Comparing two high-performance smartphones like the Galaxy S8 and HTC U11 is more work than one editor should take on. With the goal of showing off the main features of each model, we decided not to tell you which we think is better, but rather to share the experience of two editors who have used these flagship devices. In the end, you’ll be the one to decide which model suits you best.
In this battle, I’ll be talking about the features and functions of the Galaxy S8 that make me consider it to be the best device launched in 2017. In the opposite corner, my colleague Luis Ortega will be telling you about why he believes the HTC U11 deserves the title of best smartphone of the year.
Samsung Galaxy S8 vs HTC U11: design and display
I’ve been using the Galaxy S8 for about two months now, and I haven’t seen any other smartphone that comes close to its modern design. It fits so nicely in the hand that sometimes I forget it has a 5.8-inch screen. There are so many one-handed features on the S8 that you really never need to use two.
I think it’s a sin to hide this device under a protective cover, especially the covers manufactured by Samsung, so I’ve been using the Galaxy S8 straight out of the box. Even though in these last two months I’ve had it in my back pocket, my backpack and on my table, the glass on both the front and back are like new, which is a huge plus for me. I’ve also been caught in the rain a few times with the device unprotected and I can honestly say that this phone handles those conditions as well as any of them.
When it comes to the display, in addition to offering a crystal-clear experience, with a delicate balance between its brightness and contrast, realistic while at the same time vivid colors, it lets Samsung develop features based on the Edge display. So, even without the option of knocking on the display to quickly access the notifications bar on the S8, we can slide from right to left and use the shortcuts on the Edge display. These shortcuts are very customizable and can be adjusted to each user’s needs.
The Galaxy S8 is longer than most devices on the market today since it comes with a new aspect ratio of 18.5:9 instead of the traditional 16:9. Besides this feature increasing the “useful life of the device” by offering a more modern industry standard, it also provides an improved experience by being able to show more content on its display. It’s true that there are a lot of Android apps that need to be updated to the new ratio, but that’s the price you pay when you’re leading the way.
The HTC U11 comes with a traditional format display, the one we’re all used to seeing. On the Galaxy S8, some games are cut off and there are strange reflections on the display's border. This isn’t the case with the HTC U11, however. YouTube videos get the most out of the 5.5-inch display by reaching from corner-to-corner. Another plus for games and videos is that it comes with a GPU Adreno 540, which is something only a few S8 users get to enjoy since the Qualcomm processor is only available in select countries like the US.
The build quality is excellent, and the feeling it emits with the mixture of glass and aluminum is fabulous. The blue models are particularly attractive. They emanate a sense of elegance.
The back camera, surrounded by the glass real panel, protrudes a bit from the back of the device. Its solid finish that gives you a sense of security.
Samsung Galaxy S8 vs HTC U11: special features
As I said before, the display on the S8 doesn’t offer just an excellent visual experience, but also useful features like the Edge display. You can explore direct shortcuts to system features as well as your most used apps and favorite contacts. This makes it much more practical to use the device one-handed.
The feature that I use most on the Edge display is the device maintenance settings, as it gives me quick access to the performance modes. This is where you can choose between four different performance modes, save some battery life if you need to or set it up for the best experience with audio, video and games.
It’s impossible not to mention the Game Launcher as a special feature on the Galaxy S8. You’ll rarely find a game center as complete as this one on any Android-based smartphone. No matter how nice it is that Google Play Games offers the ability to record and share games, it doesn’t let you lock push buttons (the home button, for example) or other features that could interfere with gameplay, such as activating the Edge display without meaning to.
Edge Sense is the best smartphone innovation we've seen in 2017. It represents a completely new way of interacting with your phone. In my opinion, it’s on par with the invention of the mouse, which broadened the computer's capabilities and is a must-have today.
So far, there are two actions you can perform with Edge Sense: a hard or soft squeeze on the sides. By pressing on the phone’s edges, you can access apps and tasks, such as starting or ending a video recording. Obviously, these features are simple for now, but the best is yet to come.
Developers could incorporate Edge Sense technology into their apps, which would allow for unique interactions between hardware and software. It might even replace the volume button in the future.
Samsung Galaxy S8 vs HTC U11: quality and audio features
One of the audio features that I’ve used the most on the Galaxy S8 is thanks to Bluetooth 5.0. With its extra audio dimension, I can connect two Bluetooth speakers at the same time. Plus, the software lets you choose specific audio outputs for different apps.
This means that I can use Spotify on my Bluetooth speakers, and at the same time, use the phone's speaker to talk to my friends on WhatsApp, all while sitting on my couch at home. Also, when my foreign language teacher sends me my homework, this means it won’t cut off my music.
At last, software features that let me optimize audio quality on my headphones have arrived. This can make a huge difference depending on the quality of the audio file or the equalizer mode used. However, I need to be honest, the quality of the AKG headphones would be much better if it offered noise canceling, or at least insulation from external sounds.
Boom Sound is incredible. To start with, the sound on the HTC U11 is quite loud and clear on both speakers and headphones, even when you’re using a headphone jack adapter. This is an important point since the device doesn’t come with standard headphone jack.
The sound isn’t quite as loud as devices that have the speaker on the front though. The volume on the bottom part isn’t that strong, but it’s better than anything else you’ll find among the competition.
The HTC USonic headphones provide the best experience I’ve ever had with this type of accessory (in-ear headphones). The sound is crisp and full of detail. To use it, however, you’ll need to create an audio profile, which will measure and adapt to your ear canal with the end goal of finding the best sound for you.
The lack of a standard headphone jack could be considered an oversight for some users, but with regard to audio quality, the real error is not using the USB Type-C to improve the sound.
Samsung Galaxy S8 vs HTC U11: camera
The camera on the Galaxy S8 is quite competitive, and it's among one of the best that you can find on smartphones nowadays. In good lighting conditions, all you need is to do is open the camera app and take a photo or video without worrying about anything. It's every consumer’s dream. The autofocus responds quickly, it has great white balance and it doesn’t get too ambitious in post-processing, which gives you a decent margin with which to edit images in programs like Photoshop. For more options, you always have Professional mode and the opportunity to take images in RAW format.
On a cloudy day, the 12 MP lens with f/1.7 aperture on the Galaxy S8 still has a high degree of color and contrast. Even in low-light, video and photos are still high-quality. It's all very similar to what we had last year with the Galaxy S7.
The front camera on the Galaxy S8 delivers balanced and realistic colors. Its quality was proven in the previous blind camera test, where many users voted for the selfie taken with an 8MP lens and f/1.7 aperture on the Galaxy S8.
Check out this gallery of photos taken with the Galaxy S8.
The camera on the HTC U11 is quite strong. So much so, that it got a great score on DxOMark, a website which specializes in analyzing cameras. It made me fall in love with the device at first sight, pretty much like what happened with the LG G4 when it was launched.
In my opinion, the U11 is proof that one lens takes better photos than two. I don’t think this dual-lens system is anything more than a marketing ploy, and it still needs a lot more work to overtake a quality sensor.
This being said, I can assure you that the dynamic range of the U11 is one of the best that I’ve ever seen. I really like the color representation, which combines natural colors with a soft touch that highlights the images’ details. The optical image stabilizer and quick shoot are icing on the cake.
Check out the photos taken with the HTC U11 in this gallery.
Samsung Galaxy S8 vs HTC U11: security and privacy
If you read my review on the Galaxy S8, you must be asking yourself why I didn’t talk about the position of the fingerprint sensor as the first topic of the comparison. Yes, this does hamper the use of camera when it’s used regularly, considering one could smudge the lens with one's finger. However, this shouldn’t be your reason for writing off the Galaxy S8. Samsung knows how to play defense with a broad range of lock screens and system access options.
The iris scanner and fingerprint reader for payments are safe, fast and easy to use. Plus, you can use Samsung’s facial recognition as a screen lock, and PIN or password as a backup. This means you can have a least three security levels.
In addition to all that, the South Korean manufacturer still offers a series of security apps through Knox, a complete security system which protects everything from hardware to apps.
We have a few options with which to unlock the HTC U11, like the fingerprint sensor, which is fast and discreetly located on the front of the device. There’s also Smart Lock, which registers the user’s face to unlock the device. This option works similarly to the facial recognition on the Galaxy S8, however, there are a few faults in its performance.
In the system security options, you’ll find a feature that password protects access to third party apps of your choosing.
Samsung Galaxy S8 or HTC U11?
If you’d prefer a smartphone with style, which offers practically exclusive options in just one device - such as Bluetooth 5.0, 18.5:9 display ratio, an iris scanner, and different performance modes - then you’ll want to go with the Galaxy S8.
The device comes with a high-performance processor, the Exynos 8895, which, combined with the 4 GB of RAM, guarantees incredible performance, especially since Samsung has also streamlined its interface, Experience 8.1. The software is full of features that, when used correctly, could increase your battery life from hours to days.
As always, two months isn’t long enough to feel a loss in performance on a smartphone like the Galaxy S8. However, I don’t have any complaints so far. Naturally, apps and games have frozen, but those are the exception, not the norm. Between the Galaxy S8 and the HTC U11, I’ll stick with the S8, hands down - this is partly because HTC doesn’t sell their devices in my home country of Brazil!
The HTC U11 may not be as amazing as the Galaxy S8, which sparks love at first sight for some people, but it does have its upsides. It has innovations, like digital audio output and Sense Edge technology, and it also has a similar design to phones currently on the market.
Aesthetics aside, it’s a practical and well-constructed device. It comes with the best processor on the market, and it will receive updates over the next two years. Regarding hardware, however, there’s just one small problem, and that’s battery life - but this plagues the Galaxy S8 and other current high-end devices as well.
The Galaxy S8 is quite good, but if you want to use a true smartphone, what you’ll need is the HTC U11.
Now, it’s up to you:
Which do you prefer?
Choose “Samsung Galaxy S8” or “HTC U11”.
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In an attempt to maintain the argument of each editor and, thus, respect both opinions, neither Luis nor I interfered in the editing of text done by the other.