FIRST LOOK: HTC To Flip Table On Rivals With U Flagship Range
Hot on the heels of the HTC Vive’s Australian launch, HTC have unveiled both their 2017 flagship range and a radical rebranding.
Speaking to ChannelNews, HTC’s Rob Saviane said that the tech company’s new direction is all about emphasising individuality through personalisation and enabling the consumer to “live a more brilliant life” – phrasing that echoes HTC’s previous promises of quiet brilliance.
Announced globally this evening, HTC are hopeful that the new HTC U Play and HTC U Ultra will put an end to the days of the company playing catchup with LG and Samsung on the marketing front while racing ahead of them on a technical one.
Thomas Deximer, Account Director & Product Marketing Director at HTC, says that “innovation is core to everything we do.”
Both the 5.7-inch Ultra and 5.2-inch Play feature an impressive liquid surface build, immediately comparable to what Apple have done with the latest iPhone.
On that note: it’s worth noting that HTC also followed in Apple’s footsteps when it comes to the headphone jack, dropping it for a USB-C powered substitute.
Regardless, the company says that it’s designed to reflect “the best you”.
Deximer says that the jump to a liquid surface build is as significant as the jump to a full metal one was in 2013.
We had a brief moment to play around with the device and while the liquid metal design does feel very nice to hold, it’s unknown how it’ll hold up over longer periods of use.
He laments the lack of innovation in the smartphone industry, saying there’s been few genuine innovations since Apple introduced the multi-touch sensitive screen.
Deximer says that HTC’s U Play and U Ultra are all about “bringing back innovation.”
When smartphone companies talk about personalisation, they usually mean in a hardware sense. However, when it comes to HTC’s new flagship handset, it’s software we’re talking about here.
Both the HTC U Play and HTC U Ultra feature a new AI-driven application, called HTC Sense Companion, that they say will allow it to learn and adapt to a user’s habits and tastes.
According to them, it’ll be capable of filtering your contacts (moving the most-frequent individuals to a shortcut at the top of the screen), actively inform you about the weather, remind you to charge and even recommend restaurants to you.
What’s more, it looks like this personalisation will even extend to the range’s voice control feature.
HTC say they’ve taken a few cues from Amazon’s Echo device here.
Both the HTC Ultra and HTC Play feature four far-range, low-power microphones that are always on and ready to respond to your voice.
Users will even be able to use their voiceprint to unlock their device, enabling a new form biometric security.
When it comes to the cameras on offer, the HTC Ultra is packing a “beefier” version of the HTC 10’s rear-shooter.
The HTC 10’s camera received a landmark DXOMark score of 88. HTC told us they’re hoping to receive a rating at least equivalent to it with the Ultra.
The Ultra boasts a 12-megapixel sensor, with support for UltraPixel images, laser auto-focus and 4K video recording.
The last feature here is an important one, as it pairs nicely with the Ultra’s ability to record 3D audio.
Meanwhile, the HTC U Play offers up a more traditional smartphone camera experience. Though without support for UltraPixel images, its 16-megapixel main camera is far from a slouch.
Both tiers of the U range also feature a 16-megapixel front camera that Deximer says will prove adaptable enough to use in even environments with “challenging lighting”.
While HTC were relatively quiet about the interface improvements coming with the U Ultra and U Play handsets, they did talk about the Dual Display.
A small black bar at the top of the screen, they envision it as a shortcut that, working with the Sense Companion, will prove “perfect for fast, convenient access to the things you use the most”.
Lastly, the U range will arrive with a unique pair of HTC USonic headphones capable of playing 24-bit Hi-Res audio.
HTC says they’ll “analyze your inner ears with a sonar-like pulse, and then adapt to you”.
We asked HTC about whether they’d be following Samsung and Apple into the wireless earbuds space, they told us it wasn’t something they were currently looking at.
On paper, the USonic do sound genuinely compelling though. It will be fascinating to see how their ear-scanning technology fares in practice.
Colorwise, it looks like there will be four variants for both the Ultra and Play – White, Dark Blue, Light Blue and Pink.
HTC ANZ don’t have any exact details on availability or pricing yet but expect the HTC U Ultra and U Play to hit retailers sometime in the first half of 2017.