HTC U Play review

A playful smartphone with an identity crisis

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The HTC U Play is a solid Android smartphone. It has enough grunt under the hood, a decent display, strong cameras and smart bundled earbuds – but it’s a package which feels like it’s missing something -  and the Sense Companion certainly isn’t enough to compensate. 

The price still feels a little high, the battery life is disappointing, and the lack of a headphone jack will irk some users – but it’s the general sense of belonging, or rather the lack of it, that has us still scratching our heads over the U Play. 

It sits in a highly competitive bracket of the market in which phones need to do something spectacular to stand out, and the U Play doesn’t have that knockout punch in its locker to make people sit up and take notice.

Who’s it for?

Without that clear place in the market it’s difficult to say exactly who the HTC U Play is for. There are a number of strong alternatives at the same price, with the U Play potentially winning over those looking for a unique, eye-catching design and solid cameras at a non-flagship price point. 

Those wanting to get the most bang for their buck, though, are better off looking at the likes of the OnePlus 5T and Honor 8.

Should I buy it?

If you’re taken by the unique styling of the HTC U Play, and need a solid camera on your smartphone, then this handset won’t let you down.  

You’ll need to carry a charging cable if you’re out for the day, and invest in a set of Bluetooth headphones if you don’t want to use the USB-C earbuds, but in today’s world those are trade-offs some can stomach.

The HTC U Play has plenty of competition, and we’ve picked out three handsets you might want to consider before taking the plunge on this phone.

HTC U Ultra

If you’re looking for more features the U Play’s big brother is what you’ll want. The HTC U Ultra has a larger 5.7-inch display with a higher QHD resolution, but the talking point here is the secondary screen just above this. 

It gives you quick access to a selection of apps such as weather and Spotify, as well as quick settings, contacts and notifications, without interrupting the action on the main screen. 

Elsewhere there’s a 12MP rear camera, 16MP front snapper, a more powerful Snapdragon 821 chipset, 4GB of RAM and either 64GB or 128GB of internal storage. 

All this comes at a cost though, with the U Ultra carrying a flagship price tag even though it’s not HTC’s top device.

OnePlus 3T

When it comes to bang-for-your-buck smartphones, few do it better than OnePlus, and the 3T is a shining example of that. 

You get a 5.5-inch Full HD display, Snapdragon 821 chipset, 6GB of RAM, 16MP rear camera, 16MP front camera and a 3,400mAh battery for the same price as the U Play.  

It is a bigger handset, and you’ll need two hands to use it comfortably, but if you're comfortable with the size then the OnePlus 3T is a superior option.

Moto Z Play

The Moto Z Play is also designed to play, and arguably does a better job of it than the U Play thanks to its headphone jack, long-lasting battery and cheaper price. 

It's not all good news though, as the Z Play doesn't provide stellar performance and its camera is a little weaker.

There's an ace up the sleeve of the Moto Z Play though, and that's the fact that it works with Motorola's Mods, which means you can clip on add-ons such as JBL speakers, an optical zoom camera and even a projector to transform your phone.

First reviewed: February 2017

John McCann
Global Managing Editor

John joined TechRadar over a decade ago as Staff Writer for Phones, and over the years has built up a vast knowledge of the tech industry. He's interviewed CEOs from some of the world's biggest tech firms, visited their HQs and has appeared on live TV and radio, including Sky News, BBC News, BBC World News, Al Jazeera, LBC and BBC Radio 4. Originally specializing in phones, tablets and wearables, John is now TechRadar's resident automotive expert, reviewing the latest and greatest EVs and PHEVs on the market. John also looks after the day-to-day running of the site.