The HTC U Play is HTC's new mid-range ultra stylish smartphone, and with an RRP of around £399 sim-free, the phone is not a budget phone, but it's also not super-premium phone, like the HTC U Ultra (with a £649 price), Samsung Galaxy S8 (£689), LG G6 (£649), and iPhone 7 (£599). The cameras in the U Play are a 16mp front and 16mp rear camera, with the rear camera featuring optical image stabilisation (OIS) and FullHD video recording.
HTC U Play Features
The HTC U Play's design is one of the most striking features of the phone, particularly from the back, with a stylish glossy glass back, which HTC call a "liquid surface", although unfortunately there is no liquid in there. It's available in a number of colours, including blue, pink, black, and white.
From the front, it could be any phone, with no visible logo on display, but it is quite compact, compared to most 5.2 to 5.5inch smartphones, with a very slim curved body. Unfortunately, there is no headphone socket, with HTC providing a set of earphones that connect to the USB Type-C connection. There is no USB to headphone jack adapter provided, so you can't use other headphones, or connect the phone to an amplifier, unless you buy the optional "USB-C Digital to 3.5mm adaptor".
The rear camera on the HTC U Play features Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS), an f/2.0 lens with a 28mm equivalent (in 35mm terms), with a 16mp BSI CMOS sensor, and Phase Detection (PD) Auto-Focus (AF). The camera has Auto HDR (High Dynamic Range), and there are also manual controls with raw shooting (Adobe DNG) supported. The front (selfie) camera also features a 16mp BSI CMOS sensor, and a slightly more wide-angle fixed focus lens equivalent to 26.5mm, and the same f/2.0 aperture.
There are a number of shooting modes including: Photo (Auto), Zoe Camera, Panorama, Pro, Video, Hyperlapse, Selfie Photo, Selfie Panorama, Selfie Video. The Pro mode gives you access to manual controls, and settings for: white balance (WB), exposure compensation, ISO, shutter speed, and focus.
What happened to HTC UltraPixel?
- From HTC: "The new selfie camera on HTC U Play lets you easily switch between 16MP and UltraPixel™. Now you can choose between the unparalleled 4x light sensitivity* that UltraPixel offers (perfect for candlelit dinners), and the high resolution detail that 16MP provides." Using the UltraPixel mode, the camera reduces the image resolution to 4mp.
HTC One M9, HTC One A9 and U Play Size Comparison - The HTC U Play is only slightly taller than the M9 and A9, and features a larger 5.2inch screen, compared to a 5inch screen on the other phones.
- 16mp BSI CMOS main camera, 1um pixels
- f/2.0, 28mm equivalent, Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS), PDAF
- Dual LED flash
- ISO100 to ISO1600
- 16mp BSI CMOS front camera, f/2.0, fixed focus, 26.5mm equivalent
- 5.2inch, FullHD touch-screen, Corning Gorilla Glass
- FullHD video at 30fps
- 4fps continuous shooting
- Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, GPS
- Auto HDR, Panorama, Pro mode with raw
- 3GB RAM, 32GB storage, MicroSD slot
- Fingerprint sensor, USB-C
- Android v6, 2500mAh battery
- Colours: Blue, Black Pink, White
HTC U Play Handling
The HTC U Play is more about style, than outright functionality, and you can quickly tell this by the beautiful curved glass back of the phone, lack of headphone socket, and minimal buttons on the phone. The smartphone is svelte, slim, and slightly sexy in comparison to all the large smartphones out there. Yes, it is also fingerprint prone, and if you like your phone to be fingerprint free, then this phone could be very frustrating.
There is no dedicated shutter release button, however you can set the volume button to act as a zoom control, or shutter release button in the camera app. The camera app also has a "Pro" mode that gives manual controls over a number of settings, including white balance (WB), exposure compensation, ISO, shutter speed, and focus. You can also leave all of these on auto, and if you set the camera to shoot raw, it will shoot both raw and JPEG images.
Having a glass backed phone (in addition to the glass front) has made a number of people nervous, ever since the introduction of a glass back on iPhones (and then later on Sony Xperia Z phones), so a case is definitely recommended (somewhat negating the point in the phone being ultra-slim, but we digress). If you treat the phone with utmost care, and kid gloves, then you may be able to get away without a case, but we wouldn't recommend it. The glass screens are protected with Corning Gorilla Glass, so at least there is protection against scratches.
The phone is not waterproof, and neither is the U Ultra, which is a shame, as most flagship phones are now waterproof.
The phone feels good, with a grippy unlock button, and having dedicated touch buttons under the screen is becoming increasingly rare, with most using on-screen buttons. This gives you a more usable screen, letting you use the whole area of the screen. The middle home button is also a fingerprint sensor, so you can set this up to unlock the phone, with the added security of knowing that only your finger will unlock the phone.
Being an Android smartphone, the phone should be easy to use for anyone used to a recent smartphone. The screen looks great, but isn't as bright as some other smartphones we had in the office.
You can use the touch-screen to set the focus point to almost any area of the screen, although not right in to the corners. The camera app is quick enough responding to settings, and focus is reasonable, being not very slow, but also not as fast as some other cameras.
To see how fast the HTC U Play is in compared to other smartphones, we fired up AnTuTu benchmark, and the U Play scored 52196. Unfortunately it's not performing like a flagship device (the Sony Xperia XZ scores 136125 for example), and the 3D score is particularly low (at 7923, compared to 55496 on the XZ), so gaming is definitely not likely to be a strongpoint for the U Play. Geekbench 4.1.0 scores are 764 (single-core), and 2908 (multi-core), compared to 1656, and 3737 for the Xperia XZ.
Battery life - Battery life is rated at 2500mAh and the battery is non-removable. Battery life appears to be good, but we expect that daily charging will be required, as is the case with most smartphones these days.