Last week, HTC unveiled its first major smartphone of 2017, the U Ultra. Despite looking like an amalgamation of an LG V20 and Samsung Galaxy Note 7, the handset was immediately compared to the Google Pixel XL by industry fanatics, who were quick to notice that the two devices sport almost identical internals.
What's strange, though, is the U Ultra carries a price tag of $749 in the United States, which is exactly $100 more than the Pixel XL. This sparks the question, "What do you get for the extra cash?" Surely it doesn't all go towards providing you with an additional 0.2-inches of screen real estate.
To not only answer this question, but also help you decide which offering is worth your hard-earned cash, we've pitted the all-new U Ultra against the Pixel XL on paper. However, before we delve into the details, it's worth noting that real-world performance isn't always representative of specifications.
U Ultra: 162.4 x 79.8 x 8 mm, USB Type-C
Pixel XL: 154.7 x 75.7 x 8.5 mm, USB Type-C
Put plainly, it looks like HTC has taken the front of an LG V20 with its secondary display in tow and slapped it on an all-glass body, which once belonged to a now-recalled Galaxy Note 7, then named the final product the U Ultra. Yes, it's not a very creative name, either (think Sony Xperia Z Ultra).
In fact, that's exactly what the firm's done. Hardly any changes have been made to make the handset stand out from the crowd. The only notable aesthetic features are the inclusion of a physical home button beneath the 5.7-inch qHD display and the omission of the beloved 3.5mm headphone jack.
If you ask HTC what's exciting about the design of the U Ultra, it'll tell you that its glass exterior has been crafted to mimic the properties of liquid. But is that a good thing? Not necessarily. Aside from looking great, there aren't any benefits of using a Liquid Surface construction — it just makes the device a lot slippier than it needs to be.
The Pixel XL, on the other hand, looks very plain and straightforward. It's not visually pleasing like other flagships on the market and the two-tone paneling on the back is a bit like Marmite — you either love or hate it — but deep down, I think that's what Google was going for.
The company is notorious for keeping its products simple, and that ideology definitely made its way into the design of its first in-house smartphone. There aren't any bells and whistles, like a Liquid Surface manufacturing process. What you're getting is a phone that's been constructed from durable materials. Nothing more, nothing less.
Both the U Ultra and Pixel XL sport fingerprint scanners for security and digital payments. On the former, it's located in the home button, while Google stuck to its roots and mounted the sensor on the rear — a decision I'm not too happy with as I have relatively short fingers and struggle to unlock the device using one hand.
U Ultra: 5.7-inch Super LCD5 touchscreen with a resolution of 1440x2560 pixels (513 ppi), 2.05-inch secondary display with a resolution of 160x1040 pixels
Pixel XL: 5.5-inch AMOLED touchscreen with a resolution of 1440x2560 pixels (534 ppi)
On paper, the Pixel XL packs a superior display. Sure, it's slightly smaller than the U Ultra's 5.7-inch panel, but it has a higher amount of pixels per inch — and we all know that the higher the PPI, the more detail you'll find within an image. However, in reality, you probably wouldn't be able to notice a difference in clarity.
As I mentioned earlier, the U Ultra has a secret weapon — a secondary display that's located below the speaker grill on the front of the device. According to HTC, it can be used to view incoming notifications from VIP contacts, control music and take a look at reminders on the lock screen.
The U Ultra takes the biscuit in terms of durability. The 64GB variant is protected by a Gorilla Glass 5 coating, while the 128GB model features a sapphire crystal display. Google's offering, which made its way onto the market in October 2016, only has a Gorilla Glass 4 film on top of its screen.
U Ultra: Android 7.0 Nougat, Sense Companion
Pixel XL: Android 7.1 Nougat, Google Assistant
If you cast your mind back to our Galaxy S7 and Pixel comparison, you may recall we said "if there's one thing in the Pixel's favour, it's the software." The same applies here. Although both the U Ultra and Pixel XL ship running Nougat, HTC's device is skinned with its dreary Sense UI, which is awfully sluggish at the best of times.
One of the main reasons you purchase a Google-branded phone, aside for value for money, is instant OS upgrades. To give credit where it's due, HTC actually does a pretty good job at rolling out major firmware updates in a timely manner, but things start to go south when it comes to monthly security releases.
Now to discuss what we've all been waiting for — AI. No doubt you're well aware by now that the Pixel XL comes with a virtual assistant on board, rightfully named Google Assistant, but what you may not know is that HTC's latest flagship comes with its own one too.
It's called Sense Companion (surprise, surprise) and is believed to function in a similar way to Google Assistant; enabling users to ask questions and give commands in a conversational tone. Unfortunately, as we didn't get to try out the feature during our hands-on time, it's hard to say how well it works, but it looks promising.
U Ultra: Snapdragon 821, quad-core 2.15GHz and 1.6GHz, 4GB of RAM
Pixel XL: Snapdragon 821, quad-core 2.15GHz and 1.6GHz, 4GB of RAM
With regards to specifications, the U Ultra and Pixel XL both sport the latest Snapdragon 821 chipset, paired with 4GB of RAM and an Adreno 530 GPU. While this may sound like a recipe for a success, HTC's known for packing its devices with impressive internals, but limiting their capabilities with subpar software.
The two handsets differ in the battery department. Even though the U Ultra is slightly bigger than the Pixel XL, HTC has only bundled a 3,000mAh cell in its all-glass casing, which is said to last for up to 312 hours on standby, whereas Google's flagship is powered by a 3,450mAh unit with an estimated standby time of 552 hours.
U Ultra: 12MP rear-facing, f/1.8, 16MP front-facing
Pixel XL: 12.3MP rear-facing, f/2.0, 8MP front-facing
Google's touting the Pixel XL's camera as one of the most advanced on the market. We're not sure that's true, we'd probably award that trophy to the iPhone 7 Plus.
However, if you're a keen selfie snapper, the U Ultra is the device for you. It sports a colossal 16MP front-facing shooter, complete with auto-HDR, which essentially means that it'll do a fantastic job of capturing images of you posing with the dog filter on Snapchat. Don't lie. We know you do it, too.
U Ultra: 64GB/128GB (expandable up to 256GB via microSD, but uses SIM 2 slot)
Pixel XL: 32GB/128GB
Unlike the Pixel XL, the U Ultra is only available with either 64GB or 128GB storage. There's no 32GB option. If, for whatever reason, users happen to fill up the space on their device, they have the option insert a microSD card in the second SIM slot (yes, it's dual-SIM), a luxury that Google's customers don't have.
So now you know a little more about the U Ultra, it's time to answer the question we outlined at the start: "What do you get for the extra $100?" Well, aside from a more impressive front-facing shooter, higher grade screen protection and the facility to expand the amount of storage, not a whole lot.
Is it worth your cash? You'll have to wait for our hands-on comparison to find out.