This is an odd one. See, while the Pixel is easily the most Google phone that Google has ever released, HTC was actually behind a lot of it.
What’s more, we think the Pixel XL is rather good. No, the design isn’t revolutionary and yes, it’s pretty costly, but it’s still a stellar phablet with a solid software offering.
All of which means that HTC’s own U Ultra has to live up to a benchmark set - in part - by itself.
Can it? Well, first impressions suggest it just well might, with a striking design and nifty features intimating that HTC is back in the big leagues.
Until we fully review the U Ultra, of course, there’s no way of knowing for sure how it stacks up next to the XL. That said, we can pitch the two against one another in a battle of specs and first impressions - which is exactly what you can read below.
HTC U Ultra vs Google Pixel XL: Design
This one’s surprisingly straightforward. For all its merits, the Google Pixel XL isn’t winning awards for its design. It’s not ugly, but it’s hardly ground-breaking, either.
In fact, it’s about as generic as Google could make it: you get an all-metal frame, glass front and chunky bezels, with silver and grey colour options. There's not a lot of wow factor here.
Even with a split matte-metal-and-glass design on the back the Pixel XL is the wrong side of subtle - which was a shame even before the U Ultra scampered out from under the wraps. Now it just looks like Google wasn’t trying.
The U Ultra ditches the all-metal shell so synonymous with HTC's flagship phones in favour of an all-glass get-up that’s, well, gorgeous.
The back curves on to the front, and the pearlescent finish shimmers to make the U Ultra look different depending on your viewing angle. It’s pleasant to hold and a beauty to behold.
Sure, we’ll want to test the sturdiness of the glass body in daily use but, on looks alone, the U Ultra walks it.
Winner: HTC U Ultra
HTC U Ultra vs Google Pixel XL: Screen
Or should that be ‘screens’? See, the HTC U Ultra is treading where the LG V20 has before it - namely, by sticking a second, 2in display above the main 5.7in one; both have a 2K resolution.
What's the point? Well the idea is that the smaller display populates itself with your favourite apps and contacts to give you a super-easy shortcut to the things you regularly use. It'll light up independently of the main display, meaning that you could fully check out notifications and complete simple tasks without needing to fully switch on. We'll have to wait until we’ve tested it before we pass final judgement on it, but it’s certainly a unique addition.
As for the Pixel XL, it offers a slightly smaller 5.5in screen, though with the same 2560x1440 resolution - which means you get a few more pixels per inch on it. We're big fans of the XL's display all round, actually, finding its AMOLED panel to be nice and punchy, with deep blacks and contrast rich enough to rival many a Samsung smartphone.
Which will come out on top? For this one we’ll need to put the two side-by-side. Until we do, it’s too close to call - so we’ll make it a draw.
HTC U Ultra vs Google Pixel XL: Camera
The HTC U Ultra has a tough battle on its hands to best the Pixel XL in the photographic stakes: the Google phone has an impressive 12.3MP sensor with large, 1.55μm pixels and a quick f/2.0 aperture lens.
It's really quite the photographic companion, with daylight results delivering impressive detail in our testing - particularly with HDR+ enabled - while low-light performance was equally solid. There’s no optical stabilisation, sure, but the combination of phase detect and laser autofocus almost always delivers in-focus snaps.
But tough battle or not, the HTC U Ultra has the potential to run it close.
It pretty much matches the XL in spec terms, with a 12MP sensor and a maximum aperture of f/1.8, plus optical image stabilisation and laser autofocus tech on-board, too. As for videography, you get four high-sensitivity mics that are capable of capturing ‘positional sound’ - basically, immersive, 360-degree audio.
Initial shots with the HTC suggest solid exposure and colour, with the camera app offering decent fine-tuning options. Based on the Pixel XL’s performance and HTC’s prior form, though, this one has to go to Google - but we're keen to be proven wrong.
Winner: Google Pixel XL