If you're an HTC fan – good news. HTC has brought you a phone that, in many ways, is as good as you could hope for.
Update: The arrival of the HTC U11 Plus and U11 Life, as well a new flagships from Google, Apple and Samsung, have put the U11 into perspective. The HTC U12 isn't too far off either, so if you're considering the U11 you may want to hold on for a month or two.
It's got an impressive spec list, unique design, innovation in the form of squeezable sides and a great camera, and since launch it's got that little bit better, thanks to the addition of Amazon Alexa.
The chipset buzzes along nicely inside a phone that's neither too big nor overly compact, and the interface is as slick as anything HTC has ever made.
In fact, if you're a fan of HTC above all other phone manufacturers, you can probably skip this whole review and just buy the thing (although we suggest you read the bit about the 'squeezable' Edge Sense element, as that takes a bit of getting used to) and just wait feverishly at the front door, waiting for your HTC U11 to arrive.
However, for everyone else, things are a bit more complicated. Yes, HTC has pretty much nailed the spec list, but it's doing so for a rather high price – and one which pits it against some strong alternative options.
Even HTC has diluted the U11's reach since its launch, with the arrival of the superior HTC U11 Plus towards the end of 2017 which packed in a bigger screen, larger battery and a design which reduced the size of the bezels around the display.
It's bigger and more expensive, but you can't help but think that perhaps it's the phone HTC should have launched as the U11 in the first place.
Dimensions: 153.9 x 75.9 x 7.9mm
OS: Android 7.1
Screen size: 5.5-inch
Resolution: 1440 x 2560
CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
RAM: 4GB / 6GB*
Storage: 64GB / 128GB*
Rear camera: 12MP
Front camera: 16MP
HTC U11 price and availability
- HTC U11 current price: from £499
- HTC U11 launch price: £649, $649, AU$999 SIM free
As the U11 is almost a year old, its price has dropped and you can now pick it up for a far more palatable £499 in the UK, although similar discounts appear to have evaded the US.
On contract you'll be looking at paying less thanr £30 a month in the UK, $29 per month (with no upfront payment) in the US and around AU$59 per month in Australia.
The HTC U11 is still widely available from major networks and retailers, so if you fancy dipping
- See the best HTC U11 deals
- Two-tone shimmer impresses
- Well-built chassis
- Back sucks in fingerprints hugely
The design of the HTC U11 is something that takes a little getting used to – but it's worth taking the time to do so. Holding it in the hand for the first time is a little underwhelming, as the polished Gorilla Glass is so light that it feels a little plasticky in the hand.
The bulbous nature isn't as exciting or feel as premium as the metal build on last year's HTC 10, but don't let that bother you. After a few days you'll get used to the way it feels – and the HTC U11's chassis is well built and solid.
Aesthetically, the U11 appeals in a way we've not seen with many phones. The Liquid Surface design manages to offer two colors at once, with the 'Amazing Silver' and ‘Brilliant Black’ models we tested looking more blue/purple and black/green respectively, depending on the way you hold them.
There's also Solar Red, Ice White and Sapphire Blue - and the red is easily our favorite, as you can see below.
The shimmer is really impressive... but only if you never touch this phone, as the U11 is one of the most fingerprint-friendly phones we've ever held. Ever. Ever.
The only saving grace is the fact that your prints wipe off easily, but the overall effect is diminished somewhat. There is a clear plastic cover in the box, which doesn't ruin the look of the phone while keeping it cleaner, but even that’s prone to the odd smudge.
It's also annoying to put any phone, designed to be held in the palm, in a case... and it's a particular issue with a phone you're going to have to squeeze to use.
In terms of the rest of the design, the U11 doesn't reinvent anything, with HTC instead putting together a phone with all the right bits in the correct places.
The fingerprint scanner on the front, in the (non-clickable) home key, is easy to hit and works almost flawlessly. Perhaps we're willing to give it more credit after Samsung played 'hide the scanner' on the back of its Galaxy S8, but this feels just right.
The rounded glass on the HTC U11 is probably one of the most striking things about the handset day to day, and it's something HTC put a lot of effort into for good reason.
Yes, this is still the same ‘black rectangle’ design that so many other devices offer, but it’s got a foundation of quality and striking colors.
The volume rocker and power buttons on the right-hand side fit nicely under a thumb or forefinger, depending on your dominant hand, and otherwise things are very clean around the edge of the U11.
That's partly because the phone is waterproof to IP67 rating meaning you can throw it into water, but in real life you can just dunk it in shallow water, bring it in the shower or wash it clean without having to spend an extraordinarily large amount of money and shame getting it fixed.
One of the issues we have with this phone is there's no headphone jack on this phone, as HTC decided to follow Apple and Motorola's lead and drop the port in favor of a single slot.
The USB-C port on the bottom of the phone will serve as the power and sound portal for most, which means it'll irk if you need to get some juice in while listening to your top tunes.
Overall, we're big fans of the way that HTC has redefined its design strategy. There are only so many ways you can make a phone look iconic these days, and HTC has built well on its design heritage in the smartphone space to deliver something you'd be proud to put down on the table.
- High resolution
- Slightly dim
- Auto brightness not perfect
The screen on the HTC U11 is something that’s tricky to review. Until recently the 5.5-inch display would have easily ticked all the boxes, as it does very little wrong.
It's large, bright and clear, with the QHD (1440 x 2560) resolution offering as much clarity as anyone could want while still, seemingly, preserving enough battery life.
However, with the Samsung Galaxy S8 and the LG G6 now on the market, there's something archaic about how the screen on the HTC U11 looks. The bezels appear massive, the screen boxy and it just feels... old.
However, if you're not bothered about those other phones, then you won't want for any better features on the HTC U11's screen – but don't put it side by side with the Samsung Galaxy S8 if you don’t want to be nagged by doubts about your phone choice.
While the screen is clear and bright in most situations, it can be reflective, and it's not as bright as we've seen on other handsets. There were times when trying to watch Netflix outside proved a challenge in terms of of angling the handset the right way, and only in the shade did it really start to show off the power of what the HTC U11 can do.
It's also not the brightest screen on the market, which shows that the new wave of shoving HDR compatibility into handsets is perhaps something HTC should have looked into.
The auto-brightness is still something HTC needs to work on, as it doesn't dynamically alter well enough at all – blinding in the night and not bright enough when heading outside. It should be able to work across all areas of the brightness spectrum, but we found ourselves heading into the notification bar to to tweak the levels too many times for our liking.
You won't miss too much from the screen on the HTC U11 – it's one of the better options on the market thanks to using the ever-evolving Super LCD technology – but it's not as impressive as other flagships on the market.