HTC have upped the game with the introduction of the U11, a classic design ethos with all the bells and whistles of 2017, complete with a new squeezable function that adds another button so to speak, but it faces stiff competition from the likes of LG, Samsung, even Sony. So, how does the U11 compare when it comes to pure specs alone, and is its party trick enough to consider itself a contender?
What happened to the aluminium unibody of the M10, M9, and M8?
It’s been ditched. Sort of. The U11 now sports a triple layer glass surface, liquid almost, using Optical Spectrum Hybrid Deposition, layering refractive precious minerals, transforming the colours of the back with every movement.
Beautiful concept in theory, but only really visible under warm light and sunlight, and that’s if the back is not smudged with your handprint (It’s an easily smudged phone).
Ohhh, so walk me through the phone. What’s special about it?
Let’s talk design first. At first glance, when I picked it up, it looks…….plasticky, but it’s not intended to be that way. The Gorilla Glass is so thin that it portrays such a feeling when one holds it, but after a while, the build quality becomes much more apparent. Holding it after some time presents a solidly built chassis, nicely weighted and fits about right in your hand.
Rather than test out some weird designs, HTC have decided to refine a proven design, with all the buttons in places where you’d expect them to be. It just works, and there’s merit in that.
The bezel is a bit thick by today’s standards; in comparison to the Samsung Galaxy S8 and LG G6 which practically have no frames, but that’s just nitpicking.
I see…I see. What about the screen then?
On its own, the screen is about as good as it gets. QHD display in 16:9 aspect ratio delivers sharp, vivid images that doesn’t sap battery life into oblivion. You definitely won’t be left wanting for more, but when placed next to the S8, the thick bezel really begins to show its rear. It makes the phone look a bit, ancient, next to the sleekly designed S8, but again, nitpicking.
Brightness too needs a bit of work, because even at full brightness, there is a bit of difficulty seeing it in direct sunlight, and the auto-brightness leaves a lot to be desired. The sensor’s accuracy is a bit off, as I have noticed that even in dark room conditions, the screen is a tad too bright. Of course, this can be adjusted on the brightness slider to suit the lighting, but then again, it shouldn’t be this way.
Tell me about the specs though.
You won’t be left wanting for more on the U11. Snapdragon 835 CPU, 4GB of RAM are more than enough to handle your day to day activities and won’t even show a slight amount of lag when you switch apps often. Geekbench reports a score of 6316, a bit short compared to the S8’s score of 6432, but it’s one of the very best in its category when it comes to raw power.
What’s all about this, squeezing thing?
Ah yes, the U11’s trump card. Dubbed the Edge Sense, it’s basically 2 pressure sensors embedded on the sides of the phone, which registers how hard you squeeze it, and it will perform tasks. Sort of like an additional button. The Edge Sense sounds good in theory, but takes a bit of practice when it comes to actually doing it.
Sometimes the sensors don’t register your squeeze and you’ll be left awkwardly squeezing your phone to open an app or command. The most practical function I found for it was to access the camera, whereby you already subconsciously grab your phone when you’re taking it out of the pocket and it instantly brings you the camera app.
The squeezing doesn’t just stop there however, as a different function can be assigned when you hold it for a little while longer, and opens another set of options of what you can assign to the holding portion of the squeeze.
Overall, it is a very innovative feature, but one that feels a bit awkward to use as the sensors don’t register hand inputs very accurately.
How’s the interface like?
All standard HTC fair. Previous owners will be able to familiarise themselves in no time, as it’s practically the same as the previous generation ones. New users will take a bit of time, but it’s nothing out of the ordinary.
Bleh. Talk to me about the camera.
The camera thankfully is on the better side of the scale. Auto HDR means all your shots are rendered beautifully as the processor takes the best of 3 shots and compresses it into 1. Pro mode takes it a step further; apart from just giving you free reign on manipulating the settings, the camera also has an option to save the picture in RAW, if you so wish to edit the picture more to studio quality levels.
12 megapixels at the back is more than sufficient, but the front facing one is one of the best cameras I’ve used to take selfies of. 16 megapixels and a wide aperture allows for plenty of light to enter, making your shots brighter and more vibrant. Even under low-light conditions, it still manages to hold itself without much noise.
Camera recording too is excellent, the detail is crisp and loud sounds are captured without any distortion whatsoever. The U11 can also record soundstage with startlingly good accuracy; omnidirectional mics allow proper imaging of the soundstage and will amplify points when zoomed on ,let’s say, a guitar will only sound when zoomed upon the guitarist when a full band is playing.
The only problem with the camera is that the shutter speed is a bit slow. It’s by no means lethargic, but there’s a noticeable difference when you try to take a picture of a moving object.
But I don’t really use the camera often anyway. What about battery life?
Battery life is decent. Not great, but not too bad. HTC has packed a 3000mAh cell inside, and for the most part, it gets the job done. Regular use would entail about a day’s worth of juice, so as long as you remember to charge the night before, there’s not much to worry when you’re out and about the next day.
Fair. What about audio then?
The audio is sublime. There’s no other way to put it. The bundled earphones come built-in with active noise cancellation which profiles itself according to the listener, so as to maximise the noise cancellation to provide a black background for your music. I work in a noisy office, and the mechanism pretty much drowns out 99% of background noise, allowing me to focus on my music and nothing else. Despite all of this, it is worth noting that the noise cancellation feature does take up quite a bit of battery life.
The earphones however, may not be to everyone’s taste, as they can be a bit bass heavy at times, but otherwise perfectly liveable on a day to day basis. High resolution support means that you can stream FLAC files without any worry of the phone desampling or unable to recognise the file altogether.
While HTC has gone to the dark side and ditched the headphone jack altogether, the bundled adaptor does come with a surprise on its own. A digital amplifier is embedded inside the adaptor, and pumps out enough juice to power your headphones for a more optimal sound.
HTC has also fiddled around with the Boomsound speakers, that really shines when placed on a table. The back of the phone acts as a resonation chamber, that when laid flat, naturally amplifies the sound with no loss in audio quality, but it only ever works if you’re playing music, and pretty much nothing else, because the phone has to be on a flat surface for the chamber to work its magic.
I can’t help but feel that the the old layout for the One series was just better, and much simpler. 2 forward facing speakers on both ends of the phone basically obliterates every other smartphone when it comes to loudness and sound quality, but then again it’s just me.
The HTC U11 is a solid all rounder that does exactly what you ask of it. Only it’s a little bit too late. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with the phone, in fact, other than the shutter lag, there really is no glaring faults whatsoever, but because of its release relatively late into the product cycle, there has been stiff competition for the HTC to face from the likes of Sony, Samsung and LG. However, given what it can do and for a lower price point than its competitors, it can definitely hold its own.