The HTC U11 (Review) was last year’s flagship from the Taiwanese company. At the time of its launch, it had the Samsung Galaxy S8 (Review) and the OnePlus 5 (Review) as its main competition. While the futuristic-looking Samsung flagships already had taller displays, others hadn’t caught up yet, but that has steadily been changing over the past year.
To keep up with the industry trends, OnePlus launched the OnePlus 5T (Review) and HTC has now come out with the HTC U11+. While this new model was available internationally late last year, HTC has only launched it in India now. It goes up against the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S8+ (Review), LG V30+ (Review), and the Google Pixel 2 XL (Review), as well as new models that many companies will be releasing very soon. The HTC U11+ has some flagship-level hardware under its shiny mirror-finished exterior and has a potent camera as well, but little else has changed compared to the U11. We put it to the test.
HTC U11+ design
The HTC U11+ definitely sticks to HTC’s design language and looks like it fits within the current lineup. It has the same mirror-finish glossy body, first seen on the HTC U Ultra (Review), which really sets it apart from today’s other flagships and gives it something unique to boast about. HTC calls it “Liquid Surface” and it’s made primarily out of glass that’s been polished to give it a high gloss. While it is stunning to look at, it does make the phone quite slippery and also picks up fingerprints easily, so you will need to wipe it often to retain the shine. HTC provides a transparent case in the box which you can pop on to keep the phone safe.
True to its name, the smartphone has gotten bigger compared to the U11 and now sports a 6-inch display. The front is pretty much dominated by the display with thin borders on the sides and slightly bigger ones at the top and the bottom. This makes the phone narrow and tall, and it’s harder to reach all corners. HTC has moved the fingerprint scanner to the back, just below the camera module. The position is convenient and it is easy to unlock the phone with a finger.
There’s a recessed earpiece at the top along with a selfie camera and an array of sensors. At the back, there’s a single camera with a dual-LED flash. There’s a raised ring around the camera module which should keep it safe from scratches. The phone has a metal band around it which houses the power and volume buttons on the right, while the left side is completely blank. We found that the buttons were well positioned and the power button has a texture, making it easy to distinguish.
The SIM tray is positioned on the top alongside one of the four microphones that the device has all around the body. At the bottom, there’s a downward-firing subwoofer and a USB Type-C port along with the primary microphone. Sadly, the U11 misses out on a 3.5mm headphone jack but HTC offers its HTC USonic headphones in the box. These are active noise cancellation headphones with a Type-C connector which can be plugged into the phone directly. HTC ships a USB Type-C to 3.5mm dongle in the box which will be required if you want to use your own headphones. You also get a Quick Charge 3.0 compatible charger in the box
With the increase in size, HTC has packed in a larger battery, bumping the total capacity up to 3930mAh and resulting in an increase in weight as well. This phone weighs 188g making it one of the heavier options in its class. However, the premium glass back coupled with the weight gives the impression that this phone is solidly built. Internationally, the HTC U11+ is available in three colours: Amazing Silver, Ceramic Black, and a see-through Translucent Black finish. However, the company has only launched the Amazing Silver variant in India, which looks more blue than silver.
HTC U11+ specifications and software
The HTC U11+ sports a 6-inch display with QuadHD+ resolution (1440 x 2880 pixels) putting out close to 537 pixels per inch. HTC calls it Super LCD 6, and it supports the DCI-P3 Wide colour gamut. Users can also switch to sRGB output and tweak the colour temperature to suit their individual preferences. There is a layer of Corning Gorilla Glass 5 for protection which should help keep the display intact on this slippery phone.
Powering the phone is the Snapdragon 835 SoC, an octa-core processor clocked at 2.45GHz, just like the HTC U11. There are two variants of the U11+, one with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage, while the other has 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. At this point, HTC has only launched the higher-end variant in India, priced at Rs 56,990. In terms of connectivity, it supports Bluetooth 5, dual-band Wi-Fi ac, NFC, GPS, GLONASS and of course 4G and VoLTE. The HTC U11+ has a USB 3.1 Gen. 1 Type-C port with support video output using a DisplayPort cable. HTC has also improved the water- and dust-resistance rating from IP67 on the U11 to IP68 on the U11+.
HTC is known for its Sense UI skin and the U11+ runs it on top of Android Oreo. Features like Notifications Dots and Notification channels are supported, but there aren’t too many other visual changes compared to its previous version. Swipe right from the home screen and you are greeted by BlinkFeed, which replaces Google Now and shows news and content based on topics you select. You can also tweak BlinkFeed to show your Facebook and YouTube updates. The UI supports themes, and there are gestures that can be used to wake the device up, show Blinkfeed, or launch the camera app.
Just like the HTC U Ultra and the U11, this phone gets HTC’s Sense Companion AI assistant. When we reviewed the U11, we found the assistant to be bare-bones, and it hasn’t changed much since then. HTC’s Edge Sense technology is also present, and uses sensors mounted on the sides of the phone to respond when you squeeze it. We really liked this feature, and the fact that it is customisable. You can squeeze the phone to launch an app or summon the assistant. You can also go a step further and set two different actions for short and long squeezes.
There are quite a few apps that come preinstalled on the U11+, including a set of Google apps, social media apps like Facebook, Messenger and Instagram, TouchPal keyboard, and a Boost+ resource management app. HTC has also added its VR app Viveport and the Zoe Video Editor, along with a fitness app called Under Armour Record. While most of these can be uninstalled, some can only be disabled.
HTC U11+ performance, cameras, and battery life
There is no doubt that the HTC U11+ is a powerful smartphone. Its Snapdragon 835 processor coupled with 6GB of RAM is capable of bulldozing its way through any task you ask it to perform. The UI on the phone feels smooth and did not lag during our time with it. App load times are kept low and the phone can multitask easily. Benchmarks also show that it is a powerhouse. In AnTuTu 7, the U11+ managed to score 216,394. In GeekBench 4, the U11+ scored 1,933 for the single-core test and 6,538 for the multi-core test. Graphics performance is also good and the phone managed 60fps running the T-Rex Benchmark, and 20fps in the Manhattan test at QHD resolution in GFXBench.
The display is vivid and has good viewing angles. It also has good brightness, but the screen is a little reflective when outdoors. Apart from DCI-P3 and sRGB display modes, the U11+ has HDR10 support. While HDR didn’t kick in for YouTube and Netflix videos like we’ve seen on other phones, HDR files stored locally looked very good on the display and we could see the difference in how vibrant colours looked.
Instead of going for stereo speakers, HTC has used the phone’s earpiece for higher frequencies while the bottom-firing speaker handles the lower ones. This results in rich, loud audio which adds to the experience when watching a video or playing a game. HTC’s BoomSound software is built in and has music and theater modes to choose from.
HTC managed to impress us with the camera on the U11, and the U11+ is no different. It has the same 12-megapixel sensor with an f/1.7 aperture at the back. The sensor has big 1.4-micron pixels which helps it capture more light in dim conditions. The camera app is very basic with only toggles for HDR and the flash, and an option to switch between photo and video modes. One has to swipe from the left to see all the other modes available on the phone, which include Panorama, Hyperlapse, Slow Motion and Pro. Once in Pro mode, the camera gives you complete control over the white balance, exposure, ISO, shutter speed, and focus, and you can save photos in the RAW format.
Photos taken with the HTC U11+ were impressive, and it is safe to say that this is one of the best smartphone cameras at the moment. The phone is quick to focus and our shots were crisp with a good amount of detail. We never had to adjust the exposure when shooting in daylight as the phone got it right every single time.
Macros turned out great, as the phone managed to capture fine details very well. In the macro sample with the flower, you can see that the edges of the petals are well defined, and if you zoom into to the centre, you can see the pollen. Low-light shots were bright, and the phone managed to capture details and colour accurately with noise under control, unless we were in an extremely dim environment.
The U11+ also records video brilliantly and is capable of going up to 4K. It has optical image stabilisation which eliminates shakes and delivers stable footage. We found that it worked well when recording at 1080p but did not work at 4K. 4K video clips are limited to six minutes, and the phone gets slightly warm when recording. At 1080p, you get the option to shoot at 30fps or 60fps.
You can record 3D audio which utilises the four microphones on the device, or you can choose High-Res Audio at all resolutions. Just like the U11, this smartphone gets “Acoustic Focus” which uses the microphones to focus on a subject’s voice over and above the background. The selfie camera tops out at 1080p and also gets the option to record 3D audio.
Battery life on the U11+ is good and we managed to go through an entire day without needing to plug it in to a charger. We managed to play Shadow Fight 3 and Clash Royale for around 30 minutes, watch a few videos on YouTube, and run a few benchmarks, among other things during the day, and we only saw the low battery reminder just before going to bed. When the battery drops below 20 percent, the phone automatically lowers the screen brightness. Our HD video loop test went on for 13 hours and 4 minutes. The Quick Charge 3 charger took us up to 60 percent in 50 minutes but it took a little over two hours to charge the phone completely.
If you are looking for a flagship smartphone, you now have one more option to choose from. The HTC U11+ has a big 18:9 display, powerful HTC BoomSound speakers, and impressive cameras. HTC’s Edge sense feature isn’t gimmicky and the Snapdragon 835 SoC coupled with 6GB of RAM can run pretty much everything out there. The company also includes its USonic active noise cancellation headphones in the box.
If you don’t want the Samsung Galaxy S8+ (Review) and are staying away from the Pixel 2 XL (Review) because of its display troubles, the HTC U11+ looks like the perfect alternative. HTC has also managed to price it aggressively at Rs 56,990 making it great value for money. However, do keep in mind that fresh 2018 flagships with new hardware are also just around the corner, though unlike Sony and Samsung, HTC won’t have anything to announce at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona later this month.