Hands on: HTC U Play review

The little brother to the powerful U Ultra

What is a hands on review?
TODO alt text

Our Early Verdict

A mid-range phone with a lot of HTC hallmarks, but also a few corners cut on the spec sheet, the U Play will live and die by how competitively it's priced.

For

  • Bold design
  • Bundled Hi-Res headphones

Against

  • Unimpressive spec list
  • Lacks headphone jack

The HTC U Play is the smaller and cheaper version of the HTC U Ultra, the new phablet model from the Taiwanese brand.

In fact, the handsets are so similar in terms of design and function that we suggest you head on over to our hands-on HTC U Ultra review for an in-depth look at what’s going on, while we’ll concentrate on the differences here.

HTC U Play release date and price 

We don’t know the U Play price just yet, and that’ll have a major bearing on whether or not we think you should buy it – if it’s too expensive then the lower spec simply won’t be worth the money.

However, we’ll at least get to see it soon, with European availability coming in mid-February, after the Asian launch.

HTC U Play specs 

Where the U Ultra has a powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 chipset, the U Play is using a MediaTek Helio P10 option, which is still octa-core and 64-bit, but may not run as powerfully as the Qualcomm version.

That downgrade in speed is also due to the fact that there’s only 3GB of RAM on offer here, although that doesn’t mean this won’t be a speedy phone – that much power should be more than enough for most tasks.

It just won’t be able to handle some of the more hardcore editing functions as snappily, but chances are you wouldn’t notice a huge drop-off.

Design and screen

Design-wise the U Play is smaller than the U Ultra, but with the same Liquid Surface shell that creates a pearlescent glass effect, with the light playing off the pink, white, blue and black shades – those are the four color options – nicely.

The phone feels a little plastic-like in the hand, but that’s more due to the weight of the handset, which feels rather light.

The metal rim around the outside provides something nice to hold onto, and feels sturdy when gripped. The smaller size also makes this phone more ergonomic to hold, although it’s far from a small phone.

The HTC U Ultra and U Play

The screen is a 5.2-inch affair, with Full HD resolution and Super LCD display, with the Gorilla Glass looking bright and vibrant enough for a phone that sits towards the higher end of the mid-range (which is a convoluted way to describe this phone’s place in HTC’s portfolio).

The U Play lacks the second, smaller display above the U Ultra's main screen; while it’s a shame not to see it here, this does help to keep the cost down and the form factor slim.

AI and camera

The other big change is the HTC Sense Companion (HSC) the boringly-named assistant that will help you make decisions day to day based on weather, friends and battery optimisations, learning about you and providing suggestions as it goes.

You can read about this in more depth in our HTC U Ultra hands-on, but until we've had the chance to test this long-term it’s hard to say whether it’s a smart feature or one that’s just an extension of the myriad ‘clean-up’ apps out there.

The camera on the HTC U Play is a 16MP sensor, with phase detection autofocus and an f/2.0 aperture, which doesn’t really scream out anything special. It’s a strong enough snapper, but there’s nothing particularly high-end about it.

The HTC U Ultra packs more depth and color into its snaps at close zoom

Photos we took were reasonably bright, but lacked the color depth of the HTC U Ultra’s images, which is likely down to less optimisation of the image processing on the cheaper U Play handset.

Audio is still impressive though, with the phone coming bundled with USonic earphones, and the facility to calibrate audio depending on your surroundings, to deliver optimum sound quality when you're out and about – and you'll need those earphones, as there's no headphone jack, just USB-C.

We didn’t get the chance to try the new headphones during our preview, but previous versions – on the HTC 10 Evo, for example – worked well.

Battery

Battery life is always a big question mark when it comes to HTC phones, as despite packing the right software smarts, they’re often a bit ‘leaky’ and need the charger sooner rather than later.

With Android 7 on board, combined with a fairly meaty 2500mAh battery for a phone of this size and spec, things could last longer this time around, although it'll be interesting to see if the HTC Sense Companion can actually make a difference here.

Early verdict 

It’s tough to say whether this is an impressive phone, as without a price there’s no baseline to compare it against. Make it cheap and this is a beautifully-designed handset with a lot of spec for not much money; but give it a high RRP and it’ll just fade into the background among the hundreds of other mid-range phones out there.

In its own right, though, the HTC U Play is a decent handset that doesn’t seem to suffer from any major issues and comes with an attractive design –but just how desirable it'll be will depend on how much it costs.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Global Phones, Tablets and Wearables Editor

Gareth (Twitter, Google+) has been in charge of phones, tablets and wearables at TechRadar for the best part of a decade. He can instantly recommend the best phone for you, or can be found running around the nearest park with the latest fitness tech strapped to his wrist, head or any other applicable body part.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.