Last year’s HTC 10 was a strong device, featuring a sculpted metal chassis, QHD screen and hugely impressive audio performance.
HTC brand has built on that this year, added in a U (something to do with this being a phone about ‘you’… but in reality just making things more confusing) but brought some interesting innovation to the mix: you can squeeze the sides of the phone.
- Read our hands on HTC U11 review
It’s also going to be bringing Alexa to the its range of smartphones, as well as offering high-end audio accessories in the box.
But here's the question: how much are you willing to pay to get this raft of goodies in your smartphone?
In a rush? Check out our HTC U11 hands on video below
Cut to the chase
- What is it? HTC's next flagship, successor to the HTC 10
- When's it out? Early sales May 18
- What will it cost? £649 in the UK, $649 in the US, and AU$999 in Australia, undercutting other high-end flagships
HTC U11 release date
The HTC U11 release date has been set for 18 May in Asia, and landing in the UK this June, with other territories set to launch later in the year.
However, while the phone will be able to pick up from then, some of the key features won’t be available from the start - so you’ll have to wait until July 2017 to get the full effect from the U11.
HTC U11 Price
HTC has only given us UK pricing for the new U11, although the good news is that it's maintained the same cost as the HTC 10 from last year, coming in at £649 / $649 RRP / AU$999.
We're expecting it to be less pricey than the Samsung Galaxy S8 after a month or two of being on sale through contracts, and while the price has remained the same for HTC's flagships, the U11 is still rather expensive, testament to the raft of high-end specs thrust inside.
The HTC 10 only dropped a small amount as an unlocked device over the year, so HTC fans will be hoping that some robust contract prices make it a little cheaper.
Liquid Surface Design
If you saw the HTC 10 last year… well, forget that. The HTC U11 uses the brand’s new ‘Liquid Surface’ design to redefine the look and feel of its phones, offering Gorilla Glass 5 front and back to create a powerful, rolling structure in the hand.
The edges are rimmed with metal, featuring a ridged power key, and HTC has found its own brand of courage in dropping the headphone jack for its flagship phone this year.
In truth, it’s not really that strange a move given it’s not had the port on its handsets for the last three mainstream devices, but it will still irk some.
However, the headphone adaptor that comes in the box features a digital audio converter (DAC) to not only allow you to connect your headphones but also hugely improve the sound - so we can accept that loss.
The HTC U11 is also water- and dust-resistant to IP67 rating, making it pretty resilient in most conditions. It’s not as robust as it could be, as other handsets are IP68-rated, but it’s good enough that most will never have to worry about the difference.
HTC U11 colors
There will be five colors available for the phone at launch, with Solar Red, Amazing Silver, Brilliant Black, Ice White and Sapphire Blue making up the range.
Each has a two-tone pearlescent effect that shimmers in a different way depending on the angle you’ll be holding the phone at - the Solar Red in particular is striking in the way it alters as you tilt it.
This is the big feature of the HTC U11, the one that the brand is hoping will attract the headlines, the milkshake that will bring the boys back to its smartphone yard.
The left- and right-hand sides of the phone are pressure-sensitive, meaning you can squeeze them to register an input. It uses eight pressure gauges, four on each side of the phone, to let you register an input.
Imagine there’s an extra button on either side of the phone that’s easily accessible when you’re holding the U11, and you’ve got the picture.
It’s not as complex as you might have expected, as you can only perform short or long presses, so it’s not going to be a complex game of tickling your phone to open Google Maps.
At launch, you'll only be able to configure these squeezes to perform certain tasks, such as opening specific apps, firing up the camera, activating Google Assistant or the torch or a voice recorder.
However, HTC has promised an app that will let you map the squeezes to anything you fancy, which will make using this phone pretty interesting.
The bad news is that this feature won’t be coming with the phone at launch - so you’ll be waiting until July to use the beta version of this functionality.
Alexa and Sense Companion
There’s going to be a lot of assistance on offer with the HTC U11… eventually. At launch you’ll have Google Assistant, letting you access a range of functions simply by using your voice to ask questions and activate apps.
But, for some reason, HTC has chucked Amazon’s Alexa into the mix as well which can also do the same thing, and will be available in the UK, US and Germany first.
And there’s also talk of the HTC Companion, the smart heart of the U11, also gaining voice features in the future… meaning there will be three different disembodied programs to talk to on your phone.
It’s not going to happen any time soon, as Alexa isn’t even enabled on the handset just yet, but it’s hard to work out why both Amazon and Google’s assistants are in the mix.
HTC tells us that it’s because Amazon’s option is better for buying things as well as other functions… but it’s more likely that Alexa is just becoming the more popular service.
As mentioned, there’s no Alexa support until July for the HTC U11, so it’s not a reason to buy for the early adopter, and it'll only come to the US, UK and Germany to start with.
Instead, it's a more traditional 16:9 widescreen display, which might look more squat compared to other flagships around at the moment, but will display apps without the need for altering or stretching, given this is the aspect ratio that's been used on phones for years.
The HTC U11 is using a Super LCD 5 screen that offers a sharp window into the phone - the colors and contrast ratios aren’t as impressive as those seen on Samsung’s Galaxy handsets, but the HTC U11 still has a vivid and clear display for a top-end phone.
HTC U11 specs
It’s not hard to guess what’s going on with the HTC U11 when it comes to the spec list - it’s the best of everything.
Let’s get started: there’s a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chipset running the beating heart of this phone, and that will be available worldwide.
However, some regions will be getting 4GB RAM and 64GB storage in their devices, where some will be able to purchase 6GB RAM and 128GB of space to throw their files.
This is a pretty standard practice for most manufacturers these days, as they seek to impress the spec-hungry Asian markets while still making the phone affordable enough in places where there isn’t such a clamor for power.
HTC is using Android 7.1 Nougat for the U11, with Google Assistant baked right into the mix, with a microSD card slot that can be repurposed to use a second SIM card if you want to get all fancy and multi-carded.
Best camera on the market?
There’s no dual camera on the back of the HTC U11, instead offering a 12MP sensor on the rear and 16MP option for the front.
In terms of what HTC has done to the camera this year, it's slightly hard to make that out. That hasn't stopped it being awarded the best DxOMark score ever achieved by a smartphone (90) but we've seen before that those numbers don't always lead to excellent real-world usage.
It has added in HDR Boost, which looks a lot like the HDR+ mode we saw on the Google Pixel phone last year… which, coincidentally, HTC also manufactured.
It’s got an f/1.7 aperture on the rear camera for decent low-light performance, and you’re able to shoot in RAW to get a more professional snap if you want to manipulate the images.
The autofocus speed has been dropped to 0.3 seconds, similar to some of the best smartphone cameras around, so your chances of taking a sharp photo have been upgraded.
The front-facing camera offers the chance to take a panorama selfie, letting you pull in more pals to the picture if you’re so inclined, and has a 150-degree lens to take more of the scene in.
Long enough battery life?
The HTC U11 has a 3000mAh power pack running things beneath the surface, which is the same as the Samsung Galaxy S8 but a little lower than the LG G6.
Combined with the Snapdragon 835 chipset, it should be able to pull through a day - but this has never been a strong point of the HTC range, so we wouldn’t hold out a huge amount of hope on that front.
That said, the HTC Boost+ app does do an OK job at keeping things under control in terms of power management, and with the Android Nougat OS on board the HTC U11 might actually surprise in terms of battery life… but we’re not expecting great things.
Audio is the most fully-featured part of the HTC U11, starting with what’s in the box. You’re getting the upgraded HTC U Sonic headphones, which can work out your perfect sound profile by beaming sound into your ear and mapping your ear canal.
We’re still not entirely convinced on how that works, but the results have previously been good… so we’ll go with it.
However, this time around the U Sonic headphones have been upgraded to include active noise cancelling, meaning they’ll likely be the very best buds you’ll get bundled with any phone anywhere.
Some might be upset that they’re losing the headphone jack on the U11, but to offset that you’ll get a DAC in the box to plug in your current cans, giving you an easy connection and improved sound as a result.
The HTC U11 is Hi-Res Audio certified, so the sound pumping out of high-end files will sound great, and there’s Boomsound on board as well, firing the sound out of the earpiece and the single speaker on the bottom of the phone if you don’t want to plug in headphones.
Ultimately, if you want a handset that’s got arguably the strongest audio line up out there, HTC seems to be offering it with the U11.