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HTC U11

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HTC U11: Hands-on
  • HTC U11: Hands-on
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  • HTC U11
  • HTC U11
  • HTC U11
  • HTC U11

Summary

Key Features

  • 5.5-inch quad-HD display
  • Snapgradon 835 / 4GB RAM
  • 64GB storage / microSD
  • ANC USB-C earbuds included
  • No headphone jack
  • 12MP camera w/ OIS
  • 3000mAh battery
  • Amazon Alexa
  • Edge Sense
  • Manufacturer: HTC
  • Review Price: £649.99

Editor’s note: The U11 I’m testing only just got updated to the final software and, as a result, I’m holding off giving it a score. Below are my initial impressions from testing the HTC U11 with pre-release software.

What is the HTC U11?

The U11 is HTC’s answer to Samsung’s seemingly unconquerable Galaxy S8, which is TrustedReviews’ current smartphone of choice. In its bid to conquer the Galaxy, HTC has loaded the U11 with an arsenal of interesting features.

Highlights include Amazon Alexa support, Hi-Res Audio capabilities and a slightly bizarre set of “Edge Sense” squeeze controls – yes, you read that right.

These, plus a wealth of cutting-edge components, make the phone seriously enticing on paper, and for the most part the U11 delivers.

Related: Best smartphones

HTC U11 – Design

The U11 follows the same ‘Liquid Surface’ design as HTC’s previous U Play and U Ultra handsets. This replaces the unibody metal design HTC was previously famous for with a new combination of metal and glass.

I personally wish HTC had stuck with metal, but from a distance I’ll concede the design looks great. This is largely because HTC’s managed to pull a canny trick, where the colour of the glass changes depending on what angle you look at it. The silver version I tested switches between hues of silver and blue, while the black takes on a greenish tint at certain angles, for example.

But upon closer inspection you’ll realise there are a few problems with the U11’s design. Unlike the Galaxy S8, which also features a mixed-material casing, the glass on the U11’s back is bolted onto, rather than housed within, the metal frame. This small difference makes the phone feel a lot more chunky, measuring in at 7.9mm thick, and in my mind it seems slightly less luxurious.

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This feeling isn’t helped by the fact that the back is an outright fingerprint magnet. Within 10 seconds of leaving the box the rear was a criss-cross of marks and smudges.

The only other slight quibble I have with the design is that, by today’s standards, it has a fairly chunky bezel. A few years ago the bezel would have been fine, but compared to other 2017 flagships, such as the Galaxy S8 and LG G6, the giant black edge around the U11’s screen looks a little retro, and not in a good way.

Like past U-series phones the U11 doesn't have a headphone hack. I kind of get the argument that USB-C is the future, and HTC’s managed to curtail the issues associated with not having a 3.5mm jack socket by including an adapter and a surprisingly good pair of in-ear USB-C “USonic” headphones. But the socket’s absence is still an annoyance.

Over the past week I’ve repeatedly been forced to forgo the listening pleasure of my Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 and use the USonic, or my wireless Jaybird Freedom gym headphones, on my commute because I forgot to pack the adapter. Case and point, there isn’t a photo of the adapter in this review-in-progress because I can’t for the life of me remember where I put it.

Outside of this the design ticks most of the right boxes, though. The fingerprint scanner sits in the U11’s front home button and, while not quite as nippy as the Huawei P10 or P10 Plus’, it’s been consistently reliable when unlocking the phone.

The appearance of a microSD card slot is also welcome, though I can’t see anyone but power users needing it, as the U11 already features either 64GB (tested) or 128GB of internal storage.

The fact the U11 has been designed to meet IP67 certification standards will also be a boon for accident-prone users, and means the phone will be able to survive accidental submersions in liquid at depths of 1m and below for 30 minutes.

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HTC U11 – Screen

Outside of its slightly chunky bezel, the U11’s screen is top-notch. The 5.5-inch screen’s quad-HD (2560 x 1440 pixels) resolution ensures text and icons are uniformly sharp and you’ll struggle to spot any individual pixels.

The Super LCD 5 panel also offers decent colour temperature levels, with none of the RGB spectrum looking too cool or too warm, though they don’t look quite as vibrant as competing phones with AMOLED panels. Viewing angles are also suitably wide and I didn’t have any issue using the phone to show funny cat videos on YouTube to the rest of the team.

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I didn’t notice any serious backlight bleed on the U11 during my first week either. My only slight issue is that the maximum brightness isn’t quite as high as the S8’s. This isn’t a huge disaster, as 99% of the time you won’t want the display maxed out. It only becomes an annoyance when using the U11 outdoors in direct sunlight or very bright indoor areas, where the screen can become fairly reflective. Being fair to HTC, though, this is an issue I experience on 99% of the phones I review.

HTC U11 – Software

Software is an area HTC has excelled at in recent years. This is because it was one of the first smartphone companies to realise it didn’t need to reinvent the wheel when skinning newer versions of Android. As a result HTC’s made great decisions, such as removing duplicate applications and ensuring it only installs a small amount of third-party software onto its handsets.

This legacy continues on the U11, which from what I’ve seen has one of the best implementations of Android 7.1 Nougat to arrive this year.

Like the HTC 10, the U11 is wonderfully free of bloatware and doesn’t feature any duplicate apps; there’s only one music player, one email client, one calendar, etc. This sounds small, but it makes the entire UI feel less cluttered and means you won’t have to go through the laborious process of deleting unwanted clone apps, like you do on certain handsets, such as the Huawei P10.

HTC’s also ensured the few additional services it has installed are actually useful. Highlights include the return of Blinkfeed, Edge Sense and Amazon Alexa support.

Blinkfeed works exactly the same way it did on past HTC phones and can be accessed by swiping left from the main home screen. It offers a curated tile system showing news articles and updates it thinks are of interest. The feed is customisable and remains a great way to catch up on the morning headlines on the commute into work.

Edge Sense is a custom feature that lets you interact with your phone by squeezing it. Initially I wasn’t a big fan of it, as out of the box the U11 is set to launch the camera app with one squeeze and take photos with a second. This sounds cool, but in practice doesn’t work all too well, as the squeeze action naturally makes the phone shake, resulting in blurry photos.

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But the feature grew on me when I activated the advanced setting, which lets you add two different commands: one that’s triggered by a short squeeze and a second that launches with a long squeeze. I instructed the U11 to launch the music app with a short squeeze and skip tracks with a long one. After my first week, I’ve found the function a massive time saver and regularly use the squeeze functionality when commuting to and from work.

Amazon Echo fans will also be pleased that the U11 is set to be the first phone to get built in Alexa support later this summer. According to HTC it’ll be supported alongside Android’s native Assistant which will make it easier for people to use their preferred virtual assistant without installing an additional application.

Sense Companion is the only software addition I’m not completely sold on. This is yet another smart assistant feature that once again aims to offer recommendations on things like nearby restaurants it thinks you’ll like, or upcoming events based on the U11 owner’s user habits.

The feature sounds cool, but with Google working to offer similar services with its Assistant this seems a little redundant. After a solid week with the U11 I’m yet to get a decent suggestion from Sense Companion that Google hadn’t already beaten it to. Having got a pop-up alert telling me I may like the “nearby Ramen restaurant” that I was already sitting in, I’m on the verge of retiring Sense Companion to the same graveyard as Samsung’s Bixby.

HTC U11 – Performance and audio quality

The HTC U11 is one of the first smartphones to run using Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 835 CPU. With a clock speed of 2.45Ghz and paired with 4GB of RAM the octa-core CPU is one of the fastest I’ve tested.

The U11 blitzed every task I’ve thrown at it. 3D games open in milliseconds and have blissfully short loading times, and the phone easily deals with multiple-tab web browsing. I also didn’t experience any stutter or delay when running applications in split-screen mode – a process many phones still struggle with.

I have, however, suffered a few unexpected crashes over the last seven days, including a rather annoying incident where the music and Garmin apps closed mid-run while the phone was in an arm strap and not easy to reach. HTC has assured me these are due to the pre-production software on the handset, so hopefully this won’t be an issue on the final U11.

The U11’s synthetic benchmark scores mirrored my real-world experience but were slightly lower than expected. The U11’s 1904 single- and 6363 multi-core Geekbench 4 scores put it slightly below the Galaxy S8, which scored 2016 and 6530 on the same tests. However, this could change with the final software, which is meant to offer a number of under-the-hood upgrades that will boost performance.

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Audio and voice recognition are both areas in which the U11 dominates. Featuring support for 24-bit Hi-Res Audio files the U11 is one of a select few handsets that will let audiophiles and Tidal users take advantage of their collection’s improved sound quality.

I was also impressed with the U11’s bundled USonic headphones, which feature a built-in DAC (digital-to-analogue converter), active noise cancellation and a custom feature that creates an optimised audio profile by scanning your ears.

The headphones don’t offer superior audio quality to more expensive over-ear sets, such as the Sony MDR 1000X or Bose QuietComfort 35, but they’re a clear cut above most phones’ freebies. Outside of a slightly overpowering bass I didn’t have any serious issues with the sonics.

The ANC won’t drown out the cacophony you’ll experience on public transport or a flight, but it’s solid enough to block out background office noise.

The USB-C-to-3.5mm converter also worked well, when I remembered to pack it. The converter features its own powered amplifier which further improves the U11’s audio chops and offers improved, less noisy audio than from competing phones I’ve tested.

HTC has upgraded the BoomSound speakers too, specifically it claims it’s radically improved audio volume and quality by adding an acoustic chamber that allows the highs and mids to sound richer, alongside a host of general improvements to the phone’s speaker design.

Speaker sound quality is better than from most regular smartphones and more than good and loud enough to watch videos on, but I still wouldn’t want to listen to music on the U11’s speakers. Like all the phones I test, audio quality with music doesn’t come close to matching cheap Bluetooth speakers, such as the UE Wonderboom, and at points has an unpleasant tinnyness at high volumes.

The U11’s four omnidirectional microphones are also very impressive and made this one of the best phones I’ve tested for making and taking phone calls. It’s also the best I’ve experienced at picking up vocal commands for Google Assistant.

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HTC U11 – Camera

Photo quality is an area HTC has struggled to compete in. This is because HTC’s custom UltraPixel tech, which supposedly improves processing speeds and low-light performance by capturing light on larger pixels, has in the past had a tendency to overexpose photos.

This was a massive issue on the HTC 10 and its predecessors, and a key reason I had my doubts about the U11’s 12-megapixel camera, which runs the same tech and captures gigantic 1.4μm pixels.

But thus far my experience with the U11’s camera has been surprisingly positive. Images aren’t Google Pixel or Galaxy S8 quality, but they’re a massive improvement on past HTC phones and match if not beat competing handsets like the BlackBerry KEYone and Huawei P10.

Taken in regular light, photos universally look excellent. Colour balance is solid and images don’t look overexposed or oversaturated. Shutter response, while not the fastest, is also more than quick enough for impromptu snapping.

Video recording was also suitably smooth and the four mics did an excellent job of recording 3D sound. In short, the U11 is more than good enough as a compact replacement for holiday and family snaps and social media.

HTC U11

HTC U11

HTC U11

My experience in low light was a little mixed, however. The U11 is capable of taking above-average photos in low light, especially if you take advantage of its pro mode, which offers manual controls for key features such as white balance and ISO. But the camera shutter speed drops to a snail's pace.

Taking photos during a friend’s birthday celebrations with the dual-LED flash off in a dim bar, the U11 regularly stuttered and there was a noticeable delay between when I pressed the onscreen shutter button and the photo being taken. This resulted in many blurred shots and photos of the backs of friends’ heads.

This is a shame as, on paper, the U11 ticks all the right boxes for low-light photography, featuring a BSI sensor, OIS and impressive ƒ/1.7 aperture that matches the Galaxy S8’s. HTC claims the issues will be cleaned up on the U11’s final software. Hopefully this claim will ring true.

The U11’s 16-megapixel front camera is pretty par for the course as selfie cameras go and proved more than good enough for self portraits and video calls – though again, low-light performance isn’t stellar.

HTC U11 – Battery life

The HTC U11 features a 3000mAh battery, which on a phone this size is a little small. The dinky cell left me with serious concerns about the U11’s stamina and after a week with the phone I’m still not convinced it’ll offer anything more than average battery life.

With regular use I found the U11 generally just about manages to last between a day and a day and a half. This entailed listening to music during my commute, taking and making a few calls, regularly checking my social media and email feeds, and watching a quick episode of Rick and Morty before bed.

The U11’s video playback and gaming performance was also a little middle of road by flagship standards. Looping a video with the screen brightness at 50% the U11 discharged an average of 10-12% of its charge per hour. Most other phones I test in this price point lose less than 10% per hour tasked with the same test.

Gaming was an even bigger drain. Playing demanding games such as Riptide GP2 and ShadowRun Hong Kong, the U11 lost as much as 22-25% of its battery.

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The USB headphone converter also proved to be a big power sap. Listening to music using the converter the phone managed to discharge as much as 15% of its battery over an hour-long train ride, which will be a serious issue for people who regularly travel.

I’m also a little disappointed that the U11 still uses Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0, not the newer 4.0 tech. However, charge speeds are far from terrible, and the U11’s never taken more than an hour to fully charge from zero during my time with it.

Related: Best Android smartphones

Early Verdict

Featuring a great display, wonderfully clean Android software, speedy performance and great audio quality, the U11 has a lot going for it. Although I’m personally not a fan of its glass design.

If the final software fixes some of the teething problems as HTC’s promised, the U11 will be an excellent smartphone that everyone from music fans to regular Joes should consider.

Domain Rider

May 16, 2017, 8:00 pm

It's significantly bigger than the HTC 10 - 8mm longer and 4mm wider. Also 8g heavier, 2.5 hrs less talk time, 5 days less on standby.

Ronald

May 17, 2017, 2:24 am

Sorry editor but lots of us want bezels for durability and better speakers.

Steve Sylvester

May 17, 2017, 7:14 pm

This phone is what I've been waiting for. I'm an all weather cyclist in Minnesota. With IP67 I won't have to bag or case the phone to avoid having sweat or rain ruin it. And in the winter I can use the squeeze capability to shoot picks with gloves on. I've been on HTC since the original Hero. I've always liked their build quality, and over the years they've stripped sense down to the point that it's pretty bare bones. People complain about the "big" bezel, but I couldn't care less. Looking forward to getting my hands on this thing.

sabrina

May 17, 2017, 10:05 pm

what a lackluster biased review.
- completely did not mention the record-breaking DxOMark mobile score of 90 (better than Pixel or S8)
- pro of bezels -> less shattering
- edge sense being a "gimmick"? I cannot wait for this innovation (why do you scoff at that word choice?)! The ability to use the phone in frigid weather with mittens, the ability (combined with the IP67 rating) to take photos underwater, the increased ease of using larger phones one-handed.
- re: speakers - "HTC says they’re apparently better than ever." Well, you're the reviewer, what do YOU think? You have the physical product, you should be able to tell they are the best speakers you've heard in any phone.

Ron Lunsford

May 18, 2017, 6:01 pm

I read this and I still can't tell if you like the phone after spending an hour with it or not - which by the way, isn't enough time to do a proper review by any means. Let's chalk this up to bad form and move along.

Now for the review itself, it's pretty well full of contradictions and poor comparisons. Like the U11 is not as eye catching as the S8 and G6 - but the ridiculous red color is stunning? The display doesn't match an AMOLED for saturation, even though many people don't enjoy the oversaturated AMOLED screens look. The squeeze feature is calibrated to your touch - you can make it very soft of very hard - so make sure you get that noted. And yes, the camera is stunning - although you failed to mention that it once again set a DXOMark record with a rating of 90. Basically, it's everything that was amazing about that HTC 10 that you liked, amplified. If that's not progress, then I don't know what is.

LokiusMaximus

May 18, 2017, 6:48 pm

I had the Hero and Aria after AT&T bought out Alltel in my area. I switched to a Moto X afterwards. One thing I loved about HTC phones was that the stock keyboard put symbols behind the letters. Do you know if HTC still goes that route at least up to the HTC10? It made so much sense that I could not figure out why Motorola did not do the same. MotoX's keyboard today looks like garbage.

Master Yates

May 19, 2017, 1:53 pm

Another company making the huge mistake of ditching the headphone jack. I will give HTC some credit in including the alternative in the box. Still doesn't alter the fact that it's a deal breaker.

bkf11

May 19, 2017, 4:21 pm

This "review" is consistent with most reviews of most of the HTC's high end devices... highlights on the personal biases and glossing over the improvements over previous models... Squeezing a phone to activate apps... downplaying something that no other phone does and calling it gimmicky?... "I'm not convinced yet... maybe they will grow on me..." sure after an hour ... you should have waited to write this to give more than cursory information that we have already for the most part seen in the leaks instead of trying to be first....

bkf11

May 19, 2017, 4:23 pm

Do people really go 5 days w/o charging a phone?

Domain Rider

May 19, 2017, 4:59 pm

Not unless it's a spare - I was just comparing the specs HTC give for each phone - comparing standby time gives a clue to battery life.

Darwin Simmons

May 20, 2017, 7:10 am

I don't think I've ever seen a review of any of HTC's phones that was not tainted with bias. Every one is fixated with Samsung or Apple. I've had several HTC phones and have never had any issues with their performance or capabilities. They make a solid phone that does not catch on fire or require you to have an account with them to download music/data/apps.

Darwin Simmons

May 20, 2017, 7:13 am

Perhaps we should go back to BETA video tapes while we are at it.

Goran

May 20, 2017, 9:55 am

Actually, I prefer 16:9 screen ratio, G6 and S8, for me, have fake big screens. S8+ seem more natural, S8 is horrible, when I've seen it I was really dissapointed. That phone looks like a toy, not serious phone. And about edge sense, I have only one comment. How come noone ever included this feature before??? It's insane, thnx htc for bringing this to life.

Goran

May 20, 2017, 9:57 am

True, htc made big tactical mistake for removing 3.5 too soon. But, at the end of the day, all seem to follow, so next year, 3.5 on phones will be rear thing.

Goran

May 20, 2017, 10:03 am

10 comes with touchpal keyboard. Google photos. No htc keyboard and their photo app. But I guess you can download their keyboard from gplay. I use gboard, though, I am not satisfied with any keyboard available:)

Goran

May 20, 2017, 10:11 am

Plus you don't need to worry about burned pixels. Htc always had great LCD displays, and one on 11 is the best ever. Amoled has some advantages, true, easier on battery life and VR ready, but with LCD you don't worrie at all.

Goran

May 20, 2017, 10:17 am

Well, if you believe reviewers too much, you will never find YOUR perfect phone, bcs perfect for all doesn't exist. One should know it's own needs and what he values in the phone. But I agree, ppl forgot, especially some reviewers, how great htc phones are, and strong overall.

illregal

May 22, 2017, 7:54 pm

trustedReviewer can't be trusted. On Samsucks payroll.

Tom Kelsall

May 25, 2017, 7:34 am

Why is it a deal breaker? You need to charge for an hour and a half once every day and a half. You can accomplish this while asleep when you don't need earphones. I genuinely don't understand why this is even a starting consideration.

Jon Pace

May 25, 2017, 8:54 am

Instead of calling the review 'HTC U11 hands-on: A phone you can squeeze, but why?' maybe it should be called 'I don't like bezels, so I'll make a somewhat dismissive review, but why?'

I think Edge sense, despite a somewhat gimmicky name is something we will see more and more on phones, and will become the norm. It's such a practical idea for the quick and easy snapshot of your kids, to as someone below comments it being great when your out on a bike.

Can just see the review of the S10+ in two years time saying it's got Samsung Squeeze, which is a great innovation..........

Tobbe Jonsson

May 25, 2017, 9:35 am

Edge sense I think personally will be the next big thing, as others are saying. This review is like ALL others "nothing" more than personal opinions. As a professional phone test would ONLY have focused on the actual bits in it. But, it's regular HTC: "just a gimmick", and then two years laters it's on ALL phones and THEN the "reviewers" loves it. When it's in a samsung/apple..

Master Yates

May 25, 2017, 3:09 pm

Its a deal breaker as I have multiple pairs of earphones all use the 3.5mm jack. I also have to use these with many other phones which all have the 3.5mm. That means I can carry 1 pair around and use them universally. If any device is low on power, I can also charge that device like when a conference call over runs. I have no issues with moving on as long as long as the next standard is better.

Master Yates

May 25, 2017, 3:12 pm

With something like the Lenovo P2, I guess they do.

Ching-Yuan Ian Lee

May 26, 2017, 4:26 pm

an adapter is included so that any of your 3.5mm earphones can be used on u11

Ching-Yuan Ian Lee

May 26, 2017, 4:51 pm

"Images aren’t Google Pixel or Galaxy S8 quality..." What are you talking about??? Ratings by DoXMark: U11-90, Google Pixel-89, HTC10/iPhone7/S8/S8+-88. In addition, many head-to-head comparisons of camera performance between U11 and S8 came out. U11 indeed beats S8 in most of the aspects in most of the reviews.

The only PROBLEM of Edge Sense was why such a brilliant idea and design came out so late? I personally tried it and liked it so much (and therefore ordered a unit). I just can't wait that more and more apps become "squeezable"!

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