HTC U Ultra Promises a Personalized Approach with AI

HTC has taken the wraps off its latest phones, with artificial intelligence playing a leading role on the new devices.

HTC U Ultra

HTC U Ultra

The HTC U Ultra is a 5.7-inch phablet that sports a secondary display for notifications and alerts. It's available for pre-order starting today (Jan. 12) starting at $749. HTC also plans to release a more compact 5.2-inch version, the HTC U Play, in select markets this year.

Perhaps the most interesting feature included in the new phones is the HTC Sense Companion, an AI-powered assistant offering personalized recommendations that help you manage your life. Say you have a flight in a few hours, HTC's Nigel Newby-House explained at the HTC U Ultra launch. The Sense Companion will alert you to any weather changes in the city you're flying to so that you can adjust your packing. Similarly, if you need to pick up a family member across town, the Ultra's AI features can alert you to traffic patterns so you'll know if you have to build in any extra time.

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Those alerts appear in a secondary 2-inch display just above the main 5.7-inch screen, which HTC touts as a discrete way of keeping you up-to-date. That display, which sounds similar to the second screen on LG's V20, also includes favorite contacts and links to frequently used apps.

HTC says the real value in its Sense Companion will be the AI's ability to learn from you over time and adjust its behavior based on what's important to you. A lot of digital assistants make this promise, so we're eager to put HTC's version to the test to see just how quickly it adapts to user behavior.

HTC U Play

HTC U Play

The HTC U Ultra includes a number of other personalized features including four always-on microphones positioned around the phone that can listen and respond to your commands. The phone features biometric voice unlocking, allowing you to use voice commands to unlock the Ultra. HTC  says the phone will feature customized audio that adjusts playback to improve your experience. This was one of the better features on last year's HTC Bolt, so we're glad to see it find its way into other HTC smartphones.

Another feature from the Bolt that also appears in the HTC U Ultra may not win so many raves — the new phone lacks a headphone jack. Several phones, chiefly Apple's iPhone 7 and Lenovo's Moto Z, have dropped the 3.5mm headphone jack, so it's interesting to see HTC double-down on this move. (The HTC U Play also removes the headphone jack.)

HTC's new phones feature what the company calls a Liquid Surface design, with a glass back that curves into a thin perimeter of aluminum. The Ultra will come in blue, black, white and pink. HTC promises a version that swaps out the phone's Gorilla Glass 5 display with a sapphire glass special edition later in the year.

As for specs, the Ultra's 5.7-inch screen boasts a 2560 x 1440 resolution. It's got a 12-megapixel camera with optical image stabilization on the rear while a 16-MP shooter up front can take wide-angle selfies. A Snapdragon 821 CPU powers the Ultra, which ships with 4GB of RAM. You'll get 64GB of internal storage (the sapphire glass version of the Ultra will offer 128GB), and a microSD card can more capacity. A 3000 mAh battery with QuickCharge 3.0 support provides the juice you'll need.

HTC's U Play scales down the specs a bit, starting with that 5.2-inch display and its Full HD resolution. The Play features a 16-MP rear camera and runs on a MediaTek Helio P10 CPU, with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. It also uses a smaller 2500-mAh battery. Pricing and availability for the HTC U Play wasn't immediately available, but we'll update this story as we get more details.

We're looking forward to trying out the HTC U Ultra when it arrives this spring and finding out just how responsive its AI features will be.

Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.