HTC has produced some of the best Android devices this world has seen in last couple of years. The company gave us the first all-metal devices, the first dual-camera setups, intuitive Sense UI and the impressive BoomSound audio. This year HTC is trying out something new.
It's unlike the taller and curvier Samsung Galaxy S8 and LG G6 we have tested, and focus more on ground level user's interaction with the mobile device. It's called HTC Edge Sense, the company's new interactive technology that works as an extension to the display and allows you to trigger responses by squeezing the edges of the smartphone.
The new technology is featured in HTC U11; the company's most advanced smartphone till date that picks up right from where the last year's HTC 10 left off. And in addition to Edge Sense, the smartphone also brings forth some significant developments in design, audio, camera and display making it the kind of smartphone that every HTC (and Android) fan would wait to grab their hands on.
This brings us to the question; can HTC U11 with its aggressive price and top of the level hardware conquer the likes of Samsung Galaxy S8, LG G6 and Sony Xperia XZ Premium? We try to find this out with our review of HTC U11.
Edge Sense- Not just a gimmick but could use some improvements
When HTC first showcased the new Edge Sense technology, I was quite cynical of its real-life use and how it's going to make any change in everyday use. However, with the U11 in my hand, I can say that it's not just a marketing gimmick and can really make a difference in day-to-day use, especially if you capture a lot of selfies.
HTC U11 is the first mobile device with interactive edges, or as HTC calls it- the ‘HTC Edge Sense'. It is a new way of interaction process that transforms the fundamental gesture of holding our phones into a completely new interaction method.
What this means is that you now have a display and the side edges to navigate through the phone's applications and features. With a simple squeeze on the phone's edges, you can launch your favorite apps without touching the phone's screen. The design team at HTC has achieved this by equipping the phone's edges with sensors that makes them customizable for everyday mobile usage.
While it does sound cool and futuristic, it also works well in real-life. I used the Edge Sense to capture pictures, especially selfies where it works really well and does not force you to lose the grip on your handset. You just need to squeeze once to open the camera interface and the second squeeze will capture a shot. A long squeeze switches the back/front camera for you. Edge Sense can also be used to activate Ok Google when the virtual keyboard is on.
You can customize the feature to open a number of applications and responses of your choice. And as it is based on pressure sensitive sensors applied to the side of the device, it can be used in non-favourable conditions - including rainy weather.
I found the Edge Sense technology quite accessible and acting as an extension to the mobile phone's screen. The best part, it works even when the screen is off, which reduced the time to open an app and start acting on it. But it's not perfect. The pressure you apply does not always deliver 100% accurate results.
You need to remember the amount of pressure you have set to open an app, which seems an added burden in everyday mobile use. Accidental pressure on phone's edges can open the apps that may drain the battery and you can miss the frame while clicking a selfie when you apply pressure on phone's edges.
These shortcomings are there as of now but HTC is trying out something innovative that can really alter the way we interact with our mobile devices. With the successor of HTC U11, we might see some significant improvements in HTC Sense Edge technology.
Design: Gorgeous and Ultra-Premium
HTC U11 is the smartphone that gained the maximum number of ‘WOW' comments in my review period of flagship handsets. It forced me to remove the protective case to reveal the gorgeous rear design every time a new phone enthusiast saw the device in my hand. It is by far the most stunning but glossy smartphone launched in the year 2017.
What HTC calls a liquid surface design is achieved by fusing high-grade materials to deliver an ultra premium feel in hands, which is indeed true. The smartphone does feel premium, reflects light even with a slight change in the angle but is also a fingerprint magnet. It's just impossible to keep the handset free from smudges in everyday usage. If you can live with that, this is one of the most appealing handset in the premium range you can buy today.
In addition to a premium design, HTC U11 also maintains an ergonomic form factor. The smartphone has an all-around 3-axis symmetrical design that makes it feel slim no matter which way you hold it and makes the large 5.5-inch phablet fit snuggly in one hand. The 3D glass on front and back panel further adds to the ergonomics.
Another important aspect of design is the IP67 certification making the handset dust, splash and water resistant up to 1 meter of freshwater for up to 30 minutes. So you can click pictures and stream audio even when it is raining outside.
Display: 5.5-inch Quad HD screen with Gorilla Glass 5
The multimedia experience on the new HTC U11 is quite brilliant. The smartphone features a 5.5-inch QHD display that delivers a resolution of 1440 x 2560 pixels. The Super LCD 5 IPS offers a pixel density of 534ppi that result in crisp and vivid content. The LCD panel has good viewing angles and good contrast levels.
The screen is not as tall as the 2K screens on Galaxy S8/S8+ and LG G6 but if you haven't used these two devices, then you will not feel any difference. The IPS panel on HTC U11 is bright and the good pixel density makes everything look crystal clear. Besides, it also goes dim to the levels that you can comfortably use the handset during night.
As the smartphone uses an IPS panel, the colours does not look unnaturally saturated and seems quite accurate. The super LCD 5 display is also protected by Corning's most durable Gorilla Glass 5 3D glass.
Camera: Single Lens camera that captures stunning images
With HTC U11, the company wants to take a lead on its rivals in the camera department, however without implementing a dual-camera setup. The company has fitted a 12 MP, HTC UltraPixel 3 camera at the rear panel that can shoot in RAW format and is the highest rated mobile camera on DXoMark scale with a score of 90, surpassing the previous Google Pixel handsets. Powered by BSI sensor, the camera on HTC U11 has 1.4 µm pixel size and ƒ/1.7 aperture.
This high-end camera hardware also features multi-axis optical and electronic stabilization system and a super-fast autofocus system to capture crisp and bright images in non-favorable lighting conditions. The rear camera works on full sensor auto-focus technology and comes equipped with HTC's new improved UltraSpeed Autofocus where all of the pixels are used for phased detection autofocus. You can also record videos in 4K format with 3D and Hi-Res audio support. Besides, the 12MP rear camera is also capable to shoot slow motion video in 1080p format at 120 fps.
In real-life, the camera seems pretty impressive. The images you capture show ample detailing and vibrant but natural colors. The camera has a really fast autofocus and it captures images without any delays. The HDR Auto mode is quite capable. It combines three different images into one to bring out a great dynamic range and the results are quite appealing.
The camera also captures a great amount of detailing in low-light conditions, possibly the best-in-class but also bring along a good amount of noise. The camera also does a good job while capturing macro and portrait shots.
The 4K videos look really crisp and sharp on the QHD screen and even the 1080p shot at 60fps look equally compelling. The audio captured by the four omni-directional mics makes the video playback really lifelike.
The front-facing camera packs in even more pixels to make sure you get the best-in-class selfie experience. HTC U11 sports a 16MP front camera equipped with HTC's UltraPixel light sensitivity to capture bright selfies in ample and in low-light conditions. The results from the front camera are equally impressive as it works on a good f/2.0 aperture.
Processor, RAM and Storage: Flagship innards for a flagship smartphone
HTC knew that the company just cannot afford to lose this time to Samsung, Sony, LG and other top players. What HTC U11 brings in terms of hardware is entirely top class and worth every penny.
The smartphone is backed by the latest and most advanced processing chip- Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, the world's first 10 nanometer mobile CPU. The flagship processor is paired with abundant 6GB RAM to deliver a lag free multitasking experience. Besides, you get 128GB internal memory that can be expanded by up to 2TB via microSD card. In short, there's technically no shortage of power and storage on this mobile device.
In real-life, the performance is top class. The smartphone is blazing fast and is one of the most responsive Android devices I have used till now.
There's absolutely no delay in app loading, nor will you find any lags while navigating through the UI or shifting from one app to another while multitasking. HTC U11 even felt faster than the Galaxy S8 and LG G6 in everyday use. The non cluttered software also plays a big role in such a smooth performance.
You can run as many apps you want, edit pictures, play the most demanding graphic intensive games and the handset will handle everything with an ease. The only glitch I faced during my review period with the handset is the abrupt shut down of the camera app while recording a video in 4K format.
The smartphone forced close the camera app after a record time of 5 minutes and 20 seconds and displayed a message suggesting ‘temperature increase' as the reason behind it. The smartphone's rear glass panel also got really hot during the time. However, the handset did manage heat dissipation very well during long gaming sessions and video playback.
HTC U11 Sound Performance: Best-in-class audio performance
HTC has always been very consistent when it comes to audio quality and with the new flagship smartphone; the company has set new standards. The smartphone ensures that you get the top-notch audio experience in everyday usage. And when I say audio, it's not just the in-ear sound that the headphones produce, or the sound delivered by the stereo speakers, the entire package including microphones input while recording a video/audio, earpiece output while attending a call, etc. is simply the best I have experienced in a while. The other two smartphones that gets close are LG G6 and Sony Xperia XZ Premium.
But HTC U11 is a different game altogether. You get the company's signature BoomSound technology with Hi-Fi edition, which now gets an improved design to achieve 100% more loudness and 150% improvement in ‘Dynamic Range Audio'. What this means is that the two speaker units- front BoomSound and bottom BoomSound are loud without losing on the detail.
The audio is clear and can easily fill a room making it easy to play games, stream a movie or play music with ample sound even if you are not carrying a pair of headphones. The BoomSound speakers let you customize the sound delivery with the help of Music and Theatre mode.
The company is also shipping the handset with HTC USonic earphones that come with Active Noise Cancellation and has the ability to tune audio to your unique hearing. HTC says that the USonic earbuds map your inner ear with an advanced sonarlike technology and then adapt the sound profile to your unique biology.
While we cannot show the live demo of the technology in action, what we can tell is that the USonic earbuds sound amazing. They deliver an optimized listening experience with vibrant audio, which most of the flagship handsets fail to offer, except Sony. The vocals sound clear and bass levels are also quite good. The overall audio experience through the USonic earbuds is very well balanced and high quality.
Besides, the most interesting audio feature of HTC U11 is ‘Acoustic Focus' which will come as an absolute delight if you love shooting from your mobile device. The smartphone has 4 omni-directional microphones that are ready to record audio as soon as you tap the record button. While recording video, you can zoom in to focus on a particular subject which will keep its audio in focus by suppressing the background sounds.
This makes for a loud and clear audio where you can focus on individual subjects by just zooming in from the camera interface. The feature works brilliantly in real life and the videos that HTC U11 records sound much richer and personal. The Acoustic Focus technology will dramatically enhance your video recording experience in everyday life.
Software: Sense companion is a nice addition but Sense UI could use some improvements
I have tested a couple of HTC phones and their software- HTC Sense UI is quite intuitive. It offers plenty of customizations and runs smoothly for most of the part. However, HTC's in-house apps, an important part of company's mobile software somehow never managed to please consumers. With the new HTC U11, the company has made some noticeable changes to improve the overall experience.
The number of HTC's in-house apps has been kept to minimum. Google Photos is now the main gallery app, Google Play is the default music app and Chrome is the default browser. Users who prefer near stock Android experience will feel at home.
And while HTC has cut down the number of apps on one hand; the company has also made two important additions to U11's software ecosystem- Amazon Alexa and HTC Sense Companion. The former is not available in India as of now but the latter is company's newly coded virtual assistant that learns your smartphone usage pattern and offers recommendations to enhance your everyday mobile experience.
In return it asks for a set of permissions - location, activity data, calendar data, etc. to effectively deliver results. And I must say it does a decent job of being a digital assistant. Sense Companion offers recommendations in the form of a bubble on your smartphone's screen. These include weather insights, hotel recommendations based on your location, movies, etc. The virtual assistant can also motivate you to follow a healthy regime based on the information it fetches from your activity data.
Coming on to the everyday software performance, the Sense UI now follows a cleaner and leaner approach and works smoothly. You will not feel a glitch throughout the UI. The apps load instantly and the phone responds so fast that you might fail to notice the in-bound animations. HTC U11 is an Android handset on steroids. It is way much faster and responsive than Samsung, LG and other flagship handsets in the market.
While there's no compromise in terms of speed and user response, I did face some app crashes on my HTC U11 review unit. These include the phone's dialer app, notification panel and Google Play music app. The Google Play music app went unresponsive quite often and the phone's notification panel showed some blank space. When clearing all the notifications and the background apps failed to make any difference, I had to restart the phone to get it back to its normal state.
But it's not something that cannot be fixed and a minor software update might address the issues in the coming months. Overall, this is the best HTC Sense UI I have used till date and combined with top-notch hardware makes the whole user experience amazingly responsive and pleasing.
Battery Performance: Can last a day but still leaves you wanting for more
While the budget handsets are pushing the battery capacities to 4,000 mAhs and even more, the flagship handsets from the big fishes are still hanging within the 4,000 mark. For instance, Samsung Galaxy S8, LG G6, Sony Xperia XZ Premium, etc. are all pricey affairs and their underlying batteries fail to touch the 4k mark.
This is quite understandable as these flagships have a much larger focus on design and are much sleeker than their budget counterparts. However, we cannot ignore the fact that the flagship handsets also have crisper displays, 2K generally, and are comparatively more used for gaming, multitasking, camera and productivity, which requires more fire power.
Sadly bigger batteries still seems to be a distant thing for flagship handsets.
HTC U11 is no different and is backed by the same 3,000 mAh battery unit, which powered the HTC 10. It seems to be a bit less powerful on papers but in my tests, HTC U11 did manage to last a day with moderate usage. I had to plug in the phone during night to start the new day with 100% battery mark. A little more firepower would have made this handset a great performer.
HTC U11 also supports Quick Charge 3.0 that can recharge the battery in a shorter time period. The quick charger managed to recharge the battery to its maximum capacity in about 60 minutes during my testing.
The smartphone also comes with Extreme Power Saving mode on the software side, which can help you extend the battery life by cutting down on some important features of the phone.
As far as connectivity is concerned, the smartphone supports 4G VoLTE, NFC, Bluetooth 4.2, USB 3.1 Type C, Wi-Fi and HTC Connect. As the handset does not feature a 3.5mm headphone jack, the company is providing a USB Type C to 3.5mm port to use standard earphones with the smartphone. However, you just don't keep the connector with you all the time and the non-availability of a 3.5mm headphone jack is a real pain.
HTC U11 is the device that puts the Taiwanese tech giant back in the game. With the aggressive pricing, flagship hardware and the innovation company has put in the form of Edge Sense, it seems the company is finally on the right path with HTC U11.
The smartphone might not come out as fancy as the new age taller LG G6 and Samsung Galaxy S8/S8+, but it focuses on ground-level features such as audio, camera, screen, durability and software to deliver a great mobile experience. The processing speed and multitasking capabilities are undoubtedly top class and the smartphone is also water-dust resistant. I wish the smartphone has a little more firepower in the form of a bigger battery unit to last a bit longer.
But nevertheless, I enjoyed the overall user experience on HTC U11. The smartphone has an appealing design, a stunning camera, a delightful 2K screen and the best-in-class processor paired with abundant RAM to deliver on performance. Moreover the HTC's new Acoustic Focus technology really enhances the video recording experience and will come as a great tool for content generators and everyday users.
All of this makes HTC U11 a great buy in the race of flagship handsets. If you have been an HTC user, it's a phone worth upgrading, and even if you are planning to switch from any other Android device or from iOS platform, this can be the smartphone you were waiting for.