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HTC U11 review
What we like
What we don't like
There’s no denying HTC has had a rough go of it in the extremely competitive flagship space, and the company needs a hit on their hands to make a comeback. Now, with its latest high-end offering, HTC has gone a completely different route from what we saw with the 2016 flagship, the HTC 10.
With top-of-the-line specs, a smooth and snappy software experience, and a squeezable chassis, does the U11 differentiate itself enough from the competition? Is it worth the money that you’ll have to squeeze out of your wallet? Find out in our full HTC U11 review!
HTC has always had a penchant for beautiful design and solid build quality, so it’s no surprise to see the U11 excels in this area. Instead of a metal construction like it normally employs on its high-end offerings, HTC has opted for metal and glass with the U11. The device features rounded corners, curved edges on the front and back, and an aluminium frame sandwiched between two glass panels. This all makes for a seamless, comfortable in-hand feel.
This design is bound to turn heads
This design language is something we’ve seen numerous times now, but what makes the U11 stand out is the liquid glass surface on the back. This design is bound to turn heads, and the way to color shifts and changes depending on the angle results in a stunning effect.
Even though it's beautiful, the U11 is a slippery fingerprint magnet
Because this is a rounded, glass phone, it’s also quite slippery. HTC thankfully includes a clear plastic case in the box though, so perhaps this isn’t the biggest issue for folks who like to protect their devices. One other thing that case is good for: protecting against fingerprints. The U11 is an absolute fingerprint magnet, so keep that in mind if you’re worried about your phone looking smudgy.
While most other companies are going for taller and narrower display in 2017 (Samsung, LG, and Essential, just to name a few), HTC has gone with a more traditional, familiar display on the U11. The device comes with a 5.5-inch Quad HD Super LCD 5 display, with a “normal” 16:9 aspect ratio.
The front of the U11 just seems dated compared to the Galaxy S8 and LG G6
The quality of the screen itself is fantastic. It’s sharp, crisp, has excellent viewing angles, and vibrant colors. Outdoor visibility isn’t an issue, though I do wish the display was able to get much dimmer. It feels a bit too bright when using it at night or in the dark, but that’s only a minor complaint for what’s otherwise a great display experience.
In terms of specifications and hardware, the U11 ticks all the right boxes. Under the hood is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor backed by 4 GB of RAM, and overall performance is just as fast and fluid as you would expect.
The U11 provides Pixel-like levels of performance
Touch response and scrolling is excellent and it runs apps and high-end games with no issues at all. Multi-tasking is also nice and quick, but I did notice that the RAM management is quite aggressive with the device sometimes closing apps after opening only five or six of them. While that isn’t a big deal for me, it’s still something worth noting.
The U11 in the United States comes with 64 GB of on-board storage, which you can expand up to an additional 256 GB via microSD. There’s also a global variant of the device that comes with 6 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage. That’s great news for folks outside the U.S., though we wish the higher-end model was available for everyone.
The U11 features the same woofer and tweeter combo that we first saw with the HTC 10, but it has been improved significantly this time around. It is much louder and with better clarity, and HTC is leveraging the entire phone as an acoustic chamber to make this happen. You can literally feel the audio resonate through the device when holding it in your hand, and there is a huge difference in audio quality and volume when listening to the U11 and HTC 10 side by side.
The U11 doesn't come with a headphone jack, but it's forgivable because of how good the audio sounds through the USB Type-C port
The U11 doesn’t come with a headphone jack, but I think it’s completely forgivable because of how good the audio sounds through the USB Type-C port. The USonic earbuds that are included in the box are some of the best sounding pair of earphones I’ve ever listened to. They’re able to analyze and tune the audio specifically for your ear structure and also feature active noise cancellation.
If you don’t want to give up your current pair of headphones, HTC also includes a 3.5 mm to USB Type-C adapter in the box. Using the adapter will give you a much better audio experience, as it actually sport a built-in DAC. This allows you to drive higher impedance headphones.
HTC has finally (finally!) caught up to the rest of the pack on the water resistance front
HTC has finally (finally!) caught up to the rest of the pack on the water resistance front. The U11 sports an IP67 rating for dust and water resistance, meaning it can survive after being submerged in water. This is a huge step up from the IP53 rating of its predecessor. With most current generation flagships featuring similar protection from the elements, this was definitely a smart move on HTC’s part.
On the front below the display, you’ll find the standard array of capacitive keys HTC usually includes on its smartphones. The back button and recent apps keys flank the home button, which also doubles as a fingerprint sensor. The fingerprint sensor, as is the case with most other HTC phones, is speedy and reliable.
The U11 does a lot of things well, but none of that matters if the phone can’t last all day. Thankfully, battery life with the device is extremely good despite featuring a 3,000 mAh battery, which is a fairly average capacity by current standards. The phone never struggled to make it through a full day of use even with heavy usage, and I never had to reach for the charger in the middle of the day.
I never had to reach for the charger in the middle of the day
When you do have to charge the phone, it gets back to a full charge pretty quickly thanks to Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0. It’s pretty impressive that HTC was able to extend the U11’s battery life without the need to include a larger battery this time around.
When HTC announced the U11, one of the biggest topics of discussion was the device’s camera. The company was eager to tell us that the U11 has the highest DxOMark score of all time, outranking the Pixel and Galaxy S8 by one and two points, respectively.
Overall, the U11's camera lives up to the hype
The U11’s main camera comes with a 12 MP “UltraPixel 3” sensor, with an f/1.7 aperture and optical image stabilization. Overall, the U11’s camera lives up to the hype and is capable of taking some impressive photos. There’s plenty of detail in each shot, and color reproduction is natural and not overly vibrant.
Photos taken in low-light conditions are incredibly sharp and well detailed, too. Noise levels are kept under control, and the noise you do see is very fine and compact. Low light photos aren’t splotchy at all, which is something we don’t see too often in smartphone cameras.
Although this is a new sensor, it does suffer from one issue in low-light situations that we also saw with the U Ultra. Highlights are very heavily overblown and snapping photos that have light sources causes a lot of streaking, lens flares, and floating light particles. This was also a pretty big problem with the U Ultra, which is why I believe this might be caused by the phone’s reflective back. If that is the case, there isn’t really a permanent fix for it, other than using a case. Still, it’s not an issue many people will find to be bothersome.
HTC U11 camera samples
The front-facing camera no longer comes with OIS like the HTC 10 did, but you are getting a much higher resolution 16 MP unit for capturing better and sharper looking selfies. Both the rear and front cameras are also leveraging a new feature dubbed HDR Boost, which auto-processes as HDR to give you the clearest and most well-balanced photo possible, similar to what Google has done with the Pixel.
Not a lot has changed on the software front compared to the U Ultra or even the HTC 10 before it. The U11 is running Android 7.1.1 Nougat with HTC’s Sense on top, and with that comes all the familiar features HTC normally includes in its phones: BlinkFeed, a vertical scrolling app drawer, and a theme store.
Read more: Android 7.1.2 Nougat review
Sense is still one of the cleanest takes on Android, but it is starting to feel a little dated and in need of a refresh. The U11 was a perfect opportunity for HTC to do that, but unfortunately that didn’t happen. I do appreciate that the U11 doesn’t come with a lot of pre-installed bloatware, though. Even on the Sprint version there are only a couple pre-installed Sprint apps. If you do want the least amount of bloat, you should probably check out the unlocked version.
The biggest standout feature on the U11 is the new Edge Sense technology, which is HTC’s new shortcut for accessing different apps or functions on your phone. You can make it do anything from opening up the camera, to launching Google Assistant, to turning on the phone’s flashlight. While some companies like to add an extra to button to the side of their phones for added functionality, HTC has decided to make the U11 squeezable. It does sound like a weird thing to do, but it is surprisingly intuitive and works extremely well.
We’ve talked a lot about the Edge Sense feature in the past, and what you need to know about it is this: it’s weird, fantastic, and is certainly one of the most interesting ways we’ve been able to interact with phones in a long time.
The U11 will come with HTC's Sense Companion, Google Assistant, and Amazon Alexa on board
AI assistants are a big part of smartphones right now. The iPhone has Siri, Samsung phones
have will have Bixby, and Google and Amazon have been bringing the Google Assistant and Alexa to many different Android phones. Not only does the U11 come with Google’s Assistant on board, it also sports HTC’s new Sense Companion that first launched on the U Ultra. The Sense Companion will give you suggestions based on your location and the time of day, and will learn your usage habits over time and provide information that it thinks you may want to know.
For example, it can randomly update you with the weather information for the day, provide restaurant recommendations when it is time for lunch or dinner, remind you to charge your phone, or give you traffic updates based on your commute. All of this is shown in a card style layout, which may sound familiar since Google already does this. However, it does work fairly well if you choose to use it, but the big difference is that there is no voice component to the Sense Companion. This means you’ll have to use the Google Assistant for voice dictation.
If two AI assistants weren’t enough, the U11 will also support Amazon Alexa, with the update to activate this feature expected to roll out in July. When that update comes, you will certainly not be lacking in choice when it comes to which AI assistant you want to use.
5.5-inch Super LCD 5
2560 x 1440 resolution
Gorilla Glass 5
2.45 GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
4/6 GB (depending on market)
64/128 GB (depending on market)
Yes, up to 256 GB
Rear: 12 MP (HTC UltraPixel 3 with 1.4μm pixel) with ƒ/1.7 aperture
OIS, dual LED flash, Pro mode with manual control, slow motion video (1080p@120 fps), 4K video recording with 3D Audio, Acoustic Focus
Front: 16 MP with ƒ/2.0 aperture, 1080p video recording
Quick Charge 3.0
Wi-Fi: 2.4/5 GHz 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Ambient light sensor
900/850/AWS/1900/2100 (B8/B5/B4/B2/B1 with 900/850/AWS/1900/2100 diversity), HSDPA 42, HSUPA 5.76
4G LTE (up to 600Mbps download speed/with 2CA, 3CA Carrier Aggregation and 256 QAM, service dependent)
FDD: Bands B1/B2/B3/B4/B5/B7/B8/B12/B13/B17/B20/B25/B26/B28/B66
TDD: Bands B41
Cat 16 LTE ready with 4x4MIMO, supports near 1 Gbps download speeds and upload speeds of up to 75 Mbps
Single or dual nano SIM card slot
HTC USonic with Active Noise Cancellation
HTC BoomSound Hi-Fi edition
3D Audio recording with four microphones
Hi-Res audio stereo recording
Hi-Res audio certified
Android 7.1.1 Nougat
Dimensions and weight
153.9 x 75.9 x 7.9 mm
Amazing Silver, Sapphire Blue, Brilliant Black, Ice White, Solar Red
(depending on market)
Pricing and final thoughts
If you want to buy the HTC U11, you have a few options. HTC is selling it through its website for $649, and you can also buy it on Amazon for that same price. If you need a carrier partner, Sprint is the only U.S. carrier that will carry it in-store and online.
HTC has also put itself at a huge disadvantage by not having this phone available through other carriers. The U11 is trying to compete with the Galaxy S8 and G6, after all, and unfortunately consumers aren’t going to see the new HTC phone on display when they walk into their T-Mobile, Verizon, or AT&T store.
The HTC U11 isn't a phone that should be overlooked by any means
The HTC U11 isn’t a phone that should be overlooked by any means. With its fantastic build quality, top-of-the-line specs, and stellar camera, this device will tick all the right boxes for most users. The overall experience is rounded out with a rich audio experience and unique Edge Sense feature, making HTC’s latest flagship a truly compelling package.