HTC U Ultra and U Play

At an event today in Taiwan, HTC unveiled its latest phones in a new line: the HTC U Ultra and U Play. The two models follow a familiar strategy for HTC, launching one high-end device and another in the same line with lower specs to target different audiences. To that point, the U Ultra is the phone we'll see here in the U.S. and around the world, while the U Play will see a much more limited release.

Both phones have a brand new design language for HTC, dominated by a curved full-glass back look it calls "liquid surface" and accented by clean metal accents and a muted front. The phones retain a front fingerprint sensor that doubles as a home button flanked by capacitive back and recents keys. You won't find a headphone jack on either phone, as HTC continues its high-quality USB-C audio story started with the HTC Bolt.

The U Ultra is obviously the higher-end of the two considering its name, with a 5.7-inch QHD display to the U Play's 5.2-inch 1080p, but the Ultra also has something else: a secondary display at the top of the phone giving you a little extra real estate. Its 2-inch size and off-center placement is nearly identical to the LG V20, and its function is similar as well: it can show glanceable information like upcoming appointments or be configured to show notifications, frequently used apps and more.

More: HTC U Ultra and U Play hands-on

The hardware is gorgeous on either phone.

Inside the U Ultra you'll find a Snapdragon 821 processor (the 835 just isn't ready yet), 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, plus an SD card slot. The camera is very similar to the 12MP UltraPixel sensor found in the HTC 10, with 1.55-micron pixels and f/1.8 aperture, though it adds new PDAF to augment the current laser focus setup. HTC's latest split BoomSound experience is here as well, just like the HTC 10.

The U Play is a bit more traditional, skipping the secondary display entirely but unfortunately also dumbing down the rest of the specs: a MediaTek Helio P10 processor steps in, and some combination of 3 or 4GB of RAM and 32 or 64GB of storage, depending on the region. The camera also drops to a typical 16MP unit that lacks any "UltraPixel" branding. The front-facing camera is identical to that of the U Ultra, though: a 16MP sensor with a 4MP "UltraPixel" shooting mode.

Both phones have surprisingly small batteries — the U Ultra offers just 3000 mAh capacity, while the U Play comes in at 2500 mAh. Those are both on the low end of what we've seen from various other phones of this size throughout 2016, and though the U Ultra offers Quick Charge 3.0 over its USB-C port it's not a great sign for battery life. Let's hope HTC has optimized the software to handle the limited capacity.

Hardware is a bigger story than software for the U Ultra and U Play, though one big promotion point is the inclusion of some artificial intelligence smarts in the latest version of Sense. HTC has a new app called "Sense Companion" that acts as a dashboard for all of the little bits of AI that are interspersed throughout the experience — namely phone, contacts, notifications, apps and battery management.

More: Complete HTC U Ultra specs

HTC is dipping its toe into artificial intelligence

After learning from your habits of use, the phone will be able to smartly make recommendations, manage what notifications you see, only alert you of information from specific contacts, manage unused apps and give you tips and controls for your battery based on how you use your phone. This definitely isn't a full virtual assistant, but it's a bit more of the smarts we're starting to expect in modern phones. For all of the more advanced function, HTC is still leaning on Google's APIs for voice control and of course including Google Now's predictive powers to do their own thing.

HTC aims to ship both phones first in Taiwan, though a worldwide expansion won't be far behind. The U Ultra will be the truly global device of the two, with the U Play seeing a limited release in specific markets. The U Ultra will be up for pre-order unlocked directly from today for $749; details on the expansion of the U Play will come later.

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