screen perfectly visible even under the harsh sun at noon.

You’ll definitely notice the “second screen” above your primary screen. This screen will let you see time, date, notifications, shortcuts, music controls, and reminders. It’s a smaller screen obviously, at 2.05-inch, a resolution of 160 x 1,040px. Getting notifications is useful for sure, but the screen doesn’t allow apps to shift come features or controls over to the second screen, which the LG V20 is capable of, so although it is useful at times, it doesn’t quite size up to the pioneer’s second screen.

Performance

The HTC U Ultra is an incredibly fast smartphone, Packed with the Snapdragon 821 processor, the U Ultra has very powerful multi-tasking abilities when combining its processor with 4GB of RAM. It is also able to handle intensive processes such as video editing without lags. The phone only slows down when you’re downloading and installing multiple items from the Google Play Store whilst still multi-tasking on it.

Antutu benchmarks gave a score of 125271, which is great, but not superb, but it shows that the phone is almost guaranteeing you a lag-free performance in the foreseeable future.

Gaming performance is decent, I tried playing Asphalt on it and frame rates were high and smooth, and 3DMark gave a score of 1929 for its graphics performance.

Camera

On the rear of the U Ultra, you will find the 12MP main camera that comes with optical image stabilisation and a hybrid of Phase Detection Autofocus as well as Laser Autofocus. I noticed the camera’s autofocus duration being remarkably short, which allows for pictures to be captured very quickly on the go and still giving decent clarity thanks to the hybrid AF and OIS on board. This improvement over the HTC 10 says a lot, considering that the U Ultra’s predecessor already owns a very powerful camera with one of the highest DXOMark scores of 88.

The rear camera as expected is spectacular when it comes to clarity and focus speed is insanely fast. The sharpness of images come off really crisp and details are strong. Colours are reproduced accurately, although they don’t appear to pop as well as cameras such as the Oppo R9s. Nevertheless, i was really impressed by the camera’s overall performance.

The front camera does well for itself too, coming armed with UltraPixel technology to make shots even clearer. Under low light conditions, the U Ultra does well for itself. There is still a bit of noise, but it’s acceptable by our standards.

Video quality was surprisingly good also, the video had great clarity even when being moved about, which can probably be credited to the powerful OIS system along with its hybrid AF. Although on paper the device records 4K at 30 FPS, as opposed to 60 FPS, I still found the video rather smooth.

Battery

The HTC U Ultra doesn’t have a spectacular battery life. It has a 3,000mAh battery, which is the average in the industry, and it lasts around a work day from 8am to 5pm for about 9 hours with moderate usage involving texting and web browsing. It’s battery life is a little shorter although comparable with the LG V20.

However, with QuickCharge 3.0 built into the HTC U Ultra’s charger, you can refuel in about 1 hour from a nearly dead battery.

Conclusion

The HTC U Ultra is a decent smartphone, that tries its best to be a media phablet. It is certainly a powerful smartphone with little issues apart from a shorter than average battery life, but with a competitor such as the LG V20 in the market, the HTC U Ultra may have difficulty establishing a strong foothold in the market. Perhaps its liquid metal design might be what some consumers are drawn towards when compared against the LG V20’s more plain and average design.

Zayne Seah
A tech geek going beyond specs.

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