HTC has lifted the lid on the much-rumoured U Ultra, a handset that takes design and software cues from rivals Samsung and Apple and teams them with artificial intelligence (A.I) enhanced voice commands and impressive audio.
With a 5.7-inch Quad HD main screen that means it straddles the fine line between tablet and smartphone, the U Ultra is clearly pitched as an alternative to Samsung’s ill-starred Galaxy Note 7.
So what has it got to offer? And what's new about it? Here's everything you need to know.
No headphone slot
In a nod to the iPhone 7, the HTC U Ultra has no 3.5mm headphone slot. With rumours swirling that Samsung’s Galaxy S8 will also do away with the port, it seems the sun really is setting on something that’s been a fixture of electrical and electronic gadgets for decades.
Instead headphones are inserted into the U Ultra via the USB-C port, which is usually reserved for charging and transferring photos, music and other files.
This means that if you want to use your existing wired headphones, you’ll need to buy an adaptor, which is sold separately. HTC couldn’t confirm pricing at the launch, but it'll surely come in at under £10.
However, you can still use wireless headphones with the U Ultra if you’ve got them, or avail yourself of the HTC USonic headphones provided that connect via the USB-C port.
The U Ultra’s major selling point is a secondary screen. This serves as an ‘always-on’ hub for notifications for messages and updates you’ve received, as well as reminders served up by the phone's A.I. For instance, to charge your battery. Or to buy milk.
The U Ultra’s additional two-inch secondary display sits on top of the main screen.
The secondary display means that the notifications are sequestered in a separate area, so do not encroach on the main body of the screen and interrupt what the user’s doing.
So they won’t, for example, flash up intrusively and distract you during your attempt at a high-score on Super Mario Run, or your favourite mobile arcade game of choice.
You can also tweak the notifications facet of the second screen, so they’re solely restricted to your key contacts and the people whose messages are most important to you.
HTC Sense Companion A.I
The phone’s on-board HTC Sense Companion A.I, which learns from user’s behaviour and makes suggestions based on that, is a key part of the secondary screen’s functionality and is what really makes it tick.
So while you’re free to set your key contacts as you wish, over time the A.I may notice that you’re not in touch with someone as much as you used to be and suggest replacing them with someone more involved in your day-to-day life.
According to HTC, it’s also proactive enough to recommend restaurants it thinks you’ll like and suggest you layer-up and dress warmly on a cold day. And even leave a bit earlier to avoid being caught up in ‘RAIL CHAOS’ newspaper headlines.
Signalling how voice-activated assistants are increasingly front and centre in new high-end phones, the U Ultra recognises and responds to your voice thanks to four microphones located in the corners of the phone.
The voice software lets you “navigate your phone, take or reject calls, snooze or dismiss alarms, and more,” we’re told.
Winningly from a security perspective, it also recognises your unique voice, with the result that it’ll only be activated and unlocked by your voice and yours alone.
So you don’t have to worry about it accidentally ordering a doll’s house from Amazon, after responding to what it thought was a voice command from your TV.
Heart of glass
In something of a break for HTC, the U Ultra shuns the metal construction that’s been a hallmark of its phones since the days of the Desire back in 2010.
Instead, it’s fashioned from glass, with a pearlescent finish and shiny, reflective rear that HTC describes as a “liquid surface”.
Front and rear cameras and other key specs
The phone, which is powered by Android 7.0, is also home to a 12-megapixel main camera with laser autofocus and optical image stabilisation, as well as slow-motion and 4K video recording.
Around the front, there’s a secondary, 16-megapixel camera for selfies and video calling, with a Live Make-up ‘beauty mode’ and a handy selfie panorama mode that does away with the need for carrying around those silly, unwieldy selfie sticks.
Other key features include HTC BoomSound, a Qualcomm quad-core processor, dual-SIM support and 64GB of internal storage, with the option to boost capacity by up to 2TB with a microSD card. A 128GB edition is also on the way.
There's the U Play sister phone too
The U Ultra is accompanied by the lower-end, smaller U Play. This retains the design and glass construction of its bigger brother, as well as most of its key features, such as HTC Sense Companion, USonic sound and voice recognition and has comparable cameras.
However, the Full HD screen comes in a more compact 5.2-inches and there’s no secondary display.
Price, colours and availability
Both phones come in a choice of blue, black, white and pink and are due to go on sale in February. We don't know exactly when in February, but HTC's PR people mooted some time around the middle of the month.
Pricing has yet to be confirmed. But HTC told us that it doesn’t consider the U Ultra to be a flagship phone, so you’d expect it to come in cheaper than its top-of-the-range One phones.
By extension, the U Play's smaller dimensions and more streamlined feature set suggest it should be a fair bit more affordable than the U Ultra. But we can’t say for sure how much more affordable right now.
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