Updated, 5/1/17: This article has been updated throughout with details from a presumed spy shot of the box.
Even before the U Ultra was available for purchase, HTC was already teasing a better phone on the horizon, one that takes full advantage of the next-generation Snapdragon 835 processor. Now it looks like it will arrive on the heels of the Galaxy S8, and it could be one of the most interesting handsets of the year.
A flurry of information has leaked about the new handset, and since the U Ultra was such a disappointment, we're hoping this handset is the one that puts the company back on the map. There's already some tough competition out there from LG and Samsung, but HTC might have a few tricks up its sleeve that could set its new phone apart, assuming its marquee feature isn't a giant gimmick.
A new U: While we certainly had our issues with the U Ultra, this phone smacks of desperation on HTC’s part. One of our biggest complaints with the U Ultra was that it was too big, and from what we've seen, the new U won’t be much smaller or sleeker. A touch-sensitive frame might have been cool a couple years ago, but in the era of shrinking bezels, HTC’s new phone is going to stick out like a sore thumb. Not to mention, it will require users to learn a whole new way of holding and operating their phones—and how exactly are we supposed to put a case on it?
The official invitation for the event pictures a prominent U with the sides squeezed slightly to make it look like an Ancient Greek harp under the tagline "Squeeze for the Brilliant." A short teaser video also shows a hand holding a phone and squeezing the sides, so, clearly HTC's new phone will feature a unique gesture that uses your grip to activate certain features, as has been rumored. According to an earlier VentureBeat report, tipster extraordinaire Evan Blass dished that the next phone in the U line would be bringing the wild “Ocean” concept to reality. Following up on the video Blass leaked last year, the 5.5-inch, WQHD (2560 x 1440) handset will reportedly feature a design that relies on gestures to navigate and control things on screen.
The original video, in which the phone relies heavily on Google Assistant, features a handset that utilizes touch-sensitive bezels to launch apps and navigate, letting the user squeeze and swipe the frame to do things like play music and control the camera. Blass says the phone won’t use the Ocean codename but will rather continue to push HTC’s 2017 branding, simple calling it the U. The premier feature will be marketed under the Edge Sense moniker, according to Blass, which was seemingly confirmed by a somewhat sketchy retail box leak.
Android Headlines adds some context to the rumor, having gotten its hands on what appears to be a set of slides HTC will use during its demonstration of the device. According to the illustration, the so-called Edge Sensor will be able to execute certain actions while the screen is off by squeezing the sides of the phone, including launching the camera, summoning Google Assistant, and toggling the flashlight. There will apparently be settings for the sensitivity of your grip as well as separate shortcuts for long and short squeezes.
The phone looks to be a fairly standard rectangular affair, as evidenced by the pictures in the slides. Earlier rumors suggested there wouldn't be a button on the front of the device, but the leaked photos show a prominent home button below the display, as well as a description of a "touch sensor integrated with home key." The box leak also says it will utilize Gorilla Glass 5, though the Daily Mail says the 128GB model (which is pictured) will also include a sapphire option like the U Ultra.
In addition to the funky frame, the new HTC U will also feature cameras similar to the U Ultra, though HTC will reportedly use a newer Sony version, “utilizing a 12-megapixel IMX362 around back and 16-megapixel IMX351 up front.”
Android Headlines adds some additional info about the setup, divulging that it will be packed with advanced processing such as HDR+, Smart Video Zoom, 3D Audio, and a hi-resolution recording function, all of which should make the new phone an even shooter than the U Ultra. According to the sliders, the camera will feature "real-time HDR scene selection" and "two modes for video sound recording" for immersive audio.
A leak of the retail box corroborates much of this information, adding that the rear camera will have a f/1.7 aperture, besting the HTC U Ultra's f/1.8, while the front camera sports f/2.0. Additionally, it will feature the third generation of HTC's UltraPixel imaging technology and UltraSpeed auto focus, as well as optical image stabilization.
HTC has always put a premium on sound, and the new U phone looks to continue in that vein. Like the U Ultra, the new device will dispense with the headphone jack and focus on USB-C audio for its USonic earbuds.
As Android Headlines reports, it will include HTC's patented BoomSound technology and will feature the same ear-scanning tech that measures the inside of your canal to find the best acoustics. Additionally, it will also include dual speakers at the top and bottom of the handset for a richer sound when not using headphones. The box leak also says the U will feature 3D audio recording and hi-res audio.
One of the Galaxy S8's coolest feature is the ability to plug your phone into a dock and project your apps onto a big screen, and it seems that HTC has developed its own desktop companion for the new U phone. Called Sense Link it looks to be a bridge between your PC and your phone, letting you transfer files with ease.
According to the leaked slides, there will be a new Sense Link desktop client that you will need to install on your PC. Then you'll need to pair your phone with your PC via QR code scanning. Once established, you'll be able to get documents from your PC, backup photos and videos, and interact with your phone while using your computer. The hook is that the two devices will need to be connected to the same Wi-Fi network, but it's interesting to see HTC and Samsung thinking on similar wavelengths.
Under the hood
The new U phone looks to be the next phone to utilize the Snapdragon 835 chip after the Galaxy S8, but the other specs aren't too shabby either. According to Android Headlines, it will ship with a 5.5-inch Wide Quad HD display, up to 6GB of RAM, and up to 128GB of storage. Additionally, it will ship with Android 7.1, though unfortunately the battery is likely still stuck at 3,000 mAh. It will, however, feature IP57 water resistance, according to the box, an improvement over other HTC flagships.
HTC will also include its new Sense Companion as a key feature of the new U, as it looks to battle Google Assistant and now Bixby for AI supremacy. As the slides explain, HTC Companion will function much in the way as it does on the U Ultra, offering timely restaurants selections, weather reports, and performance and power optimizations throughout your day.
Price and availability
In his original report, Blass says the new phone is due to be announced sometime in April, but we now know it will be unveiled on May 16, incidentally the day before Google I/O kicks off. Pricing hasn't been leaked, but with an 835 chip and 128GB of storage, you should prepare to spend big bucks on it.
This story, "Everything we think we know about the HTC U" was originally published by Greenbot.