They may not be as popular as before, but HTC is still around making Android phones. It’s hard to make a dent to the popularity of other phone brands, although with good-looking phones, HTC is on track to keep itself relevant. In the sea of aluminum and plain glass smartphones, the HTC U Play stands out with its design.

It looks plain at first sight

Beautiful design for a midrange phone

If you buy a phone based on its looks, this will be one of your top choices. Like most smartphones with a premium build, the U Play combines aluminum and glass with a unique look on its back. HTC calls it “liquid surface” as it’s designed to look like liquid paint beneath the glass back. The result is a glossy phone that’s prone to smudges. But! It’s one of the best-looking ones in the market.

Our unit comes in black, but it has a greenish tint when light hits the back panel

The phone on hand feels wider than most 5.2-inch devices I’ve held and that’s due to thick side bezels it has. It makes the phone a bit stout, while the aluminum frame gives a satisfying cold touch and doesn’t warm up easily. There are no issues with the overall build and design of the U Play, aside from the missing 3.5mm audio port.

No 3.5mm headphone jack!

The fingerprint scanner, which works really great, is located on the front of the device. It also acts a home button (it doesn’t press down, though) accompanied by two navigation keys on both sides. One-handed use is not a big concern here unless you really need to tap the four corners of the display.

Familiar HTC Experience

Android skins have been toned down in recent years, with the exemption of those phones from China. HTC Sense — that’s what HTC calls its user interface — sits in between my preference of a clean slate Android UI and a custom one. HTC’s take on Android gives the phone a mature personality over the playful icons of other manufacturers.

HTC Sense hasn’t changed much in the past couple of years

It’s stuck on Android 6.0 Marshmallow for now, and we’re hoping HTC will push out an update in the coming months. That comes with no guarantee, though, as with all third-party manufacturers. Anyway, having a dated version with a skin on top doesn’t give you the impression of running on old software.

Not exactly the latest in the market

HTC is trying to win back select markets where they have become dormant — such as Southeast Asia — by releasing phones like the U Play, which comes with a Helio P10 processor from MediaTek. With the new Helio P20 already available, it’s disappointing to see an old processor running on a new phone.

It still runs on Android Marshmallow

Processor aside, it has more than enough memory at 4GB and spacious internal storage at 64GB. I can easily open and switch from one app to another without any hiccups. So far, I didn’t encounter any signs of the phone slowing down under pressure. If only it were powered by a newer processor, I’d like the U Play more than just its physical appearance.

Can you “Play” all day?

The U Play comes with a 2500mAh battery and its processor is not exactly the most energy-efficient in its class, so I didn’t really expect it to last long. But, it still managed to hang on before a work day ended and I was able to get around three to four hours of screen-on time depending on usage. It also features fast charging, just in case you need a quick boost before hitting the road.

The most beautiful thing about the phone is its back

As long as you don’t play games much, a full charge is enough for one-day usage. There are battery-saving features that can be turned on to stretch out the remaining juice.

It takes good photos and bright selfies

The UltraPixel makes a comeback here, but it’s now found on the front. The 16-megapixel front shooter is sensitive to light, allowing you to take a selfie even in dark environments. It also has a wide-angle lens, so you can fit more people in a frame. Here are Isa’s selfie shots:

The rear camera doesn’t sport an ultra-sensitive sensor to help shoot in dim scenarios, but it has optical image stabilization. We’ll give the U Play a thumbs up for having OIS since not all midrange phones have it. Captured images with the 16-megapixel rear camera are pretty impressive with proper white balance and a good amount of details. Also, the Auto HDR kicks in whenever you need it.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

It has a good camera, beautiful design, and the HTC name. What it doesn’t have are the latest Android software and midrange processor. It’s a difficult recommendation now but with its looks, no doubt it’s an attractive phone to buy. If only HTC can push a Nougat update as soon as possible, I’d have a change of heart about the U Play.

The handset is priced at GBP 399 or SG$ 548. It’s not exactly competitively priced but the aesthetic appeal of the U Play gives it a lasting impression. That’s what HTC does best: Design.

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