- Fast performance
- Above average camera
- Next to no bloatware
- Hi-Res Audio support great for audiophiles and Tidal users
- Ugly design
- Lack of a 3.5mm headphone jack is a pain
- Review Price: £649.99
- 5.5-inch quad-HD display
- Snapgradon 835/4GB RAM
- 64GB storage/microSD
- ANC USB-C earbuds included
- No headphone jack
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 outdo 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 a great choice for any smartphone buyer willing to put up with its atypical, super-shiny looks.
HTC U11 – Screen
Outside of its slightly chunky 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; you’ll struggle to spot any individual pixels.
The Super LCD 5 panel also offers decent colour temperature, with none of the RGB spectrum looking too cool or too warm – although they don’t look quite as vibrant as competing phones with AMOLED panels.
I didn’t notice any serious backlight bleed on the U11 during my first week of use, either. My only slight issue is that the maximum brightness isn’t quite as high as that of the Galaxy S8. 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 with the majority of phones I review.
HTC U11 – Software
Software is an area in which HTC has excelled 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 has made some terrific decisions, such as removing duplicate applications and ensuring it installs only a limited 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 free of bloatware and doesn’t feature any duplicate apps; there’s only one music player, one email client, one calendar and so on.
This sounds insignificant, 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 – as you do with 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 as it has done on past HTC phones, and can be accessed by swiping left from the main homescreen. It offers a curated tile system showing news articles and updates it believes to be of interest. The feed is customisable and remains a great way to run through the day’s 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. 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: the squeeze action naturally makes the phone shake, resulting in blurry photos.
However, on activating the advanced setting, the feature has since grown on me. This 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 huge time-saver and regularly use the squeeze functionality when commuting to and from work.
Amazon Echo fans will be pleased that the U11 is set to be the first phone to receive built-in Alexa support later this summer. 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 the only software addition on which I’m not completely sold. This is yet another smart assistant feature that aims to offer recommendations on, for example, nearby restaurants 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 redundant. After a fortnight with the U11 I’m yet to receive a decent suggestion from Sense Companion that Google hadn’t already beaten it to. Having received 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 graveyard with Samsung’s Bixby.
HTC U11 – Camera
Photo quality is an area in which HTC has struggled to compete. 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 huge 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, to my surprise, the camera on the U11 is actually very good. Not only does it offer a huge improvement on past HTC phones, it actually matches, if not beats, competing handsets such as the BlackBerry KEYone and Huawei P10 and – in some scenarios – the Google Pixel.
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 more than quick enough for impromptu snapping. Zoomed in, photos taken on the U11 in decent daylight conditions actually had more detail than those taken with the Pixel.
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.
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 the instant I pressed the on-screen 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 that of the Galaxy S8’s.
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 – although again, low-light performance isn’t stellar.
You can see sample shots taken on the HTC U11 below.
HTC U11 – Battery
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 following a week with the phone I’m still not convinced it will 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-the-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 at this price point lose less than 10% per hour in 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.
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 travel regularly.
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 has never taken more than an hour to fully charge from zero during my time with it.
Should I buy the HTC U11?
Featuring oddly useful squeeze controls, a great camera and Hi-Res Audio support, the HTC U11 is an excellent handset that won’t disappoint any buyer when it comes to functionality. Its design is Marmite, however.
Some people may like the new glass back, but I can’t help but wish HTC had stuck to using metal. Compared to the HTC 10, the U11 looks a little cheap – and is an absolute smudge magnet.
Despite the inclusion of a converter, the lack of headphone jack is a serious annoyance that will put off the audiophile market for which the U11 is otherwise tailor-made. These problems sound small, but combined they add up to make the Samsung Galaxy S8 a more appealing handset overall.
The U11 is an excellent all-round smartphone that will meet 99% of people’s needs. I just wish it didn’t look so naff.
Score in detail
- Battery Life8
- Calls & Sound9
- Screen Quality8