Hands on with the HTC U11

by Goh De No
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HTC has come out with its best phone to date with the U11. With a really crowded Android flagship market, with the likes of S8 from Samsung, LG’s G6, Andy Rubin’s very gorgeous Essential Phone, Huawei’s P10 and even Google’s own Pixel, it’s going to be really tough for HTC to stand out.

Once the leader in a two-horse race with Samsung (in Asia that is), HTC was instrumental in the rise of Android with a lot of excellent Android smartphones being released during the early years.

I was a huge HTC fan and never liked the Samsung Galaxy S back in the day. It was something about those plastic covers on the back of Samsung phones that I couldn’t get my head around. So I went with HTC all the way, for almost three or four years before going to a Motorola, which was leading Android in the US.

The HTC U11 is the new flagship following up from the HTC U Ultra a few months ago, and HTC has packed its latest smartphone loaded with features in hopes of fighting the other flagships out there.

When I was in Taipei for work just last week, the roads were plastered with HTC U11 banners and I naturally searched for an HTC store near the Guang Hua electronics mall.

The first thing that came to my mind was how bulky the phone is. This is after having time hands on with the S8 and G6 of course.

The phone felt bulky but in a good way – it’s very solid and built well. The Galaxy S8 does feel well-built, but it also feels dainty, like if you drop it, that’s the end of it right away, whereas the LG G6 is in between the S8 and the U11 in terms of feel.

The next thing is how extremely dirty the phone was. The blue unit is a fingerprint magnet, so if you go with that colour, which was the first I played with, it’s going to be full of fingerprints.

The prints though, are less visible on the black unit, so I would definitely recommend that unless you want your phone to really stand out with that bright blue colour.

The glass-backed U11, if not covered with prints is extremely gorgeous, very much like looking at a piece of jewellery.

The Gorilla Glass 3 screen is 5.5-inches on the front and there is an oblong–shaped soft key at the bottom which acts as a fingerprint sensor and a capacitive-touch home button. On either side, there are back and recent apps buttons, whilst on the right hand side there are three physical keys, the lock which is conveniently placed in the middle of the device, not too far on top, and the volume rocker.

There’s a removable SIM tray which allows for a microSD card or a dual-sim depending on region. The front of the screen is not curved per se, but has nice rounded edges all along the four sides.

The U11 does boast IP67 water resistance, so you can use it in the bathroom safely.

What I hate is the lack of the headphone jack. You will need to connect your headphones  via the USB-C port with a dongle out of the box.

One of the biggest highlights upon release of the HTC U11 is the Edge Sense which lets you squeeze the phone to perform an action. So by default, if you squeeze the phone once it opens the camera application right away, and the second squeeze will take a picture. This can be seen in the video below:

Edge Sense does allow a third command, so if you squeeze and hold, for example, after taking a picture, you can enter the gallery to see the picture.

As mentioned earlier, you can set the squeeze to be almost anything you want. It can switch on the flashlight, enable WiFi, or open any other application you set it to. That’s a pretty neat function. Personally, I would set my squeeze once to call my mom.

As for the 5.5-inch display, it does not disappoint at all, the colours are vivid although not an LED screen. It is a QHD screen with really good contrast.

I viewed a lot of different pictures on the phone and watched a few videos, and the HTC store I was in was really well lit at 11am in the morning facing the main road, so there was a lot of light and the screen still performed really well. In fact, with a brightness measurement of 512 nits, it is way ahead of the S8 at 437 nits.

The stereo system on the U11 features HTC’s signature BoomSound with speakers on the left and right (if held in landscape form) which is amazing! Sound was delivered really well and had some form of surround to it.

In the box, there’s a set of noise-cancelling earphones that connects via USB-C and there are many different ear-piece sizes with the earphones. By the way, the end of the 3.5mm jack has to be near!

On the rear is a very good camera, featuring a 12-megapixel (no ultrapixel technology here) sensor. Based on pictures that I was messing around with and pictures that I’ve seen online, the HTC U11 really gives the S8 a run for its money. In low-light scenarios the HTC U11 comes out on top in almost every sample, but not by a lot. In brighter light the S8 processes contrast and detail better than the U11.

Under the hood is a Snapdragon 835 processor with either 4GB of RAM and 64GB storage or 6GB of RAM and 128GB storage.

I think the let down of the HTC U11 might very well be its battery life. With only a 3,000 mAh battery and a QHD 5.5-inch screen, that equation probably comes up to a rather mediocre battery life.

My time with the HTC U11 was very pleasant. The device is powerful and can stand up to any flagship you can buy now. In the end, it’s up to HTC on how they’re going to market this as a true winner in the Android flagship race.

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