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HTC U11

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

HTC U11 hands-on: A phone you can squeeze, but why?

HTC U11 release date: June 2017

HTC U11 price: £649

2017 has already been a fantastic year for phones, with the Samsung Galaxy S8, LG G6 and Moto G5 all impressing. But now it’s HTC’s turn, and it’s fair to say the Taiwanese company's taking things seriously.

The HTC U11 is the follow-up to the HTC 10, a phone I liked but that struggled to really stand up to flashier competition, and that had the same design DNA first introduced with the frankly poor HTC U Ultra and U Play.

While flagships from Samsung and LG are looking to stand out by reducing the bezel width and thus offering more screen in a smaller body, as well as by using HDR-ready displays, HTC is going in a different direction. You could say a much more gimmicky direction.

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As the rumours had suggested, the key ‘innovation’ (that’s HTC’s word, not mine) here is ‘Edge Sense’, a new way of interacting with the phone by literally squeezing the sides. A light squeeze opens Google Assistant, and a harder squeeze takes you to the camera app. Once you’re in the camera, pressing down on the lower portion of the rim acts like pushing a shutter button.

It’s an interesting idea, but the sensation of pressing down – hard – on the sides of the phone is quite odd, and I constantly felt like I was going to drop it. Later in the year HTC says third-party apps will be able to take advantage of these squeezy features – I was shown a clever example of it working in Google Maps, where pressing harder zoomed in – but it’s a shame this isn’t coming at launch.

Another of the U11’s biggest features isn’t coming at launch either, and that’s Amazon’s Alexa. The virtual assistant has been a hit when baked into products such as the Echo, but this is the first time it’ll actually be a native part of a phone. (Sorry, Huawei, but your rubbish Alexa app doesn't count.)

Like the Echo, Alexa will burst into life when it hears a wake-word, and thanks to the four microphones dotted around the phone it should hear you from quite a distance. Alexa will work with its regular skill set, so you’ll be able to control your smart home, etc, but we’ll have to wait and see if any more phone-specific actions are added. HTC says that Alexa will come in July in the UK, USA and Germany.

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But while I'm sure a lot of HTC’s marketing for this phone will revolve around the Edge Sense actions and Alexa, there are actually other parts that interest me a lot more.

The front-firing BoomSound speakers are back, and HTC says they’re apparently better than ever. Sound is pumped from behind the screen. In my short demo, YouTube videos sounded noticeably better than through the Galaxy S8+ I was using as a comparison.

There’s no headphone jack on the HTC U11, and while I don’t agree with this on the whole, at least HTC is doing it for a reason. In the box you get a pair of HTC’s USonic in-ear buds that feature active noise-cancelling, and there's also a 3.5mm dongle (finally, HTC) which houses a built-in DAC that HTC claims should improve the sonics even when you’re using other brands' headphones. Audio has been one of HTC’s strengths for years, and that seems to be continuing here.

There are also some interesting aspects of the camera setup, an area where HTC has previously been a bit hit-and-miss. The 12-megapixel rear-facing camera has new wider f/1.7 aperture – the same as on the Galaxy S8 – for silky bokeh and improved low-light performance, while an HDR Boost feature reduces lag when shooting with high dynamic range.

HTC is also claiming the camera will focus in 0.3 seconds thanks to the updated phase-detection autofocus, but that's something that’s hard to test after barely an hour with the phone.

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Over-exposure of shots was a real issue on the the HTC 10, so hopefully that’s been fixed here.

On the front there’s a 16MP sensor with an f/2.0 lens and an ‘UltraPixel’ mode for improved low-light performance.

I was a big fan of the metal-clad design HTC utilised for the majority of the One series. It became almost iconic, and copied on many occasions. I’m less enamoured of this new all-glass look. From a distance it looks sleek, with the slightly curved 3D glass on both the front and the back, but up close it’s not the prettiest. The glass feels almost stuck on, and the polished back is perhaps the biggest fingerprint magnet on any phone I've ever used. Honestly, hold the phone for a few seconds and the back becomes jammed with smudges. HTC has even included a case in the box, and I'm pretty sure that’s because of the fingerprint problem.

I do like the colours, though – especially the ridiculous red hue that switches from bright crimson to a bronzey-sunset copper depending on the light. You can also pick from silver (which, I’m sorry, HTC, isn’t silver at all but blue), white, black or a brighter ‘Sapphire Blue’.

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On the inside you’ve got what I'm sure will be the usual 2017 set-up: 4GB of RAM, Snapdragon 835, 64GB of storage and a microSD card slot. Some territories will get a model with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, but not the UK.

It’ll be a fast phone, even more so because of HTC’s light skin that feels a lot like Android 7.0. Aside from the ropy AI features ripped from the U Ultra, the software is almost exactly the same as that of the HTC 10.

Even though the Snapdragon 835 supports it, there’s no Quick Charge 4.0 here. But QC 3.0 should be sufficient for juicing up that 3000mAh cell quickly.

Unlike the LG G6, Sony Xperia XZ Premium or Samsung Galaxy S8, the HTC U11 doesn’t have any HDR tech in its display. Instead it’s a 5.5-inch quad-HD IPS panel, and it looks pretty good. It can’t match AMOLED screens for contrast, and some text and icons look oversharpened, but it’s pixel-dense and bright. I’d have liked HTC to ditch the bezel and push the display right to the corners, but maybe that’ll come next year.

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First Impressions

The HTC U11 isn’t as immediately eye-catching as the LG G6 or Samsung Galaxy S8, but it seems to have lots going for it. It’s not the most exciting phone of 2017, but the addition of Alexa, improved BoomSound speakers, and bundled ANC headphones shows HTC is trying hard to keep on top of the things it does best.

I’m not convinced by the Edge Sense gestures yet – maybe they'll grow on me with extended use, though – and I would have liked to see a bigger display improvement, especially for the £649 price.

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.

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