HTC, once the most handsome and sounding Android phone maker, has been in the doldrums for the past three years. The flagship of 2016 is a very good cell phone, not standing in any one area, and the latest in Taiwanese companies, calling you super may not let the company out of recession. In fact, I think the phone got everything wrong.
First of all, HTC is selling a Snapdragon 821 phone, with 4GB of RAM in 2017 for $750? The 821 is a very minor upgrade over the 820 — the latter is more than a year old, and the former will be quite dated in a month or two when LG and Samsung release their flagships that will most likely run on Snapdragon 835 (with more than 4GB of RAM too). Bunch of Chinese companies, including Xiaomi, have already released Snapdragon 821 phones (four, five months ago) for around $400. Apple and Google can get away with putting out a phone with inferior specs and still charge a premium price, but HTC? No way.
Moving on to the design: As mentioned at the start, HTC were once responsible for the best looking non-iPhone mobile devices in the world, with the likes of the HTC One garnering rave reviews for its all metal unibody frame and front-facing stereo speaker grills. Since then, the company has let its slump get to its head and completely gone schizophrenic with design. It abruptly broke away from its design language to pump out a much-mocked iPhone-clone in late 2015, and then came the solid-looking HTC 10 that broke away from the company’s much-beloved front-facing audio system. Why would you stop doing something that everyone applauded you for? This is like if Samsung decides to stop using OLED displays for its next phone.
And the U Ultra… yeesh. It has a back that’s identical to Samsung’s Galaxy phones, down to the shiny glossy back that always look better in press photos than in real life because of its uncanny ability to attract fingerprints, and that awkward square-ish camera bump? Why not keep the camera bump circular, like every other phone? Why specifically aim for a look that’s unique (not in a good way) to a really famous rival company? Nobody’s going to look at the back of the U Ultra and think anything but “hey this looks like a Samsung.” Is making people think of your very successful rival the best way to go about things if you’re a struggling company?
Moving to the front of the help is very important, unlike the other HTC phone, the second screen, looks like directly from the LG V series. Now I personally like V phones, but not because of the second screen. In fact, I do not remember the character of a critic or commentator. Just something that most people do not really care about.
And of course, the U Ultra has no headphone jack, because apparently everything Apple does, other companies must follow. Though I don’t like the idea of removing something that billions of people still use, I can at least accept the omission of the 3.5mm jack if it improves the phone’s functionality or looks. Apple, for example, used the extra space to give the iPhone 7 a bigger battery and a larger/better taptic engine. The Moto Z, likewise, managed to cram a larger-than-usual battery into a really thin phone. And you can bet when Samsung or other Chinese phone companies remove the jack, they’ll also trim the bottom bezel significantly too. The U Ultra, meanwhile, has a small battery (only 3,000 mAh, which should be concerning considering the phone’s got a 5.7-inch quad HD display) and a large bottom bezel. Not to mention, removing the battery jack now completely contradicts something HTC emphasized as important less than 12 months ago: high fidelity audio that can only be achieved through a 3.5mm analog connection.
I also think the U Ultra’s marketing campaign tries too hard (to the point of being cringeworthy), but David Pierce at Wired already wrote a piece calling that out, so just read that.
I really have no idea what HTC is doing (I’m not the only one … “what’s wrong with HTC?” pieces fill the web). Not only do I think the U Ultra won’t turn things around for the company, I think it’ll be the company’s biggest flop yet. Which is sad, because the HTC One phones used to be the best Android had to offer.