HTC U11+ could have been the Pixel 2 XL if Google hadn’t chosen LG to make the device. And indeed, the two phones have a lot in common – a 6″ widescreen, similar design, Snapdragon 835 chip, a high-end 12MP camera with big pixels and HDR Boost, rear-mounted fingerprint scanner, edge squeeze sensors, Android Oreo.
But HTC has built on those feature with its own Boom Speakers, richer squeeze functionality, wider aperture for the camera and 3D audio capturing for the vids, a bigger battery, and jaw-dropping design, especially in its translucent version. The 6GB RAM and microSD slot are welcome improvements, but we are yet to see if the Super LCD6 screen has what it takes to meet the flagship needs. The 100% DCI-P3 color space coverage and HDR10-compliance should help its case, that’s without a question.
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So even if it weren’t meant to become the next Pixel, the HTC U11+ is certainly no underdog, and better yet, it has the dog tags of a fighter.
HTC U11+ Key Features
- Body: Gorilla Glass 5 on the front and back, metal frame. The “Liquid Surface” design on the rear is 3-axis curved glass and changes hues under light. It’s IP68 water-resistant.
- Display: 6.0″ Super LCD6, 1,440 x 2880px resolution, 538ppi, 18:9 aspect
- Rear camera: 12MP f/1.7, dual pixel autofocus, OIS, dual-LED flash, 1.4 micron pixel size, HDR Boost, 3D audio recording, Acoustic Focus, 4K @ 30fps
- Front camera: 8MP, f/2.0, HDR Boost, 1080p video
- Video: 2160p @ 30fps, 1080p @30/60/120fps, 720@240fps; front camera:1080p @ 30fps
- OS/Software: Android 8.0 Oreo with updates directly from Google
- Chipset: 10nm Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 CPU – Octa-core (4×2.45 GHz Kryo & 4×1.9 GHz Kryo); Adreno 540 GPU
- Memory: 4GB RAM/64GB storage in base model (6GB/128GB in select markets), expandable via microSD slot (or SIM2 slot for dual SIM model)
- Battery: 3,930 mAh battery with Quick Charge 3.0
- Connectivity: Single or Dual SIM; LTE-A Cat 15: 800/150 Mbps, USB Type-C 3.1, 3.5mm to USB-C adapter included
- Audio: Boom Sound speakers, noise-cancelling U Sonic earbuds (via USB-C) included, four on-board mics for 3D audio and always listening for assistant hotword
- Misc: Squeeze actions via sensors embedded into frame, rear-mounted fingerprint scanner; dual speakers (Boom Sound)
- No 3.5mm headphone jack (ships with an adapter)
- No dual camera or artificial bokeh modes for the camera
- No wireless charging
The audio jack is gone for good at least as far as HTC is concerned and that’s plenty clear if you look at their recent phones. The U11+ is yet another smartphone to drop it from the specs list, but at least it got a water-tight IP68 body to show for it.
But there is one trendy feature the HTC U11+ omits – simulated bokeh effects for either of its cameras. Even though the U11+ has top of the line sensors, you won’t get bokeh shots. And HTC was the first to offer them on the market even before it was cool.
Despite those omissions, HTC seems to have done a fabulous job and the U11+ is shaping as one of the most beautiful smartphones this season, squeezable at that. And with the holiday shopping craziness just around the corner, we can’t wait to see if the U11+ is another gadget making it to our wish lists.
HTC U11+ retail package
HTC U11+ will come bundled with a Quick Charge 3.0-compatible plug, a USB Type-C cable, and the HTC’s USonic noise-canceling in-ear headphones. The retail box will also contain a USB-C-to-3.5mm adapter, a cleaning cloth (you will need it!), and a clear plastic case for extra protection.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get the HTC U11+ box in our office. But the HTC U11 we had for review a few months ago featured the same bundle, so you can satisfy your curiosity with its pictures instead.
HTC U11+ 360-degree spin
The HTC U11+ measures 158.5 x 74.9 x 8.5 mm – about the same as the Pixel 2 XL, but a hair ticker. The U11+ is 13g heavier than Pixel though, but still reasonable at 188g.
Retiring the metal jackets in favor of glass is now officially a thing, but HTC’s “Liquid Surface” shape dates back to the U Ultra and U Play January premiere. HTC was definitely onto something with that curved back design and everchanging color and it certainly gives the U11+ some character.
On the opposite side, the HTC U11+ front is both as flagship and generic as it gets. The U11+ utilizes a 6″ high-res Super-LCD6, the latest available of this gap-free screens. It’s one of those 18:9 wide screens, with super thin bezels, shaping as the next big thing on the market. There is a Gorilla Glass 5 to shield it, and that’s pretty much it. No keys, no fingerprint scanner.
It’s the 3-axis curved back where the HTC U11+ really shines, literally. It’s made of a specially molded Gorilla Glass 5 piece, the paint was laid on the inside to prevent chipping, while there are extra layers of highly reflective minerals for enhanced color-changing effect on the outside.
HTC chose three paintjobs for the U11+ – Ceramic Black (as our review unit), Amazing Silver (as the U11 we reviewed in June), and a brand new Translucent Black. All three models are indeed highly reflective and shift color per different surroundings, but the translucent one is the most standout one.
The Translucent Black rear won’t allow full opacity, but has the internals somewhat visible so you can catch a glimpse of the NFC antenna, the battery, the fingerprint sensor, and some motherboard screws. The brighter the surroundings, the more visible the parts. Unfortunately, this Translucent Black U11+ will be released at a later date
HTC promises “a more comfortable hold and a secure grip” and those come from the matte metal frame ending in two thoughtful chamfers. This is a clever way to balance on otherwise slippery glass body and it works like a charm for the U11+.
HTC U11+ has a very seamless design in contrast with the Pixel’s, and the Liquid effect provides for one of the most stunning looks a smartphone can have right now. It’s a phablet, alright, and handling it is secure enough but far from single-hand-friendly. Luckily, HTC Sense has the best implementation of squeeze gestures and one-hand control is a piece of cake on the U11+.
HTC U11+ front is mostly screen, of course. The earpiece doubles as one of the Boom speakers, and around you can also notice the selfie camera and one of the five mics. A notification LED and a couple of sensors are hidden nearby, too.
There is nothing on the left side, while the volume and power keys are on the right. Another mic and the hybrid SIM slot are at the top, while the mouthpiece, the second Boom speaker, and the USB Type-C port are at the bottom of the U11+.
Finally, the 12MP main camera is at the back, accompanied by a pair of mics and a dual-LED flash. The fingerprint scanner lies on the back further down from the camera lens.
A 6″ Super LCD6 display
The HTC U11+ has the newest sixth generation gap-free LCD screen known as Super LCD6. It’s a 6″ QHD unit with 538pp density. The underlying matrix is of the regular RGB kind.
The screen offers great viewing angles, bright colors, very deep blacks, and flagship contrast. Unfortunately, the brightness maxes out at 300 nits and we can only guess this might be due to overheating prevention.
|Display test||100% brightness|
|Black, cd/m2||White, cd/m2||Contrast ratio|
|HTC U11 (Max Auto)||0.373||583||1563|
|HTC U11 Life||0.357||546||1529|
|Samsung Galaxy S8+||0||442||∞|
|Samsung Galaxy S8+ Max auto||0||647||∞|
|LG V30 (Max Auto)||0.032||616||19250|
|Google Pixel 2 XL||0||420||∞|
|Sony Xperia XZs||0.461||564||1223|
|Apple iPhone 8 Plus (Standard)||0.392||530||1352|
|Apple iPhone 8 Plus (Max Auto)||0.471||621||1318|
|Xiaomi Mi Mix 2||0.379||387||1020|
HTC advertises the U11+ screen for its wide-gamut support and you can choose between a wide color gamut (DCI-P3) mode or the regular (sRGB) mode. The color reproduction accuracy is average in either modes with average deltaE of 5.4 and maximum deviation of 7. The colors are pleasantly saturated, especially the DCI-P3, but if you want more accurate presentation – you can use the manual temperature slider for each profile and move it towards Warm.
Finally, because of the relatively low maximum brightness, the HTC U11+ scored an unimpressive and uncompetitive sunlight contrast in our tests.
The HTC U11+ comes with a sealed 3,930 mAh battery – enough for a phablet of its caliber. It supports Quick Charge 3.0 and the phone is bundled with a compatible charger that fills 35% of a depleted battery in half an hour.
Unfortunately, the HTC U11+ scored unimpressive numbers on all battery tests and thus ended up with an average endurance rating of 67 hours. It’s not bad, but definitely not worthy of a flagship smartphone with a large 3,930 mAh battery.
The HTC U11+’s Snapdragon 835 enables a vast variety of connectivity options thanks to the chipset’s modem. Single SIM variants will be capable of LTE-A Cat 16 with theoretical speeds of 1024/150 Mbps. Meanwhile, the DualSIM models will be Cat 15 with theoretical speeds of 800/150 Mbps.
All variants support Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n for 2.4GHz and 802.11 a/n/ac for 5GHz (dual-band Wi-Fi). Wi-Fi Direct, Bluetooth 5.0, A-GPS, and GLONASS are also present. The USB-C port may be used for OTG and is capable of USB 3.1 speeds. There’s also support for Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0. NFC is also here, of course.
The USB-C port is also used for outputting external audio since there is no 3.5mm headphone jack. HTC’s included U Sonic headphones have a USB-C connector and the phone comes with an adapter as well. Our unit didn’t come bundled with one so we couldn’t test the audio output quality.
HTC Connect is baked into Sense UI and offers native support for Airplay, AllPlay, Blackfire, Bluetooth, Chromecast, and Miracast devices either nearby or on your Wi-Fi Network. You can also connect to DLNA devices through here. HTC Connect is intended to “Choose where to play media”. You can find HTC Connect in the Settings.
Android Oreo with Sense UI
The HTC U11+ runs on Android Oreo with Sense UI on top of it. Sense has gotten leaner over the years with the most drastic reduction happening last year when HTC decided that it would let Google take care of the core apps by shutting down HTC’s in-house apps like: browser, calendar, and gallery among others.
Let’s get right into it. Starting off ways to wake the device: there are several enabled by default. You can press the power key, double tap the screen, tap the fingerprint sensor, or slide up on the screen to unlock from sleep. The lock screen offers you four app shortcuts, which are identical to the ones you have on your homescreen.
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The U11+ also supports Smart Display – an always-on screen with relevant information. You can also set it up to work only upon motion detection to save some battery. Or turn it off altogether.
The fingerprint scanner is lighting fast and very accurate. You save up to five fingerprints.
There are a couple of default home pages, though you may add as many as you’d like. The main app drawer is organized to fit all pre-installed apps into a single page. Apps in the drawer can be manually arranged or sorted by install date or alphabetically.
A swipe to the left brings you to BlinkFeed, which you can disable, or make it yours by adding feeds, or even set it as your default home screen. Your docked apps are even laid over BlinkFeed. HTC has been expanding BlinkFeed’s functionality for years now, so you can add a wide variety of feeds and social networks to it.
Finally, the Sense Companion isn’t meant to be “just some other assistant”. It was created and first debuted on the HTC U Ultra and is meant to compliment your assistant’s (Google or Alexa) existing features and functions; this follows the theme of getting rid of redundant apps.
What the Companion app does is takes various behavioral data points like location, time, and fitness activity, and develops recommendations to make that can benefit you. For example: If you normally leave work at 4PM every day and your calendar lists dinner reservations in the city, your Companion App would recommend that you top up your battery, hours before you leave work.
For Companion App to work best, it’s recommended you allow a bunch of permissions to the app so that the app’s AI engine can make the best recommendations based on your location, time between calendar events, active phone usage, and fitness/activity data.
HTC calls its new squeeze feature Edge Sense. The sides of the phone are embedded with pressure sensors. This allows you to have two gestures to program to whatever app you’d like. One that may be particularly useful is the Camera app, though, you can achieve the same result by double-pressing the power key and using the volume rocker to take the picture.
The first time you squeeze the phone, you’ll be prompted to set up the Edge Sense feature. You’ll follow a tutorial that shows you how long and how hard you’re squeezing with the help of on-screen visuals to guide you. Note that your ability to squeeze may be affected by the kind of case you use, so keep that in mind if shopping for one.
Advanced mode is what lets you program two gestures. The default gestures are: short squeeze opens camera, a second squeeze takes the photo. It’s worth noting the UI purposely has a delay built into it as to wait for you to stabilize the camera before taking a shot. That way, the phone isn’t trembling mid-shot.
The other default action is a squeeze and hold will activate the phone’s default assistant – Google’s or Amazon Alexa. Doing the same thing while the keyboard is open will activate voice-to-text typing.
And here comes the best part – you can configure the gestures’ behavior for the UI, and in-app for each installed app. Globally, you can set a long or short squeeze to launch the Edge Launcher, which is a two-step dialer popping on the screen, which can replace your whole app drawer. There is also a calendar around, which is nice.
HTC U11+ isn’t shaping as the best flagship of the season, that’s for sure. While our tests paint a powerful and skillful flagship, the public may not be as interested in numbers. The poor looking LCD and the average battery life are a tough bite to swallow.
Then again, the HTC U11+ does offer some unique treats like matched by very few, if any, on the market. One of the best cameras with FLAC audio recording, the loudest Boom speakers to date, unique and recognizable design, squeeze gestures. So, while the U11+ may not be ticking all the boxes for the must-haves, it surely goes above and beyond to make up for them in the other departments. So if you are tired of the usual mainstream crop, give the U11+ a chance and you may find yourself surprised.