March 25, 2017
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The HTC U Play review: mid range phone–no more, no less

HTC’s flagship phone, the HTC 10, and HTC U Ultra welcome a new sibling: the HTC U Play. But with the flagship phone and its higher-end sibling, is the HTC U Play worth its price and specs?

The HTC U Play focuses on customization or, in keeping with their marketing, personalization. This is the reason for its name: U Play. It’s a phone that’s supposed to listen and learn from you to “capture the best of you”.

Design

The HTC U Play is lightweight and easy to use with one hand, has a premium metal and glass build, with a full HD Super LCD 2 display.

The HTC U Play weighs in at 146g with dimensions of 146 x 72.9 x 8mm. It has a 5.2-inch 1080x1920p screen. It runs on Android 6. It’s powered by an octa-core Helio P10 processor with 3GB RAM and 32GB of internal storage. It has a measly 2,500mAh battery and two 16-megapixel cameras on the front and back.

The phone’s power key and volume buttons are on the right side of the phone, while the two-in-one nanoSIM and microSD tray are on the top of the device.

Below the screen is its home button which doubles as a fingerprint scanner. Beside it are the touch-sensitive app tray and back buttons which light up upon the phone’s activation.

Essentials

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It’s still kind of disappointing that the HTC U Play only has Android 6.0 Marshmallow instead of the Android 7.0 Nougat which was launched on October of last year. Is it because of the price? Because its bigger sibling, the HTC U Ultra, comes with Android 7 out of the box. Personalizing your phone wouldn’t be so sweet without the latest Android to power it.

Be that as it may, HTC’s Sense interface is pretty neat, overlaying well with the Android OS and giving the user a streamlined and hassle-free experience.

Still, if you’re switching from a different type of OS to Android, using the HTC U Play would ease your transition.

Features

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Though it runs on Android 6, it will not have a Google Assistant. HTC’s U series is supposed to have its Sense Companion, HTC’s answer to Cortana, Alexa, Siri, and the latest one of the bunch, the Google Assistant. The problem is the HTC U Play doesn’t have the Sense Companion out of the box and instead will be available as an update. Sadly, there’s no date for the Sense Companion’s release yet.

The Sense Companion is supposed to learn the user’s daily usage patterns, travels, and a lot more so it can predict what you could want and make suggestions, like what you could wear, where you could eat, which apps to use, et cetera. This is all well and good but if it isn’t there yet, it would be a bummer to get the phone and wait for the update.

The problem is the HTC U Play doesn’t have the Sense Companion out of the box and instead will be available as an update. Sadly, there’s no date for the Sense Companion’s release yet.

It has a low quality internal speaker too, so video playback and gaming can be a bit of restrained experience. But what it lacks in that area, it makes up for with its USonic earphones. It also has the HTC USonic, a clever piece of software that uses the HTC USonic earbuds the phone comes with and engineers the right audio output specifically to your ears with the use of a sonic pulse.

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Wait, did we say earbuds? Yes, you heard that right. This cool little app comes with the caveat of having no headphone jack. Instead, you have to plug the earbuds to the USB-C port so you can’t use the earbuds while charging or connected to your computer. You can opt to have a Bluetooth set but do you really want to carry two ear/headphones?

Apart from the USonic application, the earbuds’ audio quality is excellent, with a deep bass and resonant mid-tones. The phone will instantly recognize the USonic earbuds upon plugging them which will launch the setup wizard to analyze your ears. It only takes a few seconds so when the results are in, you can toggle the effect on and off to let you hear the difference, which is kind of subtle. What you get is enhanced audio playback.

You can adjust this further to readjust to your environment. Depending on where you are and its noise level, th USonic will adjust the playback level and optimize the quality of the sound by detecting the noise (or lack thereof) around you.

Performance

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The HTC U Play’s octa-core MediaTek Helio P10 chipset and 4GB Ram gives a lot of power for its specs, but it’s understandably not at flagship phone performance. Still, the phone generally runs smoothly and users are able to run games without a hitch, with only a few lags here and there depending on how many aps you’re running and how much data you have in storage.

It’s not bad, it’s actually really usable and quite reliable, we just hope it was cheaper.

Now we mentioned a meager 2500mAh battery compared to other phones in its price range. The HTC U Play can barely power through the whole day on a single charge when running a lot of apps so heavy use only takes the phone from morning to afternoon.

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So if you aren’t a light phone user, don’t expect to see the phone on until night time without charging for a bit first. This is only if the phone isn’t on power-saving mode with the screen’s brightness turned way up high.

To be fair, the HTC U Play’s two 16MP front and rear cameras are pretty decent, churning out high-quality images and featuring some cool tricks like auto HDR (high dynamic range), fast auto focus, and optical image stabilization to improve images in low-light, back-light, high-speed situations. And this is a big deal! Most mid range phones we review take poor pictures under low-light, so having a mid range phone that can perform well in this regard is pretty special.

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Auto HDR is on by default, with Panorama and Pro modes as standard photo options. The HTC U Play also features a Zoe mode that captures three seconds of HD video per shot. It’s nothing new—HTC has had the feature even before Apple introduced Live Photos. But for a 2017 phone, the quality isn’t as smooth as its better counterparts.

The 16MP cameras have responsive sensors so you can shoot in rapid succession with good image quality. It can capture shots in great detail with vibrant colors. The front camera isn’t as good as flexible as the rear camera of course. At least there’s a panorama mode for taking selfies.

Verdict

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The HTC U Play is a reliable mid range phone overall, with great imaging quality and the screen to show it, neat audio features, and enough processing power to keep it going from day to day. It sports a stylish, premium design, with a clean Android interface and strong cameras. However, it suffers from poor battery life and the lack of both a voice assistant and a headphone jack. It costs around 1698 AED here.

It doesn’t have enough power to keep it on through the day, the lack of a headphone jack is bothersome, and the price seems unreasonably high for the quality of the phone. If they want this phone to fairly compete with other mid range phones, it would be better for them to slash the price or upgrade the phone altogether.

Design
4.5 out of 5
Essentials
3 out of 5
Features
3.5 out of 5
Performance
3 out of 5
Overall

The HTC U Play is a beautiful phone but lacks some essential features that its better sibling, the HTC U Ultra, has works like an Android 7.0. It has some neat features but they barely make up for the phone's price range. However, it performs well enough for a midrange phone except in the battery department.

3.5

Average
3.5 out of 5