HTC U11 vs HTC 10: is it worth the upgrade?

The jump to HTC U11 from the HTC 10 proves that the Taiwanese phone maker is willing to redesign its phone every year, not the usual every other year like some of its competitors.

Its new flagship, the HTC U11, takes cues from the very big HTC U Ultra, and brings them to a normal-sized phone – one with faster specs and a better camera.

Is HTC's smartphone overhaul enough of an upgrade over last year's phone to deserve your attention in 2017? After all, that tempting HTC 10 will now be cheaper.

There's a lot of newness riding on the HTC U11 success, so a direct comparison to last year's stellar HTC 10 is in order.

HTC U11 vs HTC 10: Design

HTC U11 says goodbye to dull aluminum and ushers in a new glass era for HTC's flagship phone. It's literally your new shiny object.

HTC calls this its Liquid Surface design language, and we've seen it in the HTC U Play and U Ultra before today. Colors include Solar Red, Amazing Silver, Brilliant Black, Sapphire Blue and Ice White.

HTC 10, on the other hand, has a solid aluminum unibody design to it. It doesn't have vibrant new colors, but it does have a premium-looking, all-metal finish.

Here's the real trade-off: You're trading improved water-resistance for a 3.5mm headphone jack. 

HTC U11 upgrades to a water-resistant rating of IP67 (up from IP57), which lets you submerge the phone up to 1 meter deep in water for up to 30 minutes. However, you're going to have to opt for the dongle life, or a pair of Bluetooth headphones.

In the future, the HTC U11's frame is going to be able to activate apps and shortcuts when you dimply squeeze the frame, but that unique functionality isn't launching right away.

HTC U11 vs HTC 10: Display

HTC U11 upgrades to a larger 5.5-inch Quad HD display, making it feel more like it's meant to compete with rival flagships in 2017.

It's a significant upgrade for a phone series that's always stayed small outside of the recent HTC U Ultra. It does stick with LCD over the popular AMOLED panel.

HTC 10 has a really sharp looking LCD screen, too, and it measures 5.2 inches. It's plenty big (and maybe preferable) for some people, even if the trend is going toward mega-large all-screen phones.

HTC U11 vs HTC 10: OS and power

HTC U11 runs the latest flavor of Google's mobile operating system, Android Nougat, and so can every upgraded HTC 10 by now. No difference here.

However, the new phone has a big specs bump, with Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 835 chipset and a choice of either 4GB or 6GB of RAM. The HTC 10 has the older Snapdragon 820 chip – good in its own right – and 4GB of RAM.

If you're looking to future-proof your smartphone and avoid slowdown in the future, the HTC U11 is the better long-term bet.

HTC U11 vs HTC 10: Battery and camera

HTC doesn't rock the boat with a big battery life upgrade. In fact, our HTC U11 vs HTC 10 comparison shows that it stays the same year-to-year.

Both have a 3,000mAh battery – larger than an iPhone, but still smaller than the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus battery size, and we felt that was conservative (for obvious explosion-avoiding reasons). 

Of course, we have to test out the battery in a full HTC U11 review to really see if there's more life to this one. Despite the identical specs, it could employ battery-saving tricks.

HTC U11 is promising a big camera upgrade on the front and back, with a 12MP sensor and f/1.7 aperture on the back and – get this – a 16MP camera on front.

That could make your selfies look more complete. So can the new panorama mode from the front-facing camera, meant for wide group selfies. We're testing this one out further to see how it does.

HTC 10 has a 12MP rear camera, too, and it did well in its own right with a f/1.8 aperture. But the front-facing camera was 5MP, and that's where the year-over-year boost is.

HTC U11 vs HTC 10: Takeaway

The HTC U11 has a slightly tweaked name, but a significant upgrade in all ways. Its design and performance hit a new peak.

The HTC 10 is a likable phone, too, with all of last year's competent specs. It's aged well in 12 months and the battery size and Android version is identical.

The true differences are in the larger 5.5-inch screen, faster chipset and better  camera. We're dying to see how the 16MP front-facing photos look in all conditions.

We'll update this HTC U11 vs HTC 10 comparison as we get more testing time in with the new phone and hold it up to last year's flagship.

Matt Swider