HTC Debuts U Ultra and U Play Smartphones, Makes a Play for Artificial Intelligence

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HTC is making a big play for 2017 (pardon the pun) with two smartphones in its new U series: the U Ultra and the U Play.

The U Ultra is the larger of the two devices with a 5.7-inch display that towers over its 5.2-inch sibling, the U Play. Both devices have Gorilla Glass 5 on the front and back separated by a metal frame and HTC is promising to release an exclusive version of the U Ultra that trades the Gorilla Glass for the more hardened and scratch-free sapphire glass.

The U Ultra’s expansive front also includes a small ticker screen like the one found in LG’s V20 smartphone.

Just like in LG’s flagship smartphone, the secondary screen on the U Ultra is used for displaying app and system notifications and something else unique: alerts from HTC’s new Artificial Intelligence-powered digital assistant, Sense Companion, a voice-controlled assistant in the same breath as Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana and Amazon’s Alexa.

Sense Companion will learn from the user over time and be in a position to deliver alerts it thinks are most appropriate at a given time. The HTC U Ultra’s AI smarts don’t just end with the secondary display. Like Huawei’s Mate 9, they extend system-wide, according to HTC, in that after learning how one uses their devices, the system is able to correctly allocate resources where they are deserved and shut down apps when they are not in use. The U Ultra has 4 microphones that are always on and listening for instructions from users within a 2-metre radius so that Sense Companion is as efficient as it needs to be. They also come in handy for the recording of “3D audio”.

Sense Companion is available on both devices.

HTC U Play
HTC U Ultra

In what is apparently a trend, HTC has also ditched the 3.5mm headphone jack in its two new smartphones and users will either have to make do with wireless headsets or those that can be plugged in via the devices’ USB Type-C port or just be ready to live the dongle life if any existing headsets are to be used.

HTC Ultra U and HTC Ultra Play Specifications

HTC U UltraHTC U Play
Size and weight162.41 x 79.79 x 3.6-7.99mm; 161g145.99 x 72.9 x 3.5-7.99mm; 145g
Display5.7-inch (1440 x 2560 pixels) Quad HD Super LCD 5 display with Gorilla Glass 5 protection / Sapphire Glass (128GB version); 2.0-inch (160 x 1040 pixels) 520 PPI Super LCD 5 secondary display5.2-inch (1920 x 1080 pixels) Full HD Super LCD display with Corning Gorilla Glass protection
ProcessorQuad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 with Adreno 530 GPUOcta-core MediaTek Helio P10 processor with up to Mali T860 GPU
Camera12MP (UltraPixel 2) rear camera with dual-tone LED flash, 1.55um pixels, f/1.8 aperture, Laser AF, OIS, 4K video recording;
16MP front-facing camera with f/2.0 aperture
16MP rear camera with dual-tone LED flash, f/2.0 aperture, PDAF, OIS;
16MP front-facing camera with f/2.0 aperture, 28mm lens, UltraPixel mode
Memory4GB RAM; 64/128GB internal storage, expandable up to 2TB with microSD3GB RAM with 32GB storage, 4GB RAM with 64GB internal storage, expandable memory up to 2TB with microSD
Operating SystemAndroid 7.0 (Nougat) with HTC Sense UIAndroid 6.0 (Marshmallow)
Battery3000mAh battery with Quick Charge 3.02500mAh battery with fast charging
ConnectivityWiFi 802.11 ac (2.4 and 5GHz), Bluetooth 4.2, NFC, USB 3.1 Type-CWiFi 802.11 ac (2.4 and 5GHz), Bluetooth 4.2, NFC, USB 2.0 Type-C
Network3G, 4G LTE3G, 4G LTE
Colour optionBlack, Blue, Pink, WhiteSame
OthersHTC BoomSound, 4 Omnidirectional noise cancelling microphones, Fingerprint sensor, Hybrid dual SIM (nano+nano/microSD)Fingerprint sensor, HTC USonic, dual microphones with noise cancelation

Pricing for the HTC U Ultra which is available for pre-order today (in the US) is expected to be slightly less than the HTC 10’s high starting price of $800. For $750, one will be able to lay their hands on the U Ultra.

The U Play and the special edition U Ultra with sapphire glass and 128GB onboard storage are expected to hit the market by the end of Q1 and later this year respectively since HTC is not giving exact dates.

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