The U11 is HTC's boldest new smartphone in years, pushing the envelope in design, hardware, and interactivity. Dubbed Edge Sense, the last bit is particularly interesting — it allows you to open apps and perform various tasks by squeezing the metal frame of the smartphone.
Shiny Looks and Top-Shelf Hardware
Previously known for making sleek smartphones with an all-metal body and chamfered edges, HTC took a break from the past in 2017. By swapping metal for a glass surface with a liquid effect, the HTC U11 is a true showstopper in the metal. There are four sweet-looking colors to pick from: Amazing Silver, Sapphire Blue, Deep Black, and Solar Red. The last one looks particularly amazing, as it changes its color depending on the viewing angle.
In a world where high-end Android phones have 18:9 displays with practically no bezels, the front of the HTC U11 looks a tad dated. In this regard, the phone remained mostly unchanged from last year.
Unsurprisingly, the shiny back of the HTC U11 makes it an excellent fingerprint magnet. Thankfully, HTC has included both a cleaning cloth and an ultra thin protective case in the device's retail box to help you deal with the issue.
The build quality of the U11 is up to HTC's usual high standards. The phone is also IP67 waterproof, so you can fully submerge it in under 5 feet of water for up to half an hour.
Hardware-wise, the HTC U11 packs a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chipset, coupled with 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage, or 6 GB of RAM and 128 GB of memory. You can further expand the latter via a microSD card slot. A 3,000 mAh battery with fast charging powers the device.
The 5.5-inch quad-HD (2,560 by 1,440 pixels) LCD display of the HTC U11 is incredibly sharp and vibrant, though not quite as wow-inducing as an AMOLED display. The main camera of the HTC U11 is a 12 MP unit with fast f/1.7 lens and optical image stabilization; the front-facing camera has a 16 MP sensor.
HTC has skipped the audio jack on the U11, but made up for its lack by bundling a pair of fantastic noise-canceling earbuds with the phone, as well as a USB-C dongle with an audio jack. Like its predecessor, the phone packs two BoomSound speakers — one bottom-firing, and another one that's located in the earpiece.
Edge Sense is Really Handy
It surely sounds like a gimmick the first time you hear about it. However, in reality, Edge Sense on the HTC U11 works really well. Like we mentioned above, the feature lets you access apps and various shortcuts by squeezing the bottom half of the phone's metal frame. You can customize the force of your squeeze via a dedicated menu in the settings, ensuring that you don't launch anything by accident.
You can also enable the U11 to respond to a long squeeze by enabling the advanced Edge Sense settings in the menu. During our time with the device, we set it up to open the camera app via a short squeeze (it captures a photo when you do it again) and open a Google search with a long one. The functionality took seconds to prepare, and it worked like a charm.
Excellent Performance and Battery Life
The HTC U11 is as powerful as any high-end Android smartphone. It has the same chipset as the Galaxy S8, so it can handle any task, app, or game you throw at it without even a hint of slowing down. For users who are obsessed with having multiple apps open in the background, we'd suggest the U11 variant with 6 GB of RAM.
In line with the company's tradition, the U11 delivers an excellent audio experience. The noise-canceling earbuds can automatically adapt to your hearing for a tailor-made audio, though we still wish HTC kept the audio jack. The BoomSound speakers are also top-notch, despite their non-stereo arrangement.
The 3,000 mAh battery of the phone will easily get you through a day of heavy use, which is on par with the competition. Unlike Samsung and LG offerings, however, the HTC U11 doesn't offer wireless charging.
A Choice Between Amazon Alexa or the Google Assistant
The HTC U11 comes with a lightly skinned, easily customizable Android interface. You can easily make it your own via downloadable themes, icon packs, fonts, and wallpapers. In case this isn't enough, you can also opt for a third-party Android launcher.
Unlike any other smartphone in its class, the handset also allows you to use Amazon's excellent Alexa virtual assistant with voice. Just like an Echo smart speaker, you can set up the U11 to always listen for voice, thus giving you an alternative to the Google Assistant. Of course, you also have the option to use the two side by side.
The 12 MP main camera of the HTC U11 is simply fantastic. It allows you to capture consistently great photos on every occasion, including in poor lighting conditions. The Edge Sense shortcut, combined with the incredibly fast autofocus will all but guarantee that you'll never miss a moment you want to capture.
The videos captured by the phone are just as great. In addition to the standard controls, you also have the option to amplify the sound in a designated area of the video thanks to the U11's powerful built-in microphones.
The camera prowess of the phone has earned it the top spot in the prestigious DxOMark camera benchmark with 90 points (it's the first phone to reach this score). For a deeper dive into the device's camera abilities, check out this post.
Totally Worth Your Attention
The HTC U11 is an excellent Android smartphone that can compete with the best high-end offerings out there. It offers eye-grabbing looks, powerful hardware, and one of the best mobile cameras in the business. HTC also deserves a hat tip for pushing the interactivity envelope with Edge Sense.
If you're looking for a high-end Android phone that's not a Samsung Galaxy S8, the U11 should be right on top of your list. However, an inferior display, lack of wireless charging, no audio jack, and inability to power a virtual reality headset ensure that Samsung's offering is still the Android phone to beat.
The HTC U11 is available unlocked for $649. The variant with 6 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage costs $729.
Photos by Stefan Vazharov
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