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HTC U Play Review: The U Ultra’s Cutdown Cousin


HTC has been taking an excellent approach at their U series of devices. Despite HTC launching the U11, we got the chance to review HTC’s U Play, the U Ultra’s smaller brother. But how much does it cut it’s corners to makeup for it’s existence?

Priced at RM1,899, the U Play is just asking for attention and what it brings to the table, but is it worth it? Let’s find out.

01| Unboxing & Contents

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HTC continues with their square boxes. With the U Play taking a simpler approach, there’s isn’t much we could talk about the box here.

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HTC has been well-known for packaging their phones. The U Play follows HTC’s move to a “No Headphone Jack revolution”. HTC was sure to include a plastic hard-shell case as well as their USonic earphones that utilize the Type-C charging port. HTC also makes sure that everyone reads the user manuals thoroughly. Because, user manuals are still a thing. Other than the pack, HTC bundles an excellent fast-charger along with a durable Type-C cable to juice up the U Play.

02| Design & Build Quality

Mamma Mia, This phone looks amazing!

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My first impressions when pulling the U Play out of the box were exciting. I felt as if I had the U Ultra. Both phones, the U Ultra and U Play resemble each another very well with very minor changes to their backs. The U Play we had sadly wasn’t in Blue.

By the way how HTC is proceeding with their liquid glass surface design is really impressing. The phone is just a job to hold. HTC was sure to give users a number of color options to really saturate the excitement for users who decide to go with HTC’s U series of smartphones.

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At the front of the HTC U Play, from top to bottom, you’ll find the selfie camera, the earpiece, a hidden LED indicator, the 5.2-inch Full HD display, a fingerprint sensor embedded into the touch-sensitive home button along with two touch-sensitive buttons flanking both sides of the home button.

HTC U Play Review: The U Ultra's Cutdown Cousin 30Coming over to the rear of the device and you’ll immediately notice the beautiful liquid glass surface at its back along with a simple layout of just the rear camera, a dual-tone LED flash and an HTC logo.

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Taking a look around the corners of the phone, you’ll find your SIM tray. On the right edges of the phone you’ll find the power button and the volume rocker Towards the bottom of the phone you’ll find the speaker and the Type-C USB port.

Build Quality – Do I need an insurance plan?

The HTC U Play is indeed without a doubt a fragile piece of art, or at least, that’s what I would like to call it. The liquid glass back design definitely comes with it’s side-effects, and this is one. HTC included a plastic hard-shell cover to protect the phone within the box that U Play came in. However, the look and feel of the phone with HTC’s cover just ruin it.

The sides of the phone are built of metal, god forbid those who still use plastic. Meanwhile, the whole front of the device is protected by an unspecified version of Corning Gorilla Glass.

The hard-shell plastic cover that HTC includes not only does it ruin the look of the phone, but the cover itself scratches as much that the beauty of the back of the phone is completely lost. HTC might also want to be looking in adding some rubber protection to aid the device when it rubs against other surfaces.

03|Performance & UIHTC U Play Review: The U Ultra's Cutdown Cousin 34

The HTC U Play isn’t in any form to compete with high-end devices despite its looks, and it isn’t meant to either. The cut-down version of the U Ultra, the U Play packs Mediatek’s Helio P10 processor along with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage. Internal storage could be expanded up to 2TB via a MicroSD card. Here’s a rundown of the hardware that the U Play packs internally.

Model U Play
Size 5.2″-inch
Display 1920 x 1080
Processor Mediatek Helio P10
Storage 64GB
Battery 2500mAh
4G LTE FDD: Bands 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 20, 28
TDD: Bands 38, 40
Support Cat 6 LTE, download up to 300 Mbps, upload up to 50 Mbps
WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 & 5 GHz)
Bluetooth 4.2
Dual SIM Dual 4G Nano SIM
Cameras 16MP rear, 16MP front
Extras NFC, Fingerprint reader

The HTC U Play comes running Android 6.0 Marshmallow out of the box. Though it has aged quite a bit, I never noticed a major difference while running Android 6.0 Marshmallow.

As usual casual games ran as smooth as butter on the HTC U Play. However, turning the heat up and the phone really shows how well the device runs moderately demanding titles. For our testing, we played Asphalt 8 at High, Real Racing 3 and Need For Speed No Limits. The phone performed admirably well, with a few minimal hiccups here and there.

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HTC has been taking Google’s stock UI into account very closely. For a stock Android fan, the stock feel of the phone really excites me while giving me a clean yet pleasurable experience while using the phone. Animations ares smooth and the overall user experience is fluent as well. There’s no drops of performance anywhere.

Regarding RAM management, I think the HTC U Play does an average job at keeping applications in it’s 4GB of memory. The phone often resumes simple apps such as Chrome, Messenger, Dialer and a few other apps without a breeze. However, once apps start to build up even further, naturally, the phone kills a few apps in the memory.

Whether HTC updates the phone is yet to be found. Despite what the future holds for the HTC U Play, the phone performs admirably well.

04| Display & Audio Quality

Great Display, Minus a point!

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The HTC U Play comes with a 5.2-inch Full HD IPS display. Measuring in at 424 PPI the phone really looks sharp at normal distance. However, on our unit, we were able to distinguish a slew of pixels diagonally on our U Play’s display. Quite abnormal, but this could be a fault in our unit only. Saturation and contrast were on point on the U Play. Color reproduction was neutral as well, not too saturated, not too washed out, just done right for an IPS display. Very very slight color shifts from blue to orange we noticeable at extreme angles as well if you really want to be picky, but that’s about it.

Media consumption on the device was excellent, consuming media on this device is just excellent. While the U Play does portray it’s elder brother, the U Play actually offers an excellent user experience.

But How About The Beats?

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The HTC U Play definitely doesn’t love to show love to it’s grandfathers and ancestors, does it? HTC’s approach to their design has been slowly kicking themselves out of the field they were very well known for, that’s for their BoomSound speakers. Since the One M8, HTC has continuously been at work, pushing blocks here and there, almost three years later, and HTC isn’t known for their sound anymore.

HTC has ditched their front-facing speakers with their U-series of devices, and the U Play is no exception. The HTC U Play comes with a single bottom firing speaker that is activated while consuming media. The single firing speaker is definitely louder than the average smartphone speaker, but it is just a single bottom firing speaker without an option for a headphone jack.

If you manage to keep the speaker free and not blocked by your hand, the HTC U Play speaker could definitely bring some excitement to the table with it’s loud and clear speaker.

To hand in our tests, we chose to use the following test to test out the speaker on the HTC U Play.

05| Camera

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The HTC U Ultra comes with two 16MP shooters, one for each flip side of the phone. The rear camera was a hit or miss in our tests handing in sharp, yet dull/inaccurate results at times. Coming from the Xiaomi Mi5, the HTC U Play was immediately taken down by the Mi5 in daylight shots when it came to color accuracy along with the sharpness of the image.

However, in low-light situations, the U Play really trumped the Mi5 when it came to color accuracy in shots. So what’s with the daytime shots? During our testing, we found that the U Play definitely loves to under-expose daylight shots meanwhile struggling to compensate for accurate white balance. This definitely seemed quite unfortunate and shows that HTC needs to do some working on the HTC U Play’s camera.

It’s a shame that such an excellent sensor that takes great pictures struggles in auto mode. After all, the rear sensor packs a 16MP sensor with 1 µm sensor size. Here’s a few shots.

06|Battery Life

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The HTC U Play comes with a 2500mAh battery. By today’s standards, it’s a bit on a lower side compared to it’s competition. However, the phone performed just okay in our day to day use when it came to it’s battery life. Continuous usage of Youtube video streaming got us about 3-4 hours of screen-on-time, meanwhile during light usage, the phone lasted us for almost a day. For those busy travelers who rely on GPS to get through their day, the HTC U Play will last you for about 2-4 hours before choking out.

According to today’s standards, the U Play seems to be a bit behind its rivals when it comes to battery life. Let’s just cross our fingers that HTC improves on the U Play’s successor.


The HTC U Play drops quite the number of features that users have been loving. From the removal of the headphone jack, to the inclusion of a weak 2500mAh battery, HTC has achieved a beautiful phone without the functions that users even require. When Apple removed the headphone jack from their iPhone, they called it ‘courage’ and made the iPhone 7 waterproof.

On the other side, there’s a few aspects of the phone that have been overlooked by HTC. The phone could have really been better. A prime example I would use is the camera, HTC really needs to work a bit on the camera for the U Play.

HTC really needs to hold onto something that they could be well known for. On the HTC U Play, BoomSound is now reserved for their headphones only that utilize the Type-C port at the bottom of the phone. HTC has been moving things around. However, I would really love to see HTC come back into the competition and shake things up a bit. For the next U smartphone, maybe dual front-facing BoomSound speakers? Hey! Anything is possible. LG is keeping its name for keeping functionality integrated where other OEMs have moved on.

The HTC U Play is a great device, but it seems like it has been overlooked by HTC. And for the price, HTC is seriously asking for trouble in the Asian market where brands like Huawei, OnePlus and Xiaomi are emerging.

We would definitely recommend the HTC U Play if it came at a lower price point, priced at $449, it’s a hard recommendation if you’re after the best bang for your buck. However, it’s a great phone if you don’t care much about its shortcomings and love it for its design.


Usman Abdul Jabbar

21, Tech Enthusiast, Founder/Managing Editor at GeeksULTD and a stduent at the Holberton School. Passionate about UI Design and competitive Counter-Strike Global Offensive gaming. To contact me, follow me, or even constructively criticize me, contact me however you feel is right!
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