Even more squeeze for the HTC super-fans. That’s how the new HTC U11 Plus was presented to us during our pre-brief with the Taiwanese firm.
Is this a sign that HTC knows its latest handset isn’t going to be converting fans of rival devices? Perhaps. But it’s also a sign that while the U11 Plus (or U11+, as HTC likes to write it) boasts a handful of upgrades over its flagship namesake, it’s still a very similar device to the one HTC launched just five months previously.
What are the similarities? *Deep Breath* The U11 Plus has the same 12MP rear camera, Snapdragon 835 chipset, 6GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, bundled USonic earbuds with ANC (active noise cancellation), 4K video and 3D sound recording, and Android operating system with Sense UI, as the HTC U11.
That’s a lot of stuff for the 'same' column then, but the differences are not insignificant. The screen is bigger at 6 inches, the battery is bigger at 3,930mAh and the Boomsound HiFi dual speakers are 30% louder than those on its smaller sibling.
Check out our hands-on HTC U11 Plus video to get a closer look at the phone
HTC U11 Plus price and availability
The HTC U11 Plus price has been confirmed as £699 SIM-free in the UK (around $900, AU$1,200), although HTC fans in the US will be disappointed to hear that the firm has no plans to bring the handset Stateside.
You’ll be able to pre-order the HTC U11 Plus in the UK from November 20, although its exact release date and carrier availability are yet to be announced.
It will, however, be launching in major European countries and India with pricing and release dates yet to be officially confirmed. Middle East launch is set for mid December.
The HTC U11 Plus has a bigger screen, and while that means the handset as a whole has also grown in size over the standard U11, it’s a minimal increase.
Measuring 158.5 x 74.9 x 8.5mm and weighing 188g, we’re talking just a handful of millimeters difference between the U11 Plus and the 153.9 x 75.9 x 7.9mm, 169g, U11.
It’s a big phone, but it’s also compact, as is the trend in 2017 with pretty much every manufacturer reducing the size of their handsets' form factors.
The taller, 18:9 screen pushes the once-chunky bezels above and below it back to a thinner offering, which has necessitated a change of location for the fingerprint scanner.
It’s now located on the rear, centrally placed to ensure that it falls nicely under forefinger, while the power/lock key and volume rocker are easily accessible on the right of the phone.
HTC U11 Plus hands-on gallery
The rear of the phone features the same glass finish as the original U11, but a word of warning: it’s an absolute fingerprint magnet. We were forever wiping it clean during our hands-on time, which could well get annoying after a while.
On the base of the phone you’ll find a USB-C port, which is Quick Charge-enabled, along with a bottom-firing speaker. This speaker works in tandem with a second, located in the earpiece on the front of the handset, providing room-filling sound.
Thanks to a slightly larger chamber inside the device, the Boomsound HiFi-enabled speakers on the HTC U11 Plus are 30% louder than on the U11, while also providing deeper bass performance.
We listened to a few tracks during our hands-on with the U11 Plus and audio sounded good at full volume, although while it’s certainly loud it’s not crystal-clear – if you’re looking for exceptional smartphone speaker performance, check out the Razer Phone.
One gripe we have with HTC’s speaker layout is that it’s easy to muffle the bottom-firing speaker with your hand when holding the phone in landscape, which can be a problem when it comes to gaming and video playback.
A shuffle of the palm prevents the speaker from being covered, but this results in a less natural, and less secure overall grip on what is already a slippery device thanks to its smooth glass rear.
There’s no headphone jack here, but HTC does include an adapter in the box, and the U11 Plus benefits from its bundled adapter boasting an improved DAC over the U11, which should enhance audio even more, although we were unable to try this out during our time with the phone.
The U11 Plus comes with an IP68 dust- and water-resistant rating, meaning it can survive the odd downpour or slide into the bath.
The HTC U11 Plus will be available in two colors, Ceramic Black and Translucent Black, although the latter model (the one we got hands-on with) won't be available until sometime in 2018.
As we've mentioned, HTC has managed to squeeze a larger screen into a body that's not that much bigger than the 5.5-inch U11, allowing the U11 Plus to boast a 6-inch 18:9 QHD (2880 x 1440) display.
It's bright, clear and crisp, and will have the added bonus of supporting HDR10, giving greater depth, color and realizm to videos.
We were unable to put it to the test fully during our hands-on time with the phone though, as the HDR 10 support isn’t ready yet and HTC doesn't expect it to be ready for launch.
It did say that a software update that will enable HDR 10 support should arrive before the end of 2017, so you shouldn’t have too long to wait if you do decide to pick up the U11 Plus.
Performance and interface
The large display will likely put those with smaller hands off the HTC U11 Plus, but the Taiwanese firm has looked into making the phone one-hand-use friendly.
It does this via the Edge Sense Launcher, which is accessible with a squeeze of the side of the phone. It's the same squeezable, Edge Sense technology that launched with the HTC U11, and has since made its way into the Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, but the launcher is unique to the U11 Plus.
Squeezing the handset when viewing a home screen will display a wheel of app icons to one side of the display (you can select either right or left depending on hand dominance), allowing you to quickly launch key apps (and engage a selection of quick settings) with your thumb.
The interface for the Edge Sense Launcher is simple, yet very useful. We were able to easily bring it up, and tap into apps and toggle settings such as Wi-Fi and the torch, one-handed.
It's also easy to edit, add and remove apps and settings, with a seemingly infinite amount of bays for your apps. There's no reason why you couldn't fit the majority of your apps into the launcher, potentially rendering the app drawer obsolete.
Elsewhere Edge Sense offers all the same functionality as it did on the HTC U11, and you also get dual smart assistants, with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant both installed on the U11 Plus.
However, for those with a passion for the app drawer, HTC has made it easier to access. You can now swipe up from anywhere on the home screen to access the app drawer, again making one-handed use possible.
It's something we've already seen on the OnePlus 5 and latest Google Pixel devices, but it's good to see another manufacturer employ this handy tool. Swipe the other way and you’ll pull down the notifications bar; it's all rather intuitive.
The HTC U11 Plus runs Android 8.0 Oreo out of the box, which has been overlaid with HTC’s Sense UI. It's slick and easy to navigate, with performance on point thanks to the Snapdragon 835 chipset and 6GB of RAM.
The HTC U11 Plus we got hands-on with wasn't running final software though, so we can't comment fully on its quality or performance until our full review.
Inside you'll also find a sizable 128GB of storage, and if that's not enough the U11 Plus packs a microSD slot too, allowing you to expand on the inbuilt allowance.
Camera and battery
HTC has used the same 12MP rear camera with OIS, EIS and HDR Boost found on the U11 on the HTC U11 Plus. It means you get a great snapping experience, and if you're prepared to tinker in Pro mode you can get some genuinely stunning shots.
There has been a change for the front camera though, with an 8MP snapper boasting an 85-degree field of view, HDR Boost and a selfie panorama mode.
One of the big plus points for the HTC U11 Plus is its big battery – 3,930mAh to be precise.
It means you should easily see out a full day of use on a single charge, although we won’t know for sure until we’ve put the handset through its paces in our in-depth review process.
The battery also supports Qualcomm's Quick Charge technology, allowing you to get a decent shot of power from a 30 minute top-up, perfect if you’re about to head out for the night.
There is, however, no wireless charging, despite what the translucent case may suggest. The coil you see is actually NFC – you'll need to plug a cable into the U11 Plus to top it up.
The HTC U11 Plus is an impressive-looking device with plenty of power and features to boot – it feels like the phone HTC should have launched back in April.
The U11 Plus would have put the firm much more in the spotlight at the time, but they delay in launching this super powered variant means that plenty of HTC's rivals have managed to release equally tantalizing propositions.
The bigger screen with smaller bezels brings HTC's design language back into relevance against the like of Samsung, LG, Google and Apple, while the novel Edge Sense Launcher could well be one of the unsung smartphone features of the year.
We'll be getting the HTC U11 Plus in soon for our full review, so stay tuned to see how it performs.