The HTC U's shimmering glass body makes it one of prettiest phones I've seen in a long time (same goes for the HTC U Play). But it's the AI inside that will set the two devices in HTC's new "U" line apart from all the rest.
The zillion notifications you get every day are abrupt, disruptive and chaotic, says HTC. So the Ultra and Play turn to artificial-intelligence programming that prioritizes the notifications it shows you. There's a second screen along the top where your newly vetted alerts appear, similar to the LG V20.
But HTC's new phone won't do it alone -- this is where "U" come in. As you set up your phone for the first time, you'll need to decide which alerts you want to see on that second screen. HTC says the phone will also learn over time, adapting itself to your interests.
It's called HTC Sense Companion, and it can:
- Look at your calendar and predict if you can make it through the day on a full charge. If not, you'll see a prompt to recharge your phone and an offer to disable power-sucking apps you almost never use.
- Offer restaurant recommendations based on your patterns -- learning how you choose by price, category, distance and habit.
- Warn you of awful weather so you can adjust your commute or take a scarf.
- Turn off your habitual alarm on weekends and holidays so you don't rudely wake up at 6 a.m.
- Unlock the phone with your voice, at up to a 2-meter range
HTC says it won't ever let an alert take over your screen and make you stop what you're doing.
You can preorder the U Ultra starting January 12.
But can it compete? Is the AI any good?
We need to break this down.
AI smarts: It's hard to say how beneficial this is in real life. We got about an hour to take photos and glance at the prefinal software, but there's really no way that you can set up and train the U Ultra's AI tool without logging in to the phone and using it as your own.
We do know that AI is going to be a trend in phones this year in one form or another -- the Huawei Honor Magic already uses something it also calls AI software, but again, we didn't have a chance to see how well it works on that phone, which is solely tuned for Chinese services.
Looks: HTC makes nice phones, and the U Ultra looks really awesome, even if it's reflective as hell. Glass is problematic because it's shatterprone, but most phones scuff or break when you drop them. You'd want a protective case for sure.
Specs: I don't get HTC. It had an opportunity to make the Ultra water-resistant, Google Daydream-ready and outfitted with a headphone jack and wireless charging -- and didn't. Instead, the Ultra lacks these bonuses that phones like the Samsung Galaxy S8, iPhone 8 and next Google phone will probably have (in some combination).
It's a great-looking device with an interesting concept, but the U Ultra's AI is going to have to be extremely useful to get HTC back on the map.