Usually we get hit with most of the year’s flagship Android smartphone announcements at MWC in late February, but struggling HTC wants to get a head start. With sales in the doldrums, the smartphone maker has announced the U Ultra, featuring a brand new all-glass design and premium specs. But, trouble might continue for HTC — by the time the phone comes out in March, it might not look so premium anymore.
The U Ultra was built to impress with its looks. The phone’s body is made entirely of glass, using minerals in its construction for a shiny, reflective effect (we haven’t seen the phone yet, but it sounds a bit like what Huawei did with the Honor 8). It’ll be available in black, white, and blue — the phone looks pretty nice, but like with all glass phones, we expect it to be slippery and a fingerprint magnet.
It’s a bigger phone, with a 5.7″ 1440p Super LCD 5 display (same as last year’s HTC 10) protected by either Corning Gorilla Glass 5 or sapphire glass, depending on which model you get (64 GB or 128 GB). On top of that display is a 2″ second display for alerts and notifications, reminiscent of what LG had on the V10 back in 2015. Inside, there’s a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 SoC, 4 GB of RAM, and either 64 GB or 128 GB of storage, plus a microSD card slot good for another 2 TB. Powering everything will be a 3,000 mAh battery, which will be charged using a USB Type-C port.
That second display will be a key part of the personalization software HTC is adding to its Android overlay, HTC Sense. With some input from you during setup, the HTC Sense Companion can prioritize notifications, putting the most important ones on that extra 2″ display. The assistant can also tell you useful information like how likely it is that you’ll run out of battery before the end of the day, based on your usage habits. Once you provide some information when setting up the phone, the Sense Companion will learn from your habits and serve up weather alerts, restaurant suggestions, and the like.
The HTC U Ultra, at least on paper, appears to retain the same camera that was on the HTC 10. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — the 12 MP BSI sensor is paired with an f/1.8 lens and large 1.55μm pixels, making it a pretty good option for low-light and nighttime shots. It also has laser autofocus, phase detection autofocus, optical image stabilization, and dual-tone LED flash. HTC always packs their camera app with fun things like short animated pictures, along with mainstays like manual mode, panorama mode, solid slow-motion recording (720p at 120 fps), and 4K video recording. The 16 MP front camera with UltraPixel mode is, it must be said, one of the better selfie cameras out there.
If you’re not a fan of the movement against the 3.5 mm headphone port, look elsewhere — the U Ultra doesn’t have one. Instead, it’s bundled with a pair of USB Type-C in-ear headphones that will use embedded microphones to tune themselves to the shape of your ear.
The U Ultra looks really nice, but if HTC truly intends for this to be their 2017 flagship, they’re going to have a rough go of it, at least in the United States. On paper, it’s not much more than a larger, glass-clad HTC 10 — the camera, display, and battery are all the same, and the SoC is only marginally better with the move from the Snapdragon 820 to the 821. Considering most other 2017 flagships will likely run on the Snapdragon 835, this puts HTC on the back foot. It also looks like the U Ultra won’t be waterproof, which would have been the only worthwhile tradeoff to losing the 3.5 mm port.
It’s also super expensive. The HTC U Ultra is available for preorder now for $750 from HTC.com, with shipping slated for March (it’s worth mentioning that you can get up to a $300 rebate by trading in an old phone to HTC). It appears for now that HTC won’t have carrier partners for the U Ultra launch, but that could change when the phone ships. The U Ultra will launch sooner in HTC’s native Taiwan, where HTC has fared better compared to other markets.