HTC U11 review: Knight in shining armour
HTC flagships have had roller coaster of a ride. They have been great but somehow they have managed get everything right. The U11 however is a true flagship. It boasts the high-end Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chipset that has been rocking on quite a few flagships this year. Pair that with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage and you have a solid deal.
Thanks to the combination of the hardware, you get immense power which results in smooth performance. The handset can take on high-end games like Injustice 2, Real Racing 3 and Asphalt 8 without any issues. Multitasking is a breeze thanks to the big chunk of RAM. I think HTC made a good decision when it moved to more stock-like UI last year. It makes things easier although I think the company can further strip down some features to make the UI even better.
I was impressed by the camera on the U11 which is surprising as HTC has always left some improvement when it comes to camera performance. It doesn't use any dual-camera setup like most of the new smartphones nor does it incorporate anything new. Instead the company has stuck to the usual setup. The primary camera includes a 12-megapixel sensor with an f/1.7 aperture, phase detection auto-focus aided by OIS (optical image stabilisation) and a dual-LED flash. At the front there is a 16-megapixel snapper with an f/2.0 aperture. The primary camera is quite capable and in certain situations is as good as the Google Pixel. Low light is handled well thanks to the stabilisation, the large aperture and improved noise processing. Focusing is super quick and accurate and sharpness is also on point.
Even videos come out crisp and thanks to the four microphones, audio recording in videos is also really impressive. HTC has used something called 'Acoustic focus' which all the microphones to reduce background noise.
Speaking of noise, HTC has managed to keep its audio game upto the mark. The dual-speaker system works similar to last year's HTC 10 but now has slightly improved volume. Even the audio quality through the bundled USB-C earphones is impressive. The smartphone has an inbuilt setting that can automatically tune for your ears. Oh and for the ones who want to use their existing pair of headphones or earphones, you get a USB-C to 3.5mm audio jack adapter. Live the dongle life.
Lastly I wan't to touch upon the whole squeeze feature. The U11 comes with a pressure sensitive frame which you can actually squeeze to trigger. This lets you open apps, fire up the camera, open Google Assistant, and so on. Its a nice shortcut that works even when your phone is locked. It also has an advanced option where it lets you map apps and shortcuts to different pressure levels.
The glossy finish is a pain. Sure, it looks nice giving a dual-colour liquid finish, but it is a fingerprint magnet and is slippery as hell. On top of that, HTC has not launched the 'Solar Red' colour option. Could have been the perfect 'Iron Man' themed handset.
There have been instances when the phone slid out of my pocket while I was driving. The shiny back looks impressive, but I was constantly scared of damaging it, mostly because I like to keep my devices spot free. I took a plunge by using the handset for about 10 days without a case. As expected, I got light scratches on the lower part of the back which I am assuming will increase on extended usage. On top of that I got two deep ones on the front glass covering the display.
With almost every big smartphone manufacturer trying to get into the smart assistant and AI game, HTC has tried its luck with Sense Companion. The AI assistant was initially launched with the U Ultra and it wasn't really powerful. With the U11 things haven't changed all that much. While the voice features were still missing, I could only get some notifications about weather, my step count, restaurant suggestions and some other pointless things. Sense Companion is clearly not ready and needs a lot of improvement.
Should you buy it?
If you want to make an impression, this smartphone definitely has what it takes. Despite it being the most slippery phone ever, it can definitely turn some heads thanks to its bling personality. It offers top of the line hardware and I had no complaints about the performance in fact I was quite impressed. The camera combination is excellent and HTC has done it without going for a dual-camera setup. In my books, I would place the camera on one of the top 5 positions.
The U11 is definitely a recommended flagship from HTC. Having said that, the cost of the handset is something that doesn't impress. With a launch price tag of Rs 51,990, it is a bit overpriced. HTC has had a habit of keeping erratic pricing for its handsets and this could yet again be a problem for the company. I have no doubts that it can give serious competition to the OnePlus 5 and the Samsung Galaxy S8, but it all comes down to your priority. If you are up to spend that kind of money, this is a really good smartphone. Else, if you are looking only at great performance, the OnePlus 5 is an equally powerful smartphone.