Interface

  • Android 8.0
  • Custom HTC software
  • Highly tweakable software, includes themes

The HTC U11 Plus runs Android 8.0 with HTC's Sense interface. This time around, HTC has preserved the core feel of simple Android almost completely, even while packing-in plenty of extras.

You flick up from the home screen to bring up the apps menu, like a Pixel 2 XL. There's a degree of inertia to the way the system moves, like a Pixel. And in the notifications drop-down icons slide fluidly from the bottom of the screen, opening up to full notifications, as you scroll.

This doesn't look like a vanilla Android, and it isn't one. But HTC hasn't messed too much with the rhythm of Google's own Pixel interface. That's a good thing.

HTC being HTC, though, there are some add-ons. BlinkFeed is back once more. As ever, it's a rolling newsfeed that takes up a home screen, using News Republic as its source for content.

Fresh out of the box it'll populate the feed with local (to your country) sources. In the UK that means plenty of trashy new stories from tabloid newspapers. You can choose what ends up in BlinkFeed, though, adding different topics, or updates from Facebook and Twitter.

You can also disable BlinkFeed completely, which we'd probably end up doing after a while. Sorry, HTC.

HTC Sense also allows for customisation of the apps menu. Icons can be arranged alphabetically, by date or by most recently used. And you can tweak the grid to make the icons more spaced out.

You get none of this in vanilla Android.

Then there's Edge Sense. This is one of the more advanced applications for the HTC U11 Plus' squeezable sides. Instead of launching an app it brings up a carousel of app shortcuts, and shows a monthly calendar view.

It does seem a little like clutching at ways to make the edge-squeeze gesture seem more useful, though, and we'd rather use it to launch a favorite app.

The HTC U11 Plus is also more obsessed with digital assistants than just about any other phone. Long-press the home soft key and you get Google Assistant. Run HTC Alexa and you get Amazon Alexa access.

There's also HTC Sense Companion, which offers digital post-its based on your location. Next to Assistant and Alexa it seems basic, and we can't imagine many using it much.

Finally, like older versions of Sense, there are themes. These alter wallpapers, fonts and icons. HTC offers its own icon packs too, which let you switch back to the company's old icon style: a tip of the hat to hardcore fans.

The HTC U11 Plus' interface is more complicated, busier, than some, but also offers customization not present in the latest version of Android. It runs well too.

Movies, music and gaming

  • Widescreen aspect works for games and films alike
  • Loud speaker, but gets a little harsh maxed-out
  • No headphone jack

One neat side effect of the new 18:9 aspect screen is the extra space it provides for gamepad-style touchscreen controls in games. Your thumbs infringe on the action less. However, this is a work-in-progress as not all games support 18:9 so far.

Asphalt 8 does, and while many people play this Gameloft racer with tilt control, using your thumbs feels better than ever. Dead Trigger 2, however, continues to run in 16:9, leaving a blank black area to the right of the display.

It's still relatively early days for 18:9 phones, though, and with so many new phones adopting this style, it won't be long until support is in by default.

As you'd hope for a phone at this level, games run very well, with no obvious frame rate drops.

The 18:9 screen works well for movies too, a comfortable middle-ground between "TV style" 16:9 and cinema 21:9. Solid display contrast and great color help as well.

There are also the speakers to consider. The HTC U11 Plus has BoomSound speakers, which in this case means there's a driver on the bottom, and the call speaker joins in to make sure the sound isn't just coming from the bottom edge.

Volume is slightly better than most rivals, but when maxed-out the front driver starts to sound harsh, which does the general sound quality no favors. The Razer Phone has significantly better speakers, but the HTC U11 Plus' are still good.

There are two BoomSound modes too. "Theatre" maximizes bass, while "music" tightens it up for a cleaner sound.

Rather use headphones? You'll either need to use a wireless pair or use a USB adapter, as there's no headphone jack. However, if you're already on-board with Bluetooth headphones the HTC U11 Plus has good streaming cred, with support for aptX HD as well as standard aptX.

Benchmarks

  • Classic Snapdragon 835 performance
  • Scores 6,710 in Geekbench 4

The HTC U11 Plus has a Snapdragon 835 like several of 2017's flagships, including some variants of the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus, the HTC U11 and LG V30.

This is an octa-core chipset with Kryo cores, the fastest four of which are clocked at 2.45GHz.

In Geekbench 4 the HTC U11 Plus scores 6,710 points, roughly matching the OnePlus 5T and Samsung Galaxy S8. They use the same CPU, so this makes sense.

This is one of the most powerful phones around, but it won’t be for long.