HTC is back with an impressive top smartphone with unique design and clever operation. Can the shiny HTC U11 keep up with the competition in the market?
The last few years have not been easy for the traditional company, which played a key role in the beginnings of the smartphone market and remained an important driver of innovation even after the rise of Apple and Google. But a failed product policy and competition from emerging Chinese manufacturers such as Huawei have left their mark on the balance sheet. 2017 is set to be different, the year is not just a double anniversary for HTC to the best engineering products on Amazon (since 1997 HTC was founded, 2007 production of the world’s first touchscreen smartphone), it also marks a product reboot that is most visible in a fundamentally different design language.
The manufacturer, known for many years for its distinctive metal smartphones, now relies on glass, which acquires special properties in a sophisticated production process: It consists of wafer-thin layers, which are dyed by evaporated minerals and only then melted together. This results in unique light reflections, which have a special effect on each of the five housing colors. The striking reflections, however, are the exact opposite of discreet and not for people who like it restrained.
Regardless, the material is hectically convincing, it is also more scratch-resistant which plays a role that should not be underestimated in everyday use. We had our test device for several weeks in daily use and the body was then disfigured by any scratches. However, the big drawback should not be concealed at this point: Glass is very susceptible to fingerprints – especially with such a highly reflective surface. Not for nothing HTC puts a cleaning cloth and a transparent plastic cover in the delivery box.
The workmanship is nonetheless excellent; the housing is IP67 certified and thus survives a water bath. Because the glass is bent to the edges and blends smoothly into the narrow aluminum frame, the smartphone fits comfortably in the hand. But the 5.5-inch model is simply too big for a hand-held person – especially since the smooth glass surface is rather slippery.
The 5.5-inch LCD, with its ultra-sharp QHD resolution, provides excellent display quality, with both luminosity and contrast ratios at a very good level. Beneath it lies a real beast with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835: the top processor of the year 2017 marks the current state of the art of the semiconductor industry, with outstanding performance and a comprehensive connectivity up to LTE Cat 15. The chipset masters the Android system playfully, all applications flow quickly and butterily over the display to the best engineering products on Amazon.
The RAM is fully sufficient with 4 GB. Even with the internal memory, there is nothing to moan, with 64 GB (54 GB free), HTC moves on par with most competitors, but misses the chance to settle. Huawei throws with the technically and competitively priced Huawei P10 Plus 128 GB in the pan. Both models, the user can upgrade with micro-SD cards.
The back reflects so much that you can easily use it as a pocket mirror. However, this also means that fingerprints are clearly visible on the surface.
For the camera, HTC uses a 12-megapixel sensor from Sony, which in combination with the powerful chipset offers an impressive variety of technical refinements – including the particularly fast and precise dual-pixel autofocus and “always-on HDR”. This will permanently save and discard photos when the camera preview is on. Only when the user presses the trigger, three images from this time window are used and added to a photo.
Thanks to an optical image stabilizer, the video mode is particularly wobbly and, with the acoustic focus, also offers the possibility of aligning the microphones in the sense of a directional microphone specifically to an object marked in the camera preview. Our test shows: In disturbing ambient noise, a difference to a normal video recording is indeed detectable, but not particularly pronounced.
Much more decisive is the general camera quality – and here the HTC U11 convinces in all areas. Resolution and brightness remain remarkably constant over the whole picture, in low light conditions the bright optics (aperture f1.7) brings out impressively many details. Together with the Samsung Galaxy S8 + and Huawei’s P10 series HTC is the current spearhead in terms of camera quality. There is still some catching up to do in the user interface, however, compared to the competition, visual editing is not particularly appealing.
HTC U11: Pros and Cons
- Elegant and unique design
- Waterproof to IP67
- High-quality headphones with Active Noise Cancellation included
- Clever interface with extras like Edge Sense
- Excellent camera equipment with many features
- Dual SIM variant available
- Useful squeeze sensor
- Slow motion video ([email protected] fps)
- Fingerprint Reader
- HTC BoomSound™ Hi-Fi edition speakers
- Plug for headphones is missing
- No Wireless Charging
- No HDMI Connectivity
- Non Removable Battery
The U11 supports the Quick Charge 3.0 Quick Charge mode, which includes a high output power supply. For the user, this means: After one and a half hours, the battery is almost completely recharged.
The runtime is 8:18 hours in the upper midfield. We did not like the Qi wireless charging standard less – with the glass back, the smartphone offers the ideal technical prerequisites, and HTC could have offered an important differentiating feature here. Because both in the radio characteristics as well as in the acoustics, the measurement results in the positive sense are inconspicuous.
After all, it succeeds elsewhere to set an accent: With the U11 HTC is the only manufacturer that offers dual-SIM in the high-end segment. In this variant, the second SIM occupies the slot for the Micro-SD, so you have to decide. It is sold exclusively through the free trade; with the network operators is unsurprisingly only single-SIM available.
The actions that can be triggered by pressing the frame can be configured in the settings. The Assistant Sense Companion could not quite convince in the test.
Edge Sense and Sense Companion
On the HTC U11 the latest Android version 7.1.1 is installed, enriched with the HTC’s own user interface Sense. In addition to a versatile gesture control, it also offers the personal news stream blink feed, which bundles the latest news from various news channels, social networks and your own calendar in one overview.
New is the pressure-sensitive frame: The U11 registers with the aid of several sensors embedded in the lower third of the metal frame when pressure is exerted on the sides. So it’s enough to tackle the smartphone harder to start an action. The pressure intensity is determined by the user during the initial setup, and the actions associated with pressing are configurable. Handshake handling, which HTC calls “Edge Sense,” has convinced us. In the summer, the app “Edge Sense Companion” will be released, with which one can configure even complex sequences like “Start Instagram, activate filters XY”.
We did not like the personal assistant “Sense Companion”, which is supposed to make everyday life easier with forward-looking hints – by, for example, announcing when an evening appointment is on the calendar and battery power is insufficient, or informing about weather conditions that influence the weekend planning. During the test, we received only a few hints, which were also hardly helpful – the companion has so much to learn.
All in all, HTC is making an exclamation point with the U11: the unique design, the clever user interface with pressure-sensitive frame and the excellent camera and multimedia equipment catapult the shining smartphone into the top 10 of the saifkahtri’s reviews. However, the eye-catching mirror design is a double-edged sword because it excludes all customers who prefer a more optical look.