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HTC U11 review: an actual rival to the Galaxy S8

Update: Get a $50 discount code here

The HTC U11 is here, and it's aiming to knock the Samsung Galaxy S8 off the winner's podium as this year's best Android smartphone. So, what are the ingredients HTC has used in its recipe for success? Add a strong processor, a new user interface and Edge Sense, then wrap it up into a device with a high-quality design and send it to market. But, is all of this enough to help HTC get to the top? Don't forget to check out the price and release date section below to get a $50 discount code.

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Rating

Good

  • Fantastic camera
  • Great performance
  • Superb sound
  • Edge Sense
  • Dual SIM

Bad

  • Wide frame
  • Poor brightness
  • No mini-jack

HTC U11 release date and price

The HTC U11 was officially revealed on May 16, and the word is that it will be available worldwide in a variety of colors from May onward. Pre-ordered devices will begin shipping in June in the US.

There are $50 promo codes being circulated online for the HTC U11 now, bringing the price down to $600. Simply use any of these three codes: LOVEU11, ONLY4U11 or JUST4U11. These apply to the Sprint, Verizon and unlocked versions of the device - note that the unlocked version works with AT&T and T-Mobile. You can get the discount by ordering from HTC here.

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The back of the HTC U11 shimmers and shines in each color. / © ANDROIDPIT

HTC U11 design and build quality

The latest flagship device to come from the Taiwanese manufacturer is one of the most eye-catching smartphones to be released so far this year. With its curved and colorful glass surfaces, the HTC U11 stands out among other current smartphones - at least within the high-end range of devices, where most have kept to the quite frankly boring, plain design rule. The protective glass above the display (Gorilla Glass 5) flows smoothly into the slim, symmetrical aluminum frame as well as the glass on the back (Gorilla Glass 3). 

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The HTC U11 is very bright on the back. At the bottom is one of its four microphones. / © AndroidPIT

The point at which the glass meets the metal is perfect, and the frames of the device are similar to what you'll find on the HTC U11's strongest competitor, the Samsung Galaxy S8. The back cover of the HTC U11 shimmers and gleams beautifully, and looks stunning - so as long as you diligently polish away the fingerprints that will inevitably accumulate there.

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The build quality of the frames is reminiscent of the S8 but the HTC U11's screen is flat. / © AndroidPIT
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Hybrid card slot at the top of the HTC U11. / © AndroidPIT

At only 7.9 mm thick, the HTC U11 is quite slim and the camera almost disappears into the case without a trace - you'll only really notice it when you place the device down on a flat surface. The dimensions also provide a few surprises, as the 5.5-inch screen is housed in a frame that is only 75.9 mm wide. Weighing in at 169 grams, it's not necessarily a lightweight device but it fits well enough into your hand and the weight is well-balanced.

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A very generous frame on the HTC U11. / © AndroidPIT

The volume rocker and power button are located on the right-hand side of the device and are easy to access and operate. The U11 has been given IP67 certification, meaning the device is dust and water resistant up to a depth of 1 meter for 30 minutes. The device comes with a hybrid SIM card slot, using either a single SIM card and a second nano SIM card or a microSD. There are four microphones on the edges of the U11: on the lower rear, at the top on the front, on the bottom frame and the top frame. So, be careful when you record anything as there are many points that you could cover with your hand.

After seeing the new screen formats for the Galaxy S8 and LG G6, which are both somewhat more elongated and have rounded corners, seeing a screen with square corners is reminiscent of the more old-fashioned smartphones on the market. Technologically speaking, along with the Sony XZ Premium, the U11 is the most advanced smartphone currently available on the market. Visually though, it's nothing novel. 

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The four brightest stars in the Android universe for 2017. / © ANDROIDPIT

HTC U11 display

The HTC U11 sports a 5.5-inch QHD display (2,560 x 1,440 pixels), giving the screen a pixel density of 539 ppi. All in all, this is more than enough to give users a crisp image. With its black background, the HTC U11 can - at least briefly - hide the fact that the screen is not an OLED panel. As a result, the colors are not as bright as those you'd have with an OLED screen. It's not obvious if you look directly at the display, but if you look at the side of the screen there is a visible light grey haze. 

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The front of the HTC U11. / © ANDROIDPIT

When we used the U11 in direct sunlight we had to raise the brightness level to the maximum, so if you're out and about on a sunny day you'll probably miss being able to adjust it even further. That said, it's still very user friendly. The screen of the HTC U11 is very good and shows that the manufacturer has improved a lot in this area. 

The frames surrounding the screen are quite wide. The side edges have a thickness of more than 3 mm, which I suppose was necessary in order to accommodate the curve of the glass. This makes the screen-to-body ratio around 71.4%, which is not as bad as the iPhone 7 Plus (67.7%) but it's not as good as the S8 (84%).

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Black is a little lack luster on the HTC U11. / © ANDROIDPIT

HTC U11 special features

The HTC U11 is mainly operated via the touchscreen - just like every other smartphone. However, HTC is bringing its users an alternative way to interact with the phone with its brand new feature: Edge Sense. The U11 comes with a pressure sensitive frame, which will react to users squeezing the sides of the device. The HTC U11 is able to distinguish between simple presses and long presses, and will be able to perform various functions based on these. 

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Give the sides a squeeze. / © ANDROIDPIT

According to the manufacturer, Edge Sense works effectively underwater as well as with gloves. When setting it up for the first time, the user will need to adjust it to their own grip pressure to avoid any unintended actions being triggered. When you set up the system you can choose the degree of pressure you want for different functions - a short press for some or a long press for others. 

In fact, the Edge Sense feature worked quite well in our preliminary HTC U11 tests - despite the beta firmware. For example, you can use Edge Sense to start the camera, shoot a photo, summon Google Assistant or activate the keyboard. Later, Edge Sense will be extended and you'll then be able to access any of your apps. In some situations, having this feature to operate key functions on a smartphone will be very helpful for some users. 

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HTC Edge Sense in action on the HTC U11. / © ANDROIDPIT
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The Edge Sense settings. / © ANDROIDPIT

In my opinion, Edge Sense is one of the best innovations we've seen so far in 2017. I find it very practical, and I particularly like the fact that it as some distinctive functions which for using the camera. I hope HTC is able to extend the functionality of the Edge Sense with future updates so it can be used for third-party apps. 

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HTC Edge Sense funcionando con la cámara del HTC U11. / © AndroidPIT

 

HTC U11 software

When choosing the operating system, HTC obviously wanted to avoid taking chances with its latest device and so it has provided the U11 with the most up-to-date Android version available: Android Nougat 7.1.1. The HTC Sense UI has a visually unobtrusive design and is very economical when it comes to apps.

The manufacturer hasn't announced when it intends to distribute an Android O update, though there are a number of reasons why they haven't done this. Firstly, Android O isn't available yet. And secondly, HTC has been one of the few manufacturers providing regular, timely updates for their devices for years. We're fully expecting the HTC U11 be one of the first smartphones to receive the Android O update whenever it is released.

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HTC Help, Boots+ and Sense Companion. / © ANDROIDPIT

In addition to the HTC Sense Companion is Boost +, which helps to manage your smartphone. This is becoming a popular feature for a number of manufacturers, and rightly so as this helps you to do things like optimize the battery, free up memory and block apps. HTC Help is also installed to ensure that the hardware is working  properly. 

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The U11 was released with Android Nougat - when will it receive Android O?  / © ANDROIDPIT

HTC U11 performance

With the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, the HTC U11 comes equipped with one of the best chipsets available today and has more than enough power to support itself for all tasks over the next two to three years. The 4 GB of RAM is less than some fans were hoping to see on a new HTC device, but this is more than sufficient.

The proof of this will be in the benchmark tests, as this is the only way we can really put the processor through its paces. In the table below you can see how the U11 surpasses the performance of any other Android smartphone we have seen released to date, even the Xperia XZ Premium. For gaming, the performance is fantastic. I tested the device playing Need for Speed: No Limits, and found that some aspects of the game which were usually slow were very fluid when I played it using the U11. The graphics were also the best I've seen in a long time. 

 

HTC U11 Benchmark Comparison  

 
  HTC U11 Samsung Galaxy S8+ Huawei Mate 9 Xperia XZ Premium
3DMark SlingShot ES 3.1 3.599 3.132 2.293 3.245
3DMark SlingShot ES 3.0 4.129 3.336 2.724 3.697
3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited 40.034 28.742 27.516 40.286
Geekbench Single Core 1.905 2.014 1.843 1.898
Geekbench Multi Core 6.454 6.479 5.840 6.294
PCMark Work Performance 6.787 5.094 6.350 6.338
PCMark Storage - 4.772 7.340 4.989
Google Octane 2.0 11.928 10.440 8.807 11.086

There is one small detail that we found confusing: the HTC U11 doesn't come with Bluetooth 5. For some reason, HTC has decided to go with Bluetooth 4.2 for it's 2017 flagship. There may be a chance that Bluetooth 5 could be activated later. It's not clear exactly how HTC could go about doing this, but having Bluetooth 5 would have genuine advantages

HTC U11 audio

With BoomSound, HTC set the benchmark for smartphone speakers at quite a high level. The HTC U11 also has BoomSound speakers on board, but for this device, they have been completely redesigned. The sound designers were involved in the development of the HTC U11 right from the start, and were allowed to design the interior of the phone to create enough resonance. This has apparently worked well, because the new HTC smartphone has great resonance, and the sound is loud and balanced. That said, the HTC U11 doesn't have genuine stereo sound: the call speaker at the top works in concert with the loud speaker at the bottom.

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The HTC U11 has USB Type-C. / © AndroidPIT

HTC has also worked on the headphones of the U11, which are identical to those of the HTC U Play and U Ultra. Thanks to the Snapdragon 835 and its software, HTC now has Active Noise Cancellation. The microphones used for this are located in the HTC USonic headphones themselves. When you try it out, you can hear in just a few seconds that the active noise cancelling works excellently.

The HTC U11 itself has four microphones on board, which are used to pick up conversations and record targeted or omni-directional sound for videos. The microphones are also important for Google Assistant and the HTC Sense Companion, which will have company soon: a few weeks after the launch of the U11, HTC will also integrate Amazon Alexa into the system. The user can then pick and choose which assistant they prefer to control apps and functions.

HTC prefers digital sound and therefore does not include a traditional 3.5 mm jack, but you are given an adapter with the device so you can still use your old headphones. This USB-type C-to-DAC adapter with DAC technology also delivers spectacular sound. As a side note, when this plug is connected to the smartphone it will consume power, so it's best to unplug is when you're not using it. 

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Changing your audio profile is a piece of cake with the HTC U11. / © ANDROIDPIT

HTC U11 camera

The main camera of the HTC U11 has 12 MP and an aperture of f / 1.7. HTC wants to surpass the camera performance of the HTC 10, and it has succeeded, having been awarded a strong 90 points compared to the HTC 10's 88 points by DxOMark. It is the highest-rated smartphone camera ever tested by DxOMark. The device comes with laser autofocus, and it works like the Galaxy S8, with dual pixel focus - so each pixel is also used for focusing. This makes the HTC U11 camera really fast, and with its new HDR Boost technology the dynamic range offers a variety of shades and brightness.

The HTC U11 is the highest-rated smartphone camera ever tested by DxOMark

The colors are bright and very natural. What surprises me most is the level of detail. In low light conditions HTC has opted for an aggressive automatic configuration, that is, the details are perfectly represented but some noise appears.This way although the conditions are bad for a snapshot we will always have something to do. We also have a manual mode in which we can adjust the shot to our liking.

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The HTC U11 captures all the details. / © ANDROIDPIT

At first sight, any pictures taken come out very nicely. However, the HTC U11 doesn't yet have all the final software on board - there may still be some changes that become apparent after our final tests. Video recording is possible in 4K with 30 images per second, and slow motion in Full-HD creates 120 frames per second. The camera has both optical and electronic image stabilization.

The front camera has 16 MP and fixed focus, and the aperture is f / 2.0. HDR Boost can also be used with the front camera.

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The HTC U11's rear camera. / © ANDROIDPIT

HTC U11 battery

The battery of the HTC U11 is non-removable and has a capacity of 3,000 mAh which is more than enough energy for one full day without needing to recharge. With a very demanding use, such as using the camera for extended periods, the U11 is able to withstand about 12 hours. For normal use, such as sporadic photos, gaming, videos and calls and emailing, the battery can last up to 20 hours. 

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USB 3.1 Type C with Quick Charge 3.0. / © ANDROIDPIT

Thanks to QuickCharge 3.0, HTC promises a 50 percent charge after half an hour, and a full recharge after 90 minutes. In our own tests, the HTC U11 reached 30% in 18 minutes, 50% in 34 minutes and 100% in 94 minutes (1:34 h). These numbers are all very close to the manufacturer's promised result.

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The battery can withstand some pretty heavy usage. / © ANDROIDPIT

HTC U11 technical specifications

Dimensions: 153.9 x 75.9 x 7.9 mm
Weight: 169 g
Battery size: 3000 mAh
Screen size: 5.5 in
Display technology: LCD
Screen: 2560 x 1440 pixels (534 ppi)
Front camera: 16 megapixels
Rear camera: 12.2 megapixels
Flashlight: Dual-LED
Android version: 7.1.1 - Nougat
User interface: HTC Sense
RAM: 4 GB
Internal storage: 64 GB
Removable storage: microSD
Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
Number of cores: 8
Max. clock speed: 2.45 GHz
Connectivity: HSPA, LTE, NFC, Bluetooth 4.2

Final verdict

At present, the HTC U11 is the best available alternative to the Galaxy S8; it has better performance, spectacular audio quality and a fantastic camera. In terms of battery performance, it is strong but it doesn't really stand out from other premium-range smartphones. That said, it's certainly a smartphone to keep in mind.

The U11 is primarily aimed at those users who are looking for a different design, although fans of the mythical HTC One series might miss the metallic finish. It's also a good option for anyone not entirely convinced by the design of the Galaxy S8. In terms of software and hardware, the U11 is fully up to date and the inclusion of Edge Sense is an added novelty which is also very practical. 

The downsides of HTC U11 are ones which most of us will be able to forgive quite easily. If design features aren't are major game changer for you, I think you'd struggle to find a smartphone with better features and functionality than the HTC U11. 

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HTC U11 en varios colores. / © AndroidPIT
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12 comments

Write new comment:

  • Xchris 5 months ago Link to comment

    Personally I love the design. I have no issues with it. I prefer a proper sized screen to these skinny screens. Why would I want a skinny screen when I can see more with a screen that has an aspect ratio that fits today's content? If you use the S8, not only does it add stupid black panels at the side but you are​ also missing out on the width that the U11 has. Emperor's new clothes if you ask me!


  • It doesn't have a wide body. It has a regular body. It's galaxy that has a narrow body which makes its effective a lot smaller than it really is. If you don't mind having an effective screen of less than 5", just to have that beautiful edge, why not. In any case, I don't see how anyone would count a regular width against any device.


  • The phone from the reviews I have read this is a very good phone and I think that HTC have got their mojo back,the camera is getting high,positive scores and interms of design might not be as good looking as the S8 but the HTC U11 is one heck of a smartphone.HTC is Back!!!!and I hope they can keep this up!


  • I don't mind to have that extra wide in the body, feeling in the hand must be pretty good. So excited to get my hands on it.


  • I saw the camera samples of HTC U11 shared by the HTC official FB page and they were amazing.


  • Please check... Article claims laser focus. I do not believe this phone has that feature.


  • All in all I like the phone. I think HTC is going to ring the bell with this offering. The camera scored 90 in the dxo mark in testing. Not bad, boom-sound is back. The edge sense although in it's infancy is a very good innovation. This is the best phone since the 10 & will compete with the best!


  • storm 6 months ago Link to comment

    I don't understand the desire for glass backs. It's a design nightmare full of failure modes and zero strength, durability or performance gain.

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