HTC U Play hands-on review: Whilst we’d been waiting for the long rumoured HTC ‘Ocean Note’ to formally launch as the HTC U Ultra, when it eventually did, we weren’t expecting another new handset to arrive alongside it, and yet the HTC U Play also made its debut.
We went hands-on with the HTC U Play ahead of its formal launch to see what it brings to the table.
HTC U Play: Specs at a glance
|Screen resolution||Full HD (1920×1080)|
|OS||Android 6.0 Marshmallow w/ HTC Sense|
|Processor||Octa-core MediaTek Helio P10|
|Storage||32GB, Expandable via microSD up to 2TB|
|Extras||HTC Sense Companion, fingerprint sensor, Hi-Res audio support, HTC USonic headphones, case|
Read next: HTC U Play in a nutshell
HTC U Play: Hands-on review
For one of the company’s first phones of 2017, the HTC U Play is certainly eye-catching. It might not have the imposing size or raw performance of its launch sibling, the U Ultra, but it does receive the same distinctive aesthetic style; one that we’ve never seen HTC employ before.
Read next: HTC U Ultra hands-on review
Instead of the all-plastic or all-metal bodywork found on the company’s existing handset lineup, the U Play features a subtly curved glass back set within a metal frame. At launch it’ll come in four colours (Brilliant Black, Ice White, Sapphire Blue or Cosmetic Pink) all of which feature glass that’s undergone a process called Optical Spectrum Hybrid Deposition (something HTC says took about two years to perfect in R&D), giving it a multicoloured refractive quality that changes colour based on its angle against the light. It’s a beautiful finish, but as anyone who’s owned a glass-backed phone in the past knows, it doesn’t half hold smudges and fingerprints. Luckily there’s a case included in the box to try and minimise this issue.
As part of the growing trend, the U Play shrugs off a 3.5mm headphone jack in place of a Type-C USB connection that accommodates the bundled USonic headphones, which when used in conjunction with the U Play are capable of Hi-Res Audio-certified playback (HTC will be selling a Type-C USB to 3.5mm headphone jack adapter separately). You also get one of the company’s impressively snappy fingerprint sensors on the front sandwiched between two backlit capacitive navigation keys.
The U Ultra may be a suitable replacement for Samsung’s ill-fated phablet, but the 5.2-inch Full HD display on the U Play means that it’s more at home taking on the likes of similarly-sized smartphone, the Honor 8. It’s a great display on first impressions, with crisp visuals, plenty of punch in the brightness department and strong viewing angles too, despite its similarities to the Ultra however, it doesn’t benefit from the secondary display found on the larger U-branded device, making it a far more conventional looking handset all round.
The user experience feels in-keeping with the current crop of high-end HTC phones, running the latest take on the company’s Sense interface atop (somewhat strangely) the slightly older Android (version 6.0), although there is one important difference in that the U Play (along with the U Ultra) debuts HTC’s new Sense Companion digital assistant, which makes suggests and optimisations to things like your notifications and power usage based on how you use your phone. An HTC spokesperson even said that the company is looking to bring this new technology to other handsets in its current lineup (we suspect the HTC 10 and 10 Evo primarily), but for the time being, the new functionality will be exclusive to both ‘U’ branded devices.
Crack the U Play open and MediaTek’s Helio P10 processor is running the show, which looks to perform admirably based on the brief amount of time we were able to wield the phone. It’s backed up by 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage, but up to 2TB of microSD expandability support suggests that you’ll seldom run into issues with space. There’s also a sizeable 2500mAh battery, which we suspect will offer up to a day and a half of use comfortably, with the ability to be rapidly replenished by way of fast-charging, which the P10 processor supports.
The chipset might not be beefy enough to offer up 4K video recording, but the U Play can shoot in Raw and it features not one, but two mammoth camera sensors. Both the front and rear snappers support a sizeable 16-megapixel resolution, with the front-facing camera also packing an UltraPixel mode, combining the data gathered from four pixels into one for a smaller, but arguably better quality photo, particularly in low light. It misses out on laser autofocus, but the U Play’s rear camera still supports PDAF, OIS and can shoot in Auto HDR, not unlike Google’s Pixel phones.
So, whilst the U Play might not feature some of the more unique aspects of the HTC U Ultra, it’s still an attractive looking handset with some respectable hardware at its disposal, expected to hit stores between mid and late February. Stay tuned for a full review very soon.