In a hotly contested flagship segment with phones like Samsung Galaxy S8, Sony XZ Premium, recently unveiled OnePlus 5 and iPhone7, winning the battle for HTC is not just a question of delivering a good phone, the phone has to be great not just in performance but looks as well. Has HTC got that with its latest HTC U11, here is our take on that.
HTC U11 – Design
The U11 follows the same ‘Liquid Surface’ design as HTC’s previous U Play and U Ultra handsets. Unlike most players and even HTCs metal uni-body design this is a combination of metal and glass.
I think its a good move as it gives this HTC a very distinct unmissable look and that I feel is a very big advantage given that phones like OnePlus 5 looks so similar to iPhone that it is hard to distinguish without getting a look at the logo. In premium category where look is as important as performance HTC has indeed done a good job.
However being different is not the same as being good. So is the design good? Personally we feel the device looks great and not at all very blingy even though its very shiny with glass at the back which in-fact changes colour based on the angle you are looking at. For example, the silver version I tested switches between hues of silver and blue, while the black takes on a greenish tint at certain angles.
The fingerprint scanner sits in the U11’s front home button, which for me is the most comfortable placement and it works like a breeze. While the phone does get 64GB and 128GB internal storage, yet HTC has added a microSD card slot for super heavy users.
Another important and very welcome aspect of HTC U11 is the fact that it meets IP67 certification standards, which means it can withstand drop in liquids at depths of 1 meter and below for 30 minutes.
However, there are certain niggles as well. The back panel is finger print magnet, even 1 minute of usage will cover the back with visible finger marks. Another problem is the thickness of the device which at 7.9mm is slightly thicker specially given the fact that the phone only gets a 3000 mAH battery. HTC u11 also lacks edge to edge display which makes the device slightly bigger than other flagships with similar display size, for ordinary phone it is a non issue but this one is a premium phone.
Another area which can be a cause for concern for many HTC U11 users is the phone lacks a headphone jack. While USB-C port does the work for supplied headphone, and HTC has even supplied an adapter for other headphones, it becomes yet another piece of hardware to carry (though very small) if you intended to use any other headset.
HTC U11 – Screen
Apart from its wide bezel, the U11’s screen is top-notch. The 5.5-inch panel’s quad-HD (2560 x 1440 pixels) resolution ensures text and icons are uniformly sharp.
The Super LCD 5 panel also offers decent colour temperature, with colours neither too warm or too cool, while it lacks vibrancy of AMOLED panels the images look more real.
The back-light of the display should be slightly more as visibility in direct sunlight is not great and gets very reflective.
HTC U11 – Software
HTC has been very good with software and have mostly been ahead of the league. Their new lean approach to the applications and user interface is being well received as one of the best part of the phone. There are no duplicate or unnecessary third party application in the device.
This makes the user interface less cluttered and space is better utilised as you can use what you want instead what was pushed to you. There are some services that have been added like BlinkFeed, Edge Sense and Amazon Alexa support.
BlinkFeed works exactly as it has done 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. The feed is customisable and I generally like it.
Edge Sense is a custom feature that lets you interact with your phone by squeezing it. Out of the box, the U11 is set to launch the camera app with one squeeze and take photos with a second. While it sounds cool the squeeze action naturally makes the phone shake, resulting in blurry photos. You can however customise which app you want to open with squeeze. You can also use short squeeze and long squeeze as command for say opening music app and skipping a song.
HTC U11 is the first phone to receive built-in Alexa support. According to HTC, it will 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 another pre loaded service, which aims to offer recommendations on, for example, nearby restaurants or upcoming events based on the U11 owner’s user habits.
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 2.45 GHz coupled with 4GB of RAM, the phone is really fast, but given that OnePlus 5 gets 8GB RAM the fastest tag seems to have been taken.
The U11 however is still blazing fast, 3D games opens in a snap, loading times are amazingly short, and the phone easily deals with multiple-tab web browsing, no stutter or delay when running applications in split-screen mode.
Audio and voice recognition are both areas in which the U11 excels. Featuring support for 24-bit Hi-Res Audio files, the U11 is meant for audiophiles. It offers superb audio quality even with the supplied 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.
There are better headphones in the market in terms of audio quality but is clearly cut above most phones’ freebies. The ANC won’t drown out the noise of say public transport or a flight, but is good enough for background office noise.
The USB-C-to-3.5mm converter features its own powered amplifier, which further improves the U11’s audio capabilities and offers improved, less noisy audio than competing phones.
HTC has also upgraded the U11’s BoomSound speakers, audio volume and quality have been radically improved by adding an acoustic chamber that allows the highs and mids to sound richer.
The U11’s four omni-directional microphones also makes making and taking phone calls a much richer experience. It also makes vocal commands for Google Assistant respond more accurately due to proper pickup of commands.
HTC U11 – Camera
Of late, Photo quality is an area in which HTC has struggled to compete. This is because HTC’s custom UltraPixel tech has had a tendency to overexpose photos. The camera on the U11 does not seem to have this issue and is very good camera if not a stunner.
Taken in regular light, photos come out great with solid Colour balance. Shutter response is very fast if not fastest and in fact even zoomed in images have great amount of detail. Video recording was also suitably smooth and the four mics make the sound recording in video was a very rich experience with real 3D sound. The U11 is capable of taking above-average photos in low light, especially in 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.
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 that of the Galaxy S8’s but slow shutter speed in low light kills the experience.
The U11’s 16-megapixel front camera is also a pretty solid performer in self portraits and video calls, but again fails to impress in low-light.
HTC U11 – Battery
The HTC U11 features a 3000 mAh battery, which, on a phone this size, is a little small. And in our regular usage test did manage to last a full day. What helps this phone is the use of Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 which takes around 1 hour to charge the phone. However this could have been even better with newer 4.0 version.
The USB headphone converter is a big power sap and drains the battery considerably faster, which we think is a issue for people who travel often.
The smartphone proved to be a mixed bag but that is the case with any smartphone. Do we recommend the phone as a good buy? Yes we do, as the phone offers exceptional sound quality, very good camera (falters in low light only), flawless performance and a good display and above all the device looks very different while looking great.
However there are niggles which can’t be ignored, and the prime among them is the fact that phone is a fingerprint magnet which other phones with uni-body metal design are not. Lack of headphone jack is another area of concern specially for music lovers.
Overall, we feel most people will tend to go with Samsung Galaxy S8 and they will be not wrong but HTC has made the HTC U11 which is equally compelling if not more and in certain areas out shines competition.