HTC unveils $749 5.7-inch U Ultra with secondary display, and U Play 'compact flagship'

Today, HTC unveiled its two new high-end handsets: the U Ultra, its new range-topping device; and the U Play, a smaller - and less powerful - premium phone.

Throughout its press conference, HTC repeated the mantra that the U-series is "about you". Part of that promise is realized through through what the company refers to as the 'HTC Sense Companion'. It says that the more you use the devices, the more the Companion will learn about you, in turn helping you to be more productive.

HTC refers to it as the 'Companion platform', which also incorporates data from 'other areas' to provide "personal recommendations that help you manage your life", but it doesn't appear to be a standalone digital assistant like Apple's Siri or Microsoft's Cortana; instead, it seems to simply collate data from other sources such as Google Now, with a bit of extra AI magic sprinkled on top.

The company says that these intelligent recommendations will come in real time, based on insights from across the web, such as using weather data to recommend that you 'pack more warm clothing' if a dip in temperature is expected at the destination for your upcoming flight.

HTC says that the U Ultra's secondary display - which was revealed in leaked photos on Wednesday - is the 'window' to the Companion, surfacing the most important and useful information and controls for the owner of the device. HTC insists that the machine learning capabilities of the Companion will supposedly make the secondary display indispensable - but only time will tell if they're genuinely more useful than the similar displays on LG's V10 and V20 flagships.

HTC says the device doesn't have 2.5D or '3D glass' - it says it has a 'liquid surface', with glass on the front and rear. That makes both handsets extremely glossy and reflective, but one has to wonder if that will make them less easy to hold, and if they'll end up constantly covered in greasy fingerprints and smudges.

The U Ultra has a 5.7-inch Quad HD (2560x1440px) display, while the 2-inch secondary display offers 160x1040px resolution. The U Play has a single 5.2-inch display with Full HD (1920x1080px) resolution. The two handsets also differ in their other key specs.

The U Ultra comes with a Snapdragon 821 processor, along with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of onboard storage, plus a microSD slot supporting cards up to 2TB. However, the U Play gets a MediaTek Helio P10 processor, with either 3GB or 4GB of RAM, and 32GB or 64GB of storage, as well as microSD support. The U Play also has a smaller 2500mAh battery compared with the U Ultra, which has a 3000mAh battery.

Both handsets will also include a fingerprint sensor built into the home button below the display, along with two capacitive touch navigation buttons. Bizarrely, while the U Ultra will ship with Android 7.0 Nougat - which has now been available for almost five months - the U Play will be released later in the year with Android 6.0 Marshmallow onboard, even though the much newer Android 7.1.1 update is also available.

Notably, the new phones - like Apple's iPhone 7, and HTC's own 10 evo / Bolt - have ditched the dedicated 3.5mm headphone jack, relying instead on the single USB Type-C port. The U-series handsets promise "brilliant audio" with U-Sonic, a "sonar-based audio system delivers sound truly made for you". HTC said that the system "listens to you and adapts to you" to provide superior audio quality suited for each individual.

The U Ultra include "four always-on microphones that respond to every command", and more significantly, the company has added "biometric voice unlock", so you can simply speak to your handset to unlock it and start using it. HTC says that those four mics will be capable of recording "high resolution, immersive 3D sound", combined with the 4K video recording capabilities of the camera.

HTC promises that the camera on the U Ultra is the best it has ever built. The U Ultra's rear cam has phase detection auto-focus, but otherwise, it seems to be the same 12MP 'UltraPixel' shooter from last year's HTC 10, including its 4K recording capabilities. The U Play has a more conventional 16MP rear camera that only records at up to 1080p resolution. Both devices have a 16MP front-facing camera that includes a 4MP UltraPixel mode.

The new handsets will be available in four colour options, including Sapphire Blue, Brilliant Black, Cosmetic Pink and Ice White. Later this year, a 'special edition' sapphire glass model with 128GB of storage will also be offered.

The U Ultra will be available to pre-order today, priced at $749 unlocked in the United States. It will launch in various markets starting later this month. Pricing and availability details for the U Play have not yet been revealed.

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