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HTC U11 review: HTC U11 is a cheaper HTC U12 Plus alternative

HTC's U11 might be a year old, but it's still a solid phone for buyers who want a taste of HTC's squeezable sides.

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Luke Lancaster
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Luke Lancaster

Associate Editor / Australia

Luke Lancaster is an Associate Editor with CNET, based out of Australia. He spends his time with games (both board and video) and comics (both reading and writing).

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The HTC U12 Plus may have replaced the HTC U11, but that doesn't mean you should give this phone the heave-ho. While the U12 Plus brings even more features to its squeezable sides, an updated processor and four cameras, the U11 remains a cheaper alternative with a stunning design and still-powerful performance.

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8.1

HTC U11

The Good

The HTC U11 gives you excellent performance, a gorgeous design, water resistance and a big-screen for much less than the HTC U12 Plus.

The Bad

The HTC U11’s squeezable sides feel more gimmicky than novel, as does HTC's virtual assistant. The stunning glass rear is prone to smudging, and the battery felt very thirsty.

The Bottom Line

For a stylish design and solid performance, the HTC U11 is a discount over the U12 Plus, though power users will be drawn to the U12 Plus' more robust squeezing features.

In fact, we think the U11 is a damn fine phone in spite its squeezable sides, not because of them. Its price remains a steady $649, £649 and AU$999; HTC hasn't dropped it despite upgrading to the U12 Plus. That's still less than the U12 Plus, which starts at $799 and £649 -- there is no Australia price yet, but the US cost converts to AU$1,084.

We reviewed the HTC U11, below, on May 23, 2018, and added this note on June 20, 2018.


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Enlarge Image
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Water-resistant and liquid glass.

Josh Miller/CNET

It's getting harder and harder to make an impression when it feels like every major phone manufacturer is gunning for the super-powered, top-tier flagship title. The HTC U11 has tried to get you to sit up and take notice with features like squeezable sides that can launch an app and a virtual companion that promises to learn your preferences and make life easier. But the irony is that those bundled extras don't speak as loud as stunning design, a 2,560x1,440 resolution (QHD) screen to rival the Samsung Galaxy 8, quality of life perks like water resistance and an obscenely fast octa-core processor.

The trouble with the pressure-sensitive squeezable sides and the virtual assistant is that they feel like in-the-way gimmicks more than they feel like innovations. I relied more on Google Assistant than HTC's own Sense Companion, which offers up tailored recommendations for restaurants, smart alarms based on your calendar, reminders to charge (oh so important) and other tidbits. Much like the squeeze, it was fun to test out, but I found it getting in the way more than I found it handy to have around. With Amazon Alexa functionality also available now, it feels like HTC is banking on other virtual assistants, too.

At $649, £649 or AU$999, it's also doing everything for less than the other usual suspects like the Galaxy S8 or the LG G6. Even with those extra features turned off, you can't ignore performance like this at that price. The U11 is a good phone and a worthy buy, but not because of its forgettable "perks."

Feeling the squeeze

This is going to be the biggest point of contention with the U11. It's been billed as a new way to interface with your phone: a one-handed, pressure-sensitive squeeze of the sides can activate the camera, launch apps, turn on the flashlight, whatever basic function you program it with. There's short and long holds, and it's contextual. By default, squeeze once to launch the camera, again to snap a quick pick with one hand. HTC Edge Sense, as it's called will also work underwater, where regular capacitive touchscreens falter. And in a water-resistant phone, it's easy to snap submerged selfies without workarounds.

Some people are going to love the novelty. I was not one of those people. In my first week with the U11, I squeezed it to launch the camera accidentally more times than on purpose. The squeeze provides haptic feedback, but the sides themselves don't actually move and it felt a little strange on the higher pressure settings. That, and the rudimentary programming available meant the Edge Sense didn't quite live up to the hype. I would have loved to set a short squeeze to skip songs on Spotify, for instance, but that level of specificity just isn't there yet. I didn't keep the HTC squeeze switched on for long.

HTC's beautiful, squeezable U11

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Look, don't touch

The pearlescent "melted glass" rear of the phone is gorgeous right out of the box in every colour option (in red, black, blue, white and silver), but for me it was a total smudge magnet, which quite literally detracted from the lustre. Beneath a clear case the effect will be a little diminished, but you'll have a stunning, big-screen, smear-free phone for your troubles. Speaking of that screen, the glorious QHD, 5.5-inch display rivalled the best efforts I've seen from competitors. Sitting flush in a chassis with curved edges, the U11 looks great and feels great.

Under the hood, the HTC U11 smashed our benchmarking tests. The octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor leaves everything feeling blazingly fast. It had no trouble handling the rigorous gaming workout I was giving it on the train every morning, and even stress testing by deliberately leaving a whole bunch of memory-hungry apps running didn't seem to faze it. Alongside your SIM slot, there's room for up to 2TB of expandable storage via microSD.

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The U11 wins points for that QHD screen, too. Vivid enough to rival the Samsung S8's superb infinity edge design, and with enough grunt to beat the best flagships on benchmarking, it's hard to fault the U11 for sheer power.

The phone's camera is proof that megapixel count doesn't count for much. With a 12-megapixel shooter on the rear and a 16-megapixel count on the front, your regular shots and selfies will be looking sharp. It had noticeably faster focal speed when I went side-by-side with my Pixel XL. Low light shots were a little noisy on the rear shooter, but that front-facing, wide-angle camera is money. It does an excellent job of getting group selfies in dark bars.

Absent friends

iPhone fans will know what it's like to miss the 3.5mm jack -- USB Type-C only here -- but it's hard to fault HTC for chasing Apple (and Motorola) on that front. The good news is the included Bluetooth earbuds come with HTC USonic, an automatic, personalised equaliser that maps your ear and delivers better sound quality and active noise cancelling. I've played around with the auto-equalisation before in other devices too, and the difference it makes is noticeable (if you can deal with in-ear headphones). Plus, there's an adaptor in the box if you're still attached to your 3.5mm jacks.

In our video looping tests, the 3,000mAh HTC U11 withstood for an average time 13 hours, 12 minutes (about on par with the LG G6, and a few hours shy of the Samsung Galaxy 8's 16 hours). That's a solid showing in the labs, but anecdotally I found the HTC to be a very thirsty phone. I'd be dropping 15 to 20 percent after heavy use on an hour-long commute to work, and I'd be white-knuckling it as the battery ticked towards zero at the end of the day if I had to be away from the charging cable at my desk. Power saving mode made some improvements, but the hefty processor and a big, QHD screen are going to drain when in use. At least it's packing fast charge.

HTC U11 specs versus Galaxy S8, iPhone 7 Plus, LG G6


HTC U11Samsung Galaxy S8LG G6Apple iPhone 7 Plus
Display size, resolution 5.5-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels5.8-inch; 2,960x1,440 pixels5.7-inch, 2,880x1,440 pixels5.5-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels
Pixel density 534ppi570ppi565ppi401 ppi
Dimensions (inches) 6.1x3x0.31 in.5.86 x 2.68 x 0.32 in.5.9x2.8x0.31 in.6.2x 3.1x0.29-in.
Dimensions (millimeters) 154x76x7.9mm148.9x68.1x8mm148.9x71.97.x7.9mm158.2x77.9x7.3mm
Weight (ounces, grams) 6 oz.; 169g5.5 oz.; 155g5.7 oz.; 162g6.63 oz.; 188g
Mobile software Android 7.1.1 NougatAndroid 7.0 NougatAndroid 7.0 NougatApple iOS 10
Camera 12-megapixel12-megapixel13-megapixel (standard), 13-megapixel (wide)12-megapixel (telephoto), 12-megapixel (wide)
Front-facing camera 16-megapixel8-megapixel5-megapixel7-megapixel
Video capture 1080p4K4K4K
Processor Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 (2.4GHz+1.9GHz)Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 (2.35GHz+1.9GHz) or Octa-core Samsung Exynos 8895 (2.35GHz+1.7GHz)2.35GHz Snapdragon 821 with Adreno 530 GPUApple A10 chip (64-bit)
Storage 64GB, 128GB (varies by region)64GB32GB32GB, 128GB, 256GB
RAM 4GB, 6GB (varies by region)4GB4GBN/A
Expandable storage Up to 2TBUp to 2TBUp to 2TBNone
Battery 3,000mAh3,000mAh3,300mAh21 hours talk time on 3G, 16 days standby, 13 hours internet use LTE
Fingerprint sensor Home ButtonBackBack coverHome button
Connector USB-CUSB-CUSB-CLightning
Special features IP67, dual SIM (some regions)Water-resistant (IP68), wireless charging, Gigabit LTE-ready18:9 aspect ratio; wireless charging (US-only); water-resistant Water and dust-resistant, portrait mode mode
Price off-contract (USD) $649AT&T: $750; Verizon: $720; T-Mobile: $750; Sprint: $750; US Cellular: $675AT&T: $720, Verizon: $672 T-Mobile: $650, Sprint: $708, US Cellular: $597.60$769 (32GB); $869 (128GB); $969 (256GB)
Price (GBP) £649£689£649£719 (32GB); £819 (128GB); £919 (256GB)
Price (AU$) AU$999£689  AU$1,008AU$1,269 (32GB); AU$1,419 (128GB); AU$1,569 (256GB)
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HTC U11

Score Breakdown

Design 8.5Features 7.5Performance 9Camera 7.5Battery 8