The last couple of years have been challenging for HTC. The company that once stood as a pioneer in innovation has found itself struggling to keep up with competitor products. A reboot was very much needed, and that’s exactly what HTC did with the launch of its new U series earlier this year. While the first couple of products based on the U series such as the HTC U Ultra showcased HTC’s design skills, it’s their new HTC U11 flagship that the company is betting on. I’ve been playing with it for the past few days so let’s find out if this phone is the saviour HTC is hoping for.
I have very mixed feelings about the design of the HTC U11. I really like the Liquid Glass finish on the back of the phone, which is being released in five colors. I have the Amazing Silver for review which is highly reflective and has shades of silver, blue and purple, but my favorite is the Solar Red which will be releasing a few weeks after the official launch of the phone. Seamlessly switching between red and gold, that is truly a stunning finish.
Where the issue lies is the front of the HTC U11, which looks as generic as it can. There are rather large sized bezels on the top and bottom and the pressure sensitive sides on the U11 don’t help in keeping the side bezels to a minimum either. While these bezels might have been acceptable a few months back, Samsung (and LG) are redefining what the front of a phone in 2017 looks like, with barely-there bezels and a 2:1 aspect ratio.
HTC has made sure that the U11 has the best specs that the market currently has to offer. It comes equipped with Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 835 processor that is built on a 10nm process. While the review sample I received has 4GB RAM and 64GB storage, in the UAE HTC will only be selling the 6GB/128GB version. All models have dual SIM functionality with a hybrid SIM tray where the second slot could be used for MicroSD. Here is how the HTC U11 scores under Geekbench:
HTC sees its future of devices as one that allows the user multiple ways of interacting with them - be it voice, touch or with the U11, a squeeze. The bottom half of the phone has pressure and ultrasonic sensors that can recognize the amount of pressure applied to it and trigger actions such as launch the camera app, take a selfie or bring up Google Assistant. HTC has a setup assistant that sets the pressure levels to your liking and can then recognize a short or a long squeeze.
Does it work? Yes it does. Is it useful? I’m not quite so sure of that yet. For example, I often found myself launching the camera by double pressing the power key and simply pressing the soft shutter button to take the picture as it proved to be faster. The squeeze would take a second or two to register and the same to take a picture.
That being said, I’m not writing it off, as HTC is planning on releasing an app that will allow the squeeze the function differently under each app. That will definitely open up a lot of opportunities - for example, under Google Maps I could map it to navigate home, or with Play Music, have it play a specific playlist. If that level of customization can be achieved, then the squeeze action could turn into something genuinely helpful.
HTC has always had a good camera on their phones. Their problem has been the speed, or the lack of it. But with the HTC 11, that is finally fixed. The 12MP f/1.7 is very fast to launch land snaps pictures almost instantly. With regards to the quality, well, DXOMark has rated it at 90, making it the highest rated phone camera. Here are some samples from the HTC U11 camera:
It’s not just the still photos that the U11 is good at. The four mics present on the U11 have been put to good use by HTC by one particular feature when shooting videos - when you zoom in on a subject, the mics focus on that, increasing the audio levels captured which feels a lot more natural than anything else out there.
HTC won the hearts of many with it’s front facing stereo boom speakers on the M7. While you don’t exactly have that with the U11, HTC has created a chamber inside the phone that amplifies the sound coming out of the earpiece while the main speaker sits next to the USB port at the bottom. The two combined produce quite the output - it feels louder than any other phone I can remember testing. The quality of the audio is also pretty decent with no audible distortion even at the loudest levels.
Other than the built-in speakers, HTC also adds their second generation of USonic earphones that now support Active Noise Cancellation. During setup, the earphones calculate noise levels inside your ear and adjust accordingly to provide the best output for your ears. What I can say is that the bundles earphones fit better in my ear than most other headsets and provided a better listening experience. I’m not sold on the noise cancellation part though - there might be a bit of it, but don’t compare it to the likes of what Bose or a Sony MDR-1000X offers.
After testing the HTC U Ultra which has a bigger screen (and a secondary screen) with the same capacity battery, I was pretty convinced that I won’t have any trouble with the U11. The HTC U11 comes equipped with a 3,000 mAh battery which easily takes it through a day. While I don't play games on the phone, my usage does involve a lot of browsing, news readers, emailing and messaging, and a decent amount of social, taking photos, watching movies and listening to music. The HTC U11 lasted me till the end of the day every day that I tested it. If your usage is much heavier, the HTC U11 is Quick Charge 3.0 compatible and will recharge rather quickly.
On paper, you’d be hard pressed to find anything wrong with the HTC U11. It has top-of-line specs, a brilliant camera, great pricing and plenty of features such as the touch sensitive bezel or the the noise cancellation headphones. My daily driver is the Samsung S8 and in many ways, the U11 is better. But, I’ve been spoilt by Samsung’s nearly bezel-less design and the 2:1 aspect ratio which I personally consider as the direction in which all high-end phones will be headed. You may not agree with me and that’s fine, and if you are in that camp, I doubt you’ll find anything as good as the HTC U11 on the market for its given price point.
The HTC U11 goes on sale in the UAE for AED 2,599 with 6GB RAM and 128GB Storage.