Finsix Dart-C charger review: Tiny, powerful, and worth the expense

If you accidentally left your USB-C laptop charger during a layover at Batman Airport (yes, it’s real), consider yourself lucky, because you now have an excuse to upgrade to a much sexier, much lighter power brick, like the Finsix Dart-C (available for preorder for $99.99).

I can’t confirm Finsix’s claim that this is “The World’s Smallest Laptop Charger,” but damn, is it small (approximately 2.5 x 1 x 1 inches) and it punches well above its weight.

As its name implies, the Dart-C is a USB-C Power Delivery (PD) charger, so it’s compatible with most devices that use the reversible USB-C port. A second USB Type A charging port is integrated into the cable. The placement of the second port looks clumsy but fortunately doesn’t add much to the overall weight. There’s also a small LED that glows when the brick is powered up so you know you didn’t forget to plug it in.

dart c 6 Gordon Mah Ung

The Dart-C (right) will output 65 watts of power, which is 4 watts more than the larger and heavier Apple MacBook Pro 13 charger (left).

Tiny, sexy, and powerful

Despite it being really not much larger than a cell phone charger, the Dart-C is rated at 65 watts of output, which can power most 13-inch, and smaller, laptops (and even some 15-inch laptops).

Finsix says a very high-frequency power technology helps make the Dart-C so small. That comes with a cost, though: With a retail price of $100, it’s even pricier than Apple’s power bricks, which themselves carry a premium.

Finsix says the higher cost is offset by the fact that Apple’s power brick is bigger and heavier by comparison and doesn’t actually come with a USB-C cable. That means you have to pay $69 for the 61-watt brick and then another $19 for the USB-C cable. PC chargers are generally cheaper than that, but not always by much. The best price I could find for a replacement Asus Zenbook 3 charger was $70. HP and Dell’s chargers push $60, if you can even find them in stock.

While some PC chargers come close to the weight of the Dart-C, the typical wall wart puts out a lot less power and is much bulkier.

dart c 4 Gordon Mah Ung

The Dart-C features a proprietary cable with an inline USB Type A port that can output 2 amps.

How we tested

Because USB-C Power Delivery hasn’t exactly had a smooth launch, I wanted to see just how many laptops the Dart-C would actually work with. I gathered up seven different laptops (the same ones used in my previous USB-C charging showdown) from Apple, Google, Lenovo, Acer, HP, Asus, and Dell—companies that represent 80 percent of the notebook market. I added a couple of USB-C phones: the Huawei-made Nexus 6P and Google Pixel XL. I used a Satechi USB-C power meter to measure the charge rates on each device.

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How NASA's A.I. moonshots idea could help your enterprise

Every few weeks, a group at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., finds an empty conference room where the participants sit down to talk about how they can use artificial intelligence to make what might seem like crazy ideas a reality.

This is the JPL’s informal A.I. moonshots group.

The group isn’t talking about the moon, but is taking ideas that might seem like science fiction and figuring out how to use artificial intelligence to make them work.

These A.I. experts are focused on efforts such as sending small submarines to search for life beneath the oceans of one of Jupiter’s moons and flying an autonomous spacecraft on a 100-year trip to another star system.

This same idea of a group focused on A.I. moonshots could also put big ideas into play for the enterprise.

“We ask ourselves what can have a huge impact on humanity, that this might be considered the big legacy of A.I.,” said Steve Chien, head of the A.I. group at the JPL. “And I would say that any organization that wants to exist in the long term, that wants to aim big, that is forward-looking, could benefit from this kind of group. I think some of the employees at a large company need to be coming up with crazy ideas, doing strategic thinking and outlining a vision.”

steve chien curiosityNASA

Steve Chien, senior research scientist, Autonomous Space Systems, and technical group supervisor, Artificial Intelligence Group, at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, with a mockup of the Curiosity rover.

Chien, is a senior research scientist and technical group supervisor at the JPL’s A.I. group, where he has worked for 27 years. Six months ago, he pulled out a core group of six to eight regulars of the JPL’s artificial intelligence team. They brainstorm ideas over lunch and often are given homework problems, like how to best set up an antenna on an asteroid.

The A.I. moonshot group’s goal is to come up with far-reaching, envelope-pushing goals that many would dismiss for being too fantastical. They look at how A.I. can be used to support space exploration and enable spacecraft to travel farther from Earth. They also think about ways to perform more tasks with little or no human control.

“A.I. is increasingly important with every mission because the technology is becoming more accepted and more and more capable,” Chien told Computerworld. “I wouldn’t say all or even most missions will use A.I., but there are missions where A.I. is a natural fit.”

Some of the ideas the moonshots group is working on include advanced smarts for the 2020 Mars rover that will enable the rover to drive farther and faster on its own. The  group is also looking for ways that spacecraft could travel through the solar system by catching rides on passing comets.

It also is figuring out a plan to set off 100 spacecraft, each one the size of a microwave oven, to study near-Earth objects. NASA might be able to use A.I. to give these spacecraft a high level of autonomy, which would reduce the number of human operators needed for the project. Human operators might be out of reach since some of the spacecraft would fly as much as 200 million miles.

The moonshots group also is thinking about sending autonomous submarines below miles of ice to investigate the possibility of life near hydrothermal vents in the oceans of Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons. The submarines would need to work on their own – with zero contact with Earth –- for months or even a year at a time.

“We’re excited by that idea because how cool would it be to find life not on Earth?” Chien said. “We want these to be big at a NASA scale and big on a humanity scale.”

Bringing A.I. moonshots groups to the business

The moonshots group might be finding ways to use A.I. in the far reaches of our solar system, but this same type of brainstorming could work much closer to home.

“I think a lot of organizations — at least some of the biggest most advanced ones — are looking at how A.I. can help them in all sorts of business processes,” said David Schubmehl, an analyst with market research firm IDC. “Now is a good time to experiment.”

Schubmehl said it may be a small percentage of large companies at this point, but enterprises are beginning to gather together groups of big thinkers to brainstorm ways to use A.I. 

So what do companies need to do to put together their own A.I. moonshot group?

Chien suggested that companies look to people who not only aren’t afraid to think outside the box, but who also have diverse backgrounds.

While JPL’s moonshot group has A.I. experts at its core, the group also calls in people from different departments and fields, depending on the idea being worked on. Chien said the A.I. group has asked experts from propulsion, radio communications and planetary science units to work with them.

Group members also try to keep their list of rules fairly short.

“If somebody proposes an idea with a huge flaw, you’re not allowed to kill the idea,” Chien said. “You just recognize the flaw. You might find a way around it. You want people to not be scared to say crazy things and to ask something they might think could be a stupid question… We want to promote the generation of ideas without filtering.”

And since there are a lot of smart people in the room, the A.I. moonshots group tries to keep any conversation from being dominated by one person. They also try to keep yelling to a minimum, while allowing participants to be spirited about their ideas.

The group also assigns what basically are homework assignments. Since group members also have their regular jobs, they aren’t given homework deadlines but they are asked to investigate different aspects of an idea or problem.

“We ask questions like how central is A.I. to this?” Chien said. “Could you do it without A.I.? If we had a cool idea and it wasn’t central to NASA’s goals, why are we doing it? That’s why we’re not working on the next social media app.”

IDC’s Schubmehl recommended that companies think about their data while setting up a group to brainstorm ideas.

“One of the things you should be thinking of is that almost all of these A.I. projects are based on data,” he said. “You need someone who knows what data the organization has and what data they potentially can get access to so it can help them develop machine-learning models to provide predictions or recommendations or enhance business processes.”

While moonshot groups need big picture thinkers, they also need backing from the company’s top executives, including the CIO, CFO and the CEO, Schubmehl said.

“They also need to be prepared for some level of failure,” he added. “Not every A.I. application will succeed.”

However, Whit Andrews, an analyst with market research firm Gartner, warned that moonshots groups are a good idea for companies that already are working with A.I., but they won’t succeed with companies just getting started with the technology.

“Our general advice around A.I. to clients, at this stage in A.I.’s history, is to say to focus on the opposite of moonshot projects,” Andrews said. “Look at problems you’ve had for years or decades that you haven’t been able to fix because you don’t have enough people or you don’t have enough time… Learn your lessons. Create solid relations with service providers or your data scientists and then embark on the moonshots you might have been discussing the whole time.

“It’s OK to think about the moonshots, but for God’s sake don’t start there,” Andrews added.

Some IT managers may get excited about the prospect of working with A.I. and jump in head first instead of using a slow and measured approach, he said.

IT groups should start by figuring out the best way to set up a data science project, learning what parts of the company’s data they can best work with and what parts of the enterprise are best suited for a A.I.

“That’s a great time to start to ask yourself what else could you do,” Andrews said. “Is there something that we’ve never thought of before?”

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How to fix Windows 10 blue screen crashes

Here’s how to fix blue screen crashes in Windows 10, and what might be causing them.

Get your PC back up and running after a crash, using these simple tips


By

Windows 10 is software just like its predecessors, so from time to time things go wrong. It happens remarkably infrequenty in our experience but we’ve put together this short guide to help you get back up and running if you ever see the infamous Blue Screen of Death (BSOD).

There’s no magic bullet solution that fixes all ills, but if you work through the following tips you should be able to diagnose, and hopefully fix, your particular issue. 

We think that Windows 10 is an excellent version of the OS, with a lot to offer – especially now there’s the Creators Update, which is another free update.

Back up before you start

We store many important files on our computers – from family pictures and videos, to important business documents – and all of this can be lost very easily if you don’t create regular backups.

While you should be doing this all the time anyway, if you’re beginning to experience problems with your PC then creating a backup needs to become an immediate priority. It’s tremendously frustrating to lose precious data needlessly, and the whole process can be completed in a very short time.

You can either use dedicated backups solutions – such as those found in our guide to the best backup software – or take advantage of one of the best cloud storage services

Recreate the problem

It’s helpful to make a note of what you were doing and which programs were running when you experienced the blue screen. If you’re able to recreate the process and end up with the crash, then there’s a good chance that one of the pieces of software you are using could be causing the problem.

In any case, knowing that the crashes are not random, but instead caused by certain actions, can narrow down the suspects.

For example, if you notice that whenever you connect a printer via USB and try to print from Word you get a BSoD, but if you print to PDF you don’t, then it’s reasonable to assume the printer is involved.

Check the code

With a blue screen there will sometimes be an error code displayed at the bottom of the message. Write this down, then search for it on Google to see what the code represents.

Knowing what you’re looking for will certainly make things a little clearer when it comes to diagnosing the problem.

What did you change?

One of the first things to investigate is whether you made any changes to your system. Usually this will be a new piece of software or an update to an existing program.

If the blue screen happens while you’re using a program, or loading one up, then it might be worth uninstalling the software and then reinstalling it again.

You could also try using Google to see if there are others having issues with that version of the software, and what solutions they’ve discovered. 

Update drivers

We’ve seen several cases in the past where dodgy graphics card drivers have wreaked havoc on a PC. If you’ve upgraded yours recently, and since experienced crashes, then it might be worth going back to the previous version

Alternatively, head to the forums on the manufacturer’s site to see if there are known problems with the update.

To uninstall a program or driver you’ll need to click on the search area in the taskbar then type view installed updates and select the option that appears with that name.

Now you’ll be taken to the Control Panel where you can check the dates of the drivers and uninstall the ones that might be causing the problem.

How to fix blue screen of death in Windows 10

How to fix blue screen of death in Windows 10

Update Windows

Another obvious thing to check is that Windows itself is up to date.

To do this click on the Start button and click the cog icon, then click on Update & security. When the Update panel appears click on Check for Updates. 

Check your hardware

If you’re on a desktop PC, then it could well be worth opening up your machine and ensuring that the hardware is all seated correctly.

If a card isn’t fully pushed into its slot then there is the outside chance that it might cause the crashes.

Of course if you’ve upgraded a graphics card, or maybe your RAM, recently then this would again be a thing to investigate, as the new hardware could be causing the problem.

If you’re still having trouble, Microsoft has a troubleshooting guide as well.

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How to transfer iTunes music to Android

A guide to moving your iTunes music library to your Android smartphone or tablet in four simple steps.

Switched from iPhone to Android? Here’s to to move your iTunes music


By

If you have just moved from an iPhone or iPad to and Android phone or tablet, you might have music in your iTunes library that you want to have on your new device. You can either copy the music directly with a cable or upload songs to Google Play Music making them available to stream to any device without taking up storage.

If you go for the first method, the process is fairly simple because Android devices can be used just like a USB stick. You’ll need your phone or tablet’s USB cable for this.

You can also – if you like – set a song as a ringtone on Android.

Transfer iTunes music to Android with a cable

First, plug your Android phone (or tablet) into your PC. You may need to tell the phone to operate in MTP mode for transferring files. Each device is different, but something should pop up when it is connected to a PC.

Android MTP mode

Android MTP mode

Next, open a File Explorer window (Windows key + E) on your computer and navigate to the music folder on your phone or tablet. In this case the location is: This PC > Chris’ G2 > Internal Storage > Music.

If your phone or tablet has an SD card and you want to put the music there, then you may find it appears as a separate drive under ‘This PC’.

Android music folder

Android music folder

Leave this window open ready to move your music.

Open another File Explorer window and find your iTunes music library. By default this is found in: This PC > Music > iTunes > iTunes Media > Music.

iTunes music folder

iTunes music folder

With the two windows open next to each other on your desktop simply drag and drop the music you want to transfer to your Android device. You can select particular folders or just move everything if you have enough free storage space on your device.

Transfer iTunes library to Android

Transfer iTunes library to Android

How to upload iTunes music to Google Play Music

The method above is the quickest and easiest for most people, but you might want to make your tunes available to multiple devices without using up their internal storage.

A good solution is to upload your music to Google Play Music, which is stored in the cloud. This means you’ll need an internet connection to stream the music but you can also pin (download) content to keep it stored locally for offline listening.

Google Play Music allows you to upload a massive 50,000 songs for free and it’s easy to upload your entire collection with the Music Manager.

Follow the steps below to transfer iTunes (plus Windows Media or local folders) library to Android phone with Google Play Music.

First, head to the Google Play Store in a web browser and click on Music, then select My Music. You’ll need to log in with a Google account.

Upload songs to Google Music iTunes library

Upload songs to Google Music iTunes library

Once you’re in the music section, open the menu on the left with the three lines by ‘Listen Now’ and select Upload music towards the bottom.

You’ll be prompted to download the Music Manager but if you’ve already got it then open it up and sign in with your Google account.

Upload songs to Google Music iTunes library

Upload songs to Google Music iTunes library

When you’re logged into the Music Manger select ‘ Upload songs to Google Play’ and hit Next.

Upload songs to Google Music iTunes library

Upload songs to Google Music iTunes library

Now you can select which library or folder you want to upload – for this guide we’re choosing iTunes. The Music Manager will automatically find your library displaying how many song and playlists are available.

You can choose to upload it all or selected songs by playlist plus the option to include podcast.

Upload songs to Google Music iTunes library

Upload songs to Google Music iTunes library

Click Next and you’ll be asked if you want to automatically upload songs which you add to your library in the future, therefore keeping iTunes and Google Play Music synchronised.

Make your selection, approve the next screen and your music will be uploaded. If you turn off your computer part of the way through, it will resume automatically when it’s switched back on.

Follow Chris Martin and @PCAdvisor on Twitter.

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Microsoft’s mission to reclaim the hearts and minds of PC gamers

Microsoft has been involved with PC gaming for a long old time. That involvement has brought us joy, with classic games such as Age of Empires and Crimson Skies, as well as some pain, with stumbles like Game for Windows Live, Microsoft’s fumbled attempt to replicate Steam’s success.

During this time, Microsoft has regularly assured us that it is still committed to PC gaming – and to making Windows the best platform to play games on. As the creators of the operating system so many PC gamers use for their rigs, Microsoft’s interest in PC gaming is always under scrutiny, especially since the launch of its Xbox console.

However, with Windows 10 and the recently-released Creators Update, Microsoft promises that it has made the best version of Windows for PC gamers ever. We chatted to Peter Orullian, Xbox Group Product Manager, about how – and why – Microsoft wants to win over PC gamers. 

Why Microsoft loves PC games

While Microsoft, and Windows, has been a constant presence for PC gamers for a long time now, Microsoft is still primarily thought of as a company that deals with the less exciting things in life – operating systems, cloud servers and office suites.

But, as Peter Orullian suggests, Windows 10 is changing all that. 

“We needed a contemporary, game-focused version of Windows, and that’s Windows 10, the best version of Windows ever for gaming,” Orullian says. “Since the launch of Windows 10, each update has come with new gaming features and integration. It’s part of our focus now with Windows. We’ve also extended Xbox Live, our social gaming network, to Windows, creating a rich way for gamers to connect, compete, and share.”

What a lot of us may forget is that many people at Microsoft love games and gaming, according to Orullian. “The Xbox team is comprised of gamers who are passionate about both the work we do, and improving the gaming experiences we all enjoy and utilize.”

“Each update has come with new gaming features and integration. It’s part of our focus now with Windows.”

As Orullian points out, those gamers are helping to shape the direction Microsoft is moving in. “Because our team is full of gamers, our focus is on identifying key areas and opportunities for improvement based on community feedback, and delivering great games and gaming experiences on Windows 10 as a result. We’re energized by the work that we’re doing, the new opportunities for PC gaming on Windows 10, and the great games that are coming to the platform.”

Window shopping

Despite Windows being so integral to the PC gaming experience for many people, where it’s necessary to play PC games, Microsoft hasn’t quite cracked selling PC games, whilst rival services such as Steam go from strength to strength.

With the Windows Store in Windows 10, Microsoft wants to change this by making it easier for people to find and buy games through the store. Improving the quality of the store has been a big focus for Microsoft and Orullian’s team. 

“I’m proud of the work we’ve done, and are continuing to do, to streamline and make the Windows Store more user-friendly for fans, in addition to continuing to expand our library of game titles. Some of these are Xbox Play Anywhere games that allow fans to gain access to both the Windows 10 and Xbox One versions of the title with one digital purchase, bringing their game saves and progress with them across devices – which offers great value.”

Of course, encouraging people to buy through the Windows Store isn’t a completely altruistic aim, and it’s clear why Microsoft would want a slice of that pie. But, making it easier to buy games means more games are sold, and that’s great news for the industry – and for gamers.

It’s also commendable that Microsoft isn’t just focusing on making it easy for gamers to buy games, but also for games developers to sell their games. 

“One store [across Windows PCs and Xbox consoles] … means a more streamlined submission experience for developers that will also offer new monetization scenarios that span across devices,” Orullian says. “Beginning with the Anniversary Update, the Windows Store now features new scenarios including the ability to pre-order games, bundles, purchase season passes and more.“

Also, as an added incentive to owners of both an Xbox One and Windows 10 PC, Microsoft’s Play Anywhere initiative lets you buy a game once, and play it on either device.

“We’ve done a lot with Windows gaming over the years – some ideas were successful and some were not.”

Making a service that’s user friendly and affordable isn’t that easy – as Microsoft knows all too well. In 2007 it launched Games for Windows Live, a service designed to replicate Steam’s success in selling games, as well as bringing online gaming on PC more in line with the Xbox Live service on Microsoft’s consoles. It wasn’t popular. 

Orullian was there during those times, and is open about the failures of the service, and the lessons they learnt from it. 

“We’ve done a lot with Windows gaming over the years – some ideas were successful and some were not,” Orullian admits. “Certainly, we understand the scepticism and we’ve learned from the past. I think the philosophy of keeping our fans’ interest front-and-center and building the types of experiences they find welcoming and easy to use is a philosophy that has permeated the entire culture here at Xbox.”

Whatever you say of Microsoft, it certainly appears to listen to its customers, especially recently. 

“Windows 10 was built with the unique needs of both PC gamers and developers in mind. We’re committed to delivering a product created by gamers for gamers. A part of that commitment is being transparent about the development of Windows 10, listening to and incorporating the valuable feedback from gamers and developers to continue to make the Windows 10 gaming experience even better.”

The honesty is refreshing, and it’s good to see a company as big as Microsoft acknowledge its mistakes, as well as learn from them. 

Orullian agrees, pointing out that “everything we do contributes to the strength of our next release. We’ve taken the things we’ve learned both on Xbox and on PC over the past many years and used them to help us chart a strong path forward. I have a lot of optimism about where we’re at and where we’re headed in our participation in PC gaming.”

Getting your Game Mode on

One of the headline features of the recent Creators Update, certainly for PC gamers, is Game Mode, which helps Windows keep check on background tasks when you’re playing games. The idea is that by limiting the resources taken up by other tasks when playing, you should see more consistent framerates.

“We’ve received a lot of great feedback on Game Mode, both positive and constructive. In many cases, gamers who’ve utilized Game Mode to alleviate resource contention – that is, when your PC’s system resources are taxed from multiple applications running concurrently – have told us that they’ve experienced greater frame rate stability.”

Before you dash off and enable Game Mode, Orullian – and Microsoft – want to temper expectations.

“In many cases, gamers who’ve utilized Game Mode to alleviate resource contention… have told us that they’ve experienced greater frame rate stability.”

“As we’ve said all along, the exact performance increase provided by Game Mode will vary per title and individual machine, and will also depend on what apps and process you’re running, given the virtually infinite range of possible hardware and software configurations,” Orullian clarifies. “While Game Mode may not offer a performance boost in every single case, we think the community overall has appreciated the added option to experience a more consistent PC gaming experience, which can be easily turned on or off.”

When Game Mode was first announced, it captured the imaginations of many PC gamers, and while that’s generally a good thing, it also led to increased expectations from some quarters about what Game Mode could manage. This is something that Microsoft is keenly aware of.

“As with any new technology, there’s a risk that people’s expectations may not perfectly align with what they’ll experience, especially in the realm of PC gaming where there are so many different configurations and scenarios to take into account.”

That doesn’t mean it’s downplaying what Game Mode is capable of, though. “We think the benefits that many gamers are seeing from using Game Mode are really exciting, and it’s important to remember that this release is just the first step in our journey to improve Game Mode over time.”

That’s perhaps the most exciting thing about Game Mode, and the other PC gaming-centric features Microsoft has brought to Windows 10. This is just the beginning of Microsoft’s rekindled love of PC gaming, not the end. 

“We’ll continue update and evolve the feature in future updates, and welcome any and all feedback from our amazing community to help us advance that mission.”

Welcome to TechRadar’s 3rd annual PC Gaming Week, celebrating the almighty gaming PC with in-depth interviews, previews, reviews and features all about one of the TechRadar team’s favorite pastimes. Missed a day? Check out our constantly updated hub article for all of the coverage in one place.

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HTC U Ultra review

OK, I know – we are meant to review every smartphone in isolation, without relentlessly comparing it to others in order to assess it. But by April 2017 we have already had great things to say about the Samsung Galaxy S8, the Huawei P10 and the LG G6

The HTC U Ultra was announced before any of these phones, back in January at a press conference. HTC has adopted the ‘U’ branding because that’s who it says this phone is for – you. It believes it has designed a highly personal device. 

It’s definitely different enough to stand out, and I truly wanted to love this phone. In everyday use it does make a half decent argument for itself, but given its obvious flaws, it’s impossible for me to say outright that you should buy it. It simply isn’t good enough.

UK price and release date

The 64GB U Ultra is on sale for £649.99 SIM free from Carphone Warehouse. You can pick from the blue, black, pink and white versions.

Carphone also offers the phone on contract from around £35.99 with an upfront cost

You can also buy it direct from HTC. In the box is also a Quick Charge 3.0 wall charger, clear case, headphones, SIM tray tool and a micro-fibre cloth.

HTC U Ultra colours

HTC U Ultra colours

Design and build

HTC considers itself ‘the master of metal’ but the design mantra of the U series phones is ‘Liquid Surface’, achieved with glass. Liquid surface doesn’t really mean anything, but refers to the attractive depth effect the glass takes on, as opposed to Samsung’s method of placing colour sheets under a piece of glass that gives a flatter, 2D effect.

Before you even turn it on, it’s a beautiful device. With this break from metal phones, HTC has at least made the U Ultra to the highest build quality standards.

But it’s just too big. Absolutely huge, in fact. Now, I’m sure that many people out there still prefer the presence of a bit of bezel. Bezel-free devices may be the latest trend, but they are debatably harder to hold (the Xiaomi Mi Mix in particular is all screen and hard to grip without registering erroneous touches on the display). 

The U Ultra has a big old bezel at the chin, and what appears like a bigger one at the forehead. The chin houses a responsive fingerprint sensor and capacitive Android navigation buttons that look oddly too small for the design.

HTC U Ultra design Ice White

HTC U Ultra design Ice White

It appears HTC has copied this set up from the HTC 10, but because the U Ultra is so much bigger, there’s tons of unused space and the design looks wrong, almost like a manufacturing error, as there’s no good reason why there should be so much unused space. This is not good on a high-end phone, and I frequently missed the back and recent apps buttons because they are tiny and don’t stay backlit (though you can change this in settings to the detriment of battery life).

Once you turn it on, you see that the large bezel at the top houses a secondary display that is operated separately to the 5.7in main display (with more bezel to spare, by the way).

The U Ultra’s size means that it is undoubtedly a two-handed device. Even scrolling through Twitter with one hand on the train is perilous such is the unwieldy nature of the phone.

Maybe it’s our nostalgia for the brand (that One M8 tho) but despite these niggles it’s still nice to see HTC do something different and the U Ultra is certainly that. While HTC’s phones have typically been variations of grey with a sleek brushed finish, the U Ultra is altogether more striking.

Whether it’s striking in good way will depend on your personal taste. There are four colours to choose from, the Sapphire Blue and Brilliant Black options are best and the latter has a slightly green tint. However, the pearlescent Ice White and Cosmetic Pink colours are more garish but perhaps that’s what you’re after.

Our white review sample did grow on us though, with a slight pink glint in the right light.

The curved glass makes for a comfortable fit in the hand and although the material may be strong and harder to scratch, it has various downsides. The lack of friction makes the device slippery, it’s a fingerprint magnet and, we suspect, prone to shattering if you drop it.

A clear case is included in the box to help with some of these issues but of course makes the phone even bigger and heavier.

HTC U Ultra fingerprints

HTC U Ultra fingerprints

Everything else is in check, with USB-C and a speaker on the bottom, SIM tray with two slots (though one gives the option for microSD up to 256GB) on the top, a textured power button and volume rocker on the right edge and nothing on the left edge. The power button is nicely textured but after I dropped the phone once, it lost its tactile click and is now mushy.

Painfully, there is no headphone jack on the U Ultra so HTC is following in the footsteps of Apple and Motorola on this front. It’s a straight up crime that a USB-C to headphone jack dongle is not included in the box, and has meant I was immediately put off listing to music or podcasts on the phone.

You do get a pair of USonic headphones that utilise the reversible port though, but there aren’t the best. More on that further into this review.

The U Ultra retains HTC’s BoomSound stereo speakers but like the flagship 10, only one faces forward. There are four microphones on the handset too for the capture of better audio in videos.

Overall the design is bold, different but frustrating after extended use. I use a lot of phones and the initial good impressions of the U Ultra are suddenly dulled when you hold a better designed phone (in one hand) and realise the U Ultra is a step backwards from the marvellous HTC 10

Specs and features

Second sight

In 2017 as we see bezels shrink and screens get taller, the HTC U Ultra has gone full traditional phablet – it’s a big old device at 162.4 x 79.8 x 8 mm, housing a 5.7in Super LCD display with a 2560 x 1440 resolution and 513ppi. The screen produces colours excellently, and we have no complaints when viewing video, web browsing or playing games.

HTC U Ultra screen

HTC U Ultra screen

Then there’s also a small, thin strip screen at the top of the device like we saw on the LG V10 and V20. It’s two inches with a resolution of 1040 x 60.

We can’t say that this is a feature we ever hankered after, and in fact now that we have it on the U Ultra, it’s kind of annoying. Not because it makes an already large phone even bigger, but because it also isn’t very useful. You can scroll through customisable panels for weather (the best one), app shortcuts, reminder, calendar, favourite contacts and music controls.

The weather auto updates with forecasts, which is cool, and the reminder panel is good for ‘get milk’ and other temporary mind jogs. But the app shortcuts are redundant when you can hit home and tap the app anyway, and the whole display is only on when the main screen is.

HTC U Ultra second screen

HTC U Ultra second screen

With both screens off, raise to wake shows the time, date, notification icons, battery and weather on the secondary display. You can then scroll through all the normal modes, with an additional quick toggle menu for access to Wi-Fi, flashlight, Bluetooth and more. Bafflingly this handy option is only available when the phone is locked.

A secondary screen is not high on the list of consumers’ must-have features on a phone, and the way it has been hurriedly implemented on the U Ultra is disappointing. OK, you can read the first line of a notification when you’re in another app without obstructing what you’re seeing, but it means an already huge phone has to be bigger, and doesn’t improve the user experience. It complicates it.

Processor, storage and RAM

Aside from the screens, the phone runs on the Snapdragon 821 processor also found in the OnePlus 3T and LG G6, paired with 4GB RAM. There’s definitely enough power under the hood for most people, and the 821 is a proven chip despite the 835 now debuting on the Galaxy S8.

4GB RAM is still all you really need on a phone too short of doing literally every computing task on it at once, and the U Ultra stood up to solid performance in multitasking. App load times are good, as is switching between apps.

Units ship with a generous 64GB storage, but that is becoming standard for flagship Android devices today. A limited edition 128GB version with Sapphire glass is available in Taiwan.

In terms of pure power, the U Ultra is a high-end device, if not the most powerful. But with constant use it feels limited and overblown at the same time, which makes for a frustrating experience. The hardware and software are inextricably linked, but not in a good way. It is also a weighty device at 170g, not helped by its stretched dimensions.

Benchmarks

Benchmarking phones against each other isn’t the be all and end all as they aren’t properly indicative of everyday use. The U Ultra is still an good performer for the average user. You just should note that in five tests it ranked lowest on four.

Camera

The camera is a 12Mp sensor with OIS while the front facing camera is 16Mp. The latter can use UltraSelfie with UltraPixel tech (lot of ultra going on here), a mode that is four times more sensitive to light than the normal mode. Get ready to photo that face.

Photos come up well but can look a tad washed out or too dark – the lighting conditions generally have to be spot on or the sensor struggles. 

It really wasn’t that dark outside in the above image

The rear facing snapper can also take in 2160p video at 30fps. The camera app is a little tricky to use and feels a bit toy like, but once you’ve found the settings menu then it can produce very good, if not class leading, images. The camera bump is also huge on an already thick phone. Surely HTC could have made it flush?

HTC U Ultra camera

HTC U Ultra camera

But some things are missing

There’s also everything else you’d expect; NFC, Bluetooth 4.2, 11ac Wi-Fi and fast charging with Quick Charge 3.0. But there’s no wireless charging despite the move to glass (metal phones prohibit it), and no waterproofing whatsoever. These things won’t matter to everyone, but many competing Android phones now have both as standard, and at £649 the U Ultra really should have one or both.

There’s also no headphone jack, and the sad fact of the matter is HTC can’t get away with this. Apple can. It’s not fair, but it’s true.

Even though I’d prefer a headphone port on the iPhone 7, at least Apple shipped an adapter with every phone. In the UK, you don’t get an adapter with the HTC U Ultra and the UK HTC site doesn’t stock it, so you have to use the bundled headset.

That’s fine if you like black HTC in-ear headphones, but I personally struggle with comfort of in-ears. So with no other option besides Bluetooth headphones (I don’t have any and they are expensive), I immediately considered the U Ultra a no-go for audio. This is bad for HTC – I won’t be the only one who will grimly persevere with the included headphones. They are too bass heavy and there’s not a whole lot else to say other than to repeat my frustration.

Power play

And then there’s the battery – it’s 3,000mAh, which simply isn’t enough for a phone with two displays. This phone is physically massive, and it’s simply not a big enough cell to keep it going.

The U Ultra came off charge most mornings at 8am and was hitting 20% before 6pm while I was testing all its features. Screen on time is frustratingly low, meaning the U Ultra is nowhere near being a power user’s phone, when the two displays and large dimensions mean this is the main thing it should be.

HTC hasn’t commented on why the battery is so small, but considering it says it left out the headphone jack to easier design a curved back, it reeks of a company trying to be different with design to stand out, yet try to appeal to an iPhone audience by copying Apple’s most annoying design decision of recent times. Go figure.

Overall, the U Ultra’s unwieldy design could be forgiven if it was a two-day powerhouse with waterproofing and a headphone jack. The fact that it’s not is bitterly disappointing.

Software and HTC Sense Companion

The phone’s UI is still HTC’s Sense, which is quite close to stock Android. HTC has moved even closer to stock Android since the 10, and our U Ultra review unit ran 7.0 Nougat. Rather than replicating every Google app with an HTC equivalent, the U Ultra pushes you to use Google’s Photos, Gmail, Calendar and everything else.

Sense has become very discreet, save for the HTC Sense Companion you will find on the U Ultra. HTC calls it AI, but it isn’t AI – it’s a set of reminder and tutorial functions that pop up from time to time to help you out. Sometimes it’s simply to say that the phone is checking performance for you and will let you know if an app is using too much power, or to let you know about traffic in your area.

HTC Sense Companion

HTC Sense Companion

Senseless

These prompts feel untargeted, and despite the fact it’s meant to learn your habits, I found it next to useless. I know Android tends to prompt you to manage power efficiency and such, but I’d rather this phone just did it for me rather than telling me it’s possible. The phone also doesn’t yet have Google Assistant, so you’re left with the inferior Google Now function and an invasively unhelpful Companion. I used neither.

The USonic headphones work with the software to enhance your listening experience on the phone, but I felt like the technology wasn’t up to much. It apparently analyses your inner ear and adjusts the audio output to suit (in my experience by cranking up the bass far too loud).

HTC U Ultra dual display contacts

HTC U Ultra dual display contacts

It’s not adaptable, so won’t adapt to your surroundings unless you manually go through the procedure again. Some may find it beneficial, but I feel it’s one more thing HTC didn’t automate that delivers a less than satisfactory user experience.

Despite this, Nougat runs fast and responsive, and the notification shade is one of the best I’ve used for quick replies and actions. In fact, the efficient software is one of the best things about this phone.

On the HTC 10, the hardware amplified its quality but paired with the U Ultra’s hardware it makes the software feel unremarkable and clunky. The default settings display text and icons very large, which adds to the unrefined overall feeling I have about the device as a whole.

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