The HTC U11 is an expensive flagship device that does a lot of things well, but it just can't compete with other high-end devices.
HTC can’t seem to figure out what they want their flagship device to look like. Whereas Samsung and others tend to have a distinct look, this year’s HTC U11 is drastically different from last year’s HTC 10, which was in turn a good deal different from the HTC One M9. And don’t get me started on the bizarre naming convention.
While last year’s device was standard and unoriginal, HTC has really taken some risks this time around with the U11 — like adding a squeezable frame. Some of those risks paid off, and some didn’t.
Let’s dive in.
- Color: Sapphire Blue, Amazing Silver, Brilliant Black, or Solar Red
- Price: $650 on Amazon at time of writing ($730 for the higher specced model)
- Dimensions: 153.9mm x 75.9mm x 7.9mm (6.06in x 2.99in x 0.31in)
- Weight: 169g (6.0oz)
- Processor: 64-bit, octa-core, 2.45Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
- RAM: 4GB or 6GB
- Storage: 64GB or 128GB
- Screen: 5.5″ Quad HD (2560px x 1440px) LCD display with Corning Gorilla Glass 5
- Cameras: 12MP f/1.7 rear-facing camera, 16MP f/2.0 front-facing camera
- Speakers: Single speaker on the bottom
- Battery: 3,000mAh battery, charged via USB Type-C with Quick Charge 3.0
- Operating System: HTC Sense, based on Android 7.1 Nougat
- Extras: Fingerprint scanner, IP67 water resistance, LED notification light, NFC, microSD card slot
On the front, the HTC U11 looks quite standard. It has a 5.5″ Quad HD display, which makes for extremely crisp pictures and video. It gets relatively bright too, for viewing in direct sunlight, and it’s made of Corning Gorilla Glass 5, which should means it’s durable.
It also has curved edges on the front, which lead to a very smooth experience when swiping around the edges of the phone — and it just feels great to hold. The screen doesn’t wrap around the edge, like on the Samsung Galaxy S8, but the bezel does fold smoothly over into the rest of the phone.
Along the base of the front, you’ll find the fingerprint scanner – which doubles as the Home button – and two capacitive keys for Back and Recents. There’s no option for software keys here, making HTC one of the last major smartphone manufacturers to remain clinging on to capacitive keys.
It’s 7.9mm thick, which is average for a smartphone nowadays, and it has just the tiniest camera bump on the back. The right side is home to the power button and volume rocker. The top has the Nano SIM card slot and microSD card slot.
The left side is bare, and the bottom has a USB Type-C port and a slit for the speaker. That speaker produces some pretty good-quality audio for a smartphone, but it’s a little quieter than other devices.
You may notice that something is missing here — the headphone jack. HTC has followed in the footsteps of Apple and Motorola and decided to ditch the headphone jack. Thankfully, it ships with HTC’s USonic headphones (which plug in via USB Type-C) and a Type-C to headphone adapter for using your old headphones.
The USonic headphones are quite good, though. They claim to use a radar-like technology to map out your inner ear and customize how the audio is played. They’re comfortable and have solid audio quality, so unless you’re a dedicated audiophile with your own expensive headphones, they’d probably work fine for you.
Now we get to the back of the device, which is one of my larger gripes with the U11. HTC calls the rear design “liquid glass” because it’s extremely reflective, glossy, and made of glass. I think it looks cheap. It smudges up with fingerprints instantly, and it just doesn’t look that great, or feel particularly premium.
Obviously, that’s my opinion, and I think others may love the liquid glass look – but it’s not for me. Other phones with more matte metal designs, like the OnePlus 5, look infinitely sleeker to me.
On the rear, you’ll also see the 12MP camera, which has a f/1.7 aperture for shooting well in low-light, and it has Optical Image Stabilization. Those features together lead to some really great photo capabilities.
On the front, you’ll find a 16MP f/2.0 wide-angle camera, which allows for some gorgeous selfies in good lighting. However, in low-light, it struggles a bit more, lacking the large aperture and OIS of the rear camera. Still, these two cameras are really high-end, and you’d be more than happy with them.
The U11 also comes with a cheap, see-through, hard-plastic case that avoids the sides of the phone so you can still use the new squeeze feature and feel those rounded edges. It might save your phone from the accidental fall or two, but it’s just so ugly. You could certainly find a better case online.
While the HTC U11 runs Android 7.1 Nougat, it looks a good deal different thanks to HTC’s Sense interface. The default launcher has Blinkfeed off to the left, which is a stream of news, social media updates, and calendar info — just like Google’s launcher.
The homescreen itself is customizable through HTC’s theme store, and the app drawer looks weirdly archaic. Of course, this can all be changed with a custom launcher, but this is what you get out of the box. Even HTC’s custom icons, like the Phone and Messages apps, look a little off.
And those apps aren’t the same ones you’ll find in stock Android; HTC has given them a Sense makeover.
Thankfully, the U11 doesn’t come with much bloatware. There’s a Boost+ app for managing your storage, RAM, and apps (though clearing your RAM might not help you much). There’s a Help app for troubleshooting your device, the TouchPad keyboard app, a Themes app, the HTC Sense Companion, and a Weather app.
The HTC Sense Companion is supposed to learn from your habits and remind you of useful things — kind of like what Google Assistant does on other Android phones. Strangely enough, the HTC U11 actually comes with Google Assistant as well. And it comes with Amazon’s Alexa.
You’re not short of virtual assistants here, though the Sense Companion doesn’t seem to do searches like the other two. Still, it feels redundant having so many of these apps. Google’s apps can basically do everything that Sense Companion can do, and it can do voice searches like Alexa can, too.
If you’re happy with Google Assistant, I don’t see why you’d bother with Sense Companion or Alexa – but it’s nice to have a choice.
HTC has baked some other features into the U11 as well, though. Edge Sense is probably the main one that’s been grabbing people’s attention. You can squeeze the device to activate any app you choose. It certainly works, but is it necessary?
I didn’t find myself using it at all. It’s one of those things that’s so invisible that you forget about it. It’s also not as fluid as it sounds. Squeezing your device tightly isn’t a very natural thing to do while using it, and on the downside, just gripping it tightly while it’s locked could wake it up.
You can adjust the amount of force needed to activate Edge Sense, but I couldn’t find any level that made it comfortable to use. Setting it high meant that I had to really squeeze with all my might to activate it, while setting it low meant that if I gripped my phone tightly so that I wouldn’t drop it, it would activate.
But there are other tweaks here as well. Double-tap-to-wake and double-tap-to-sleep are great, but swipe-up-to-unlock is useless if your phone is locked with a PIN or fingerprint.
You can customize the U11 pretty thoroughly with HTC’s different themes, which is a cool addition that’s not available in stock Android. They can change not only the icons and wallpaper, but also the clock, font, sounds, and so on.
Powered by the fastest processor currently available, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, this phone is no slack. It’s quick, it can multi-task, and it can play all the games.
The base model comes with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, which is quite standard nowadays, and likely suits your needs. If you want to splurge, you can go up to 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, but that’s probably overkill for most people.
With a 3,000mAh battery, the HTC U11 is average. In everyday usage, I would get through the day just fine, but definitely couldn’t go for two. That’s about what you can expect from any flagship smartphone nowadays.
Thankfully, the U11 has Quick Charge 3.0 on-board, which means it charges up super fast. And the USB Type-C port is the future standard that all manufacturers will soon be moving to — and that’s great, because I can’t be the only one who was tired of microUSB cables not being reversible.
Should You Buy the HTC U11?
The U11 is really a mixed bag. The cameras are great, the display and front of the device are great, the internals are powerful, it comes with a great pair of headphones, it’s water-resistant – but it’s lacking in a lot of other areas.
Its back panel is smudgy and cheap-looking, it still uses capacitive keys, the Sense interface looks dated, the speaker is quiet, the squeeze feature is gimmicky, and it has no headphone jack.
While it gets some things right, I think there are much better smartphones you can get for this price.