HTC U11

Computer Shopper - - REVIEWS - Nathan Spen­de­low

★★★★★ £650 • www.ama­zon.co.uk VERDICT

With its great looks and spank­ing new pro­ces­sor, the HTC U11 is a wel­come re­turn to form

THESE DAYS IT’S be­com­ing ever more dif­fi­cult for smart­phone man­u­fac­tur­ers to build prod­ucts that stand out, but HTC has man­aged to do just that with the HTC U11’s squeez­able frame. This, claims the firm, will change the way we use our smart­phones; a de­vel­op­ment on the same level as the ca­pac­i­tive touch­screen.

This is hy­per­bole, as we’ll soon dis­cover, but this is still a smart­phone of rare dis­tinc­tion. Its glassy, glossy two-tone fin­ish means it looks like no other hand­set, and its cam­era is on par with that of the Google Pixel XL (Shop­per 347) and Sam­sung Galaxy S8( Shop­per 353). It’s a lit­tle cheaper than the S8, too, cost­ing £650.

Still, that’s a lot of cash, and so HTC is go­ing to have a hard time per­suad­ing po­ten­tial buy­ers to part with their money – espe­cially as the phone doesn’t have one of the new su­per-wide as­pect dis­plays that the Sam­sung Galaxy S8, S8+ and LG G6 (Shop­per 353) are equipped with. In­stead, you get a reg­u­lar 5.5in screen and com­par­a­tively broad bezels at the top, bot­tom, left and right.

SHINY HAPPY PEO­PLE

From the front the HTC U11 is a bit ba­si­clook­ing, but there are a cou­ple of ben­e­fits here. There’s enough room be­low the screen for a front-mounted fin­ger­print reader, for in­stance, and also off-screen back and re­cent apps but­tons.

The HTC U11 is avail­able in the same range of fetch­ing colours as the pre­vi­ously launched HTC U Ul­tra and Play, but none is as at­trac­tive as the new (mis­lead­ingly named) Amaz­ing Sil­ver and the yet-to-be-re­leased So­lar Red. We were sent an HTC U11 in the for­mer to test, and it’s a beau­ti­ful sight. It has a light, an­odised blue frame sur­round­ing a mir­ror- fin­ish rear panel topped with glass that veers be­tween a sub­tle vi­o­let tone and steely blue.

If you like your smart­phones os­ten­ta­tious, the HTC U11 is the hand­set you’ve been look­ing for. Just bear in mind that if you touch it with­out don­ning gloves, it’s go­ing to pick up your fin­ger­prints like crazy.

The vol­ume rocker and power but­ton are both sen­si­bly placed on the right-hand edge, the two BoomSound speak­ers are placed on the bot­tom edge and within the phone’s ear­piece, the dual-pur­pose SIM/mi­croSD card tray is found on the top edge, and the head­phone jack… well, ac­tu­ally, there isn’t one. HTC is stick­ing to its guns here, sup­ply­ing a pair of ac­tive noise-can­celling USonic USB Type-C head­phones in the box.

It’s also worth not­ing that HTC has joined the dust- and wa­ter-re­sis­tant crowd with the U11; it’s rated to IP67, which means it should en­dure a brief dunk­ing in the sink

If you like your smart­phones os­ten­ta­tious, the HTC U11 is the hand­set you’ve been look­ing for. Just bear in mind that if you touch it with­out gloves, it’s go­ing to pick up fin­ger­prints

or the bath. Don’t be sure so sure about the glass back sur­viv­ing an im­pact with a hard sur­face, though.

CUT­TING EDGE

Aside from its ar­rest­ing good looks, the U11’s head­line fea­ture is its squeez­abil­ity or, as HTC is call­ing it, Edge Sense. The phone is equipped with pres­sure sen­sors em­bed­ded in the lower half of its frame, al­low­ing you to launch apps from the lockscreen with a short or long squeeze of your hand and per­form ac­tions within those apps, again with a short or long squeeze.

By de­fault, a short squeeze launches the cam­era app, then you can fol­low up with an­other short squeeze to take a pic­ture or a long squeeze to switch be­tween rear- and selfie-cam­era modes. A long squeeze from the home­screen or lockscreen, mean­while, fires up Google As­sis­tant, al­though there are no as­so­ci­ated ac­tions within that app for you to play around with.

Ul­ti­mately, it’s a fea­ture that sounds more ex­cit­ing than it ac­tu­ally is, and after play­ing around with Edge Sense ini­tially, we ended up barely us­ing it day to day. It’s an ad­mirable at­tempt by HTC to shake things up, but it’s far from a rev­o­lu­tion­ary fea­ture.

BACK TO BASICS

What’s more, when the com­pe­ti­tion is go­ing all long, tall and bezel-free, the HTC U11’s 5.5in, 2,560x1,440 dis­play is some­thing of a let­down. As with pre­vi­ous HTC hand­sets it’s

based on HTC’s own ver­sion of IPS, called Su­per LCD, and im­age qual­ity is patchy.

It’s bright enough to be clearly read­able in most con­di­tions, reach­ing 520cd/m2 at max­i­mum bright­ness, and the con­trast ra­tio is su­perb at 1,599:1. The glass also has a po­lar­is­ing layer, so glare isn’t a huge prob­lem, at least not to the naked eye.

How­ever, the po­lar­is­ing layer is ori­en­tated so that, if you view the screen in land­scape mode while wear­ing po­lar­is­ing sun­glasses, the screen goes com­pletely black. With other smart­phones – the Google Pixel and Pixel XL, for in­stance – the po­lar­is­ing layer is ori­en­tated di­ag­o­nally so you can view the screen in ei­ther por­trait or land­scape mode with­out it black­ing out.

And while on­screen colours are vi­brant enough, the ac­cu­racy isn’t great. Streamed movies and TV shows still look fab­u­lous thanks to the wide-gamut tun­ing, but a lot of web­site pho­tos and graph­ics take on a slightly over­sat­u­rated look, espe­cially in the reds, yel­lows and greens.

DON’T KNOW JACK

As for au­dio, there are no such prob­lems. As with pre­vi­ous BoomSound-branded phones, the HTC U11’s speaker goes loud and clear with very lit­tle dis­tor­tion. While we’d hes­i­tate to play mu­sic on it, it’s cer­tainly pos­si­ble to en­joy a pod­cast, YouTube clip or talk ra­dio show with­out feel­ing like you have to hook the phone up to a speaker or plug in your head­phones.

The phone also comes with a set of ac­tive noise-can­celling HYC USonic ear­buds in the box; these are sup­posed to adapt to your ear canal to pro­vide clearer, more bal­anced au­dio. While these can’t match a proper set of over-the-ear noise-can­celling head­phones, sound qual­ity is pretty good, if a lit­tle too bassy.

An­other feather in the HTC U11’s cap is its 12-megapixel rear cam­era, which the imag­ing ex­perts at DxOMark have rated as the best cam­era they’ve ever seen on a smart­phone, its score of 90 edging it slightly in front of the Google Pixel by a sin­gle mark and the Sam­sung Galaxy S8 by two points.

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

SHOOTOUT

It’s hardly sur­pris­ing, then, to dis­cover that this all adds up to some ex­cel­lent re­sults. How­ever, we’re not sure it’s en­tirely bet­ter than the Pixel and Pixel XL. In some re­spects, the HTC U11’s cam­era is su­pe­rior; in our side-by-side tests the HTC U11 of­ten cap­tured more de­tail in dif­fi­cult ar­eas such as fo­liage and brick­work, and 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 bet­ter able to re­cap­ture sub­tle tones in clouds and drag more de­tail out of shad­owy ar­eas, and it re­sisted blow­ing out high­lights more suc­cess­fully than the HTC U11, too. The Pixel also pro­duced smoother, less jud­dery video footage while walk­ing and shoot­ing than the HTC U11.

In low light it’s the HTC U11 that edges back ahead, re­tain­ing more colour and pro­duc­ing less noisy im­ages, al­though in se­lect­ing slower shut­ter speeds than the Pixel the HTC U11 does run the risk of blur­ring out sub­jects prone to move­ment rather more.

In most cir­cum­stances, though, the dif­fer­ences are so small that you need to zoom right in to see them. We’d edge to­wards the Pixel for its slightly su­pe­rior video im­age sta­bil­i­sa­tion, but oth­er­wise the HTC U11 is up there with the very best in the busi­ness.

NEW TOYS

Thanks to its octa-core Qual­comm Snap­dragon 835 pro­ces­sor, the HTC U11 is among the fastest phones around as well. This is the first Snap­dragon 835-tout­ing smart­phone we’ve re­viewed at Shop­per, and it’s ac­com­pa­nied here by 4GB of RAM and 64GB of stor­age, Qual­comm’s Adreno 540 graph­ics and the Qual­comm X16 mo­dem, which is ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing 4G down­load speeds of up to 1Gbit/s. There’s also a 128GB ver­sion with 6GB of RAM avail­able.

In our bench­marks, the U11 held its own against the An­droid com­pe­ti­tion, com­ing in slightly be­hind the Sam­sung Galaxy S8 but com­fort­ably ahead of the Google Pixel and Pixel XL. Specif­i­cally, HTC’s of­fer­ing scored 6,481 in Geek­bench 4’s mul­ti­core test and 1,911 in the sin­gle-core test, as well as 59fps in the off­screen GFXBench Man­hat­tan graph­ics test.

Bat­tery life is rea­son­ably good, both in our con­trolled test and in gen­eral us­age. We found it could eas­ily last through a full day, all the way from 6.30am to 11.30pm, with­out need­ing to be topped up. Al­though the 3,000mAh bat­tery isn’t the largest we’ve seen, the Snap­dragon 835’s 10nm man­u­fac­tur­ing process and more ef­fi­cient mo­dem is clearly hav­ing a pos­i­tive im­pact on over­all ef­fi­ciency. Our con­tin­u­ous video test proved as much: the U11 ran for 13h 18m be­fore go­ing dry.

THE LAT­EST SQUEEZE

The HTC U11 is an ex­cel­lent smart­phone. It has a su­perb cam­era, its bat­tery life is de­cent, it looks won­der­ful and per­for­mance is su­perb. Throw in ac­tive noise-can­celling head­phones, stor­age ex­pan­sion and, de­spite the lack of a long, tall screen, you have one highly de­sir­able smart­phone.

Yes, there’s a hand­ful of small things the HTC U11 doesn’t do as well as its ri­vals. The screen isn’t quite as nice as the Sam­sung Galaxy S8’s; the po­lariser should have been ar­ranged di­ag­o­nally; the cam­era’s HDR mode can’t quite match the Google Pixel’s; and de­spite the bun­dled head­phones, we still wish there was a 3.5mm head­phone jack. Edge Sense also feels like a nov­elty more than any­thing.

How­ever, these are small things that can be eas­ily lived with, and if you do, you’re left with a lovely hand­set – one that has a very good chance of putting HTC back on the map.

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