HTC U11 Review | Is Life All About Squeezing?



With the smartphone market saturating to the point where specification bumps are nearly meaningless, smartphone manufacturers are trying to come up with unique ways to distinguish their flagships. Instead of playing catch up with other giants in the playing field, HTC have decided to take an innovative approach for their latest flagship - the U11. Highlights that separates the U11 from its competitors includes: Edge Sense, Acoustic Focus, and its Oh So Sexy back. After using it as my daily driver for a few weeks now, I am certain that this is my new favorite phone! Here is my detailed review of the HTC U11.



Design


Off the bat, the U11 has a noticeable glow to its 'Liquid Surface' glass back. Every glass back goes through a process called Optical Spectrum Hybrid Deposition. This process allows it to shift between different color hues, based on the angle that it is being looked at.



The U11 comes in a variety of colors, ranging from Brilliant Black to Solar Red. For the Amazing Silver, it can turn blue from its original silver shine. While the Solar Red slides from red to gold. However, because of its mirror-like qualities, it is a fingerprint magnet. Not to mention, its camera is also not entirely flushed with its back, causing the camera lens to be prone to scratches. Thankfully, it comes with a clear case which not only makes the camera hump non-existent, it also allows for the full view of its Oh So Sexy back.

Build Quality

Holding the HTC U11 feels comfortable, even while using it when lying on the bed. This is all thanks to it only weighing 169g, reducing the amount of strain your arms are put through on a daily basis. Not to mention, it is the first HTC flagship smartphone to be certified with IP67 dust and water resistant. This means that it can be fully submerged in water of up to 1 metre in depth for 30 minutes. This is a huge step up compared to many of its predecessors, as the HTC line-up seldom are able to reach this standard.



Camera

After playing around with the camera for weeks, I feel that there is no doubt that the U11's camera is deserving of the highest DxOMark score of 90. With the same full sensor technology found in DSLR cameras, auto-focus is almost instantaneous. Also, with HDR boost, HDR processing of photos is unnoticeable. This is unlike many phones that produces a delay when trying to take multiple HDR photos at once. Its rear camera also features an Optical Image Stabilizer (OIS) that helps to keep photos which are taken on the move from blurring up.


HTC U11 (left) and Xiaomi Mi 5S (right)

As compared to the iPhone 7S Plus, the U11's photos are clearer with a nice pop to its blues and reds, bringing life to stills. Its photos are also not overly saturated when set side by side with the Samsung's S8, which often over-processes and softens the images. This results in the S8's photos losing its sharpness and clarity, which often blurs the entire image especially during low-light. Even under low-light, the U11 manages to keep the details that are often absent in many other flagship smartphones while reducing the noise to an acceptable level.

Here are some pictures taken with the HTC U11:


When it comes to video quality, the U11 does not slouch. It features up to 4K video recording, slow motion and even hyperlapse recording. A sample of the HTC U11's slow motion video can be seen below.


One of the main feature that the U11 is touting is its Acoustic Focus. It allows for the zooming and focusing of the audio from a single direction during a video recording session. This is only possible with the 4 microphones that are strategically positioned on the phone's side and back. These microphones allow it to recognize surrounding noise, which HTC calls '3D Audio'. All is not perfect, and there are some minor flaws with the camera. For one, there are some judders while panning the camera. Additionally, recording videos in 60FPS is also currently not available, but will be available in the coming updates.




Sense Companion



Another major selling point of the U11 is its AI digital assistant, the Sense Companion. Instead of clashing with Google Assistant and create another voice assistant, like what Samsung is trying to do with its Bixby, it went for an alternate approach. The Sense Companion learns from your usage and lifestyle pattern, while providing suggestions. For example, when it learns your daily travel schedule, it suggests when you should charge your phone if it estimates that your battery would not survive the rest of the day. It would also propose where you could eat, based on the time and your location. Not to mention, it can help to set an alarm if there is an early event on the next day. One flaw in this approach is that you would not be able to see it in effect until at least a few days into using the device.



Edge Sense


One big selling point of the HTC U11 is its Edge Sense. It allows users to squeeze the device to activate any features, wherever you are. Simply adjust the squeeze force level to what you are comfortable with, and then select the action the phone takes when you squeeze it. This feature is definitely great for those who take a lot of photos, especially for selfie lovers. Squeezing the phone is easier than trying to stretch and reach for the shutter button.

Sadly, the number of customized functions available for it is rather lacking. I find myself not using it that often, other than the occasional screenshot or taking of photos. Hopefully there will be more functions that will be added to the Edge Sense.

Buttons


Both the power and the volume buttons are on the right side of the phone. Personally, I feel that this design choice is an improvement over other phones that have buttons placed on either side of the device. It prevents the buttons from being accidentally pressed upon. Not to mention, the buttons are comfortable enough for daily usage, while being just stiff enough to not be a nuisance in my pocket.



One amazing point of the device is its incredibly quick fingerprint sensor which is conveniently placed on the home button. Between the time you take it out of your pocket and lay your eyes on it, it is already unlocked and ready to go. Unfortunately, like most other fingerprint sensors, it does not work well with wet fingers.

I/O


The one and only major downside of the U11 is that it does not come with a headphone jack. Although it softens the blow by including a 3.5mm to USB Type-C adapter, the hassle of using a dongle is clunky to begin with. This meant keeping track of an additional dongle, while switching back and forth devices with and without the headphone jack added to the troubles of everyday life.



Performance

Using the HTC U11 feels snappy with apps opening and installing without any delay. The flagship houses Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 835 Quad-Core processor which goes up to 2.45 GHz. Many phones struggle with split-screen multitasking, but the U11 handles it with no noticeable slowdowns. YouTube videos are stutter-free, even while switching around apps in the other half of the screen. Even the recording of 4K videos, which requires a huge storage bandwidth, are done without any hitch. This is all thanks an important component that is often overlooked, its blazing fast UFS 2.1 storage.

Not to mention, the device stays modestly warm at even the most intensive operations under room temperature. Additionally, the device does not get ridiculously hot while charging through Quick Charge 3.0, which is common for many other devices with Qualcomm's Quick Charge feature. These are only possible with the Snapdragon 835 which is 25% more energy efficient than its predecessors. Together with its metal frame that acts as a heatsink, helps to quickly dissipate any heat the device produces. This makes the U11 one of the coolest devices in the market to date.

Here are some benchmarks results:




Battery


Speaking of charging, the 3000mAh battery could easily last a full day of moderate usage. This means watching YouTube videos, listening to music, surfing the web and social media, all the while being connected to an Android Wear device. It can also easily make it past 2 days on light usage. The U11 even comes with a battery optimizing software called Boost+. The app helps to check which other apps are eating up your battery, while recommending several measures to help aid in your crusade in achieving amazing battery life.


Going back to the USB Type-C adapter, using it actually does gobble down power. An hour-long ride ate up around 10% of battery, twice more than typical phones using a headphone jack. This is quite ridiculous for those who need to travel constantly. Thankfully, with Quick charge 3.0, it only requires about an hour to charge the battery from 0 to 100.



Screen

When it comes to the display, the U11's 5.5" screen is definitely one of the best. It features a QHD 2560 x 1440 pixels (590 PPI) display. This ensures that whatever you will see is crisp and clear. Furthermore, its conservative 3D glass screen design is just far enough from the display to prevent the glare and color distortion that is common on the edges of curved screens. *cough* S8 *cough* Coupled with a contrast ratio of 1:1703, the display of this device just looks amazing.

Most phones suffer under direct sunlight, especially those with OLED display. This is not the case for the U11. It has respectable maximum brightness of 528 nits, which is actually usable outdoors. However, one issue is that its oversensitive ambient light sensor makes usage at night pretty annoying. Walking past tree shadows can cause the screen to dim too low for comfort, and it also takes a while for the sensor to kick the brightness back up.



Audio


The HTC U11 houses its BoomSound Hi-Fi edition speakers. The earpiece speaker acts as a tweeter, producing the high audio frequencies. While for the downward-facing speakers acts as the woofer, which produces the lower frequency of the audio. The whole device is also designed as a resonating chamber, allowing the U11 to produce punchy bass while not distorting its highs. It also features music and theatre modes, which can be switched on the fly.


The final leading selling point of the HTC U11 is the HTC USonic audio experience. When pairing the U11 with the earphones that came in the box, it allows for the 'adaptation' of your audio profile to be the shape of your ear canal. Not only that, it also features active noise cancellation. The audio quality of the free earphones is definitely better than most that came with other phones. However, it cannot be compared to other third party earphones. Not to mention, the audio profile cannot be manually tweaked. Users would have to pray that the audio profile that they have been given is the best.

To sum it up, the HTC USonic seems gimmicky at best. Although, an associate of mine was satisfied with its audio quality and active noise cancellation. Thus, your mileage may vary as audio quality in general is very subjective.



Operating System & Customization


Android updates usually consists of new features, speed and stability improvements, and security fixes. That is why it is important to have a good track record when it comes to updating to the latest version of Android, like what HTC has. The number of days that HTC took to update its flagship products being nearly 50% faster than other smartphone manufacturers - such as Samsung, OnePlus and Xiaomi. The U11 comes updated to Android Nougat (7.1.1), one of the latest Android version available. This puts it ahead of Samsung S8 who only has Android 7.0. Hopefully HTC keeps this up, and update all its flagship to the upcoming Android O (8.0).




The Sense UI that comes with the U11 looks clean and does not feel bloated, as compared to the MIUI of Xiaomi. Its latest iteration of the Sense UI also features theming, which allows for the full customization of how the phone looks and feel.


Summary


Factor Description Score
Innovation - Brand new Edge Sense feature
- 3D Audio and Acoustic Focus adds new a dimension to video recording
- HTC USonic is kind of gimmicky
8/10
Design - Sexy Liquid Surface glass back
- Smart "3D Glass" screen design prevents color distortions and glare
7/10
Value - IP67 dust and water resistant
- Sub $1000 price range, while managing to provide incredible performance
- Latest Android version (7.1)
8/10
Performance - Quality of the camera is outstanding, photos are clear and crisp, while the judders while recording videos leaves something to be desired
- Blazing fast performance with Snapdragon 835 and UFS 2.1
- Great speakers with punchy bass
- Average battery size (3000mAh), while it is able to survive throughout the day
9/10
Final Score
8/10

At a competitive price point of S$998, the HTC U11 is one of the most feature-packed flagship out there in the market to date. Its sexy design, amazing camera, smart AI companion, and unique squeezing mechanic makes the U11 one of the most compelling flagship smartphones. I would definitely recommend the U11 if you are looking for a superb experience for under $1000 dollars. 


The HTC U11 is available in Lazada at S$998.

Specifications
Dimensions and Weight 153.9 x 75.9 x 7.9
169g
Operating System Android™ 7.1 with HTC Sense™
Camera Rear Camera:
12MP (HTC UltraPixel™ 3 with 1.4μm pixel)
UltraSpeed Autofocus
BSI sensor
Optical Image Stabilization (OIS)
ƒ/1.7 aperture
Dual LED flash
Self timer up to 10 seconds
Face detection
Pro mode with manual control, 32 sec. long exposure, and RAW format support
HDR Boost
Panorama
Hyperlapse
Slow motion video (1080P@120 fps)
4K video recording with 3D Audio, Hi-Res audio, Acoustic Focus
Video Pic

Front Camera:
16MP
BSI sensor
ƒ/2.0 aperture
Live make-up
Auto Selfie (keep still or smile)Voice Selfie
Self timer up to 10 seconds
HDR Boost
Selfie Panorama
Full HD 1080p video recording
Location GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS, Beidou
Sound HTC USonic with Active Noise Cancellation
HTC BoomSound™ Hi-Fi edition
3D Audio recording with 4 microphones
Hi-Res audio stereo recording
Hi-Res audio certified
Gesture Always on voice commands
Motion Launch
Sensor Hub for activity tracking
HTC Connect
Quiet ring on pick up
Pocket mode
Flip to Mute
Water Protection IP67
Display 5.5 inch, Quad HD,(2560 x 1440 pixels)
Super LCD 5
3D Corning® Gorilla® Glass 5
Display color personalization
Sim Card Dual nano SIM
Sensors Ambient light sensor
Proximity sensor
Motion G-sensor
Compass sensor
Gyro sensor
Magnetic sensor
Fingerprint sensor
Sensor Hub
Edge Sensor
Battery Capacity: 3000 mAh
Talk time on 3G/4G network: up to 24.5 Hours
Standby time on 3G/4G network: up to 14 Days
Power saving mode
Extreme power saving mode
Quick Charge 3.0
Processor Qualcomm™ Snapdragon™ 835, 64 bit octa-core, up to 2.45 Ghz
Memory ROM: 64GB / 128GB, RAM: 4GB / 6GB
Extended memory: microSD™ up to 2TB (Use SIM2)
Flex Storage supported
Network 2G/2.5G - GSM/GPRS/EDGE
850/900/1800/1900 MHz
3G UMTS
800/900/1900/2100 (B5/B8/B2/B1), HSDPA 42, HSUPA 5.76
4G LTE (up to 800Mbps, service dependent)
FDD: Bands B4/B12/B17/B28/B20/B5/B8/B3/B1/B7/B32
TDD: Bands B39/B40/B38/B41 with 2CA, 3CA, 4CA Carrier Aggregation
VoLTE,Wi-Fi Calling
Device capable of support Cat 15 LTE, download up to 800Mbps, upload up to 75 Mbps
Connectivity NFC
BlueTooth® 4.2
Wi-Fi®: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 & 5 GHz)
Streaming media from the phone to compatible
Chromecast, DLNA™, AirPlay™, Miracast™ Devices
I/O USB 3.1 Gen 1, Type-C
DisplayPort

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