Interface and reliability
- Android 7 software packed in with Sense UI laying over the top
HTC has packed Android 7 Nougat into the U Ultra, with its own Sense UI over the top to give it a unique flavour.
Sense UI has a simple interface that makes everything easy to find, although it will feel slightly different if you were using a stock Android phone before.
A lot of the features here are Android 7’s, with a few of HTC’s bells and whistles added, which means you can use all the benefits of HTC’s UI without having to put up with a lack of customization, as you would on devices that run stock software.
One of the UI options Sense enables is news on your home screen. It uses a service called News Republic, which will source stories to your taste for you to see when you unlock your phone.
HTC’s Blinkfeed is also here to give you a full rundown of your day, with social media and news updates available via a flick of your finger.
When you’re on the home screen you can scroll left and see the highlights of all the services you’ve connected to Blinkfeed – you can see popular Facebook posts, tweets or even news stories, again courtesy of News Republic.
If you want a quick distraction and can’t decided which social media channel to use, Blinkfeed can be a useful little tool.
Movies, music and gaming
- No 3.5mm headphone jack may be a problem for some
- Limited speaker tech, unlike other HTC phones
- Nice big display for playing games and watching video
Media playback is likely to be a sticking point for some people who would otherwise be interested in the HTC U Ultra. As on the iPhone 7, Moto Z and some other phones there’s no traditional headphone port on the U Ultra, so your regular wired headphones won’t work with this phone.
You’ll instead have to opt for a Bluetooth headset or use HTC earbuds, which are included in the box. These connect to the USB-C port at the bottom of the phone, meaning you won’t be able to charge your phone and listen to music at the same time.
This will be a major issue for some, although when we connected our wireless headphones to the U Ultra it offered a solid connection which never dropped out.
HTC is renowned for its quality front-facing speakers, but, like the headphone port, these are missing from the U Ultra.
There’s no patented BoomSound technology as on the HTC 10. Instead there’s just one sound driver, meaning you lose a lot of the ‘oomph’ when listening to audio out loud.
If you’re looking for a phone that can just play the odd song, the U Ultra will suit you well as most phones on the market, but it’s disappointing considering HTC’s superior audio capabilities in previous phones, and we can’t see why it would omit decent speakers on a high-end phone.
We found watching video on the U Ultra to be a very enjoyable experience, thanks mostly to the high-resolution and super-bright display creating a beautiful picture.
HTC doesn’t include its own video app, but if you want to play files directly from the phone’s storage you can launch a simple video player, while you’ve got Google Play Movies or YouTube for online content, and you can also download apps such as Netflix to enjoy movies on the go.
Storage-wise you should be safe with the U Ultra, as it comes in 64GB and 128GB options. We had the 64GB for the purpose of this review, and even with HTC’s software onboard you’ve still got 53GB to fill up with media and apps.
If you’re a gamer the HTC U Ultra will suit your tastes whether you want to test out the odd puzzler or play the latest and greatest mobile titles.
We played a variety of games, and found everything to run smoothly. The likes of Pokemon Go did take a little while to load at some stages, but once it was up and running everything worked well.
Benchmarks and performance
- Snapdragon 821 processor and 4GB of RAM packed inside
- Not phenomenal benchmarking scores though
Under the hood of the HTC U Ultra is a top-of-the-range Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor – although it won’t be top-of-the-range for long, as the Samsung Galaxy S8 and HTC 11 are due to launch shortly after the U Ultra, and both are rumored to have newer Snapdragon 825 processors on board.
This setup is still impressive though, especially as it’s back up by 4GB of RAM. That’s more than enough RAM to get you by, and when we were scooting around apps we found the U Ultra to be reliable, and able to keep up with everything we wanted to do.
Running the phone through benchmarking software, we found it returned an average score of 3851. That’s OK for a mid-range phone, but it’s not really strong enough considering the price of the U Ultra.
For example, the HTC 10, a phone with an older processor setup onboard, scored 4962 – and even that was a score we were disappointed with at the time, as the Galaxy S7 had just managed 6542 on the same test.
If you’re looking for decent power in your device you’ll want to go for either the HTC 10 or any other flagship phone from this year, as you’ll get more impressive performance than you will from the U Ultra.
- Average battery life that should last you a full day
- 3,000mAh cell powering a top of the range processor and high res display
When you buy a new phone these days you expect a device that can last a full day without having to be put on charge – and the good news is that we found the U Ultra just about manages this. That said, it sometimes won’t last as long as you’d hope for.
There’s a 3,000mAh battery here powering the large QHD screen and high-end processor. We regularly found the phone would die off towards the end of the day, around 10pm or so.
Considering the U Ultra is powering a 5.7-inch QHD display, it’s a bit disappointing that HTC didn’t opt for a larger cell.
The standard TechRadar battery test – playing a 90-minute video clip from the phone’s memory on full brightness, with connectivity options on – left the battery at 79% capacity.
That’s a similar result to the HTC 10, which dropped 22% of its battery life in the same test; it’s a slight improvement, but nothing to write home about.
The U Ultra supports fast-charging if you need a quick top-up. Disappointingly, though, there’s no wireless charging, and it’s not clear why HTC isn’t embracing the feature on this phone.
It was assumed the HTC 10 didn’t include wireless charging because of its all-metal design, but we would have thought the inclusion of glass in the design here would give HTC the opportunity to include tech that a lot of people are now expecting to see in their high-end phones.
- 12MP rear camera, which we saw on the HTC 10
- Zoe camera mode tries to recreate Live Photos option from the iPhone range
- Super high level 16MP front-facing camera
You’d expect a kick-ass camera to be a highlight of a phone as pricey as the HTC U Ultra, but not only does the camera here not kick ass, in truth it’s a little disappointing.
On paper a 12MP sensor doesn’t sound thrilling, and it’s remarkably similar to the HTC 10’s camera, which we didn’t exactly fall in love with.
The f/1.8 aperture is pretty fast, although despite this we found that images taken in auto mode tended to turn out a little darker than we’d hoped for.
And when we pixel-peeked at images we’ve taken the focus seemed to be a little off. You can tap the screen to focus, which we recommend doing as the autofocus wasn’t fantastic.
Photos from the U Ultra don’t stand up against those from the likes of the iPhone 7 or Galaxy S7 Edge, but this will still suit you if you’re looking to take the odd shot to share on social media.
A big bonus of the U Ultra’s camera, however, is the interface, which we found simple to use. The shutter button on the right-hand side of the screen is easy to hit, while if you swipe in from the left you’ll find a series of other shooting modes.
That includes Zoe camera. This is a mode that captures three seconds of video around your photo, and works in a similar way to Live Photos on the latest iPhone models, enabling you to create short interactive video clips.
Unlike on Apple devices though, you have to choose a separate mode to take Zoe pictures, and this makes it rather redundant – if you want to capture video you can just use the video shooting mode, so it doesn’t really add much.
It’s also quite impractical to share these clips on social media, so you’ll just end up viewing Zoe camera images on the phone.
There’s also a panorama mode, for when you want to stitch a few frames together to capture a sweeping landscape or city skyline.
You may also want to explore the pro mode if you’re a fan of phone photography. Here you can play with the white balance, ISO, focus and more to get the best possible images out of the U Ultra’s camera.
The front-facing selfie shooter on the U Ultra is a big upgrade over the HTC 10. The sensor is 16MP – even bigger than the U Ultra’s rear shooter – and offers video recording at Full HD as well as an auto HDR mode.
If you want a good front-facing camera shot, the U Ultra will deliver. We found selfies to be lively and vibrant compared to those from other cameras we’ve used.
However, in a market that has the Galaxy S7 Edge and iPhone 7 Plus it’s the rear camera that really needs to impress, and it’s a shame HTC hasn’t made a bigger effort to improve it for the U Ultra.