HTC U Play hands-on review

HTC's first smartphones of 2017 introduce a new U range to the firm's portfolio where it's 'all about U'. The U Ultra has an interesting dual screen setup but here we look at the smaller model with more basic specs. Here's our HTC U Play hands-on review. Also see: Best phones 2017.

Also see: How to watch HTC U live stream and our hands-on HTC U11 review.

HTC U Play review: Price and release date

The new U phones will get release date around 'mid-February' in Europe, according to HTC but they will be available in Asia first.

As per usual, there are no details on price but you can pre-register at Carphone Warehouse if you're interested. We expect the HTC U Play price to be around the £350-400 mark based on devices like the One A9.

HTC U Play review: Design and build

In essence, the U Play is a smaller version of the U Ultra so has the same glossy glass design which is a break from the norm for HTC.

The polished glass back is far more glamorous than previous HTC devices with ostentatious colours such as Cosmetic Pink and Ice White which has a pearlescent finish containing many colours. We prefer the Sapphire Blue and Brilliant Black options, the latter of which has an underlying green hue.

HTC U Play Brilliant Black

The sculpted glass means the phone sits snugly in the hand and the U Play is a far more manageable size compared to the slightly unwieldy Ultra. Glass may scratch less than metal but we found both phones slippery and susceptible to fingerprints and smudges.

HTC still uses a metal frame but you'll find no headphone jack drilled into it here. Instead, the U Play just offers a USB-C port and the firm doesn't include an adapter in the box. You do get a pair of USonic headphones though which use the reversible port.

HTC U Play review: Specs and features

While the U Ultra has an impressive dual screen setup, the U Play has a much more standard array of smartphone specs starting with a 5.2in Full HD display. There's nothing wrong with that as such and the device is much more manageable to use, but the U Ultra is more interesting in this area.

Instead of a Qualcomm chip, as found in the Ultra, the U Play is powered by a MediaTek Helio P10 octa-core processor. We could spot no obvious issues during out hands-on time but the Play has lower specs with 3GB of memory and 32GB of internal storage. It also has a Micro-SD card slot for adding more, up to 2TB.

The spec sheet also mentions a 4GB model with 64GB of storage which matches the U Ultra, but where this variant will be available remains to be seen.

HTC U Play specs

Like its bigger brother, the HTC U Play does away with the headphone jack and the firm doesn't even supply you with an adapter. This leaves just the USB-C port and a pair of compatible USonic headphones instead. It's a bit disappointing that that U Play only has a mono speaker with HTC's history of offering stereo on phones.

Other specs include a fingerprint scanner, 11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC and a 2500mAh non-removable battery.

The U Play has the same front facing camera as the new Ultra, a 16Mp shooter which can be switched into an UltraPixel mode. This means you can shoot high-resolution photos in good light but then combine four pixels into one when the conditions aren't so good.

At the rear is also a 16Mp camera which features an f/2.0 aperture, optical image stabilization (OIS), phase detection auto-focus and a dual-tone flash. Despite the high resolution sensor, the phone is limited to recording video at 1080p quality.

The cameras seem pretty good at first glance but we'll test them out properly soon when we get a review sample.

HTC U Play pink

HTC U Play review: Software and HTC Sense Companion

There's no difference between the Play and Ultra in this area so you'll get Android 7.0 Nougat pre-installed on the handset.

The big selling point of the U phones is the HTC Sense Companion, the firm's take on an AI assistant although not a rival to the likes of Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.

Using dual microphones (four on the Ultra), you can use the Sense Companion to unlock the phone with your voice. The AI is also there to help you out with a bunch of stuff but doesn't talk back to you.

The idea is that it learns from your personal usage and then makes helpful suggestions and notifications. For example, it will notify you of a change in the weather or remind you to charge the phone if it's going to run out when you really need it.

It will link into the Phone, Contacts and Notifications to start with using your calendar to gain useful information. HTC said it will also aim to bring the Sense Companion to the HTC 10.

While all this stuff sounds great, we haven't been able to test any of it during a hands-on time. It's the kind of thing that needs properly setting up then living with for a decent chunk of time so stay tuned for the full review.

HTC U Play: Specs

  • Android 7.0 Nougat
  • 5.2in Full HD LCD screen (1920x1080)
  • MediaTek Helio P10 processor
  • 3GB RAM
  • 32GB storage
  • Micro-SD card slot
  • 16Mp rear camera with phase-detection auto focus, OIS and dual-tone flash
  • 16Mp front camera with UltraPixel mode
  • dual-band 11ac Wi-Fi
  • NFC
  • Bluetooth 4.2
  • GPS
  • Fingerprint scanner
  • USB Type-C
  • Non-removable 2500mAh battery
  • Nano-SIM
  • 146x73x8mm
  • 145g
  • Android 7.0 Nougat
  • 5.2in Full HD LCD screen (1920x1080)
  • MediaTek Helio P10 processor
  • 3GB RAM
  • 32GB storage
  • Micro-SD card slot
  • 16Mp rear camera with phase-detection auto focus, OIS and dual-tone flash
  • 16Mp front camera with UltraPixel mode
  • dual-band 11ac Wi-Fi
  • NFC
  • Bluetooth 4.2
  • GPS
  • Fingerprint scanner
  • USB Type-C
  • Non-removable 2500mAh battery
  • Nano-SIM
  • 146x73x8mm
  • 145g

SHOULD I BUY HTC U PLAY?

We're still waiting on the price and to test the AI features out properly, but the new HTC U Play might appeal to some. Its glass design is eye-catching and the phone is a far more manageable size than the U Ultra. Look out for a full review soon.

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