HTC U11 review: Should you pay extra for the Plus?

Price when reviewed

Things aren’t quite so impressive in the graphically intense GFXBench tests, but it’s still a solid performer, especially when things aren’t slowed down by the need to output to the device’s QHD display:gfxbench_manhattan_3

Sound is always something that’s important to HTC fans and the U11 can proudly sit along its forefathers on that score. BoomSound is back again and it goes loud and clear with very little distortion that I could hear. You still wouldn’t want to hear someone else’s music through the speakers on a crowded train but if you don’t have earphones or a Bluetooth speaker to hand, they work pretty well in a pinch. Better than most, for sure.

In terms of battery life, the HTC U11 delivered mixed performance. In our benchmark test, which involves playing a video on loop at a brightness of 170cd/m2 in flight mode, the HTC U11 lasted 13hrs 18mins, which is good but not great.[gallery:8]

In day-to-day use, though, it felt better than that. I rarely arrived home after work to less than 40% capacity remaining after a standard day’s usage, something my Samsung Galaxy S7 can’t claim, despite its superior performance in our tests.

Why the discrepancy? It’s likely a combination of things: my aging smartphone is part of it, yes, but the architecture of the HTC U11 is also likely to have helped. This is our first Snapdragon 835 phone review, and the efficiency of the chip is something the company has been shouting about. The evidence is certainly looking strong for now. 

HTC U11 review: Camera

And so we reach the camera and, surprisingly, what could be HTC’s ace in the hole. I say surprisingly because HTC cameras have proven a touch disappointing in the past, but the U11 puts that right and then some. Whether it’s the best or not is open to debate, but it’s certainly right up there.

In the “best” camp are the imaging specialists at DxOMark, who rate it a score of 90, pushing it ahead of both the Google Pixel – our favourite – and the Samsung Galaxy S8 – our second favourite. On paper it certainly looks the part: the rear camera is a 12-megapixel snapper with a bright f/1.7 aperture, 1.4um pixels, dual-pixel autofocus and optical image stabilisation, which is a match for the very best in the business.

Here are some samples so you can judge for yourself.[gallery:10]

It’s very, very good, that much is clear, but whether it’s better than the Pixel is open to debate. Yes, it seems to dig out a touch more detail than the Pixel in hard-to-capture areas like foliage and brickwork, but the Pixel wins on the subtle tones of clouds and shadow.[gallery:11]

In low light, however, it’s excellent, presenting heaps of detail and without too much noise. Performance is a touch laggy, though, so if capturing the moment is all important to you, then you may be better off looking at the Pixel or the Samsung.

HTC U11 review: Verdict

In short, the HTC U11 is a wonderful phone that I’d recommend to anyone. The fly in the ointment? It’s expensive and only £30 cheaper than the superior Samsung Galaxy S8 – the kind of discrepancy that will be invisible if you’re comparing two-year contracts.[gallery:12]

Does that sound familiar to you? It was the same story with the HTC 10 last year. That, too, was a great phone that was hard to recommend because of its place in the marketplace. It didn’t sell brilliantly and I can easily see the same happening to the HTC U11.

Which is a real shame. Move past the squeeziness, which is a pointless gimmick, and you’re left with a fast phone that has arguably the best camera in the game and impressive speed and battery life. The display is a slight blot on the copybook, but that isn’t enough to ruin a five-star score.

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