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Included earbuds with active noise cancellation and incredible audio performance
Reactive Google Assistant with display off
Unique squeeze interaction functionality
Water and dust resistance
No standard headphone jack
The Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus are beautiful expensive phones while the LG G6 is a fairly standard beast available at a reasonable price. The new HTC U11 is both a beauty and a beast, priced lower than flagships from Samsung, Apple, and Google.
The HTC One M7 was my favorite smartphone as of 2013 and since then I have had incredible phones, but none that seemed to keep my attention as long as the One M7. HTC stumbled a bit with the One M9, but followed it up with a device that didn't get as much attention as it deserved, the HTC 10.
There were a couple other odd devices over the last six months, such as the HTC Bolt and HTC U Ultra, and after a few weeks with the HTC U11 it is fantastic to see an affordable flagship that doesn't compromise in any way while offering up one of the most gorgeous phones you will ever hold.
The sapphire blue and amazing silver may be a bit too much for the office, but you can always go a bit more conservative with the brilliant black that still seems to change colors when angled in different lighting conditions.
Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 octa-core
Display: 5.5 inch 2560x1440 pixels resolution Super LCD 5 with 3D Gorilla Glass 5
Operating system: Android 7.1 Nougat with HTC Sense
Storage: 64GB internal with microSD expansion card slot
Water and dust resistance: IP67
Cameras: Rear 12 megapixel UltraPixel 3 with 1.4µm pixel, f/1.7 aperture camera with OIS. Front 16 megapixel with f/2.0 aperture and UltraPixel light sensitivity
Battery: 3000 mAh with QuickCharge 3.0 charging technology
Wireless connectivity: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC
Samsung was the first to launch a smartphone with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor, but we are now seeing phones appear with it inside. HTC Sense has always been one of my favorite UIs built on Android and with the Snapdragon 835 the device flies.
It is great to see HTC incorporate a high level of dust and water resistance into its flagship phone while also offering up impressive specs across the board. The Galaxy S8/S8 Plus has Bluetooth 5.0, but there is currently limited functionality and accessories that support this new standard.
Retail box contents include HTC USonic earbuds with active noise cancellation, a USB Type-C to 3.5mm adapter, a USB Type-C cable and A/C adapter with Quick Charge 3.0 support, a SIM/microSD tray ejection pin, and a quick start guide.
The most striking features of the HTC U11 is obviously the glass back, composed of Gorilla Glass 3 material. HTC used Optical Spectrum Hybrid Deposition to create the stunning back, which is developed by randomly layering highly-refractive precious minerals across the phone's back cover.
To get people to consider the HTC U11, especially when Samsung and Apple have powerful marketing techniques, Sprint should mount it in the store with the back facing out and lined up against the front of other phones. It's an absolutely gorgeous back with mirror-like reflective properties and brilliant colors.
The flash and camera are mounted near the top of the back with one mic opening centered in the bottom half of the back. There are four microphones on the HTC U11 and it is clear that this device is designed and built for creative people who want to capture great images and video content with high quality audio. HTC has a new featured, 360 Real-life Recording technology, that focuses and captures targeted audio when you zoom into subjects while recording video.
HTC U11: in pictures
The front is pretty basic, especially when you compare it to the screen dominant devices of today like the LG G6 and Samsung Galaxy S8. There are bezels on the sides, top, and bottom. There are also two capacitive buttons, one on each side of the oblong fingerprint scanner/home button, below the display. HTC has been using this approach for at least a year. I personally don't mind it, but the trend is to go with buttons that appear on the display and can be customized so this may be a deterrent for some people.
The display is Super LCD 5 and it looks great with accurate colors and excellent clarity. Google Daydream is not supported by LCD screens though so you won't be using VR headsets with the HTC U11.
BoomSound stereo speakers are once again present on the HTC U11 with HTC reporting the improved speaker design delivers 100 percent more loudness and 150 percent improvement in Dynamic Range Audio when compared to the last generation of BoomSound. Music, podcasts, and speakerphone calls sound excellent on the HTC U11. It's a phone you can hold up and share videos with your friends.
Unfortunately, there is no standard 3.5mm headset jack on the HTC U11. However, HTC still offers the best audio experience on a smartphone through the USB Type-C port. HTC includes USonic technology to scan your ear to customize the audio output for your unique ear design. Earbuds with active noise cancellation are included in the box and they will blow you away. I could only have the volume set to about 70 percent maximum most of the time as audio is loud, crisp, clear, and simply stunning.
The rear camera incorportates HTC's UltraPixel 3 technology with 1.4μm pixel, UltraSpeed autofocus, f/1.7 aperture, dual LED flash, OIS, 32 second long exposure, and more. Check out some sample photos with the HTC 10 and other new flagships in my Flickr gallery.
While HTC promotes the new Edge Sense squeeze functionality, I see it as a nice to have feature that is not a necessity. I don't recommend using it for photos without lots of practice since my hands move to much when I squeeze so then photos end up less perfect than they could be if I just tapped the shutter button.
The squeeze is handy to launch the camera and the squeeze-and-hold lets you launch any app you desire. I currently have it set to launch Google Now since Google Assistant killed my preferred cards interface.
The front-facing camera supports up to 16 megapixel resolution with f/2.0 aperture. The camera supports auto and voice selfie modes too. You can also use the squeeze functionality to take selfies.
There is no wireless charging technology, despite the glass back, but Quick Charge 3.0 is supported and lets you charge up the U11 quickly. In my two weeks of testing, the Sprint HTC U11 has easily gotten me through a full day of use and has been shown to rival the larger battery of the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus. Battery life is not a concern with the HTC U11 and when you do need to charge it up, it's quick with the latest Quick Charge technology.
The HTC U11 runs the latest Android 7.1.1 Nougat operating system with the April monthly security update present on my evaluation unit. HTC has a solid track record of updates for the OS and monthly security releases from Google. I expect to see Android O on this device where I would not have such confidence in Samsung releasing Android O before the release of the Samsung Galaxy S9.
The latest version of HTC Sense is present on the U11, but it is such a light "skin" that you cannot really distinguish it from stock Android. There is theme support, widgets, and a few other HTC custom features, but it is mostly a stock experience. This includes a lack of HTC duplicate apps like we have seen in the past as HTC continues to focus on providing Google apps for its users. I personally prefer HTC Gallery over Google Photos, but there are ways to get such apps if you try hard enough.
Unlike the unreliable performance of voice-activated Google Assistant on the Samsung Galaxy S8, the HTC U11 recognizes your voice from across the room with the display off and is accurate all of the time. It's been a while since I have tested a Google Pixel, but out of all of the phones I am testing at the moment no other phone beats the HTC U11 in responsiveness to the Google Assistant launch command.
HTC will also soon update the U11 with support for voice-activated Amazon Alexa. The U11 will be the first device to support this capability so it will give the user more capability to control their phone and home. The Huawei Mate 9 has limited Alexa support through a custom Huawei app that must be launched first before Alexa responds.
Price and competition
The HTC U11 is on sale now, shipping this month, for $649. There are readily available $50 off coupons during this pre-order period so if you are thinking of this device get your order in soon. The unlocked HTC U11 works on AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile networks. There is also a Sprint compatible version, only available in sapphire blue, that will be sold in Sprint stores too. The unlocked model in the US can be ordered in sapphire blue, amazing silver, and brilliant black.
The LG G6 is normally also priced at $650, but T-Mobile has it on sale now for $500 so that is a fantastic deal. The Galaxy S8 is $750 and the larger S8 Plus is priced at $850. The Apple iPhone 7 Plus equivalent, 128GB unit, is priced at $869. The equivalent 128GB Google Pixel XL is also priced at $869.
As you can see, the HTC U11 has the same retail launch price as the LG G6, which is $100 to $200 less than competing flagship smartphones. It doesn't compromise in specs, the LG G6 has the older Snapdragon 821, and is clearly the most affordable flagship offered up at this time. Given HTC's market share, this is a strategy it needed to get people interested in the device and it seems the company is doing all it can to sell the HTC U11.
Daily usage experiences and conclusion
At $649, or $599 with the HTC coupon, there is no reason not to consider the HTC U11 if you are thinking about a new Android smartphone. This price is not much more than mid-level devices and a couple hundred less than other top tier flagships. The U11 offers more than mid-tier phones and is absolutely stunning.
Audiophiles should definitely consider the HTC U11 and be excited about using the included USonic earbuds. HTC includes a USB Type-C to 3.5mm adapter cable so you can still enjoy music with your own standard headphones too. Audio still sounds better than most phones when using this 3.5mm adapter.
HTC has finally figured out how to provide a camera and software that matches the output from the other best camera phones. It was close in the past, but always a step behind so it was great to experience a camera that is fast while providing excellent results. HTC's camera software is easy to use and functional, making the overall camera experience an excellent one.
Audio captured with video recording is also a focus of the device so if you spend your time recording video with audio content then you will love the HTC U11. The experience is similar to what we have seen with the LG V series where LG focuses on content creators as well.
The Edge Sense squeeze control is handy, but not essential. I do like it for launching the camera and Google Now cards, but do not use it for capturing photos as I move too much for this to be practical.
RF strength and call quality have also been excellent with the Sprint HTC U11 I have been testing.
The HTC U11 is extremely responsive and I have seen benchmark testing showing it beats out all other Android devices. You will not be held back by HTC Sense on the U11 and if speed and responsiveness is important to you then you should definitely consider this phone.
It's doubtful the HTC U11 alone will bring HTC back to the front of the pack in market share, but it is encouraging to see the company still fighting with an alternative that rivals the top dogs and at a price more affordable than Samsung, Google, and Apple.