HTC U Ultra camera review: Whilst a successor to the flagship HTC 10 is supposedly just around the corner, the new HTC U Ultra looks to offer a top-tier experience right now, and that includes its camera capabilities.
HTC U Ultra Camera Review: Hardware
The U Ultra promises an audiovisual treat, with a four microphone arrangement for 3D audio recording and Hi-Res audio recording (24-bit/96kHz). The phone’s primary snapper is a 12-megapixel offering using HTC’s UltraPixel 2 technology by way of its enlarged 1.55μm pixels, backed up by a laser autofocus array, phase detection autofocus (PDAF) and optical image stabilisation (OIS). It features a sapphire crystal lens with an f/1.8 aperture and a dual-tone LED flash too.
The U Ultra is amongst a small contingent of phones with higher resolution front-facing snappers, in this instance clocking in at 16-megapixels, that said, it’s standout feature is UltraPixel mode, which captures a 16-megapixel photo, consolidates the image data of every four pixels into one and spits out a theoretically higher quality 4-megapixel result with the promise of ironing out blur and improving low light performance.
HTC U Ultra Camera Review: UI
As we most recently encountered with the HTC 10 Evo, the U Ultra utilises the company’s latest Sense overlay, running atop Android 7.0. As such, you can expect a clean and intuitive viewfinder that includes a pull-out drawer to change modes and toggle between resolutions and capture types.
There are some limits, like RAW capture only being available in Pro mode and no settings option for changing video frame rates, but it should offer more than enough control for the majority of smartphone photographers.
HTC U Ultra Camera Review: Picture quality
Like Google’s Pixel phones, the U Ultra shoots in HDR by default and it’s a good thing too, as otherwise, photos appear underexposed, despite the wide aperture. Images pack plenty of detail most likely as a result of the OIS and laser-based systems at play, it’s just worth noting that colour temperature generally seems ever so slightly on the cool side, even if it isn’t to any uncomfortable level.
On the upside, there’s a lightning fast shutter and plenty of options for both aspect ratios and resolutions to choose from when shooting stills. The phone also boasts excellent low light performance, which is key as the flash, although good at helping render colours accurately is in dire need of some diffusion to be genuinely useful.
Selfie fans will also love the 16-megapixel front-facing snapper, which offers some of the sharpest mugshots around when shooting in its native resolution. If lighting conditions are less than ideal, there’s also a screen-based flash feature and the aforementioned UltraPixel mode, which genuinely improves shots taken in tougher situations. What’s more, the virtual makeup tool applies convincing smoothing and brightening that doesn’t look unnatural, unlike the results from other devices.
HTC U Ultra Camera Review: Video quality
Thankfully you don’t have to dip into the camera mode switcher to shoot video (although you can if you want to) as there’s a toggle built directly into the viewfinder. By default, the U Ultra records 1080p video at 30fps with 3D audio recording enabled. You can swap to Hi-Res audio recording at any HD resolution with a swipe and a tap, whilst slow-motion, hyperlapse and 4K capture modes are all also available too.
As for quality, whilst the difference may be small, footage looks marginally brighter when capturing in Full HD rather than 4K, what’s more, 3D audio does a better job of filtering out unwanted background din than Hi-Res mode does, so if in doubt, just hit the record button to guarantee great footage.
Whatever resolution you shoot in you can expect smooth video thanks to OIS and fast automatic contrast adjustment. You may have to give the autofocus a little help from time to time, by tapping to screen, but such a quirk certainly isn’t unique to the U Ultra.
If you’re heart’s set on utilising that Hi-Res audio recording, it’s worth noting that it’s also available when shooting in HD using the front-facing camera too.
HTC U Ultra Camera Review: Verdict
It’s nice to see HTC marry the latest generation of its long-standing UltraPixel technology with the U Ultra’s big sensors as well as the gamut of other hardware at the phone’s disposal.
A few small hiccups mean it doesn’t offer quite the same ease and reliability as the latest iPhones, S7s or the Pixel phones, but it looks to be the best cameraphone HTC offers right now, not only due to its hardware but its well-designed interface and range of modes.