HTC U Ultra review: This gorgeous big phone costs too damn much

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The Good The HTC U Ultra has a sharp design, crisp display and loud speakers. A secondary display gives quick access to notifications and app shortcuts.

The Bad The phone's premium price and large size make unsuitable for most people. There's also no headphone jack, it isn't water-resistant and its battery life is poor.

The Bottom Line The U Ultra is missing too many flagship features to justify its high price.

6.8 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7
  • Camera 7
  • Battery 6

The HTC U Ultra would have been a good phone in 2014. Here in 2017, its crisp 5.7-inch display, high quality speakers and fluid glass design are overshadowed by the curious decision to omit key flagship features. The phone lacks both wireless charging and water resistance. Like the iPhone 7, it lacks a headphone jack.

The flagship features it does flaunt -- a secondary display and smart AI assistant -- ultimately fall short and don't justify its extortionate price. This would be a different review if the U Ultra cost $400, but instead it's priced at the top end of the market, at $750, £649 or AU$1,199. That's a lot to pay for a phone that sacrifices so much.

HTC may get another chance if it releases the rumored HTC 11, but as an interim phone, the U Ultra just doesn't do the job. Android fans should hold out to see what's around the bend with the HTC 11, Samsung Galaxy S8 and LG G6, or look to the Google Pixel XL or OnePlus 3T for large-screen goodness that hits the mark.

A puzzling design

The U Ultra doesn't feel as premium as the all-metal HTC 10 ($180 at Amazon), but the reflective glass body makes it one of the prettiest phones I've seen in a long time. I'm especially fond of the blue model I used for this review.

But there's a new trend in the mobile market. We're now seeing phones with larger displays in smaller bodies, such as the LG G6 and, it's rumored, the Galaxy S8. The U Ultra's front fingerprint sensor, secondary display (more on that later) and large bezel make it bigger than just about every other phone on the market. It's truly massive and difficult to hold and operate with one hand.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Missing features

HTC made the decision to give the U Ultra no headphone jack, like the iPhone 7. The company claimed omitting it gave it more flexibility in the design, but the U Ultra's design isn't anything revolutionary. It's also a letdown that the U Ultra isn't water-resistant. It's 2017, and a flagship phone that isn't water-resistant (especially one this expensive) simply isn't worth it.

Sarah Tew/CNET

To listen to music you have to buy a $12 USB-C to 3.5mm adapter from HTC and only HTC, because it uses a specific format to boost audio quality. The company blocks third-party adapters. For $750, this adapter should be included with the phone.

HTC does include a pair of specialized USB-C headphones that can create a personalized sound profile based on the size of your ear canal. They were comfortable to wear and it's a cool idea, but I couldn't tell any difference from my cheap Bluetooth headphones.

One screen too many

The U Ultra has two displays: that beautiful 5.7-inch Quad HD (2,560x1,440-pixel) screen and a second 2-inch strip that sits at the top right edge of the phone, next to the camera. Similar to what we saw with the LG V20, this secondary screen can be used to display notifications and control music playback, view the weather, change a setting, or quickly jump into a favorite app or contact -- but that's it. I wish there were more customization options, such as removing unused screens or changing what is displayed.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The notifications screen will also show the time, date and weather when the main display is off, but unlike a few other phones, it isn't always on. It will light up when a notification comes in or if you double tap it. It feels like HTC missed an opportunity here.