Contributor, Tech AdvisorAUG 18, 2023 11:30 am BST
Image: Jon Mundy / Foundry
At a glance
Gaudy, unbalanced OLED display
Unnecessarily chunky design
Mediocre battery life
The HTC U23 Pro is a competent mid-ranger with clean software, wireless charging, and IP67 certification. When it comes to the broad strokes stuff, however, it has very little to recommend it above its key rivals, which are variously cheaper, faster, better at taking pictures, and have better displays.
Price When Reviewed
Unavailable in the US
Those of a certain vintage will hear the name ‘HTC’ and think back wistfully to the early days of the smartphone revolution, when the Taiwanese manufacturer seemed like the only one capable of taking the fight to Apple.
The company is a much diminished force these days, having flogged much of its smartphone business to Google and shifted its focus to VR with the Vive headsets. HTC still maintains a minor interest in the smartphone business, however, and the HTC U23 Pro makes for a surprising and interesting new mid-range contender.
Design & Build
Flat, angled plastic rim and plush plastic rear
Somewhat hefty at 205g and 8.9mm thick
HTC used to be renowned for its envelope-pushing smartphone design work, but the HTC U23 Pro is gunning for cost-effective dependability. Its flat plastic rim, plastic back, and flat display don’t exactly resurrect memories of the HTC One M7.
There are flourishes to be found here, but they’re extremely understated. That flat rim, for example, is ever so slightly angled, thus giving the impression that the rear of the phone is slightly smaller than the front.
Jon Mundy / Foundry
That plastic rear also has a soft-touch finish that feels quite plush, and looks quietly luxurious, especially in the unusual Coffee Black tone that my review model comes in, which tints towards dark brown in the light. You can also grab the phone in a more orthodox Snow White if you wish.
The U23 Pro’s display is coated in Gorilla Glass Victus, which is nice and tough for a mid-range phone. You also get almost flagship-level dust and water certification, courtesy of an IP67 rating.
As understated as this design is, it can’t disguise the fact that the HTC U23 Pro is a rather large, heavy phone. It’s 8.9mm thick, and it weighs 205g, which doesn’t make it uncomfortable to cart around by any means, nor does it disappear into your pocket.
You do get a pair of loud (if somewhat tinny) stereo speakers, and that extra thickness enables the inclusion of a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top edge. Authentication is handled by a fingerprint sensor housed within the power button on the right edge, which is reliable, if not especially speedy.
6.7in FHD+ 120Hz OLED
Colour accuracy way off the mark
HTC has given the U23 Pro a 6.7in OLED display with an Full HD+ resolution and a 120Hz refresh rate. That sounds like a competitive spec list, and it’s particularly good to see 120Hz enabled by default rather than having to scramble around in the settings menu.
However, this is one of the most unpleasant displays I’ve used in a while. It mainly comes down to the screen’s overly vibrant colours.
Each of the three colour mode options (Natural, Boosted, and Adaptive) is extremely punchy and oversaturated, making everything from web content to video footage look gaudy. Maybe the nostalgia of the HTC brand fed into this, but I was put in mind of the early days of Android smartphones, back when Samsung’s initial OLED panels went a little crazy with the colours.
Jon Mundy / Foundry
Sure enough, running the HTC U23 Pro through a standard test using a colorimeter confirmed that none of these modes could be deemed colour accurate, at least if you’re talking about the regular sRGB colour space that most content is calibrated for.
It gets to a reasonable brightness of 488 nits with auto brightness switched off. Switching auto brightness on led to some freaky behaviour, with the screen going from too bright to too dark in mixed conditions.
Together with an apparent lack of HDR10 and Dolby Vision support, the HTC U23 Pro display feels like a lower-grade OLED component than we’re accustomed to dealing with in the £500 category.
Specs & Performance
Snapdragon 7 Gen 1 processor
12GB of RAM
256GB storage, microSD slot
The HTC U23 Pro runs on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 7 Gen 1, which is a mid-range chip that we haven’t seen in too many handsets before. Perhaps the most high-profile recent example has been the Xiaomi 13 Lite, with which the HTC U23 Pro is a direct competitor. It’s also in the Motorola Razr 40.
As with that fellow Xiaomi mid-ranger – and aided by an impressive 12GB of RAM – the HTC U23 Pro runs decently, enabling you to flit between apps and skim through menus at a silky 120Hz. As mentioned in the previous section, unlocking the phone using the fingerprint sensor isn’t the speediest process.
Jon Mundy / Foundry
Gaming performance is solid, with physics-heavy console racer Wreckfest running comfortably (if not perfectly) on medium-to-high settings.
In CPU benchmarking terms, the HTC U23 Pro tops the Xiaomi 13 Lite, ties with the Nothing Phone (1), and falls well short of the Motorola Edge 30 Fusion and the Poco F5. When it comes to our usual GPU benchmarks, the HTC ties with the Xiaomi 13 Lite and the Nothing Phone (1), but is obliterated by the Motorola Edge 30 Fusion, the Poco F5, and even the Pixel 6a.
HTC U23 Pro benchmarks
In short, then, the HTC U23 Pro performs adequately within its category, but gamers can get much faster for similar or even quite a bit less money.
One final standout spec is the provision of 256GB of internal storage as standard, plus the potential for more through a microSD slot. Bravo for going the extra mile here, HTC.
108Mp main camera with OIS
8Mp ultra-wide, 5Mp macro, 2Mp depth
Struggles with lighting extremes
The HTC U23 Pro’s camera system is every inch the mid-range performer. That might sound fine, given that this is a mid-priced phone, but with the Pixel 7a (and now discounted Pixel 6a) available for way less, it’s not likely to impress anyone.
It’s a perfectly solid set-up, led by a 108Mp main sensor with OIS (optical image stabilisation) and EIS (electronic) stabilisation, as well as a wide f/1.7 aperture. This results in moderately sharp, pleasingly natural-looking shots in decent lighting. HTC doesn’t punch colours up too much, which many mid-range manufacturers tend to do.
Jon Mundy / Foundry
Its limitations started to be exposed when shooting on a sunny day, where everything looked washed out and murky as the U23 Pro failed to compensate. In other shots where the brightness didn’t encroach on the scene too much, I spotted hints of overexposure in the background.
At other times, when trying to take a close-up of a beer glass in front of a less sunny harbour scene, the U23 Pro got the tone right, but took three attempts to lock on to the foreground subject.
There are issues at the opposite end of the brightness scale, too. Low light shots with the dedicated Night mode active yielded lots of grainy artefacts, mostly evident in dark skies. OIS might well be in play here, but the sensor obviously isn’t huge, and HTC’s image processing doesn’t seem to be up there with the better mid-range manufacturers.
The secondary cameras aren’t anything to write home about either, with an 8Mp ultra-wide the only other sensor of note. The 5Mp macro and 2Mp depth sensor aren’t really worth more than a cursory mention, with the macro in particular too hit and miss – with way more misses than hits. As is typical, they are really there to bump up the number of cameras in an attempt to impress.
There’s a 32Mp selfie camera around front, but despite its relatively pixel-packed nature, it’s not a strong performer. All of my selfie shots were extremely soft with overexposed backgrounds, while portrait mode yielded lots of weird artefacts around the edge of the subject.
Battery Life & Charging
4600mAh battery yields mediocre battery life
Slow 30W wired charging
15W wireless charging support
Given the HTC U23 Pro’s thick, heavy body and heavy use of plastic, it’s a bit of a surprise to learn that it only has a 4600mAh battery. I would have expected a standard 5000mAh cell.
Sure enough, I found the phone’s stamina somewhat underwhelming. In a day of fairly moderate usage (14 hours off charge, just over 3 hours of screen on time), I observed the phone dropping to 38%. It’s not unusual to have a good half-a-tank left to play with in such a scenario.
Jon Mundy / Foundry
This disappointing result was borne out in the standard PCMark Work 3.0 battery test, where the HTC U23 Pro scored an underwhelming nine hours and three minites. That’s five hours less than the Poco F5, while even the Pixel 7a – a phone that’s not exactly renowned for its stellar battery life – managed almost two hours more.
It scores a little better than the Motorola Edge 30 Fusion and only a little less than the Xiaomi 13 Lite, but both of those phones have even smaller batteries.
HTC doesn’t include a charger in the box, but the U23 Pro supports up to 30W wired charging. I used a 66W charger from another brand, which yielded the telltale “Charging rapidly” message, but could only get the phone to 24% in 30 minutes. A full charge took over two hours.
All of which sounds quite negative, but there’s one considerable saving grace to the HTC U23 Pro’s charging set-up. It supports 15W wireless charging. That’s no longer as special a mid-range feature as it used to be, with the likes of the Pixel 7a and the Nothing Phone (1) packing it in, but it’s still not the norm.
Stock-like Android 13 experience
Handful of stand-alone Vive apps
No big update guarantees
The HTC U23 Pro comes with a pleasingly stockish take on Android 13. This is Android largely as Google intended, with menus, layouts, and app icons that would be familiar to any Pixel or Motorola users out there.
HTC supplies a few embellishments, with the clock widget in particular nodding to its more illustrious past, but it’s nothing too elaborate.
Indeed, you could argue that HTC could do a little more embellishing. There’s none of Motorola’s tasteful light enhancements or gesture-based shortcuts, for example. You also don’t get any of Android 13’s excellent Material You colour customisation options, for whatever reason.
Jon Mundy / Foundry
In terms of bloatware, you get a handful of HTC’s own Vive-themed apps, nodding to the brand’s new status as, first and foremost, a VR company. With no Vive headset to hand, I was unable to test these out. Either way, these are stand-alone apps, and can be completely ignored and even uninstalled.
HTC doesn’t appear to be making any bold claims about ongoing software or security updates here. Given the company’s step back from smartphone market prominence in recent years, this is probably understandable, but it’s worth keeping in mind if you’re intending on keeping your next phone around for several years.
While the HTC U23 Pro isn’t a bad phone, it’s tough to make a case for it at the asking price. Not with so many fine rivals offering so much more for similar or less money.
It isn’t particularly fast, it doesn’t have a very good screen, it doesn’t have a strong camera setup, it doesn’t charge very quickly, and its stamina is underwhelming. Each of its main mid-range rivals does at least one of these things well, and often more.
You do get a pleasingly clean OS and wireless charging here, as well as IP67 certification, none of which are a given at this price. But when you can get the Pixel 7a, which ticks almost all of the aforementioned boxes for £50 less, it’s difficult to see what the HTC U23 Pro brings to the table beyond nostalgia.
Jon is a freelance journalist who got his start covering mobile games at the dawn of the App Store. He has since covered everything from smart home tech and laptops to food and culture, but always seems to return to his fascination with smartphones.