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HTC U Ultra drops the headphone jack and picks up a secondary display

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There was a time when HTC’s phones were Android. In those early days of the platform, HTC made the only Android phones you could get in most countries. That took the company from a small-time white-label manufacturer of carrier phones to a huge player in smartphones. The last few years have not been kind to HTC, but it’s looking to shake things up in 2017 with the HTC U Ultra. This awkwardly named smartphone is the new flagship for HTC, so don’t expect an HTC 11 to show up.

The striking thing about the the U Ultra is how different it is from what HTC has been doing recently. The One series and HTC 10 were distinctive with aluminum frames and a distinct style. This year, it’s like HTC has admitted that it doesn’t know where to go with its designs, so it’s scrapping them and borrowing ideas from other OEMs.

The first and most obvious instance of imitation is the overall design. The milled aluminum unibody frame that has been HTC’s hallmark since 2013 is gone. Instead, the company has gone with a very Samsung-like glass and metal chassis. The fingerprint sensor and hardware navigation buttons are still on the front under the screen, reinforcing the Samsung vibe.

If you were to look at the edges of the HTC U Ultra you’d see the SIM slot, buttons, a USB Type-C port. Yes, all the usual smartphone things, with one glaring exception—there’s no headphone jack. HTC is taking a page out of Apple’s playbook here. Although, at least they didn’t claim that made them courageous. U Ultra owners will have to use wireless headphones, or deal with a 3.5mm adapter dongle. It’s another thing to lose.

The HTC U Ultra has a 5.7-inch 1440p LCD display, but right above the display is yet another feature borrowed from the competition: The U Ultra has a secondary ticker display just like the LG V20. This may actually be the most blatant example of copying in the U Ultra. The secondary display has a resolution of 160×1040, exactly the same as the V20. It’s also shifted off to the right with the front-facing camera on the left. This strip shows notification text, shortcuts, and some basic stats while the main screen is asleep.

It’s hard to say how consumers will react to HTC’s new design with its mix of traits from the competition. HTC may end up alienating the fans it still has, or maybe this will finally be a hit. However, the high $750 price tag and lack of any carrier deals don’t bode well. The U Ultra comes out in March, and the Galaxy S8 should be along a month or two later with lots of carrier incentives.

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