HTC U Ultra Review

Introduction


Sometimes smartphone manufacturers keep their lineups simple: a clear flagship (maybe in a couple size options), then possibly a spread of mid-rangers, and maybe even a super-budget model. And while all those phones can be very interesting for their own reasons – for as much as we love a bleeding-edge hero phone, a really well-executed lower-end model that's still a stunning value can be even more important – it's not uncommon for us to build our expectations of a company's yearly stable of phones around such a product.


That's what makes 2017 so unusual for HTC. Not only are we on track to see the launch of fewer total smartphone models than we saw arrive last year, but HTC is switching things up in the flagship department, as a company exec confirmed that we shouldn't be expecting an HTC 11: a direct follow-up to last year's HTC 10.


There will be a high-profile flagship at some point, sure, but likely with some new branding – and maybe even filling a slightly different role in the manufacturer's lineup.


HTC U Ultra Review

While we wait to get the full story on the rest of HTC's plans for the year, we've already seen the company get off to a quick start, launching a pair of HTC U models back in January. While the smaller HTC U Play will stick to international markets, the US is getting the larger HTC U Ultra phablet. With high-end specs, a big 5.7-inch screen, and a seriously flagship-level price tag, is the U Ultra a fitting replacement for the HTC 10, or will HTC fans want to keep waiting for a possibly more petite handset? Here's what you can expect from the company's first major smartphone of 2017.


In the box:


  • HTC U Ultra
  • USB type-C to standard-A cable
  • Fast charger
  • Cleaning cloth
  • HTC USonic USB Type-C earbuds
  • Protective case
  • Warranty booklets


Design

How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful – with an emphasis on “big”


HTC U Ultra Review
HTC U Ultra Review
HTC U Ultra Review

Sometimes it's easy to reduce a phone's design to a single thought, and with the HTC U Ultra, the most apt words that come to mind are “big and shiny.” With a 5.7-inch screen, that “big” aspect is largely to be expected, but even in the world of similarly equipped phablets, the U Ultra is on the chunkier end of the spectrum. Its 162.4 x 79.8 mm face makes it bigger than the ill-fated Galaxy Note 7 (and even bigger than the Note 5), and we'll spare the U Ultra the embarrassment of comparing it directly to the LG G6. Now, it's not like HTC is just wasting that space, and the U Ultra does deliver extras those phones lack, like an LG V20-style secondary display. But again, even the V20 is a smaller, more pocket-friendly _phone_ than the hulking U Ultra.


As for “shiny,” the U Ultra offers an attractive glass-topped, polished-metal back panel in your choice of three colors; in addition to the stunningly bold blue you see here, the _phone_ is also available in black and white. That high-gloss finish is nothing short of eye-catching, but the near-featureless expanse of reflective material also turns the U Ultra into one of the more fingerprint-sensitive handsets out there. We're not talking about how you unlock your phone, either: every single little touch you impart on the U Ultra's body shows up, clear as day. It's a beautiful phone, until you start actually using it; let's just say that it didn't take long to understand why HTC saw fit to include a cleaning cloth in the box.


HTC U Ultra Review

Continuing our tour of the U Ultra's hardware, we've got our volume rocker and pleasantly-textured power button on the right edge, the hybrid SIM/microSD tray up top, and the main speaker and USB Type-C port on the bottom. As you've probably noticed by now, that means no analog headphone jack, just like on last year's HTC Bolt. Instead, you'll use the included USB headphones.


It's worth mentioning, while we're talking about design, that the USB port here looks like it doesn't fit very well. It's not exactly centered along the phone's profile, and introduces a bump that interferes with the bottom edge of the handset's back panel. We've heard of camera bumps before (and the HTC U Ultra very much has one of those), but a USB bump? That might be taking things a little too aggressively with the drive for curved-edge construction.


Just like on the HTC 10, we're looking at a front-mounted fingerprint scanner in the phone's home button, flanked by a pair of capacitive Android buttons. HTC's shifted front-facer placement since the 10 to accommodate for the U Ultra's secondary ticker display, and we also find a much smaller earpiece grille here – which also doubles as a secondary speaker for stereo output.


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Front view | Side view
HTC U Ultra
HTC U Ultra
6.39 x 3.14 x 0.31 inches
162.41 x 79.79 x 7.99 mm
6.00 oz (170 g)

HTC U Ultra

Apple iPhone 7 Plus
Apple iPhone 7 Plus
6.23 x 3.07 x 0.29 inches
158.2 x 77.9 x 7.3 mm
6.63 oz (188 g)

Apple iPhone 7 Plus

Samsung Galaxy S7 edge
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge
5.94 x 2.86 x 0.3 inches
150.9 x 72.6 x 7.7 mm
5.54 oz (157 g)

Samsung Galaxy S7 edge

LG V20
LG V20
6.29 x 3.07 x 0.3 inches
159.7 x 78.1 x 7.6 mm
6.14 oz (174 g)

LG V20




Display

Secondary ticker displays are just not a good match with LCD screen tech


HTC U Ultra Review

HTC is stepping out of its comfort zone a little with the screen on the U Ultra, introducing a phone with the sort of secondary auxiliary display we most often associate with LG's V series. The implementation is a near perfect copy of what LG was up to with those phones, with a little extra strip of screen that sticks out above the main display, and extends about two-thirds of the way across.


That sort of setup creates some new opportunities for HTC, but also introduces fresh problems. We'll take a closer look at those in a second, but first let's check out the main screen.


Like the HTC 10, we're looking at a Super LCD 5 panel with a Quad-HD 1440 x 2560 resolution. But by stretching things out from 5.2 to the U Ultra's 5.7 inches, we're dealing with a corresponding decrease in pixel density. The good news is that at this kind of high resolution, the phone's got pixels to spare, and the image quality on the U Ultra doesn't suffer as a result of its increased size.


Color accuracy isn't bad, either, though it does tend to over-saturate at times. Screen brightness is also decent, and there's a much-appreciated control panel setting to adjust color temperature – not that the screen on our unit needed any tweaking.


All this sounds good – and really, HTC doesn't make any huge missteps. At least, that's true about the main display.


Sadly, the secondary screen suffers from some of the same kind of issues we saw crop up with LG's phones – and the chief one there is some distracting backlight bleed. Say you're watching a full-screen video on the U Ultra. Since the display doesn't turn off the secondary screen's backlight independently of the main screen, and unlike an AMOLED panel, an LCD is going to still be partially illuminated even when it's trying to display pure black, you get this gray rectangle just sort of floating out there to the side of your video. It doesn't outright ruin the U Ultra experience, but it doesn't look great, either.


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 Ultra 520
(Excellent)
5
(Excellent)
1:1900
(Excellent)
7546
(Average)
2.19
5.1
(Average)
5.03
(Average)
Apple iPhone 7 Plus 672
(Excellent)
2
(Excellent)
1:1431
(Excellent)
6981
(Excellent)
2.2
3.11
(Good)
2.63
(Good)
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge 493
(Good)
2
(Excellent)
unmeasurable
(Excellent)
6586
(Excellent)
2.03
1.47
(Excellent)
2.62
(Good)
LG V20 537
(Excellent)
5
(Excellent)
1:2004
(Excellent)
9257
(Poor)
2.35
4.7
(Average)
8.4
(Poor)
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 Ultra Review

Introduction


Sometimes smartphone manufacturers keep their lineups simple: a clear flagship (maybe in a couple size options), then possibly a spread of mid-rangers, and maybe even a super-budget model. And while all those phones can be very interesting for their own reasons – for as much as we love a bleeding-edge hero phone, a really well-executed lower-end model that's still a stunning value can be even more important – it's not uncommon for us to build our expectations of a company's yearly stable of phones around such a product.


That's what makes 2017 so unusual for HTC. Not only are we on track to see the launch of fewer total smartphone models than we saw arrive last year, but HTC is switching things up in the flagship department, as a company exec confirmed that we shouldn't be expecting an HTC 11: a direct follow-up to last year's HTC 10.


There will be a high-profile flagship at some point, sure, but likely with some new branding – and maybe even filling a slightly different role in the manufacturer's lineup.


HTC U Ultra Review

While we wait to get the full story on the rest of HTC's plans for the year, we've already seen the company get off to a quick start, launching a pair of HTC U models back in January. While the smaller HTC U Play will stick to international markets, the US is getting the larger HTC U Ultra phablet. With high-end specs, a big 5.7-inch screen, and a seriously flagship-level price tag, is the U Ultra a fitting replacement for the HTC 10, or will HTC fans want to keep waiting for a possibly more petite handset? Here's what you can expect from the company's first major smartphone of 2017.


In the box:


  • HTC U Ultra
  • USB type-C to standard-A cable
  • Fast charger
  • Cleaning cloth
  • HTC USonic USB Type-C earbuds
  • Protective case
  • Warranty booklets


Design

How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful – with an emphasis on “big”


HTC U Ultra Review
HTC U Ultra Review
HTC U Ultra Review

Sometimes it's easy to reduce a phone's design to a single thought, and with the HTC U Ultra, the most apt words that come to mind are “big and shiny.” With a 5.7-inch screen, that “big” aspect is largely to be expected, but even in the world of similarly equipped phablets, the U Ultra is on the chunkier end of the spectrum. Its 162.4 x 79.8 mm face makes it bigger than the ill-fated Galaxy Note 7 (and even bigger than the Note 5), and we'll spare the U Ultra the embarrassment of comparing it directly to the LG G6. Now, it's not like HTC is just wasting that space, and the U Ultra does deliver extras those phones lack, like an LG V20-style secondary display. But again, even the V20 is a smaller, more pocket-friendly phone than the hulking U Ultra.


As for “shiny,” the U Ultra offers an attractive glass-topped, polished-metal back panel in your choice of three colors; in addition to the stunningly bold blue you see here, the phone is also available in black and white. That high-gloss finish is nothing short of eye-catching, but the near-featureless expanse of reflective material also turns the U Ultra into one of the more fingerprint-sensitive handsets out there. We're not talking about how you unlock your phone, either: every single little touch you impart on the U Ultra's body shows up, clear as day. It's a beautiful phone, until you start actually using it; let's just say that it didn't take long to understand why HTC saw fit to include a cleaning cloth in the box.


HTC U Ultra Review

Continuing our tour of the U Ultra's hardware, we've got our volume rocker and pleasantly-textured power button on the right edge, the hybrid SIM/microSD tray up top, and the main speaker and USB Type-C port on the bottom. As you've probably noticed by now, that means no analog headphone jack, just like on last year's HTC Bolt. Instead, you'll use the included USB headphones.


It's worth mentioning, while we're talking about design, that the USB port here looks like it doesn't fit very well. It's not exactly centered along the phone's profile, and introduces a bump that interferes with the bottom edge of the handset's back panel. We've heard of camera bumps before (and the HTC U Ultra very much has one of those), but a USB bump? That might be taking things a little too aggressively with the drive for curved-edge construction.


Just like on the HTC 10, we're looking at a front-mounted fingerprint scanner in the phone's home button, flanked by a pair of capacitive Android buttons. HTC's shifted front-facer placement since the 10 to accommodate for the U Ultra's secondary ticker display, and we also find a much smaller earpiece grille here – which also doubles as a secondary speaker for stereo output.


Front view | Side view
HTC U Ultra
HTC U Ultra
6.39 x 3.14 x 0.31 inches
162.41 x 79.79 x 7.99 mm
6.00 oz (170 g)

HTC U Ultra

Apple iPhone 7 Plus
Apple iPhone 7 Plus
6.23 x 3.07 x 0.29 inches
158.2 x 77.9 x 7.3 mm
6.63 oz (188 g)

Apple iPhone 7 Plus

Samsung Galaxy S7 edge
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge
5.94 x 2.86 x 0.3 inches
150.9 x 72.6 x 7.7 mm
5.54 oz (157 g)

Samsung Galaxy S7 edge

LG V20
LG V20
6.29 x 3.07 x 0.3 inches
159.7 x 78.1 x 7.6 mm
6.14 oz (174 g)

LG V20




Display

Secondary ticker displays are just not a good match with LCD screen tech


HTC U Ultra Review

HTC is stepping out of its comfort zone a little with the screen on the U Ultra, introducing a phone with the sort of secondary auxiliary display we most often associate with LG's V series. The implementation is a near perfect copy of what LG was up to with those phones, with a little extra strip of screen that sticks out above the main display, and extends about two-thirds of the way across.


That sort of setup creates some new opportunities for HTC, but also introduces fresh problems. We'll take a closer look at those in a second, but first let's check out the main screen.


Like the HTC 10, we're looking at a Super LCD 5 panel with a Quad-HD 1440 x 2560 resolution. But by stretching things out from 5.2 to the U Ultra's 5.7 inches, we're dealing with a corresponding decrease in pixel density. The good news is that at this kind of high resolution, the phone's got pixels to spare, and the image quality on the U Ultra doesn't suffer as a result of its increased size.


Color accuracy isn't bad, either, though it does tend to over-saturate at times. Screen brightness is also decent, and there's a much-appreciated control panel setting to adjust color temperature – not that the screen on our unit needed any tweaking.


All this sounds good – and really, HTC doesn't make any huge missteps. At least, that's true about the main display.


Sadly, the secondary screen suffers from some of the same kind of issues we saw crop up with LG's phones – and the chief one there is some distracting backlight bleed. Say you're watching a full-screen video on the U Ultra. Since the display doesn't turn off the secondary screen's backlight independently of the main screen, and unlike an AMOLED panel, an LCD is going to still be partially illuminated even when it's trying to display pure black, you get this gray rectangle just sort of floating out there to the side of your video. It doesn't outright ruin the U Ultra experience, but it doesn't look great, either.


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 Ultra 520
(Excellent)
5
(Excellent)
1:1900
(Excellent)
7546
(Average)
2.19
5.1
(Average)
5.03
(Average)
Apple iPhone 7 Plus 672
(Excellent)
2
(Excellent)
1:1431
(Excellent)
6981
(Excellent)
2.2
3.11
(Good)
2.63
(Good)
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge 493
(Good)
2
(Excellent)
unmeasurable
(Excellent)
6586
(Excellent)
2.03
1.47
(Excellent)
2.62
(Good)
LG V20 537
(Excellent)
5
(Excellent)
1:2004
(Excellent)
9257
(Poor)
2.35
4.7
(Average)
8.4
(Poor)
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

HTC doesn't ruin Android with all its software extras, but nor does it add a ton of value, either

HTC U Ultra Review

Let's continue talking about that secondary screen as we start dissecting the HTC U Ultra's interface. Like on LG's V phones, the screen here offers a variety of functionality, displaying notification icons and giving you readouts on phone status while the main display is off, and offering options like a quick-launch tray when the screen's on.

For HTC, new to this kind of thing, it's an admirable first effort. But there are also plenty of cases where we wish it operated just a bit differently. Take landscape orientation: now sure, for things like displaying a lot of text, it doesn't make sense to try and adapt this narrow band of screen for operation on its side, but things like the quick-launch app tray, or even the icon-based weather forecast, are frustrating to see locked into portrait-orientation only. Why not twist all those icons 90 degrees to correspond with the rest of the screen?

Admittedly, this is a minor quibble, but it's also something that would have gone a good distance towards making the U Ultra's secondary screen feel like a more intrinsic part of the phone.

The other real stand-out part of the U Ultra's interface is its support for the new HTC Sense Companion, an “always learning” personal assistant that's supposed to keep an eye on what you're doing (and doing next) and offer some helpful messages along the way, reminding you of meetings, or giving you a heads-up when your commute's traffic is looking heavier than usual. Sound familiar? We've seen this sort of general functionality before, so really our question is whether or not HTC's implementation outdoes the likes of Google's.

The problem is, though, that so far we really don't feel like the Sense Companion is doing very much at all. That's compounded by an unintuitive interface, and what seems to be an over-reliance on machine learning. Perhaps in an effort to prove just how smart its AI is, HTC give you precious little in the way of setup options; instead, the service is supposed to learn from you and offer its functionality organically. Maybe that really will work as time goes on, but it's frustrating how you can't just dive right in and start trying everything out manually.

Those hiccups aside, the rest of the HTC U Ultra's interface is a joy to use, and the core Nougat-based system software didn't leave us wanting for anything in the way of features nor polish. BlinkFeed makes a welcome return just to the left of your home screen, and HTC's Motion Launch gestures provide some handy shortcuts that ease accessing key functionality while your phone is sleeping.

Finally, the fingerprint scanner works like a charm, operating both swiftly and with quite good accuracy.

Processor and Memory

The U Ultra launched with a top-of-the-line chip, but those days won't last

HTC U Ultra Review
HTC gives the U Ultra a Snapdragon 821 processor, with access to 4GB of system memory. That's a combination we've seen before (most recently on the LG G6), and it works as well here as it did there. That is to say, benchmarks look good, right up there among the top-performing phones available, and when actually navigating your way around apps and the phone's interface, the experience is largely smooth, with little to suggest that the phone can't keep up with software demands.

When talking about the G6, though, we had some reservations about this choice of processor, especially with the undeniably more advanced Snapdragon 835 just around the corner. Here, we're liable to give HTC a little more leeway, as it's in much less of an all-your-eggs-in-one-basket situation than LG is with the G6; with what we've heard about more flagships on the way from HTC this year, there's ample time for the manufacturer to put together an 835-based phone. But really, judging the performance of the U Ultra on its own accords, it's hard to find fault with HTC's choices.

We really love the company's decision to make 64GB of storage the phone's standard base level, and we hope this choice isn't just because the U Ultra is a phablet – come on, HTC, show everybody else how it's done. And if you somehow find yourself running up against that storage limit one day, microSD expansion is waiting in the wings, ready to lend a hand.

Performance benchmarks

AnTuTu
Higher is better
HTC U Ultra 145768
Apple iPhone 7 Plus 179811
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge 128191
LG V20 135599.66
Vellamo Metal
Higher is better
HTC U Ultra 3785
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge 3198
LG V20 3450.33
Vellamo Browser
Higher is better
HTC U Ultra 4706
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge 4840
LG V20 5100
JetStream
Higher is better
HTC U Ultra 54.581
Apple iPhone 7 Plus 167.76
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge 60.315
LG V20 50.862
GFXBench T-Rex HD on-screen
Higher is better
HTC U Ultra 47
Apple iPhone 7 Plus 58.2
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge 52
LG V20 54
GFXBench Manhattan on-screen
Higher is better
HTC U Ultra 14
Apple iPhone 7 Plus 55.8
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge 28
LG V20 14.33
Basemark OS II
Higher is better
HTC U Ultra 2218
Apple iPhone 7 Plus 3119
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge 1761
LG V20 1727.66
Geekbench 4 single-core
Higher is better
HTC U Ultra 1652
Apple iPhone 7 Plus 3443
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge 1857
LG V20 1553.66
Geekbench 4 multi-core
Higher is better
HTC U Ultra 4042
Apple iPhone 7 Plus 5619
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge 5569
LG V20 3626.33
View all

Connectivity

There's a price to be paid for unlocked flexibility

HTC U Ultra Review

With the U Ultra, HTC has decided to go the direct-sales route, and while that means you can pick the phone up carrier-unlocked, it also means that you're going to be stuck with GSM-based networks like T-Mobile and AT&T. We don't love that situation, especially as the HTC 10 enjoyed far greater carrier support, but it's not going to doom the U Ultra, either.

Wired connectivity, meanwhile, is exclusively over USB Type-C, as you've probably picked up on by now.

Camera

By resisting the temptation to wow us with gimmicks, HTC delivers solid camera performance

HTC U Ultra Review
Camera interface - HTC U Ultra Review
Camera interface - HTC U Ultra Review
Camera interface - HTC U Ultra Review
Camera interface - HTC U Ultra Review

Camera interface


HTC's a company that loves to dream big with its cameras. Whether we're talking an early interest in dual-camera hardware, or choosing light sensitivity over raw pixel count, HTC's been among the first to the table with technologies that have later served to define modern smartphone image-taking. But for all these efforts, time and time again we've watched other manufacturers swoop in to steal the spotlight with better-performing alternatives.

With the HTC U Ultra, we see what can happen when HTC maybe stops trying so hard, and instead concentrates on giving some familiar camera hardware a gentle nudge or two in the direction of improvement. Rather than aiming for a moon shot, the U Ultra doesn't attempt any bold, ground-shaking steps forward, and instead returns with a main camera that's very similar to what we got on the HTC 10 – a 12MP UltraPixel 2 sensor with a big f/1.8 aperture and optical stabilization – while saving some of the fancier upgrades for the front-facer, which arrives as a 16MP camera that can pull a little software magic to effectively work as a 4MP UltraPixel camera in low-light environments.

Image quality


For the very large part, pictures captured with the HTC U Ultra look quite nice. With the camera's auto-HDR mode engaged, we snapped shots in all sorts of challenging environments, many of which had us thinking, “no way this pic is going to come out looking right.” But far more often than not, we found ourselves pleasantly surprised with a nicely balanced exposure.

Focus didn't give us any problems (aside from the interface occasionally reminding us not to accidentally cover up the laser range finder), and with OIS in tow, grabbing sharp pics was as easy as tapping the shutter.

As for complaints, we spotted a fair bit of noise in captured shots, but only as we started getting close to 100% zoom. And while a number of our pics looked a tad washed out and lacking really bold colors, when you shoot around Boston in late winter, you're mostly going to get neutral tones of various shades, no matter what you do. All things considered, we're pretty happy with how the U Ultra's main camera performed. Of particular note were images taken from within a small prop plane that still came out crisp and clear, as well as pic from a dimly-lit restaurant that looked even more appetizing than the real thing.

Even the front-facer really delivered, and while its 4MP UltraPixel mode wasn't quite as impressive as we were hoping for, it did let us snap pics (albeit of not the greatest quality) in utterly unlit nighttime environments where we felt fortunate just to be able to see anything at all. Under less stressful shooting conditions, both this and the regular 16MP mode looked good.


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 Ultra 1.3
1.8
621
602
Apple iPhone 7 Plus 1.33
2.01
No data
No data
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge 1.5
1.6
283
261
LG V20 1.5
2.7
No data
No data
View all

Video recording


Much like our experience with stills, video recording on the HTC U Ultra usually resulted in some really satisfying output. Our main issue is with the interface, which makes it a pain to choose your filming resolution: rather than selecting your choice from a list, you have to repeatedly tap an icon to cycle through all available options – miss your target, and you've got to go back through them all over again.

There's also some difficulty acquiring focus on close-up objects while filming. Mind you, we're talking about within a foot or two from the lens, and shooting at only a slightly more realistic distance sees the U Ultra refocusing without issue.

Video recording options extend up to 4K, but lack some of the fancier options found on other cameras – no 60FPS full-HD mode here.

Audio quality can be pretty decent, as the phone taps into its array of four on-board microphones. Perhaps as a consequence of all the processing the U Ultra's doing on that input, sometimes voices can sound a little hollow – like they've been overly processed – but everything was still quite intelligible.



Multimedia

HTC just doesn't have the market share to dictate “done with analog headphones”

HTC U Ultra Review

The days of the analog headphone jack may be numbered, but for the moment that plucky little connector still lives on, despite the efforts of phones like the iPhone 7 and HTC U Ultra to put it to rest. Like the HTC Bolt before it, the U Ultra ditches its headphone jack for a USB-only audio interface.

The good news there is that HTC's included earbuds sound really, really nice, come with an assortment of alternate tips to help insure a good fit, and offer an intriguing ear-canal-modeling feature that's supposed to tweak output for your particular physiology. Like we saw with the Bolt, we have the feeling that there's a combination of custom-scanning and just some more general-purpose EQ boosting going on here, but we can't deny that the results sound good.

HTC U Ultra Review
Sadly, there's no analog headphone adapter included, in case you prefer to use some existing headphones. After launching the Bolt, we saw HTC give away free adapters, and for a moment it felt like the company might have learned a lesson – hell, even Apple includes an adapter. But sadly, that giveaway is long over, and for the U Ultra it's USB Type-C or nothing.

Even if you're not using the headphones, the U Ultra sounds pretty solid thanks to the presence of stereo speakers. With the phone's earpiece pulling double-duty as one of those speakers, the output's a little unbalanced – and it's clear that the bottom-edge speakers is responsible for the vast majority of the phone's output – but it really does result in a pronounced improvement over a handset that forgoes front-facing speakers at all.

Audio output

Loudspeaker loudness (dB)
Higher is better
HTC U Ultra 72.3
Apple iPhone 7 Plus 77.4
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge 72.9
LG V20 72
View all


Call Quality


HTC U Ultra Review
Calls on the U Ultra sound just fine, and the phone supports Wi-Fi calling if your carrier's also on board. Maybe the biggest thing going against it as far as voice calls go is its size, and the sheer expanse of the handset's face can make talking on it a little uncomfortable.

On the plus side, the phone's speakerphone works fantastically, and while we're not sure the phone's tapping into all four of its microphones on voice calls, things definitely sounded pretty good.

Battery Life

HTC does the U Ultra a huge disservice with a battery that's meager at best

HTC U Ultra Review

If HTC made one big oversight in the construction of the U Ultra, it was in not giving the phone a larger battery. This is a physically large phone, with a big power-hungry display – so why not pair that with a good 3,300, 3,500, or even 4,000mAh battery? Instead, HTC skimps on capacity with a 3,000mAh battery that matches what we got in the HTC 10.

That's nothing less than a big oversight, and one that threatens to move the U Ultra from the neighborhood of “decent smartphone with a few quirks here and there” to one where it's much more difficult to recommend the hardware. While we've seen plenty of phones with worse battery life – and in our tests, the U Ultra achieved a little under seven hours of screen-on time – it's just so frustrating to be dealing with a giant-sized handset that couldn't be bothered to pick up a battery that's as big as everything else here.

In the saving-grace department, recharge times are low, and with the included Quick Charge adapter we powered the U Ultra back up to full in well under two hours. But with no wireless charging, and such underwhelming battery capacity, it's hard not to be disappointed with HTC's decisions here.

Battery Benchmarks

Battery life (hours)
Higher is better
HTC U Ultra 6h 56 min (Average)
Apple iPhone 7 Plus 9h 5 min (Excellent)
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge 7h 18 min (Good)
LG V20 6h 23 min (Average)
Charging time (minutes)
Lower is better
HTC U Ultra 100
Apple iPhone 7 Plus 197
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge 99
LG V20 86
View all

Conclusion


HTC U Ultra Review

For as many steps as HTC takes in the right direction, it can't help but shoot itself in the foot with a few big goof-ups. The U Ultra is a relatively attractive handset that comes with a nice assortment of extras (like that case and the really good-sounding earbuds), has solid performance, a boatload of local storage, and offers a decently satisfying camera.

But it's still a phone that feels too large for its own hardware, one that seriously skimps on battery capacity, and comes up a little half-baked in the software department.

Maybe the biggest oversight HTC's making with the release of the U Ultra is its pricing, and how the phone's positioned in the company's lineup. After spending a week using the HTC U Ultra, the phone still feels like a hold-over until the manufacturer is ready to introduce a proper 2017 flagship: a phone with a more accessible size, with better battery life, and hopefully maybe even one with a more bleeding-edge choice of processor.

HTC U Ultra Review

Despite all this, HTC is trying to sell the U Ultra like it's the end-all, be-all, can't-be-topped model in the company's stable, asking a preposterous $750 for the handset. While it's a good phone, that's a level reserved for the very best of the best, and we just can't see the U Ultra fitting in amongst such heavyweights.

If HTC only approached the U Ultra with a slightly, slightly different set of priorities, this handset could have been a real win, and help hold us over until the more obvious HTC 10 follow-up is ready to land. For now, though, this is just one phone that's really tricky to recommend. There are too many compromises, and too much other competition that's more worthy of your smartphone-buying dollar.