HTC U Play Phone: Bring the funk!

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If you want HTC’s vision of what a future phone should look like, check
out the HTC U Ultra. It has a strange little second screen: a bit like someone
glued a MacBook Pro touch bar to the thing.
But not everyone can afford to spend on a phone what could buy you an
only-slightly-dodgy second hand car. For the rest of us, there’s the
HTC U Play phone. It’s the ‘normal’ version.
Normal size, normal tech and a slightly more normal price: Rs.39,990.
It’s funky build gives it something to brag about, but is that enough?
BRING BACK THE FUNK: HTC U PLAY PHONE
A few years ago, HTC made coolest-looking phone of 2013 – the One M7.
Anyone that bought one in those glory days will remember: it was the bomb.
Since then, they have tried some awkward re-treading of that look, and
some, erm, homages to other phones, like the very iPhone-like their One
A9. The job of the U-series is to prove it’s designers still have some
original-ish ideas left.
That doesn’t mean the U Play is outlandish or weird, though. It’s glass
on the back, aluminium on the sides. Pretty familiar stuff.
However, it has an unusual pearlescent finish, at least in the
white version we have (it also comes in black, blue and pink). They
say it’s meant to look like liquid is flowing over the phone. Presumably
petrol, in this case.
It’s a good look, and the U Play phone feels as expensive as something
like a Samsung Galaxy S7. You’ll probably want to use the included transparent
clip-on case to make sure it stays looking smart, though.
This adds a millimeter or two to each side, but it is not going to be a
stretch for adult hands, not like the U Ultra, because the display just isn’t
that big at 5.2 inches.
The phone is also smooth and comfy, with or without its plastic armour,
and has a great fingerprint scanner just below the screen. It’s not a button;
you just put a finger on it when the phone’s sleeping and the U Play wakes up.
SUPERMAN LCD:

That’s a real pain, but at least there’s one part of the HTC U Play
phone that won’t leave you disappointed. The screen is a perfectly nice,
1920×1080 Super LCD panel, functionally identical to an IPS display.
 
The Samsung Galaxy S7 still beats it, with deeper blacks and much higher
resolution, but you can at least tweak it to your own tastes, using a colour temperature
slider in Settings.
It doesn’t fiddle with colour potency, which is typical:
punchy, but not so oversaturated. Your eyes will need a break after a
while. It just makes the U Play display more orange-y or blue-y.
The 5.2 inch screen is a good size for just about anyone: not so big
it’ll fill your pocket like expanding foam, but not small enough you’d never
want to watch Netflix on the thing.
Let’s be straight, screens in higher-end phones are pretty boring these
days. They’re all good, which is perhaps why HTC decided to bung another one
onto the U Ultra to set it apart.
STOP MAKING SENSE:

The HTC U Play phone also has familiar software. It runs Android 6.0
(with an upgrade to 7.0 planned) and a new version of HTC Sense. It looks and
feels a lot like the old version, though.
There are still pages in the apps menu, a slightly stiffer took than
normal Android, and you can still change that look with themes. A preinstalled app
lets you flip between them.
HTC banged on about software AI that would set the new U-series phones
apart at their launch, but we’ve noticed nothing different about how the phone operates,
to be honest. Hopefully whatever it’s doing behind the scenes will be more
obvious in the HTC U Ultra, with its second screen.
One slightly eye-opening part of the U Play is that it uses a Helio P10 CPU.
This is not a powerful CPU, given you’re paying Rs39,990for it, using four
Cortex-A53 cores rather than any true high-end ones. It’s not all that far off
the Motorola Moto G4’s CPU, using the same kind of cores, just running
more quickly.
Day-to-day, the difference doesn’t matter too much. However, as we’ve
seen in other phones that use the Helio P10 CPU, its graphics chip just isn’t
powerful enough for flawless 1080p gaming with Android’s best-looking titles.
MAXING OUT ON MEGAPIXELS:
Next up is the camera, and this too is more low-end than the U Ultra’s
setup – but isn’t too shabby either.
There’s a 16MP sensor on the back, and another 16MP one on the front.
That’s a lot of megapixels, although it’s no secret the very best phone cameras
(as of mid-February at least) have 12MP sensors.
 If you want HTC’s vision of what a future phone should look like,
check out the HTC U Ultra. It has a strange little second screen: a bit like
someone glued a MacBook Pro touch bar to the thing.
But not everyone can afford to spend on a phone what could buy you an
only-slightly-dodgy second hand car. For the rest of us there’s U
Play. It’s the ‘normal’ version.
Normal size, normal tech and a slightly more normal price: Rs39,990. The
U Play’s funky build gives it something to brag about, but is that enough?
JACK OFF:
It’s a pretty-looking phone, but one with a design decision that’s up
there with chocolate oven gloves. The HTC U Play phone doesn’t have a headphone
jack.
Sure, the iPhone 7 did it already, but at least Apple owns a
headphone-maker, Beats, and the Lightning connector forces a sound quality
issue.
Y’see, Lightning sockets can only deliver digital audio, so every pair
of Lightning headphones needs, effectively, a tiny little DAC to convert the
signal. USB C can transmit analogue audio, making USB C headphones
(potentially) functionally identical to normal ones.
The U Play comes with a pair of USB C earphones, and while HTC has
stamped them with the Hi-Res audio logo, that’s used so widely these
days it’s about as credible as a Donald Trump tweet.
They sound fine, and have decent bass punch, but aren’t leagues better
than the best pairs that ship with more expensive phones. The treble is a bit
harsh, the mids congested and low on detail, and they tend to fall
out of your ears pretty easily. Fine for a freebie, but you could do better for
£30.
Oh, but you can’t, because no-one makes USB-C earphones yet.
POUND SHOP BATTERY:
The U Play is an inconsistent patchwork, then, but there’s no question
that the battery is a bit of a stinker. A 2500mAh unit just isn’t good enough
for a phone with a 1080p screen.
It only lasts a full day when you strip back on basically all its
connected features, like web browsing or music streaming. With normal use (some
4G browsing and a few podcasts) it burns through two full charges in a single
day. As I write this, it’s 12:30 and I’m already down to 40% charge. Bad times.
There’s no ultra-fast charging if you use the bundled 5V/2A charger,
either. It’s not slow, but not super-fast either.
If you’re expecting the U Play’s solitary speaker to match the quality
of HTC’s classic Boom Sound HTC One, you may be disappointed too.
It’s louder than the average, passing the all-important test of making a
podcast audible while you boil a kettle for a brew, but is also slightly
harsher and less full-sounding than the best.
THE U PLAY PHONE VERDICT:
HTC struggles to get it right these days, and the U Play doesn’t change
that.
This is a phone that looks and feels expensive enough for its Rs39,990 price,
but the closer you get, more and more of the little things you notice chip away
at its appeal. Top-end games don’t run as well as they should, the camera is a lag-fest at
times, and you have to be pretty careful to get through the day without needing
to plug in.

If the price was competitive maybe we could suck these issues up and
just bask in its glassy loveliness. But, well, it’s not.

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