HTC U11 Review: Not good enough
HTC U11 detailed review
It’s easy to shut down HTC in the current market. The company has gone through turmoil and has a fair share of hits and misses. A few years ago, HTC said it was done with the low-end segment, which was later changed to a premium focus only. HTC’s dream of a smartphone (pun intended) didn’t start with Android, but that dream has survived (HTC Dream, get it?). HTC U11 is something new and it is something different. It has got the good components of HTC 10 (review) and it is even better in many ways.
At Rs 51,990, the HTC U11 is squarely flagged in the flagship class, but it is also an outlier. U11 is orthodox and obsolete at the same time. It is unique with a distinctive HTC scent. For fans, this is the perfect evolution of HTC, but with the passage of time, it may lag behind the competition. Simply put, this may not be good for HTC. This review of the HTC U11 confirms just that.
Construction and design
From the front, the HTC U11 looks almost exactly like the HTC 10, but has a liquid glass surface on the back. It changes color depending on how the light falls on it. The best way to handle this is to burn your body. The silver color sometimes looks blue-ish, but the light will give it a silvery sheen. I haven’t seen the black variant yet, but I guess it works the same way. There are also other colors, but HTC has not yet announced them in India.
You’ll find the volume rocker and power on / off buttons on the right, while the front has an oval fingerprint sensor. The recent and back buttons are on either side of the sensor, but for them the touch area is smaller. The buttons are backlit though, which makes them easy to communicate with. The camera sensor is on the upper half of the back, with a dual-LED flash on the side.
A metal frame runs along the side and the antenna bands move towards its edges. The bezels above and below the display are quite large, with a large enough front camera sensor on the upper right. The earpiece is located in the middle of the top, while in the lower frame you will find the USB Type-C port and speaker cut-out.
It has a neat and HTC-esque finish. The company is one of the few that achieves the Apple-class finish, if I may say so. The U11 literally has no loose screws or creeks. The back and front edges are slightly curved for better ergonomics, while at 169g, it doesn’t feel too heavy.
As beautiful and unique as HTC’s design language is, I can’t help but say that it looks old. If Sony’s Mirror Finish doesn’t stand out against the Galaxy S8 (review), it doesn’t either. HTC’s design is great, it just looks blocky and old. I’m probably the only one talking about this, but that’s exactly it. The large bezel and glazed glass no longer cut it. Disadvantages (the possibility of scratches and breaks) outweigh the advantages.
HTC’s Super LCD 5 displays have never made big news, but for those accustomed to all kinds of smartphone displays, they are known to be quite balanced. The U11 has a 5.5-inch QHD display with Gorilla Glass 5 protection (which gives it a fluid feel when you touch it). I’ve seen a slight drop in brightness from extreme angles, but don’t find it on the way to regular use.
As mentioned above, the colors are quite balanced, but there is a toggle to change the saturation from warm to cold based on your preferences. The slider is placed in the middle by default and I would not recommend making noise with it. The display shows a wide enough color gamut. The colors are not sharp, but they are neither too warm nor too bright. The color reproduction in U11 is not as good as in Galaxy S8 + or LG G6. This is equivalent to the Xperia XZ Premium (review), which is good enough.
Here again, the HTC U11 lacks a 2017 flagship feature – no HDR support. You could argue that HDR is not essential at the moment, but it is the flagship. They give you features that you won’t need for the next year and mark those features as “future”. HTC does not, and it could work against the Taiwanese company here.
Many of the promotional features of the HTC U11 include the new Edge Sense feature. The Taiwanese company has made the U11 “low-worthy”, offering a new form of interaction with smartphones. You can customize the feature to launch any app, or perform other functions, such as turning on the torch, turning on the camera, and so on. There is a difference between squeeze-and-hold action and a short squeeze.
During the initial setup you will be asked to set up Edge Sense and you can turn it on from the settings menu. The feature is not really ubiquitous, allowing only two functions at a time – one for short pressure and the other for a long squeeze. You can map your favorite functions / apps in it and come to the state.
When setting up the feature, you will be asked to set the intensity of the squeeze. The phone doesn’t actually press, so you can set a visual (picture above) or vibration feedback for it. There are ‘+’ and ‘-‘ buttons to map the intensity of the squeeze to exactly what you want. Nonetheless, I was unable to get a stress intensity that qualified me as intuitive.
Edge Sense is intuitive in a way, since the HTC U11 is fast enough to launch the app of your choice. However, to make the best use of the squeeze function, I pressed the power on / off buttons several times. Plus, one wonders why HTC wouldn’t allow for more squeeze levels, such as double squeezing, sliding on a frame, and so on. The frame of the HTC U11 is stress sensitive, so a little more customization can make the Edge Sense more useful. It is unique in its own right, but unique means not useful. A good feature that you don’t know you need, but Edge Sense doesn’t. The Nubian bezel gesture is comparative and easy to use.
The Sense Companion is an artificial intelligence being developed by HTC. It was launched alongside the U Ultra, but unlike Samsung’s Bixby, it offers nothing on top of Google Assistant (which is also present in the U11 and is not perfect for launching). Any AI assistant is being created today, even though they are being sent to the device. The more users use it, the better.
That said, Sense Companion and Bixby take too long to launch. These are basically apps that are woven into the UI, which means they are not as responsive as the Google Assistant on the Pixel or even the HTC U11.
Although, the display may not be flagship class, the processor must. The HTC U11 runs on Qualcomm’s latest and greatest Snapdragon 835 chipset. It has 6GB RAM for booting, it is the cheapest phone with 6GB RAM after OnePlus 5. That is, until LG announces a cheaper price tag for the G6 +.
As far as speed and user experience are concerned, this is certainly the second fastest today. The HTC U11 lags behind the OnePlus 5 in terms of raw speed, but it is definitely on par with the Samsung Galaxy S8 and ahead of the LG G6. Sense UI is well optimized, but OxygenOS is much lighter and smoother.
App launches on the HTC U11 are extremely fast, even when loading time is low. But for ordinary skeptics, games like Chrome, games like Injustice, and more, take a second longer than the OnePlus 5. In short, games that allow 60fps will be rendered at this type of frame rate, while the best games will run with the HTC U11 having the highest possible graphics score. Six gigabytes of memory support this user experience, keeping apps running for as long as you need. Simply put, there is nothing to question in the performance section. It’s one of the fastest phones, not just the fastest
With an outside temperature above 40 degrees, the U11’s internal temperature can touch 50 for extended periods of gaming or video recording, but this is not uncommon. In an air-conditioned room, at 24 degrees Celsius, the U11’s temperature stays within the 43 degree mark during half an hour of gaming or 15 minutes of video recording.
The HTC U11 is louder than the HTC 10, but it has the same Twitter and Upper combo as last year’s flagship. That being said, there are significant improvements here. HTC uses the whole phone as an acoustic chamber, so you will feel the vibration in your hand while playing. It doesn’t have a headphone jack, but USonic headphones are great, and much better than the market headphones you can buy at an affordable price.
The HTC U11 is not as good at audio recording as the LG V20 (Review), but it is definitely one of the best phones for audiofiles. U-Sonic headphones can be customized to your ear and the phone delivers rich audio through them. The headphones are connected via USB Type-C. For those who want to use 3.5mm headphones, HTC includes a converter (with built-in DAC).
HTC has struck a big deal that surpasses Google Pixel and Samsung Galaxy S8 in the U11 DXOMark. The phone is DXOMark’s highest rated camera of all time and although this is a great difference, it can be confusing from the user’s point of view.
Personally, I would rate the HTC U11 below the Pixel and Galaxy S8. It can sometimes surpass the two, but often fails. Generally speaking, the Pixel and Galaxy S8 are more reliable for everyday shooting.
On the flipside, the U11 produces incredible images in both daylight and low light conditions. White balance, color and details are controlled by spot level and noise levels in low light. The phone is capable of taking some sharp photos in low light and occasionally surpasses the Galaxy S8, as evidenced by the shots below. The Galaxy S8 produces warm colors, but the HTC U11 is closer to the source.
HTC U11 (left) vs Samsung Galaxy S8 (left)
The U11, on the other hand, generates flames from light sources when shooting at night. This can be a big problem when shooting at restaurants or clubs. Also, the white balance is sometimes off when shooting indoors. This is evidenced by the shot below, where the card table mat is supposed to be a light shade of green. Finally, the U11 has some problems focusing on close-up photos or macros, such as pixels. The subject has to be a few more centimeters longer than a Galaxy S8.
Sample HTC U11 camera
Overall, the HTC U11 is a great phone for shooting. It focuses as fast as the best out there, has less processing time and also has Pixel’s always-on-on-HDR capability. I’ve used the Galaxy S8 as well, the way I know it is more reliable, but you can recognize it if you try these phones like me. By itself, the HTC U11 is undoubtedly one of the top camera phones to buy. And yes, it’s better than the OnePlus 5.
The U11 compromises OIS (from HTC 10) on the front camera for a larger 16MP sensor. And I don’t think there’s anything to compromise, since the photos are sharper now and the beautification algorithms don’t look as unusual as before. If selfies are important, then they are among the best. Incidentally, the Oppo F3 Plus’s dual-front cameras will offer more value for money, thanks to a cheaper price tag.
Flagship devices are not known for their excellent battery life, and are no different from the HTC U11. That said, it meets industry standards, offering batteries worth the working day. It lasts just under 8 hours in PC Mark Work 2.0 battery test, while it lasts about 12 hours in regular use. In HD quality uninterrupted video streaming, the HTC U11 lasts about 7 hours on a single charge, all of which are quite average, but up to industry standards today. As far as flagships are concerned, only the LG G6 will do well.
The last row
The HTC U11 is a flagship class flagship, and the best way to keep it. Having said that, I would choose Galaxy S8 or LG G6 (Review) over a heartbeat. They look better, sport new technology and feel more premium in my opinion. The Edge Sense is unique, but I’d rather have the Edge display on it, although the Sense Companion is as hamstring as Bixby. HTC fans won’t complain about this phone, but as good as the HTC U11 is, it’s no longer good enough. I regularly choose OnePlus 5 (review) and Galaxy S8.