HTC U11 review: As good as the numbers show
MANILA, Philippines – Who would've thought? Taiwanese brand HTC had been out of the Philippines for a couple years since it peaked with their One series of phones. In August, they officially returned – with a phone that seemingly came out of nowhere to blow out the competition in benchmarks: the HTC U11.
The HTC U11 – owing to its Snapdragon 835 chip, 6GB of RAM, and fairly unobtrusive and efficient Sense UI – once stood atop Antutu rankings with average scores of around 180,000. It beat the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S8+ (172,000), iPhone 7 Plus (169,000), and Xperia XZ Premium (168,000) by a considerable margin – and all of these are more expensive than the U11.
Just by these numbers, it's easy to make a case for the HTC U11. It packs a whallop for the price, relative to its competitors. (Although if we're talking about price-to-performance value, it's the OnePlus 5T that's the current king of the Antutu rankings while being significantly cheaper than even the U11).
Based on usage experience, the U11 backs up those stats too. It boots quickly, and in the span of a month, I think only once did an app crash. It's just as much a workhorse as the S8+, and as much as we can credit the specs, it's also a function of the smooth integration of the HTC skin with the OS underneath, Android 7.1.1.
The U11 won't push the boundaries when it comes to visual flair. It has a few neat and admittedly eye-catching tricks but it's not what one would call daring. The curved glass back is shiny, and mirror-like, officially known as "liquid surface."
The metal frame running in between the back portion and the curved glass on the front gives it some nice sturdiness. These main elements are more than enough to set the phone apart from midrangers. But placed side-by-side with this year's "tall" phones like the LG G6 and the Samsung S8, its tricks don't feel entirely new. The thick bezels, compared to the phones we just mentioned, also don't help it make a case.
While beauty is a matter of taste, the U11's use of the standard 16:9 form factor makes it lose a few points in ergonomics. While the curved front screen and back panel help the phone lay more naturally on the palm, and make it easier to grip, it's not what you'd call handy. It's more comfortable to use with two hands.
If your hand had been using the phones with the 18:9 aspect ratio, you're going to wish that the U11 had that profile too. The tall phones had more screen real estate (ranging from 5.8 to 6.3 inches) while being more grip-friendly.
Beyond any gimmicks and features, here's where the U11 really stands out: the camera. The U11 boasts the highest Dxomark scores ever for a camera in a mobile phone with a score of 90. Following it are the Google Pixel (89), which is also HTC-made, and the HTC 10, Samsung Galaxy S8, Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, and the Sony Xperia X Performance all with a score of 88.
The U11 doesn't have a dual-lens setup but its single 12MP f1.7 shooter proves that one may be enough. Here are a few day time and night time shots:
The HTC U11's focusing was sharp. It didn't hunt for focus and overall, the photos showed amazing range. It showed restraint from blowing out the bright parts of a photo or underexposing the dark parts, resulting in quick, easy shots that turn out good. One strange thing though is that the exposure slider when shooting isn't very sensitive; you'll need to somewhat keep tugging on it to make big adjustments.
Here are some other tech bits that you'll like from its camera: ultraspeed autofocus, optical image stabilization, dual LED flash, RAW support, pro mode, HDR boost and 4K video recording. The U11 also gives you audio control with its acoustic focus feature. What happens is when you zoom in at, say, a person speaking, the microphone will also be able to focus on the person's words, while making ambient sound lower. It also has 3D audio recording capabilities.
Speaking of audio, the included USonic headphones have a built-in digital-to-analog converter (DAC) that really makes for an above-average out-of-the-box listening experience. The downside? The U11 doesn't have an audio port. The earphones connect through the USB-C port, which means you can't charge and listen at the same time. A big bummer sometimes.
The Edge Sense is the U11's party trick. The Edge Sense system makes use of force sensors on the sides of the phone, placed halfway between the power button and the bottom of the phone. You squeeze the sides, and by default, it launches the camera app. On the camera app, you can squeeze the phone again to take a photo or record video.
The short of it: it's a cool trick. It might be the fastest way to take a photo from a locked phone: grip it hard and you're ready to take a photo. It's faster than say, pressing a button, and then swiping the screen to launch the camera app. It feels weird at first, but it feels natural after some time.
It's also been upgraded recently, which gives us some assurance that HTC is serious with developing it as a feature of necessity rather than just novelty:
You can also adjust the force you need to use Edge Sense. One problem: set the squeeze level too high, and you'll need two hands to squeeze it enough; set it low enough, and you'll accidentally launch apps with just a little squeeze.
You can also set Edge Sense to different functions such as taking a screenshot, launch any app, turn flashlight on, turn Wi-Fi hotspot on, among others.
The rest of the package
The HTC U11 has a 3,000 mAh battery – not the biggest, but the phone is efficient enough that the battery life is satisfying. Quick Charge 3.0 provides for speedy changing – although newer phones will soon have the fourth version. The Philippine unit is dual-sim, both of which are 4G-capable and switches quickly between the two sims.
It also has 128GB of memory, a nice number given that there are still some in this price range that only comes with 64GB. Overall, what we have here is a phone that really wants to please, and it does, and is priced very competitively in its segment.
If you value performance more than cutting-edge physical design, give this one some strong consideration. – Rappler.com
Reviewer's note: The phone was reviewed for a month. HTC provided a review unit, which was returned after the review period.