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

The even cheaper Moto G5 Plus camera comes out on top.

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Jessica Dolcourt
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Jessica Dolcourt

Editorial Director / CNET Money, How-To & Performance Optimization

Jessica Dolcourt leads the CNET Money, How-To, and Performance teams. A California native who grew up in Silicon Valley, she's passionate about connecting people with the highest standard of advice to help them reach their goals.

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3 min read

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. 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.

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7.3

HTC U11 Life

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.

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.

Hello, blue-tiful. Get an eyeful of the HTC U11 Life

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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 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 HTC.com, 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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The U11 Life is better at repelling water and dust than the Moto G5 Plus.

Josh Miller/CNET

Both phones have 5.2-inch screens and share similar specs, trading their hardware advantages back and forth. The U11 Life is fully water-resistant (IP76; we tested this) while the G5 Plus is merely splash-proof. In addition to Google Assistant, the U11 Life has Amazon Alexa on board phones sold in the US, UK and Germany.

The Moto G5 Plus pulls ahead with its more premium-feeling metal body (versus the U11 Life's acrylic), a headset jack and a larger battery with an hour more life in our looping video tests in airplane mode: about 13.5 hours instead of the U11 Life's 12.5 hours.

You'll find the full specs comparison chart at the end to line them up point for point.

At the end of the day, the U11 Life is a fine midprice Android phone that gives you squeezable sides and will do almost everything you want, so long as you're not picky about photos. That image quality just isn't as good as it needs to be, and is something HTC will need to work on if it wants to compete against Moto's relatively excellent low-cost phones.

P.S. The global version that runs on Android One (not the phone I reviewed) lacks HTC-specific software features like Amazon Alexa, HTC Sense Companion (the opt-in AI software), quiet ring on pick-up, extreme power saving mode and streaming media to devices over AirPlay, Chromecast, DLNA and Miracast.

P.P.S. HTC also just launched the U11 Life Plus, a U11 refresh with narrow bezels and a 6-inch display for select markets like Europe, China and Taiwan. It'll cost £699, with wider availability not yet announced, but that price converts to $927 in the US and AU$1,207 in Australia.

HTC U11 Life versus Moto G5 Plus, Moto X4, HTC U11


HTC U11 LifeMotorola Moto G5 PlusMotorola Moto X4HTC U11
Display size, resolution 5.2-inch; 1,920x1080 pixels5.2-inch; 1,920x1080 pixels5.2-inch; 1,920x1080 pixels5.5-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels
Pixel density 424ppi424ppi424ppi534ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 5.9x2.9x0.32 in5.9x2.9x0.3 in5.8x2.9x0.31 in6.1x3x0.31 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 149.1x72.9x8.1 mm150.2x74x7.7 mm148.4x73.4x8 mm 154x76x7.9 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 5 oz; 142g5.5 oz; 155g5.7 oz; 163g 6 oz; 169g
Mobile software Android 7.1 NougatAndroid 7.0 NougatAndroid 7.1.1 NougatAndroid 7.1.1 Nougat
Camera 16-megapixel12-megapixelDual 12-megapixel, 8-megapixel12-megapixel
Front-facing camera 16-megapixel5-megapixel16-megapixel 16-megapixel
Video capture 4K4K4K1080p
Processor 2.2GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 6302GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 6252.2GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 630Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 (2.4GHz+1.9GHz)
Storage 32GB32GB (UK & US), 64GB (US only)32GB, 64GB64GB, 128GB (varies by region)
RAM 3GBUS: 2GB or 4GB; UK: 3GB3GB or 4GB4GB, 6GB (varies by region)
Expandable storage Up to 2TB128GBUp to 2TBUp to 2TB
Battery 2,600mAh3,000mAh3,000mAh3,000mAh
Fingerprint sensor Beneath screenBelow screenBeneath screenHome button
Connector USB-CMicro-USBUSB-CUSB-C
Headphone jack NoYesYesNo
Special features Squeeze sides to launch an app, water resistant (IP67)Dual-SIM, splash-proofWater-resistant, selfie-flashIP67, dual SIM (some regions)
Price off-contract (USD) $349 through HTC.com$229 (32GB); $299 (64GB)$399 (Android One version)$649
Price (GBP) Converts to £263£249 (32GB)£349£679
Price (AUD) Converts to AU$456Converts to AU$300 (32GB) and AU$390 (64GB)Converts to AU$600AU$999
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7.3

HTC U11 Life

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 8Camera 6Battery 8