[nextpage title=”Introduction” ]
Product Type: Smartphone | Manufacturer: HTC | Price: From £649.99 | Where to buy: EE | [et_social_share]
The HTC U11 is another great flagship from the manufacturer, boasting strong performance in all the right areas.
After the lacklustre One M9, Taiwanese manufacturer HTC went back on form with the anticipated 10. Despite disappointing sales, the handset was a commercial success and well received by critics and media alike. The company continued to expand and evolve their range further, producing devices such as the A9 and U Ultra.
While they weren’t all very successful, they did show that the company was willing to take risks and adapt. The HTC U11 may well be the culmination of all this, carrying the boldest design yet and dropping the headphone jack in favour of USB-C audio. For a device which is aimed at audiophiles, will this be too much to bear?
OS Android 7.1 Nougat (Sense UI)
Processor Snapdragon 835
Screen 5.5 inch IPS LCD
Resolution 2560 x 1440 pixels (534 DPI)
Memory 4/6GB RAM
Internal Storage 64/128GB
External Storage microSD 256GB
Waterproofing IP67 certified dust/water protection. 30 minutes up to 1 meter.
Rear camera 12MP f/1.7
Front camera 16MP f/2.0
Video 4K 30FPS, 1080p 120FPS
Connectivity WIFI a/b/g/n/ac, USB-C, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC
Cellular Speed CAT 16 LTE 1,000Mbit/s
Dimensions 154 x 76 x 7.9 mm
[nextpage title=”Design and Screen” ]
Design and Screen
The HTC 10 came in a very attractive metal and glass design, which was a stark contrast from handsets which came before it. The U11 takes things a step further, swapping the metal rear for highly reflective glass and bold colours. It’s a design choice which is sure to divide opinion but will ensure the smartphone stands out against competition. Opting for a glass finish always introduces problems, namely the fact that it’s a complete fingerprint magnet. This could be the greasiest handset we’ve ever handled, with only the Sony Xperia XZ series matching it for sheer filth. Holding the handset for only a few seconds produces a spluttering of marks all over the glossy rear, which completely detracts from an otherwise unique appearance.
When it’s clean, the HTC U11 takes on an incredibly shiny appearance unlike anything else on the market. The company has achieved this by providing a two-tone colour finish on the rear which changes depending on the angle at which it’s viewed. The blue version we received will switch between that and purple, while a solar red variant due to be released shortly after will turn gold under certain lighting conditions. It’s an extremely cool aesthetic that will definitely turn heads in the street.
Elsewhere, those who used the HTC 10 last year will feel a sense of familiarity here, as everything is in a similar place to before. The fingerprint sensor is still situated under the screen, while the rear camera sensor is aligned centrally and protrudes slightly. The dual-tone flash has swapped sides and is now to the left of the sensor, while laser autofocus has been removed. Connectivity is pretty sparse on the HTC U11, with only a USB-C port to speak of. The removal of the headphone jack is sure to disappoint quite a few people, especially when their handsets have always been seen as audio-centric devices. A USB-C to 3.5mm adapter is included in the box for using third-party headphones, though the inability to charge and listen at the same time is annoying. Also, for those who were wondering, HTC has thankfully included a DAC in the adapter for better audio quality.
Overall design has also been refined, with curved edges and a slimmer profile. The U11 is now IP67 water resistant, a common complaint surrounding users of its predecessor. It’s also a little bigger than last year thanks to a 5.5-inch screen, but we never found this to be bothersome. The front panel blends more seamlessly into the sides, with a colour-coded piece of metal trim separating the front and back. HTC has shaved 1.1mm off the thickness this time round, which makes a big difference to how it feels in the hand. This could be the most comfortable HTC handset we’ve held in a while.
The HTC U11 has a 5.5-inch 2560 x 1440p IPS display, using the same Super LCD5 technology found on its predecessor. Unlike Samsung and LG, the Taiwanese manufacturer has not included a bezel-less display. It may not be as striking to look at with regards to overall design but this is nonetheless a good panel. Comparing the handset side-by-side with the HTC 10, it’s clear that the U11 carries a warmer colour profile which may need toning down for accurate white reproduction. Colours are nice and vivid, with plenty of saturation. Viewing angles seem to have improved, with less of an overall hue at extreme angles. Screen brightness seems to be around the same, with decent maximum levels for outdoor performance. The brightness curve is also very smooth, with gradual dimming throughout minimum to maximum and no spikes.
BoomSound, HTC’s proprietary audio enhancing technology, makes a triumphant return on the U11. The functionality is identical to its predecessor, with a front firing tweeter at the top of the device and a midrange/subwoofer on the bottom edge. These two speakers work together for fuller audio, creating some seriously impressive sound. Other manufacturers now employ similar arrangements in their handsets, making this less impressive than before, but there’s still no doubting the sound quality. If you like watching media on the go, the HTC U11 will offer a fine experience.
Another thing worthy of mention on the audio front is a pair of specialised noise cancelling ‘Usonic’ headphones which ship in the box. Coming readily equipped with a USB-C connector on the bottom, they allow you to use the included audio profiling application for personalised sound. The setup has been simplified over predecessors. The app now plays a simple test tone, which is then measured and used to calculate optimum sound quality and noise reduction. The result is night and day, with a clear difference in sound quality while the feature in enabled. Unfortunately, the inability to use the application with third-party headphones really lets it down… especially as this was possible on the HTC 10.
[nextpage title=”Camera” ]
The HTC 10 camera somewhat divided opinion, with some people loving it and others concluding it was very average. We were in the former camp, believing it was an excellent all-rounder with impressive low-light capabilities. The U11 seems to have taken things even further, recently becoming the number one smartphone camera on DxOMark and eclipsing the Google Pixel.
HTC has achieved this by opting for a new sensor with their proprietary UltraPixel technology. Now in version three, the sensor size has been shrunk very slightly in favour of a higher f/1.7 aperture. Laser autofocus has been dropped in favour of phase detection autofocus (PDAF), something which several of the current flagships seem to be doing. In fact, the rear camera hardware exactly matches up with the Samsung Galaxy S8, leading us to believe they may be using the same Samsung sensor.
In testing, we can definitely see why DxOMark gave this camera such a glowing review. Detail is some of the best we’ve seen, with the HTC U11 capable of producing sharp images that exhibit minimal noise. Contrast and exposure are both excellent, with harsh landscape shots well captured with plenty of dynamics. In our test samples, it produced one of the mostly evenly exposed images we’ve seen in recent memory, retaining both shadow and highlight detail perfectly.
Macro shots were equally impressive, with the inclusion of optical image stabilisation definitely been a big help here. We were able to get within a few inches using the HTC 11 and still achieve good levels of focus, making this a great shooter for insects and plants. Colours were vibrant and striking, though it never veered on unnatural.
For low-light photography, HTC seems to have gone for a different approach which favours noise for a little more sharpness. In our test images, the software does an excellent job of keeping things clean until the very last image, which is taken in near-darkness. In this instance, the handset seems to be using a long shutter speed in combination with low noise reduction to achieve a bright, detailed result. While noise is not ideal, the retention of detail means that in post-production, it may be possible to carve out more detail using a solid noise reduction plugin. The level of noise in the HTC U11 low-light images is definitely high, though it looks more akin to film grain than actual noise.
Perhaps the most surprising addition to the HTC U11 is a monster front camera that actually carries more megapixels than the dedicated sensor. With 16 megapixels and an f/2.0 aperture, it’s definitely one of the better selfie cams out there. The removal of optical image stabilisation shouldn’t really be an issue unless you like taking selfies while running down the street…
[nextpage title=”Performance and Software” ]
Performance and Software
With the latest Snapdragon 835 inside and 4/6GB RAM inside, the HTC U11 was always going to be a powerful handset. The model that UK markets will receive is the 64GB ROM/ 4GB RAM model, so benchmarks are going to be slightly lower than the other version. Even with 4GB RAM, it was still the highest scoring Snapdragon 835 equipped device we’ve tested so far.
GeekBench 4 scored the device 1909 for single-core and 6286 for multi-core, putting it just behind the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Huawei P10 Plus. AnTuTu on the other hand gave the HTC U11 a massive score of 176,699, putting it as the single-fastest device we’ve tested to date. Taking both these results into consideration, it’s clear that this one of the fastest handsets currently available. Browsing the UI was buttery smooth, which is expected with flagships of this caliber. We had no problem opening multiple apps and switching between them seamlessly.
Despite the performance gap narrowing, Snapdragon are still regarded as the best for gaming. Since the HTC U11 has the current flagship processor from Qualcomm, it blazed through our gaming tests. 3DMark gave the device a score of 3610 in the Sling Shot Extreme test, which is over 500 points ahead of the Sony Xperia XZ Premium and 300 ahead of the Samsung Galaxy S8. GFXBench posted a rather dubious score of 751.4 frames, which is pretty much half of what all other flagships scored. We feel like there may be some sort of compatibility issue preventing the device from being used to its fullest, so take this result with a pinch of salt. We did try the app again but alas, the result was the same. In real-world testing, entry-level games such as Candy Crush ran perfectly, while Asphalt Xtreme performed excellently on highest settings (extra high DPI enabled).
The HTC U11 runs on Android 7.1.1 Nougat with the Sense overlay. This has always been one of the better launchers available, with a clean interface that is both simple and smooth. The core design hasn’t really changed over the HTC 10, which is good because they didn’t really need to do anything at all. The app tray remains very close to stock, while the notification panel and quick launch sections are exactly the same as stock. There’s also next to zero bloatware, which is a huge positive given the amount of crap some other manufacturers cram into their devices at launch.
Where HTC has changed things is in the inclusion of a few additional features, many of which seem gimmicky and unnecessary. The first of these is called ‘Edge Sense’ and is every bit as weird as it sounds. The feature is essentially a glorified action button, allowing you to control specific app functions by squeezing the bottom of the handset. We tried it with a few different modes including a shutter button for the camera application, with all of them feeling unnatural and annoying. You can decide the desired squeeze pressure when initially setting up the application, however we struggled to find a happy middle. Either it was too soft and the function would trigger by mistake, or it was too hard and we had to literally choke the handset.
The second feature is the inclusion of three personal assistants, which feels like complete overkill. You get Amazon Alexa, HTC Sense Companion and Google Assistant. Now admittedly, you don’t need use all of these together and HTC clearly seems to favour their own assistant above others. Sense Companion integrates within Google Assistant, offering additional features that range from voice-control to contextual suggestions. The ability to reserve tables and book tickets without any intervention is a cool prospect, though the idea of an AI taking over spending duties is a little worrying.
The HTC U11 has a 3,000 mAh battery, which used to be a good size but now feels small against the competition. When you consider that the Huawei P10, one of the smallest handsets out there, manages to cram in 3,200 mAh… this becomes even more apparent. Still, capacity is only half of the coin and software optimisation can often make all the difference.
The AnTuTu battery benchmark gave the handset a huge score of 12,965, which is up there with the very best. During our 20% intensive drain session at 50% brightness, it managed to last 1 hour and 58 minutes. This equates to roughly 9 hours and 50 minutes of on-screen time; identical to the Samsung Galaxy S8. This is an excellent result which just goes to show that capacity isn’t everything.
In day-to-day testing we found that the benchmarks were mostly true, as the HTC U11 would last almost two days on a full charge when used moderately. This would drop to roughly one-and-a-half-days under more intense usage.
[nextpage title=”Conclusion” ]
The HTC U11 is a powerful, unique device that will likely turn heads in the street. Whether it turns them for the right reasons is down to personal taste, but this is nonetheless a statement making handset. It crams in plenty of features for the price, including an excellent camera and quality audio playback. That said, the removal of the headphone jack is still disappointing and the lack of any improvement on the battery keeps it behind some rivals.
Do you agree with our review of the HTC U11? Sound off in the comments below!