But not everyone can afford to spend on a phone what could buy you an only-slightly-dodgy second hand car. For the rest of us there’s the HTC U Play. It’s the ‘normal’ version.
Normal size, normal tech and a slightly more normal price: S$598. The U Play’s funky build gives it something to brag about, but is that enough?
Spoiler: not really.
Bring back the funk
A few years ago, HTC made coolest-looking phone of 2013 - the HTC One M7. Anyone that bought one in those glory days will remember: it was the bomb.
Since then, HTC has tried some awkward re-treading of that look, and some, erm, homages to other phones, like the very iPhone-like HTC One A9. The job of the U-series is to prove HTC’s designers still have some original-ish ideas left.
That doesn’t mean the U Play is outlandish or weird, though. It’s glass on the back, aluminium on the sides. Pretty familiar stuff.
However, it has an unusual pearlescent finish, at least in the white version we have (it also comes in black, blue and pink). HTC says it’s meant to look like liquid is flowing over the phone. Presumably petrol, in this case.
It’s a good look, and the U Play feels as expensive as something like a Samsung Galaxy S7. You’ll probably want to use the included transparent clip-on case to make sure it stays looking smart, though.
This adds a millimetre or two to each side, but the U Play isn’t going to be a stretch for adult hands, not like the U Ultra, because the display just isn’t that big at 5.2in.
The phone is also smooth and comfy, with or without its plastic armour, and has a great fingerprint scanner just below the screen. It’s not a button; you just put a finger on it when the phone’s sleeping and the U Play wakes up.
It’s a pretty-looking phone, but one with a design decision that’s up there with chocolate oven gloves. The HTC U Play doesn’t have a headphone jack.
Sure, the iPhone 7 did it already, but at least Apple owns a headphone-maker, Beats, and the Lightning connector forces a sound quality issue.
Y'see, Lightning sockets can only deliver digital audio, so every pair of Lightning headphones needs, effectively, a tiny little DAC to convert the signal. USB C can transmit analogue audio, making USB C headphones (potentially) functionally identical to normal ones.
The U Play comes with a pair of USB C earphones, and while HTC has stamped them with the Hi-Res audio logo, that’s used so widely these days it’s about as credible as a Donald Trump tweet.
They sound fine, and have decent bass punch, but aren’t leagues better than the best pairs that ship with more expensive phones. The treble is a bit harsh, the mids congested and low on detail, and they tend to fall out of your ears pretty easily. Fine for a freebie, but you could do better for S$50.
Oh, but you can’t, because no-one makes USB-C earphones yet.
That's a real pain, but at least there's one part of the U Play that won't leave you disappointed. The screen is a perfectly nice, 1920x1080 Super LCD panel, functionally identical to an IPS display.
The Samsung Galaxy S7 still beats it, with deeper blacks and much higher resolution, but you can at least tweak it to your own tastes, using a colour temperature slider in Settings.
It doesn’t fiddle with colour potency, which is typical: punchy, but not so oversaturated your eyes will need a break after a while. It just makes the U Play display more orangey or blue-y.
The 5.2in screen is a good size for just about anyone: not so big it’ll fill your pocket like expanding foam, but not small enough you’d never want to watch Netflix on the thing.
Let’s be straight, screens in higher-end phones are pretty boring these days. They’re all good, which is perhaps why HTC decided to bung another one onto the U Ultra to set it apart.