HTC U11 ​phone: Full, in-depth review

HTC’s ‘NEW new’ flagship is almost the Android smartphone

HTC U11 smartphone
  • HTC U11 smartphone
  • HTC U11 smartphone
  • HTC U11 smartphone
  • Expert Rating

    4.50 / 5

Pros

  • Looks great
  • Fast
  • Decent audio
  • Good camera

Cons

  • No headphone jack

Bottom Line

The Android flagship phone market is a crowded place but HTC's U11 is one of the best thanks to great design and very good handling.

Would you buy this?

  • Price

    $ 999.00 (AUD)

HTC U11 camera review

HTC makes many claims about the U11’s camera and they’re backed up with many technical-sounding marketing terms. What it all boils down to is that the rear 12-megapixel sensor has improved low-light capabilities (with the previous U models you had to choose between low-light prowess and high resolution but now it’s – thankfully – automatic). HTC also makes claims about improved HDR performance in that there’s no lag when taking pictures using this feature – but we’ve seen this on most flagship phones going back to the Google Pixel XL. Optical Image Stabilisation is included, we were promised that focusing was fast and told that its technical scores in industry benchmarks were the highest in the world. But what of the reality?

Exposure is correct and dynamic range contrast was impressive with landscape shots.
Exposure is correct and dynamic range contrast was impressive with landscape shots.

We took the U11 to the Computex trade show along with the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Huawei P10 Plus with the requirement being for a very-fast, point-and-shoot camera that could take publishable snaps in low light. The Huawei is mediocre in low light and was quickly ruled out. While the U11 was generally good, it was not as fast focusing as the S8 and nor were its low-light capabilities as good. The S8 is a market leader here and the U11 is supposed to rival it, but in terms of point and shoot photography it’s noticeably behind the S8. This leaves the U11 as still one of the best cameras on the market though.

We were regularly impressed with the sharpness and level of detail that the 12-megapixel main camera captured (in good lighting).
We were regularly impressed with the sharpness and level of detail that the 12-megapixel main camera captured (in good lighting).
Colours are neutral and focusing is fast. But it's still not the fastest shutter around.
Colours are neutral and focusing is fast. But it's still not the fastest shutter around.

Photos taken in good lighting are generally crisp, well exposed and offer decent colour reproduction. However, they are more neutral (almost flat) than the more-vibrant shots we see with the P10 Plus and S8. It’s fixable in post but when taking hundreds of pictures, it would be nice to have the ability to up the colour saturation by default.

Just about usable, we were near the front of this reasonably-lit stage but our shots weren't as sharp as we hoped.
Just about usable, we were near the front of this reasonably-lit stage but our shots weren't as sharp as we hoped.
The U11 takes very neutral pictures. It can get a little frustrating that colours are not (by default) as vibrant as competitors.
The U11 takes very neutral pictures. It can get a little frustrating that colours are not (by default) as vibrant as competitors.
It's not a great camera for foodie shots due to low light and flat colours.
It's not a great camera for foodie shots due to low light and flat colours.

The Selfie camera is higher resolution at 16-megapixels and is very good. It also offers special Selfie Video features and even a Selfie panorama shot. A beauty mode adds some useful polish if you’re feeling like a potato.

This was one of the sharper images we captured in modest, indoor lighting. It's usable but many exhibited grain and blur.
This was one of the sharper images we captured in modest, indoor lighting. It's usable but many exhibited grain and blur.
Panorama fans may be disappointed by the U11 - the block-stitching method used by HTC led to frequent, iffy joins.
Panorama fans may be disappointed by the U11 - the block-stitching method used by HTC led to frequent, iffy joins.
The Selfie camera is sharp and capable. There's also a mild beauty mode for polishing.
The Selfie camera is sharp and capable. There's also a mild beauty mode for polishing.

Video is generally very good. 4K video is some of the best we’ve seen thanks to the OIS but it’s still better to use it where little motion is present. Full HD video is also good, but we missed the option of recording at 60fps which rival cameras have – the smoothness (and lack of gargantuan file sizes) makes it our favourite format at this time.

The HTC’s audio prowess also makes an appearance here too. Focusing is linked with sound tracking to help ensure that the centre of attention is sharp. It was hard to see this work in practice but it’s there as a feature. More interestingly is the 3D sound recording which adds a virtual surround sound factor to video. It can sound a little weird in that we’re not used to this from camera phones but the effect isn’t displeasing and after a while we grew to like it.

All in all, the U11 offers a decent all-round camera performance but it's not quite the best when it comes to low light.

Battery Life

We were a bit disappointed to see that the U11 came with just a 3,000mAh battery - one of the smallest in this space. Fortunately, the HTC Boost+ optimisations kick in and the phone consistently lasted a full day even when under very heavy use, but it surely wouldn't have taken much to improve this considerably.

Power Saving and Extreme Power Saving screens on the U11.
Power Saving and Extreme Power Saving screens on the U11.

Other features

The phone is IP67 certified meaning that it can function underwater at one metre for 30 minutes. However, we found big caveats here. Unlike rivals, the water causes issues after use… the microphone gets waterlogged meaning that its very difficult for people to hear you until the phone dries out (which can take more than an hour). Also the speaker can get waterlogged making it difficult to hear videos and other audio. We haven’t experienced this to such an extent with other IP67 phones. Furthermore the charging jack can stop working and be very hard to reactivate. We’ve also seen this on other phones but drying them with a piece of kitchen towel was relatively simple. We found this whole phone was severely compromised for at least an hour afterwards whenever we got it wet.

An arguably missing feature is VR technology. HTC’s Vive is one of the best VR platforms on the market and yet there’s still virtually no integration with its phones. Google Daydream shouldn't be kicking it's backside in this space.

Conclusion

If you bought one of HTC’s U new phones just a few months ago you may be dismayed to learn that the price has already plummeted for both of them. The Ultra has dropped from $1,199 to just $899 while the Play has dropped from $799 to $649. We can’t help wondering how long it will be before the price of this new flagship falls considerably.

Right now, at $999 it undercuts both the Samsung Galaxy S8 and the Huawei P10 Plus. It’s certainly the prettiest of them all and it arguably handles the best too thanks to the speedy unlock button and sensible use of space. The camera is very good, but not as elaborate as the Huawei’s amazing Leica system although it does have better low-light prowess. The S8’s camera is noticeably faster and better in low light. If looks don't matter to you, check out the LG G6 which is also a great all-round Android flagship for similar money.

It’s a tough one. We recently covered a conference carrying all three of these phones and ended up sticking with the S8. While that’s a bit fiddly to unlock, it does everything else brilliantly. If you’re heavily into photography, then the P10 Plus is the obvious choice. However, if you want a fast, flashy phone that cheers you up just by looking at it, and you can see past the lack of headphone jack to make use of the impressive audio features, then this is still a great choice and one of the best Android flagship phones on the market.

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Read more on these topics: smartphones, Android, htc, mobile phones, Phones, android phones
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