HTC U11 Life review: Stuck between a good deal and a hard place

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The Good The HTC U11 Life is like a cheaper Pixel 2 with its squeezable sides. It's attractive, affordable, fully water-resistant and has decent midrange specs.

The Bad Camera quality is hit or miss and battery life is on the short side.

The Bottom Line HTC's U11 Life is a decent midrange phone, but the Moto G5 Plus shoots better photos for a little less.

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7.3 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 8
  • Camera 6
  • Battery 8

The HTC U11 Life is caught right in the middle of being a great deal and not quite worth your time. For a fraction of the price of the full-size and fully-powered U11, the smaller U11 Life has the same supple look in a beautiful blue body and the same squeezable sides as the U11 and Google Pixel 2 ($130 at Walmart). Squeeze once to open an app and long-squeeze to open a second. It's a little gimmicky and easy to forget it's there, but if you start relying on it to open your favorite app, it can be a fast way to get to what you need.

Before we proceed, let me say that this review represents only the US version of the phone. The global version (at least the UK version) has a different operating system, RAM, storage and LTE bands. It also comes in black and white colors, in addition to blue.

This version of the U11 Life has some pretty good midrange specs, like a 16-megapixel front-facing camera, water resistance and a totally decent processor. There are some hardware and performance tradeoffs, sure, but that's pretty much always the case with a midprice phone.

The U11 Life is likeable. It's a nice phone to grab up and looks flashier than a lot of intermediate phones out there. But it's not without its flaws, especially when it comes to the camera. Colors are bright and true-to-life, and photos looked sharp on the comparatively tiny screen. But when I viewed them on my laptop, they were so soft -- either blurred or lacking detail on the edges and centers -- that I figured the camera lens was smudged. It wasn't. Photos will be just fine for sharing in a small format, like a text message or on Instagram or Facebook, but I wouldn't plan on printing them in a photo book, calendar or gift mug.

Hold the U11 Life next to the Motorola Moto G5 Plus ($150 at Amazon) and the Life's camera weakness becomes clearer. While the G5 Plus doesn't hit color balance as faithfully, its 12-megapixel camera is more detailed; I compared 10 identical shots. The U11 Life does take notably sharper selfies from the front-facing camera, though, that make the G5 Plus' look like mush.

When you match up the camera quality and price, the U11 Life doesn't seem like such a slam dunk compared to the Moto G5 Plus. Pricing first, the U11 Life costs $349 from, which converts to £263 and AU$456. T-Mobile is the exclusive US carrier; it'll sell the U11 Life for $300. The Moto G5 Plus, meanwhile, costs $229 or $300 (32GB or 64GB), £249 and converts to AU$300 and AU$390 in Australia.

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