Ailing smartphone maker HTC aimed to get a jump on its rivals by unveiling its U-branded devices, said to mark “a new direction” for the company.
With a number of key rivals set to launch devices at Mobile World Congress next month – as well as some unveilings at CES 2017 last week – HTC is looking to pick up some traction in what is traditionally something of a lull in the market. However, with reports pegging availability of the U-branded devices at mid-February, the window of opportunity will be small.
With the U line, the user is now “central to the experience of the product, where the device learns from you, listens to you, responds to you and reflects you,” product chief Nigel Newby-House said. This is powered by what the company calls HTC Sense Companion, which monitors user actions and pulls information from apps and the internet to provide a personalised user experience.
Chailin Chang, HTC’s smartphone president, said: “Yes, it’s AI. We’ve put a lot of resources really developing, yes, machine learning. But machine learning or AI will not do much without you, without learning from you.”
Two U-branded devices were unveiled: the high-spec U Ultra, described as “our first phablet device in a while”, and the lower-tier U Play, which is said to offer “all the premium features of a flagship at a slightly more accessible price”.
U Ultra has a 5-inch 2560 pixel by 1440 pixel screen, with a secondary display (160 pixels by 1040 pixels) above which is described as “a window to the AI companion”. The secondary display concept is, of course, not new – LG Electronics currently has a dual-display device in its current line.
As with Apple and others, the company moved away from supporting the 3.5-inch headphone jack, although in HTC’s case it said it is looking to deliver “individualised, custom-made audio” via its USonic technology. This uses a “Sonar-based audio system” which works with the in-box headphones to deliver tailored audio.
Other features highlighted include four always-on, low-power microphones for voice input, including biometric voice unlock.
U Play sports a traditional 5.2-inch 1920 pixel by 1080 pixel display, but includes features such as Sense Companion and USonic.
Four colour variants will be available: blue, black, pink and white.
A high-spec version of U Ultra with 128GB storage and sapphire glass is in the works.