HTC U11 review: Nice and squeezy does it

Will it change the way we use our smartphones forever?

Edge Sense

One thing the HTC U11 has that its rivals do not is , erm "squeezability", or as HTC is calling it: Edge Sense. This means the phone is equipped with pressure sensors embedded in the lower half of its frame which let you launch apps from the lockscreen with a short or long squeeze, as well as perform actions within those apps with the same actions.

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While it's a rather unique feature that we've never before seen on a smartphone, it's not exactly all that exciting to be honest, and you'll probably barely use it once the novelty has worn off. It's a nice attempt by HTC to shake things up - but hardly revolutionary. Props for trying something different, though!

Audio

The HTC U11's audio is exceptional and thus is totally worth its own section in this review. As with previous "BoomSound"-branded phones, the HTC U11's speaker is loud and clear with very little distortion. As mentioned earlier, the U11 also comes with a set of active noise-canceling HYC USonic earbuds in the box that adapt to your ear canal to provide clearer, more balanced audio. And while these don't rival a proper set of over-the-ear noise cancelling headphones, sound quality is very decent.

Performance and battery life

With an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor, it's hardly surprising that the HTC U11 is among the most powerful phones on the market right now. This is part of the first wave of Snapdragon 835-powered smartphones, and it's accompanied here by 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, with Qualcomm's Adreno 540 graphics for blazing-fast performance. There's also a 128GB storage version with 6GB of RAM available for those power-hungry users.

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In terms of benchmarks, the HTC U11 holds its own against the Android competition, and although it's slightly behind the Samsung Galaxy S8 in each of the tests, it is comfortably faster than the Google Pixel and Pixel XL, which is great considering it costs considerably less.

Despite being such a power house, battery life on the U11 is surprisingly good. In the first few days of use, the phone comfortably made it through a full day, right from 6:30am to 11:30pm without needing a re-juice. The 3,000mAh battery might not be the biggest capacity battery we've seen, but the Snapdragon 835's 10nm manufacturing process and more efficient modem is clearly having a positive impact on longevity. It held up well in our battery benchmarks, lasting 13hrs 18mins before needing a recharge.

Camera

One of our favourite features on the HTC U11 is its rear camera. Despite being only 12-megapixel, the imaging experts at DxOMark have rated as the best camera ever seen on a smartphone, its score of 90 edging it slightly ahead of the Google Pixel by a single mark and the Samsung Galaxy S8 by a few.

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Its specifications are certainly impressive. It has a bright f/1.7 aperture, uses dual-pixel autofocus (UltraSpeed autofocus in HTC parlance), and boasts 1.4um pixels and optical image stabilisation (OIS) to capture sharper images in low light.

This all adds up to highly impressive snaps. In our side-by-side tests with the Google Pixel, for instance, the HTC U11 often captured more detail in difficult areas such as foliage and brickwork; and in many cases we preferred its colour balance as well its photographs look more natural while the Pixel would produce ever-so-slightly over-warm images.

However, the Google Pixel's HDR mode was able to better recapture subtle tones in clouds, was able to drag more detail out of shadowy areas and it resisted blowing out highlights more successfully than the HTC U11 as well. However, in low light the HTC U11 takes the lead, retaining more colour and producing less noisy images. The HTC U11 is certainly up there with the best smartphone cameras available today.

Price

While the HTC U11 is a flagship device, it's better value than most of its rivals' equivalent devices, costing 649. That's much less expensive than the Google Pixel XL (719), the Samsung Galaxy S8 (689), and the LG G6 (649), for instance, and it's great to see that HTC has positioned its flagship in a better price range than its competitors. 

Verdict

The HTC U11 is a quite frankly, an excellent smartphone. With a superb camera that puts some of its pricier rival devices to shame, coupled with a decent battery life and super nippy performance , it's one helluva smartphone.

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There might be a few niggles, such as the screen, which isn't quite as nice as the Samsung Galaxy S8's or the LG's G6, and the lack of a 3.5mm headphone jack. But these are small inconveniences as opposed to major deal breakers, which we're sure most users would be happy to live with. With some interesting, unique features and a fetching, sleek design topped with brilliant performance, the HTC U11 is easily one of the best Android smartphones around.

Verdict

An excellent camera, speedy performance and a gorgeous design make the HTC U11 one of the best smartphones on the market, although it's let down somewhat by the screen.

ProcessorOcta-core 2.45GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
RAM4GB
Screen size5.5in
Screen resolution1,440 x 2,560
Screen typeSuper LCD
Front camera16-megapixel
Rear camera12-megapixel
FlashDual-LED
GPSYes
CompassYes
Storage (free)64GB
Memory card slot (supplied)microSD
Wi-Fi802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Bluetooth4.2
NFCYes
Wireless data4G
Dimensions153.9 x 75.9 x 7.9 mm
Weight169g
Operating systemAndroid 7.1
Battery size3,000mAh
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