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HTC now has three handsets in its U11 range: the original 5.5-inch HTC U11, which we liked a lot, the affordable 5.2-inch HTC U11 Life, and the top-end 6-inch HTC U11+. Does this latest flagship model offer enough to justify its hefty price tag?
The HTC U11+ shares its predecessor's mirrored finish at the back, which has a mesmeric ability to look slate grey at some times and black at others. It's the perfect backplate for narcissists as it delivers a great reflection, but I found it rather slippy, and also a seriously efficient fingerprint magnet. For me, this is a case of style over substance.
The power and volume buttons remain in the same location as on the HTC U11, on the right-hand side, but the home button/fingerprint scanner below the screen is ditched in favour of a circular sensor at the back. On larger handsets a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor is preferable as it makes one-handed operation so much easier.
This is a tall, slim handset with an 18:9 aspect ratio screen -- a change from the 16:9 HTC U11, which measures 75.9mm wide by 153.9mm tall by 7.9mm thick. The HTC U11+, by contrast, is slimmer (74.9mm), taller (158.5mm), and thicker (8.5mm). It's heavier too -- 188g compared to 160g for the U11. (See how the HTC U11+ measures up to other flagship smartphones here).
The black slab of frontage with its minimal side bezels and small top and bottom bezels looks pretty bland, and with the HTC logo on the back of the phone there's little to mark it out as distinctive. It's worth noting that the IP rating has risen from IP67 on the HTC U11 to IP68 on the U11+, which means that dust resistance is unchanged while waterproofing has improved.
The 6-inch screen has a resolution of 1,440 by 2,880 pixels, giving an impressive 537 pixels per inch (ppi). I've used an 18:9 handset for several months as my main phone, and appreciate this taller aspect ratio. But the Super LCD panel isn't as vibrant as I'd like, and even though you can switch the colour profile between sRGB and DCI-P3, using a slider to move between 'warmer' and 'colder' colour temperatures, I felt that video (in particular) was a shade less satisfying to watch than on AMOLED displays.
The HTC U11+ runs on Qualcomm's top-end octa-core Snapdragon 835 chipset. There is 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, of which 118GB was free on my review sample. The phone supports two SIMs, and the second SIM slot can be sacrificed for a capacity-boosting microSD card.
Android 8.0 (Oreo) is overlain by HTC Sense, which allows you to tweak the standard Android UI, and also provides several software enhancements. Most notable of these is the 'squeezability' feature that is Edge Sense. This isn't new for HTC, but it has been updated for the U11+.
Applying pressure to the edges of the phone can invoke app shortcuts, or call up Edge Launcher, a semi-circular dial-panel that you can scroll with your thumb to access apps and shortcuts. This can become pretty complex, with two concentric 'wheels' of shortcuts. And, if you choose to enable 'advanced mode' it's possible to configure both short-squeeze and squeeze-and-hold shortcuts.
I'm not sure about this. I found it a little awkward to hold the phone in one hand to squeeze; and once the Edge Launcher pops up (which it does very efficiently), it's a bit of a balancing act to thumb the wheel while hanging onto the handset. Having said that, people with larger hands might find this process comfortable enough.
There are plenty of other tweaks on offer. One is to customise the navigation bar: a second, slide-in, navigation bar is provided, and the buttons on each can be customised, so that up to nine shortcuts are available. That's quite a nice touch.
HTC U11 Life
Android version / overlay
Android 8.0 with HTC Sense
Android 7.1 with HTC Sense
Android 8.0 with Android One or HTC Sense
6.0 inches, 18:9 aspect ratio, 1,440 x 2,880 pixels, 537ppi
5.5 inches, 16:9 aspect ratio, 1,440 x 2,560 pixels, 534ppi
5.2 inches, 16:9 aspect ratio, 1,080 x 1,920 pixels, 424ppi
4GB/6GB RAM, 64GB/128GB storage, MicroSD slot
4GB/6GB RAM, 64GB/128GB storage, MicroSD slot
3GB/4GB RAM, 32GB/64GB storage, MicroSD slot
Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
Qualcomm Snapdragon 630
Dust & water resistance
USB-C with provided earphones and 3.5mm converter
Dimensions / weight
158.5mm x 74.9mm x 8.5mm / 188g
153.9mm x 75.9mm x 7.9mm / 160g
149.09mm x 72.9mm x 8.1mm / 142g
£599 (6GB/128GB) / £519 (4GB/64GB)
Reliance on USB-C for a headset connection is not unusual at the higher end these days, and it's nice to see HTC helping USB-C newcomers avoid additional outlay: you get a pair of HTC USonic earbuds, and in case you want to use an existing set there's also a 3.5mm converter in the box.
The HTC USonic earbuds apparently map your inner ear to deliver a personalised audio experience, and also include active noise cancellation. I found them to be pretty good, if a little fuzzy in the bass frequencies.
The HTC U11+ has a single 12-megapixel (MP) rear camera, which bucks the current dual-camera trend. That doesn't mean this camera is a dud -- far from it, in fact. The f1.7 lens lets in plenty of light, and overall image quality during my limited testing period was very good. The front camera is down from 16MP on the HTC U11 to 8MP here -- still enough pixels for fine selfies, and the f/2.0 lens is welcome. The front camera, like the main one, also benefits from HDR Boost.
The U11+'s bigger chassis allows for a considerably larger battery: 3,930mAh, compared to 3,000mAh in the U11. HTC says this will deliver up to 25 hours of 3G or 4G talk, while QuickCharge 3.0 support means you can grab extra power at short notice when the battery runs low. During the test period I've had more than a day but less than two days from a full charge, which suggests the HTC U11+ won't rival the very longest-lasting handsets out there.
At £699 (inc. VAT) the HTC U11+ is no 'affordable' smartphone, but nor is it in the very top iPhone X/Galaxy Note 8 price bracket. Compared to the U11 (£599 for 128GB, £519 for 64GB), you get a range of updated features including an 18:9 screen, a much bigger battery and improved water resistance. The downgrading of the front camera from 16 to 8 megapixels shouldn't worry anyone.
But look around and you'll find the OnePlus 5T and Honor View 10 offering very attractive features at a much lower price. HTC has come up with a very good handset in the U11+, but it's far from the best value for money available.