Every smartphone is a good smartphone now. Doesn’t really matter who makes it—huge companies like Apple and Samsung, upstarts like Nextbit and Blu—or which flashy features it has or doesn’t have. As long as you have around $250 to spend, you’re positively spoiled for choice. That’s great news for you, and it’s been terrible news for HTC. HTC’s last phone, the HTC 10, was a very good phone: It did all the good phone things in all the good phone ways. But it wasn’t exciting, or interesting, or noteworthy in any way. So it didn’t sell well. At all.
This time around, HTC has learned its lesson. With its new flagship line, dubbed the HTC U, the company is positively peacocking, doing a loud and boisterous mating dance in public in hopes that you’ll fall in love. The company’s launching two new phones, the U Ultra and U Play, and one new tagline: It’s All About You. Sorry, All About U.
What the thirsty-Millennial marketing actually refers to is the U line’s focus on personalization. Both models, for instance, let you tune the device’s audio to fit your specific hearing. Both have built-in voice assistants from HTC that complement Google’s services and help you make calls and send texts. They also have a new feature called HTC Sense Companion, which can help you remember to bring an umbrella or try that great pho place you’ve been meaning to hit up. The Ultra also has a small display in the top right corner of the phone, where you can put contacts, notifications, apps, and more.
To HTC’s credit, the company understood years ago that everyone wants something different from their phone, and that more customization and personalization can only be good things. But a word of warning: HTC is not exactly known for its awesome and beautiful software.
Other than the software tweaks, the Ultra and Play are pretty straightforward Good Phones. They’re curvy and sleek, with small bezels on the side and a fingerprint reader below the display. With the curved glass, small camera hump, and vertical flash, you might mistake the U for a Samsung Galaxy S7. They come in four grabby colors: Brilliant Black, Cosmetic Pink, Ice White, and Sapphire Blue. They’d certainly stick out in a carrier store, but the only way to buy these phones will be on HTC’s website.
The Ultra is the higher-end device, a $750 phone with a 5.7-inch, 2560×1440 display along with four gigs of RAM, 64 or 128 gigs of storage, and a Snapdragon 821 processor. It’s the one you’ll see in the US. The Play is the international device, with a 5.2-inch, 1920×1080 screen, with either three or four gigs of RAM, 32 or 64 gigs of storage, and a mid-range MediaTek processor. Both have good, though slightly different, cameras, and the Ultra gets almost double the 15 hours of talk time HTC advertises for the Play. There’s not a wrong spec on the list, but nor is there something extraordinary anywhere.
The phones themselves may not be terribly bold, but then what smartphones are anymore? What seems to be different is HTC’s approach: it’s louder, bolder, weirder, more teen-speaky. It’s a move, certainly, though it doesn’t come off like enough to rescue the company from its doldrums. Maybe a few more hashtags or filters would do the trick.
Go Back to Top. Skip To: Start of Article.