HTC U Play Review

Introduction


HTC introduced its new glass U-series not long ago, and we already reviewed its flagship representative, the U Ultra. It is now time to move downmarket and inspect the HTC U Play, which comes with a more manageable display size, premium design, and 16 MP cameras both front and back. In short, the U Play has everything we could expect out of a worthy midranger these days, at least on paper. But how does it perform in practice? Let's dive in...

Design


Slippery is the first impression that comes to mind when you pick up the U Play. The _phone_ is made with the trendy glass sandwich design, where two sheets of thermoformed cover glass are pressed against a metal frame. HTC has done this in a pretty symmetric manner, and the U Play leaves a quality feeling both when you look at the device and when you hold it. For its size, the handset is light enough. The back has been treated to a fancy paintjob which gives it a hue-shifting reflection. In the case of our white version, that results in a nacre, mother-of-pearl visual effect.

HTC U Play Review
HTC U Play Review
HTC U Play Review
HTC U Play Review

As we mentioned in the beginning, the glassy finish makes the _phone_ a bit slippery to hold, and the tapered sides don't actually facilitate the grip, either. You get used to the exact pressure required to hold onto your precious U Play with time, but this thing would certainly be more manageable with a case on, as it's also a bit wide for its screen size. Speaking of which, screen-to-body ratio of 70% is nothing to write home about these days, and the U Play could have benefited from some slimming of the bezels all around.

HTC has provided a touch finger scanner/home key combo underneath the display, and two capacitive back and menu keys are flanking it. They all work well, and folks who prefer their fingerprint reader at the front would appreciate the HTC U Play navigation setup.

There is a single speaker at the bottom, and two mics for noise cancellation at the upper and lower sides. Thankfully, HTC has gone with a USB-C port for charging or data transfer at the bottom of the U Play. That also serves as audio connection, since there is no standard 3.5mm jack. The metal power key and volume rocker on the right are conveniently sized and placed, easy to find and press without looking, and with good tactile feedback.

View more
+ 8 images
prev image
next image
View As Slideshow »

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.

10.

11.

12.


Front view | Side view
HTC U Play
HTC U Play
5.75 x 2.87 x 0.31 inches
145.99 x 72.9 x 7.99 mm
5.11 oz (145 g)

HTC U Play

Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017)
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017)
5.75 x 2.81 x 0.31 inches
146.1 x 71.4 x 7.9 mm
5.96 oz (169 g)

Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017)

Honor 8
Honor 8
5.73 x 2.8 x 0.29 inches
145.5 x 71 x 7.45 mm
5.40 oz (153 g)

Honor 8

Motorola Moto G5 Plus
Motorola Moto G5 Plus
5.91 x 2.91 x 0.38 inches
150.2 x 74 x 9.7 mm
5.47 oz (155 g)

Motorola Moto G5 Plus


Display


With a 5.2” LCD panel at 1080 x 1920 pixels resolution, HTC leaves little to be desired in the display department. The screen is sufficiently bright, vivid, and with more than enough pixel density for any task you might throw at it.

It leans a bit on the cold side, though, and you are getting some oversaturated greens in the process, but it does have a color tone adjustment slider in the settings, if you want to bother. Outdoor visibility is about average, since the brightness is high enough, but reflectivity is a bit too high for enjoying the panel under direct sunlight.

Display measurements and quality

Maximum brightness (nits)Higher is better Minimum brightness (nits)Lower is better Contrast Higher is better Color temperature (Kelvins) Gamma Delta E rgbcmy Lower is better Delta E grayscale Lower is better
HTC U Play 462
(Good)
6
(Good)
1:1664
(Excellent)
7143
(Good)
2.25
6.33
(Average)
4.36
(Average)
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) 556
(Excellent)
1.8
(Excellent)
unmeasurable
(Excellent)
6725
(Excellent)
2.02
2.37
(Good)
7.25
(Average)
Honor 8 528
(Excellent)
5
(Excellent)
1:1508
(Excellent)
8502
(Poor)
2.23
5.26
(Average)
9.2
(Poor)
Motorola Moto G5 Plus 581
(Excellent)
6
(Good)
1:1274
(Excellent)
7989
(Average)
2.21
6.07
(Average)
6.79
(Average)
View all

The CIE 1931 xy color gamut chart represents the set (area) of colors that a display can reproduce, with the sRGB colorspace (the highlighted triangle) serving as reference. The chart also provides a visual representation of a display's color accuracy. The small squares across the boundaries of the triangle are the reference points for the various colors, while the small dots are the actual measurements. Ideally, each dot should be positioned on top of its respective square. The 'x: CIE31' and 'y: CIE31' values in the table below the chart indicate the position of each measurement on the chart. 'Y' shows the luminance (in nits) of each measured color, while 'Target Y' is the desired luminance level for that color. Finally, 'ΔE 2000' is the Delta E value of the measured color. Delta E values of below 2 are ideal.

These measurements are made using SpectraCal's CalMAN calibration software.

The Color accuracy chart gives an idea of how close a display's measured colors are to their referential values. The first line holds the measured (actual) colors, while the second line holds the reference (target) colors. The closer the actual colors are to the target ones, the better.

These measurements are made using SpectraCal's CalMAN calibration software.

The Grayscale accuracy chart shows whether a display has a correct white balance (balance between red, green and blue) across different levels of grey (from dark to bright). The closer the Actual colors are to the Target ones, the better.

These measurements are made using SpectraCal's CalMAN calibration software.

View all

HTC U Play Review

Introduction


HTC introduced its new glass U-series not long ago, and we already reviewed its flagship representative, the U Ultra. It is now time to move downmarket and inspect the HTC U Play, which comes with a more manageable display size, premium design, and 16 MP cameras both front and back. In short, the U Play has everything we could expect out of a worthy midranger these days, at least on paper. But how does it perform in practice? Let's dive in...

Design


Slippery is the first impression that comes to mind when you pick up the U Play. The phone is made with the trendy glass sandwich design, where two sheets of thermoformed cover glass are pressed against a metal frame. HTC has done this in a pretty symmetric manner, and the U Play leaves a quality feeling both when you look at the device and when you hold it. For its size, the handset is light enough. The back has been treated to a fancy paintjob which gives it a hue-shifting reflection. In the case of our white version, that results in a nacre, mother-of-pearl visual effect.

HTC U Play Review
HTC U Play Review
HTC U Play Review
HTC U Play Review

As we mentioned in the beginning, the glassy finish makes the phone a bit slippery to hold, and the tapered sides don't actually facilitate the grip, either. You get used to the exact pressure required to hold onto your precious U Play with time, but this thing would certainly be more manageable with a case on, as it's also a bit wide for its screen size. Speaking of which, screen-to-body ratio of 70% is nothing to write home about these days, and the U Play could have benefited from some slimming of the bezels all around.

HTC has provided a touch finger scanner/home key combo underneath the display, and two capacitive back and menu keys are flanking it. They all work well, and folks who prefer their fingerprint reader at the front would appreciate the HTC U Play navigation setup.

There is a single speaker at the bottom, and two mics for noise cancellation at the upper and lower sides. Thankfully, HTC has gone with a USB-C port for charging or data transfer at the bottom of the U Play. That also serves as audio connection, since there is no standard 3.5mm jack. The metal power key and volume rocker on the right are conveniently sized and placed, easy to find and press without looking, and with good tactile feedback.


Front view | Side view
HTC U Play
HTC U Play
5.75 x 2.87 x 0.31 inches
145.99 x 72.9 x 7.99 mm
5.11 oz (145 g)

HTC U Play

Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017)
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017)
5.75 x 2.81 x 0.31 inches
146.1 x 71.4 x 7.9 mm
5.96 oz (169 g)

Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017)

Honor 8
Honor 8
5.73 x 2.8 x 0.29 inches
145.5 x 71 x 7.45 mm
5.40 oz (153 g)

Honor 8

Motorola Moto G5 Plus
Motorola Moto G5 Plus
5.91 x 2.91 x 0.38 inches
150.2 x 74 x 9.7 mm
5.47 oz (155 g)

Motorola Moto G5 Plus


Display


With a 5.2” LCD panel at 1080 x 1920 pixels resolution, HTC leaves little to be desired in the display department. The screen is sufficiently bright, vivid, and with more than enough pixel density for any task you might throw at it.

It leans a bit on the cold side, though, and you are getting some oversaturated greens in the process, but it does have a color tone adjustment slider in the settings, if you want to bother. Outdoor visibility is about average, since the brightness is high enough, but reflectivity is a bit too high for enjoying the panel under direct sunlight.

Display measurements and quality

Maximum brightness (nits)Higher is better Minimum brightness (nits)Lower is better Contrast Higher is better Color temperature (Kelvins) Gamma Delta E rgbcmy Lower is better Delta E grayscale Lower is better
HTC U Play 462
(Good)
6
(Good)
1:1664
(Excellent)
7143
(Good)
2.25
6.33
(Average)
4.36
(Average)
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) 556
(Excellent)
1.8
(Excellent)
unmeasurable
(Excellent)
6725
(Excellent)
2.02
2.37
(Good)
7.25
(Average)
Honor 8 528
(Excellent)
5
(Excellent)
1:1508
(Excellent)
8502
(Poor)
2.23
5.26
(Average)
9.2
(Poor)
Motorola Moto G5 Plus 581
(Excellent)
6
(Good)
1:1274
(Excellent)
7989
(Average)
2.21
6.07
(Average)
6.79
(Average)
View all

The CIE 1931 xy color gamut chart represents the set (area) of colors that a display can reproduce, with the sRGB colorspace (the highlighted triangle) serving as reference. The chart also provides a visual representation of a display's color accuracy. The small squares across the boundaries of the triangle are the reference points for the various colors, while the small dots are the actual measurements. Ideally, each dot should be positioned on top of its respective square. The 'x: CIE31' and 'y: CIE31' values in the table below the chart indicate the position of each measurement on the chart. 'Y' shows the luminance (in nits) of each measured color, while 'Target Y' is the desired luminance level for that color. Finally, 'ΔE 2000' is the Delta E value of the measured color. Delta E values of below 2 are ideal.

These measurements are made using SpectraCal's CalMAN calibration software.

The Color accuracy chart gives an idea of how close a display's measured colors are to their referential values. The first line holds the measured (actual) colors, while the second line holds the reference (target) colors. The closer the actual colors are to the target ones, the better.

These measurements are made using SpectraCal's CalMAN calibration software.

The Grayscale accuracy chart shows whether a display has a correct white balance (balance between red, green and blue) across different levels of grey (from dark to bright). The closer the Actual colors are to the Target ones, the better.

These measurements are made using SpectraCal's CalMAN calibration software.

View all

Interface and functionality

A simple but well-rounded interface makes Sense, and we liked the Motion Gestures

HTC U Play Review

The U Play is managed by HTC's latest Sense interface which is sadly layered on top of Android 6.0 Marshmallow instead of Nougat, though an update should be arriving at a later date. HTC made Sense close to stock Android, relegating most basic tasks to Google's default apps, with only custom theming and some extra features thrown in, so updates should arrive faster and easier.

As usual with Sense, the BlinkFeed news and social feeds aggregator makes for a welcome return just to the left of your home screen, but HTC has partnered with News Republic for the novelties feed, and this app is one of the more annoying when it comes to unsolicited “breaking” news notifications that are hard to switch off. HTC's Motion Launch gestures, on the other hand, provide many handy shortcuts to access key functionality while your phone is sleeping. You can double-tap or swipe up the screen to unlock it, for instance, or swipe left to enter BlinkFeed directly. The only thing missing is swiping down on an empty screen area to unfurl the notification shade – such a simple but useful gesture that not many popular brands have implemented yet.

The HTC U Play comes with the company's new Sense Companion, a voice-controlled smart assistant similar to Google's Assistant and Siri. Similar to what most assistants do, the Sense companion will let you interact with your phone with your voice and the assistant will be proactively feeding you with relevant data that might be of interest to you, like weather info, reminding you of upcoming events, and so on. Nothing groundbreaking that you will be using on a daily basis while commuting in a crowded metro car, but HTC says it learns and adapts to your needs in time.

Processor and memory


The HTC U Play is powered by a mid-range MediaTek Helio P10 chipset, which is a 64-bit octa-core affair, clocked at 2 GHz. The phone also boasts some 3 gigs of RAM and 32GB of native storage (23GB available), as well as a microSD card expansion slot tucked in the SIM card tray.

HTC U Play Review

The interface runs smooth as silk, with no noticeable hiccups to speak of, though HTC doesn't go crazy on complex graphics or transitional animations, either. Some heavy 3D games may encounter hiccups, and we noticed a few unassuming titles that don't show in full bloom on account of the ARM graphics, but for most other purposes this processing power would suffice.

Performance benchmarks

AnTuTu
Higher is better
HTC U Play 53512
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) 60678
Honor 8 89824
Motorola Moto G5 Plus 63191
Vellamo Metal
Higher is better
HTC U Play 1408
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) 1316
Honor 8 2922
Motorola Moto G5 Plus 1395
Vellamo Browser
Higher is better
HTC U Play 3115
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) 3450
Honor 8 4758
Motorola Moto G5 Plus 2897
JetStream
Higher is better
HTC U Play 24.368
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) 31.472
Honor 8 45.665
Motorola Moto G5 Plus 29.879
GFXBench T-Rex HD on-screen
Higher is better
HTC U Play 18
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) 33
Honor 8 40
Motorola Moto G5 Plus 23
GFXBench Manhattan on-screen
Higher is better
HTC U Play 4.8
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) 9
Honor 8 18
Motorola Moto G5 Plus 6.9
Basemark OS II
Higher is better
HTC U Play 980
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) 1432
Honor 8 1957
Motorola Moto G5 Plus 375
Geekbench 4 single-core
Higher is better
HTC U Play 781.33
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) 766
Motorola Moto G5 Plus 783
Geekbench 4 multi-core
Higher is better
HTC U Play 2823.33
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) 3951
Motorola Moto G5 Plus 3586
View all

Connectivity


Given the MediaTek chipset, don't expect LTE and voice compatibility on all US carriers, save for a few AT&T or T-Mobile bands, as the U Play is meant for international markets. It offers all the usual wireless radios a decent midranger should have, and wired connectivity is done via the USB-C port at the bottom. There is no standard audio jack, though, which might throw some folks off.

Camera

Capable 16 MP shooters are marred by some soft-looking imagery

There's an optically-stabilized f/2.0 16MP camera with phase-detection autofocus at the back of the U Play. Although its resolution is larger than the 12MP UltraPixel shooter of the U Ultra, it has smaller 1µm pixels, which tells us that it might have worse low-light performance, in theory at least. The selfie front camera is also a 16MP one that can snap wide panorama selfies of both you and your clique. The front cam also has the so-called UltraPixel mode that lowers the resolution, and apparently increases light sensitivity this way up to four times.

HTC U Play Review
HTC U Play Review
HTC U Play Review

The camera app interface is greatly simplified, with the most used modes and filters present with big fat buttons, and only a handful of settings hidden a menu deep. It does have a Pro regime, though, where you get a full suite of manual controls, including preset shutter speeds. The HTC Zoe photo diary is another option to spice things up, while the phone offers an automatic HDR option that will measure the scene and choose whether to shoot in HDR or not. HDR shots takes a bit longer from shot to finish, though.


As for the pictures, they don't have the usual warm, flashy colors some other phone makers go with, and thus look a bit closer to reality. They are not bland by any means, but most folks prefer their reality spiced up with oversaturated hues and higher contrast. The photos are exposed mostly accurately, especially if the HDR mode has been employed during the shot. They are are often quite softish looking, though, in particular if there is less than ideal light amount splashing the scene, like on a cloudy day or indoors, where bright spots usually get overexposed, too. The selfie camera may soak in more light when it is in the UltraPixel mode indeed, but that usually results in overexposure in daylight, so we'd stick with the 16 MP resolution which returns decent selfies.

The U Play maxes out at 1080p video with 30fps, and is optically stabilized, so your hand shake gets compensated for well. The videos come out with enough detail, credible colors, and no artifacts, save for some rolling shutter. Exposure adjustments are rapid while panning around, and continuous autofocus works sufficiently quickly when moving between near and far objects.



Camera speed

Taking a pic (sec)Lower is better Taking an HDR pic (sec)Lower is better CamSpeed score Higher is better CamSpeed score with flash Higher is better
HTC U Play 1.4
3
326
359
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) 1.8
2.9
No data
No data
Honor 8 2.1
2.2
No data
No data
Motorola Moto G5 Plus 1.8
2.6
1118
669
View all

Audio


On the audio front, HTC has had the courage to get rid of the 3.5mm headphone jack. The onboard USB Type-C port is to be used for audio playback, and, thankfully, the device comes with a rebranded version of the HTC USonic adaptive in-ear headphones that came along the HTC Bolt and 10 Evo a couple of months or so ago. These adapt to your ears and aim to provide a better audio-listening experience for each individual user. This would only work via the USB-C connector, though, and those adjustments aren't valid for your Bluetooth headset, for instance, or third-party sets. The sole loudspeaker at the bottom of the U Play is surprisingly strong, and with fairly clean and full sound for a phone speaker.

Audio output

Loudspeaker loudness (dB)
Higher is better
HTC U Play 78
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) 75
Honor 8 73.3
Motorola Moto G5 Plus 77.6
View all

Call quality


The earpiece is powerful enough, but the voices sound a bit muffled and hollow in it, plus they get distorted towards the high end of the volume scale. The two noise-canceling mics, however, did a good job relaying our voice loud and clear to the other end, with discernible timbre.

HTC U Play Review

Battery


HTC makes do with a 2500 mAh battery pack for the U Play, so it's not surprising that it gives official talk time of just 15 hours or so on a charge. We ran the U Play through our grueling battery benchmark, and the phone lasted 8 hours and 56 minutes. That's far from the 11 hours that the Galaxy A5 (2017) got, but still a very good result from this battery capacity. Standby drain is also managed well, so the phone may last you more than a day with typical use. If you put the 28nm chipset under strain, like during gaming or benchmarks, though, the battery gets eaten quicker than usual. Thankfully, there is also fast charging that would juice up your phone in a quick manner if you run out of juice.

Battery Benchmarks

Battery life (hours)
Higher is better
HTC U Play 8h 56 min (Excellent)
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) 11h 9 min (Excellent)
Honor 8 9h 7 min (Excellent)
Motorola Moto G5 Plus 10h 26 min (Excellent)
View all

Conclusion


The HTC U Play offers a very pleasant design to look and hold, a simple but functional interface, and decent picture and video capture abilities. It has a steep hill to climb against its direct competitors like the Galaxy A5 (2017), Moto G5 Plus, or the honor 8, though.

These have 5.2” 1080p displays like the U Play, and offer cameras of comparable quality, but last longer on a charge and cost less, while the A5 is even waterproof. For the quite respectable $450-$500 price that HTC is charging for the U Play, you can even get a Galaxy S7 now, too, which will offer higher-end features and better camera.

Still, the U Play ticks all the boxes in its segment, save for a few camera mishaps, so if you are pleased with its premium design, and don't mind paying a bit extra, it's a nice choice in the midrange category.