HTC U11 Review: The comeback

An excellent all round package, the HTC U11 comes close to perfect on every front and edge

There is no denying the period of struggle HTC is going through. Having made quite a few flagships in the past, none of them have had the desired reception. Yet, the company looks to set everything straight with their newest HTC U11. The phone is the perfect combination of unique and quality. But in a market that is so saturated, how does it weigh up?

Build and design

Ever since the HTC U Ultra, we have seen the Taiwanese manufacturer introduce a new finish to smartphones. The traditional metal build from their legacy flagships is gone for a liquid glass surface finish. This is a blend both metal and glass which makes for the perfect premium experience. Buttons feel very solid when pressed and the curvy edges allow for good handling even though the phone is slightly on the chunky side.

The liquid glass surface finish makes for a reflective design

It is also nice to see the company provide so many different color variants on a top-end smartphone. The one I reviewed was in the “Amazing Silver” finish but other colors including a soon to be available “Solar Red” make for a very flashy smartphone. It is definitely something that will garner a lot of attention in public.

Curved finish makes the phone easy to grip

Yet, the phone needs to be handled with care. The glossy surface can attract a lot of undesirable smudges and scratches over time. For this, a transparent case is provided out of the box, a nice gesture. Although the HTC U11 is nothing like the tall flagships of this year, users wanting the traditional experience will certainly appreciate the intricacy with which it is designed and the added water and dust resistance from the IP67 rating.

Multimedia

We have seen many bezel-less smartphones lately that provide an immersive multimedia experience. But with the HTC U11, the case is different. On the front, the smartphone rocks a very good quality Quad-HD panel, 5.5-inches in size. It provides some accurate colors and viewing angles. Even using it under the sun is no hitch but the slight catch are the bezels around.

There is no doubt the bezels take away from the immersive experience but they are there for good reason. Previously, HTC has been known to produce some of the best audio quality on a smartphone. And this phone does the same. The HTC U11 packs the BoomSound experience we all know and love. The stereo sound is great and blows any current flagship out of the water. I think this is the only redeeming factor for the black bezels around the display.

Stereo experience via the two speakers is excellent

As far consumption via headphones is concerned, the unit comes with no traditional 3.5mm headphone jack. Personally, I feel this is quite an inconvenience even though many manufacturers are now taking this route. But at least there is a USB-C to 3.5mm jack adapter provided out of the box.

Audio consumption via the U-Sonic headphones is also impressive. The headphones come with active noise cancellation for a very rich experience so if you are going to be relying solely on proprietary hardware for audio consumption, you will not be disappointed.

User experience

With the processing power the HTC U11 is equipped with, the phone is unsurprisingly snappy. For the Middle East variant of the device, you will get the Snapdragon 835 octa-core processor with 6GB RAM and 128GB of storage. In international variants however, RAM and storage will be bumped down to 4GB and 64GB respectively. Do keep in mind that the storage can be expanded via micro-SD up to 256GB using the dual-sim slot.

Sense UI atop Android 7.0 is fast and fluid

For the review, I had the international variant. The speed at which apps loaded was very fast. Browsing through the HTC Sense UI built atop Android Nougat, there was no stutter or lag whatsoever. The experience was very fluent with no bloatware getting in the way either. However, when loading heavy games and applications in background, the 4GB RAM took a hit. In these cases, I think the 6GB variant would have performed much better.

The Adreno 540 GPU makes for a very smooth gaming experience

On the gaming side of things, once again, there was not much to complain. The Adreno 540 GPU is more than capable of handling many 2D and 3D titles. Some of the ones I tried included Asphalt 8, Smash Hit and Temple Run 2 among others.

Edge Sense?

One of the most talked about features on the HTC U11 is Edge Sense. It is a world’s first and allows users to squeeze the phone to interact with it. The intensity of the squeeze can be configured and up to two different pressures can be used. This is a very innovative idea and can definitely be used for diurnal tasks.

The sensors on the edges of the smartphone allow for easily quick launching certain apps via a simple squeeze

Launching the camera, turning on or off the flashlight or taking a picture are among a variety of things you can do by simply squeezing the edges of the phone. I found interacting with the flashlight to be the most convenient but this may vary from person to person. The level of flexibility is great so far and can definitely be improved with future iterations and software updates.

Camera

Here, things start to get interesting. The HTC U11 brings one of the best camera offerings on a smartphone, at least on paper. The 12MP primary camera received a world’s first 90 rating from DxOMark, and the results it produces speak for themselves. In ideal lighting and during the day, the pictures the smartphone takes are outstanding.

The dynamic range in images is excellent and detail when zooming in stays in tact as well. The pictures are a good balance of vibrancy and accurate colors at the expense of shutter speed being slightly on the slower side. Yet, images in darker scenarios are not the best. The phone cannot control the exposure of light well and there is some visible noise is images.

Over on the front, the 16MP selfie snapper is excellent in both the day and night. Due to the higher megapixel count, the detail in images is good and colors even at night are pleasant to the eye. There is no aggressive software processing or the promotion of “Beauty Mode” in pictures which I liked a lot.

For video taking, the 4K recordings from the primary camera come with a little less contrast but manage to capture minute details in shadows. However the recordings suffer a lot from below par optical image stabilization. In addition, any 4K recording cannot go on for more than 30-40 seconds especially at higher temperatures. In the heat of Dubai, the phone suffers from overheating and shuts off video recording at 4K until cooled and restarted. This was very strange and I have not encountered this with any phone before. A software update most definitely can fix this though.

Battery life

In spite of being on the thicker side, the HTC U11 only manages to pack a 3000mAh battery. And while the size may seem underwhelming, the times it managed were definitely not.

With the occasional videos, browsing the web, playing games and heavy use of social media, the battery lasted from late morning to the early evening hours. Screen on times were approximately between six and seven hours which I think is very good. Sometimes with GPS and data usage, this dropped to five hours which is still reasonable.

A great battery life on stand-by as well as under heavy usage

I never had to turn on any power saving features during my usage either which is a bonus and recharging the battery from 0-100% took around an hour and forty minutes via the USB-C port, making charging on the go not so much of a problem either.

Conclusion

With the HTC U11, the company has rediscovered its strengths. Innovation, performance and user experience have been prioritized with the phone and it is very pleasant to see no half baked features or gimmicks. The phone is a huge step up from previous offerings and does very well to stand toe to toe against the likes of Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and LG’s G6.

A complete package and a worthy flagship smartphone in 2017

Available for Dh2599 at major retailers in the UAE, the phone also provides some great value for money and is suitable for anyone looking for a high end smartphone that is an excellent performer on all fronts.