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HTC U Ultra is a smarter phone

HTC's new flagship comes with a built-in AI that's always listening, 4K camera with 3D Audio surround sound – but no headphone jack

What is this?

After teasing phone fans for weeks with a cryptic U logo, HTC revealed this letter is the name of its new flagship range. There’s even a tagline for it: It’s All About U. Terrible we know, but we’re more excited about its debut device: the HTC U Ultra.

This can’t be a HTC device, where did its full metal jacket go?

HTC have swapped the aluminium unibody that was its trademark finish for its HTC One M8 and M9 and its recent HTC 10 flagship for a new pearlescent look it calls ‘liquid surface.’ In real terms, this is basically moulded glass rolled onto an ultra-thin metal frame.

It looks good on the outside, what about the inside?

The HTC U Ultra has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor, a large Quad HD 5.7-inch screen, and a 3,000mAh battery. It also has 4GB RAM and comes with a choice of 64GB or 128GB storage. Power users will be happy to hear it also has a microSD slot, so you can add an extra 2TB storage if you like. The Ultra’s OS is also bang up to date running Android Nougat, making a pretty stellar smartphone.

It’s 2017, do we still need to describe a phone as a ‘smartphone’?

Normally we would agree with you, but the Ultra is smarter than most. It has built-in artificial intelligence (AI) software called Sense Companion that makes helpful suggestions. This includes reminding you to charge your phone if it knows you’ll be away from a power outlet for some time, suggesting contacts to add to your favourites, and telling you to leave earlier for work on snow days.

When you say AI, where on the spectrum of Siri to HAL9000 are we talking?

Some of Sense Companion’s features, such as being geographically and contextually aware, were available on older HTC phone and have now been grouped together. But the AI will watch everything you do on your phone, learn from it and adjust the recommendations it makes to you.

That sounds a bit stalker-ish.

If you think that’s bad, the Ultra also has four high-powered microphones that are able to hear further than most other handsets. These are always listening to what’s going on in the hope you’ll say a trigger word for the phone to respond to. If this all sounds too Big Brother for your liking, you can turn off the AI and the microphones in your settings.

The HTC U Ultra comes in a range of colours , including Brilliant Black, Cosmetic Pink, Ice White and Sapphire Blue
The HTC U Ultra comes in a range of colours, including Brilliant Black, Cosmetic Pink, Ice White and Sapphire Blue

If I don’t want a snooping sidekick, what else can it do?

The HTC Ultra U has a 12-megapixel (MP) main camera, which supports RAW format images and shoots 4K video with 3D Audio, which your gives your home movies a surround sound effect. Its front-facing camera is 16MP with a new selfie panorama mode, which allows you to take better wide-angle shots without a selfie stick.

Does it have a headphone jack?

The Ultra U follows the trend for ditching the 3.5mm headphone jack in favour of a Type-C port. Though it doesn’t include any adapter for your existing headphones, the phone does come with a pair of USonic earbuds. As well as supporting Hi-Res Audio, these buds have tiny microphones that listen for the sonic reflection in your inner ears, which they analyse to optimise the headset for your unique listening pleasure.

Again with the microphones! Does it have any other quirky features?

Funny you should say that, but it does: the Ultra U has not one, but two displays. A 2.05-inch second screen at the top of the phone shows updates from the contacts and apps the AI knows you’re interested in, without interrupting the video you’re watching on the main display.

OK, enough gimmicks. Let’s get down to brass tacks: can I afford it?

To be honest, we don’t know. At the time of writing, a price and launch date haven’t been announced, though the later is supposed to be sometime in mid-February in Europe, and slightly earlier in Asia. It will be available to buy from CCarphoneWarehouse and CurrysPCWorld in the UK as well as online from HTC.com, Amazon, Very.co.uk and other retailers.

 

 

 

 

 

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