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HTC’s first 5G smartphone comes with a large 5,000mAh battery

HTC is still there! Somehow the company has accumulated enough cash and resources to release two new smartphones. The HTC U20 5G and HTC Desire 20 Pro were announced today, with the U20 5G being the company’s first 5G smartphone.

The most interesting device is the U20 5G, a Snapdragon 765G that runs at NT$18,990 (~$640). If you couldn’t tell from the coin, the phone will go up for pre-order in HTC’s home country of Taiwan first, on July 1, with the company promising availability in “other markets” in the future.

Up front, we have a generic looking design with a punch-hole camera in the top left corner, a 6.8-inch screen, with a resolution of 2400 x 1080, and a bit of a chin at the bottom of the phone. The screen is actually an LCD, which means that instead of the usual in-display fingerprint reader, you get an old-school capacitive reader on the back. On-screen fingerprint readers usually live under OLED screens, which are semi-transparent. It’s not impossible to put an in-screen fingerprint reader into the LCD, but there are no commercial solutions on the market yet. Also on the back are four cameras, a 48MP main camera, an 8MP wide-angle camera, a 2MP depth camera, and a 2MP macro lens.

The phone has 8GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, USB-C, NFC, MicroSD, and no headphone jack. The phone only supports 5G sub-6GHz, not the fastest mmWave 5G broadcast by all carriers. Like all 5G smartphones, the HTC U20 is quite large, with dimensions of 171.2 x 78.1 x 9.4mm. It’s actually larger than the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra in every way (166.9 x 76 x 8.8mm) but somehow has a smaller 0.1-inch screen. The big body means you’ll at least get a big battery: 5,000mAh.

HTC Pension Fund worth $1.1 billion

In the lead up to these phones being released, there was a lot of surprise that HTC 1) still exists and 2) still wants to make phones. While the company can’t really say that relevant In any one market, it seems financially solvent for the future.

HTC got a new lease on life in 2018 thanks to the $1.1 billion deal it struck with Google. Prior to the deal, the Pixel 1, 1 XL, and Pixel 2 were actually a collaboration between HTC and Google. The deal saw Google bring HTC’s 2,000-strong “Pixel Team” into the company. Apparently, this was a white-label engineering group separate from HTC’s branded smartphone engineers, allowing the company to continue using devices like the U20.

In addition to a huge cash infusion, the deal effectively allowed HTC to cut 2,000 people out of its struggling smartphone division. HTC has been aggressively laying off employees since 2017, when it had 10,000 employees according to the company’s financial report. As of March 2020, the number of employees is down to 3,500.

HTC’s monthly revenue page continues to be a harrowing portrayal of a company in free fall. Since about 2015, it was normal to see about a 50 percent year-over-year decline in revenue each month. For the first quarter of 2020, the company posted a net loss of about $57 million, but with $1.1 billion in cash included in the report (what a coincidence!), it doesn’t look like HTC’s going to run out of money anytime soon. If nothing changes, the company can go on like this for years!

According to HTC’s new CEO, Yves Maitre, the rest of HTC is mostly focused on “XR and 5G”. “XR” stands for the company’s Vive VR division, which seems to be the company’s main focus right now. HTC’s biggest event in the VR market was a one-off collaboration with Valve on the original HTC Vive. This was in 2016, and since then Valve has moved on to compete with HTC, launching last year’s best-selling Valve Index VR headset. HTC has quietly continued to pump out headsets for PC, releasing the HTC Vive Pro in 2018 and the Vive Cosmos in 2019. The company also has a standalone HTC Focus Plus headset (an Android device).

Without Valve, none of these self-designed headsets achieved the success (relative to virtual reality) of the original HTC Vive, which commands a 25 percent market share in Steam’s hardware survey. Pro is only 3 percent, while Cosmos is 1 percent. The original Vive likely got a big boost from being the first in the modern wave of VR headsets, so maybe it’s not a great point of comparison, but Valve’s HMD holds about 12 percent market share, and as the flagship device for on me Half-life: Alexwas on a two-month back order most of the year.

I stand by my position from 2016: Valve was the driving force behind the HTC Vive’s original technology and success. HTC isn’t a leading VR R&D company like Valve and Oculus, and it’s not clear what advantages HTC has in the VR market per se. And yes, let’s not forget Oculus: HTC also has the privilege of competing with one of the biggest tech companies in the world, Facebook, whose Oculus VR division has a 45 percent market share in the Steam hardware survey.

Nobody really does “well” in VR, and companies on the edge are starting to drop out. In an interview with Bloomberg, HTC’s CEO admitted that “the virtual reality market is not going as fast as we expected.” Samsung killed its Gear VR line of headsets for Galaxy smartphones, and Google killed its Daydream VR, a phone-based headset, for the rest of the Android ecosystem.

As for HTC’s other big focus, 5G, the company’s first 5G product was a $600 5G “hotspot” with a Snapdragon 855, a 5-inch 720p touchscreen, and Android 9 with Google Apps. It would basically be a smartphone if it weren’t for a non-pocketable beast measuring 1.7 inches thick and with a 7,660mAh battery. As for the actual phones, the U20 is the company’s first 5G device. It’s unclear how HTC thinks it can compete in the 5G smartphone market when it can’t compete in the 4G smartphone market, but if HTC’s business decisions make sense, HTC won’t.

Menu image from HTC