HTC U Play looks the part but faces tough competition
Tech Tools review: HTC tries to make its mark on the crowded mid-range battleground
Visually appealing: The HTC U Play’s shiny design makes it stand out from the big manufacturers like Samsung and Apple
Product name: HTC U Play
Where to buy: htc.com
HTC’s latest addition to its range, the U Play, may leave you a bit puzzled. It’s got some flashy good looks and makes big promises on the camera front. But it’s not the flagship of the HTC range; it’s a little more middle of the road than that.
The U Play has plenty going for it, but the problem it is facing is that it is playing in an increasingly crowded field. The definition of mid-range phone has been vastly changed in recent years, thanks to the entry of firms such as Huawei and OnePlus into the market. You get a lot more for your money now, which means any phone pitching itself into this particular market has to come up with something great to lift it above the rest.
The phone is powered by an octa-core chip and comes with 3GB of RAM on board. That makes it respectable in terms of power, but not outstanding. The rear camera clocks in at 16 megapixels, with the same from the front camera – the message here is that selfies are as important as the photos you are taking of the rest of the world. The screen is a decent-sized 5.2 inches and although it wouldn’t challenge the high-end smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy S8, it does more than a decent job.
So what is the unique thing about the U Play?
HTC has thrown a bit of tech at the problem, in the form of the Sense Companion. Basically it’s an artificial intelligence assistant that will help make your life a little easier by giving you recommendations on things such as needing to charge your phone if you have an evening appointment in your diary.
It doesn’t replace the existing Google software such as Google Now or Google Assistant, but is designed to run alongside it. The idea is that the more you use the Companion, the more it learns and the more useful it becomes.
Basically, it’s your very own personal assistant with a strong record of on-the-job training.
Speaking of battery life, the U Play could do better on that front. The phone comes with a 2500mAh battery, which is adequate but not outstanding. You’ll eke it out for most of the day but if you’re a heavy user, you may find the U Play stutters towards the end of the day.
Two thumbs up for HTC including a protective case for the phone inside the box. It – and Huawei – are among the only two that actually do this, and while it may not be your first choice of phone protection, it is definitely worth having to cover you in the early days.
Because if there is one thing you can say the HTC U Play stands out on is its design, and you aren’t going to want anything to spoil that.
It’s shiny. Very shiny. When you’ve got used to a particular look from the big manufacturers – Samsung, Apple – anything that deviates from this is a refreshing change.
It’s also a bit of a departure from HTC’s signature look for its phones, which was very much in keeping with what its rivals were doing. The particular review model that we had was blue, and it was certainly eye catching. Unfortunately, it was also fingerprint catching, so be prepared to wipe it clean on a regular basis until you get used to a slightly smudged look.
The one thing the HTC U Play doesn’t have? A headphone jack. Yes, HTC has joined Apple in that corner, but to take the sting out of the tail, the company has included a decent set of USB C headphones in the box that adapt to your ears through a sonic pulse – if that makes a difference to you. You can also use your Bluetooth headphones, if you’ve made that leap. Still, it’s not a trend we like.
Lookswise, HTC has hit on something different here. In a smartphone market flooded with identikit handsets, the U Play has set itself apart.
Speaking of looks, including the hard shell protective cover in the box is a nice touch from HTC. While a scratch of two won’t dent the colour in the U Play, you’re going to want to avoid spoiling that shiny surface.
The not so good
The cost of the U Play puts it up against stiff competition. And if you are attached to your headphones, prepare for a wrench - the U Play has no headphone jack but uses USB C headphones instead.
The AI Sense Companion can help save your bacon on a few occasions, but it will involve a certain amount of training - and some leeway in terms of what information you allow HTC access.
The U Play is a decent phone with some great looks, but it faces tough competition.