HTC's new phones have personalized A.I. and a second screen

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The smartphone game sometimes seems like a race to introduce the most innovative features, but is there a limit?

HTC hopes not. The company introduced two new phones, and they do have some actual interesting features that you won't find everywhere. So what is on the docket?

In IT Blogwatch, we look at our second screen.

So what's up? Jeffrey Van Camp has the background:

HTC...has been largely overshadowed by competitors like Samsung...but...HTC has set its sights on recapturing some momentum with two new phones: the HTC U Ultra, and HTC U Play...Both the larger phablet-sized HTC U Ultra and the iPhone-sized U Play may be the glossiest, classiest phones I have ever held. The sapphire blue editions are particularly stunning.

Sounds promising. Let's get right to what we want to know, then. What are the specs? Kristijan Lucic starts with the HTC U Ultra:

The HTC U Ultra features a 5.7-inch QHD (2560 x 1440) Super LCD 5 main display with...Gorilla Glass 5 protection...while the most expensive variant of this phone with 128GB of internal storage sports Sapphire Glass...The secondary..."Dual Display" measures 2.05 inches and comes with a resolution of 160 x 1040. This smartphone...comes with the Snapdragon 821 64-bit quad-core SoC. The phone packs in 4GB of RAM and 64GB/128GB of expandable internal storage. The 12-megapixel HTC UltraPixel 2 OIS camera (1.55um pixel size) is placed on the back of the phone...you’ll find a 16-megapixel snapper on the device’s front...The 3,000mAh battery is...included...and so is Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 technology. Android 7.0 Nougat comes pre-installed.

Great. What about the HTC U Play? Peter K. fills us in:

The U Play comes with no second ticker display...the U Play's display is...5.2-inch [and] has a resolution of 1080 x 1920 pixels...The device comes with a mid-range MediaTek Helio P10 chipset, which is a 64-bit octa-core affair. The phone...boasts some 3 gigs of RAM and 32GB of native storage, as well as a microSD card expansion slot. There's an optically-stabilized f/2.0 16MP camera with phase-detection autofocus at the back. Although it is larger than the 12MP UltraPixel shooter of the U Ultra, it has smaller 1µm pixels, which tells us...it might have worse low-light performance...the...front camera is also an f/2.0 16MP one that can snap wide panorama selfies...Keeping the lights on will be a 2,500mAh juicer adorned with fast charging.

Anything interesting about these phones? Michael Crider has some details:

The U Ultra abandons a dedicated headphone jack for a unified USB-C port. The company's...trademarked "BoomSound" will...work with the audio routed through USB, along with the new "Usonics" platform that reportedly adapts its sound profile to suit the individual user....HTC is also trying to implement its own A.I. assistant...that will be integrated with the phone's secondary display, allowing for voice and touch interactions without powering up the primary screen. It will still handle notifications...but it will also be utilized for the adaptive companion and voice control app built into the phone's Android 7.0 software.
...
The U Ultra will be available for pre-order on HTC.com...with a starting price of $749 for the 64GB sapphire, black, white, and pink...options. It will ship to the US and other markets in March...The HTC U Play is scheduled for "global markets" in early 2017...Pricing has not been announced, but...potential buyers should expect something on the $400-500 range before carrier discounts.

So what is up with this A.I. assistant? Jessica Dolcourt has some info:

The A.I. inside...will set the two devices in HTC's..."U" line apart from all the rest...the Ultra and Play turn to artificial-intelligence programming that prioritizes the notifications it shows you. There's a second screen along the top where your newly vetted alerts appear...HTC says the phone will also learn over time, adapting itself to your interests.
...
HTC Sense Companion...can:
  • Look at your calendar and predict if you can make it through the day on a full charge. If not, you'll see a prompt to recharge your phone and an offer to disable power-sucking apps...
  • Offer restaurant recommendations based on your patterns...
  • Warn you of awful weather so you can adjust your commute or take a scarf.

Anything else noteworthy about the new phones? Philip Michaels has something to add about the U Ultra:

The HTC U Ultra includes...other personalized features including four always-on microphones...that can listen and respond to your commands. The phone also features biometric voice unlocking, allowing you to use voice commands to unlock the Ultra. HTC...says the phone will feature customized audio that adjusts playback to improve your experience.

So is all this enough to get people to buy the U Ultra and U Play? Vincent Nguyen speculates:

The lingering question...is whether all this is enough to turn around HTC’s fortunes. While the smartphone manufacturer has never...had a shortage of solid, beautifully designed devices, it has struggled to raise its profile amid...its deeper-pocketed rivals...like the Galaxy S7, because nobody really knew about them.
...
Perhaps making some super-shiny, attention-grabbing Android phones will be just the trick for HTC. The practicality of Sense Companion remains to be seen, and HTC’s decision to go for a relatively unadorned camera experience compared to...current rivals may end up hurting it on paper comparisons...The HTC U Ultra and HTC U Play certainly catch your eye, but time will tell whether they also catch sales.
  
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