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HTC U11 Plus review: HTC is back, but is this slight upgrade worth the wait?

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
699
inc VAT

HTC squeezes a bit more into the U11 Plus but raises the price

Pros 
Superb design
Great camera performance
Cons 
Expensive
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The big smartphone bandwagon of 2017 was 18:9 screens, with most of the major manufacturers jumping on board. HTC missed out on the initial wave, but it’s now put that right with the launch of the HTC U11 Plus.

READ NEXT: Best smartphones of 2018

HTC U11 Plus review: What you need to know

It has a larger edge-to-edge display and a slightly bigger battery than the original HTC U11, with a lot of the same features, so it’s more a slight refresh than a total rejig. However, as we really liked the U11, that’s no bad thing.

Other than that, the HTC U11 Plus also sees slightly improved IP68 dust and water resistance and has a bigger 3,930mAh battery. As for software, Android Oreo is also available straight out of the box, although this is largely obscured by HTC’s intrusive HTC Sense overlay.

In most other respects, other than a higher price, the U11 Plus is identical to the older HTC U11: same Snapdragon 835 processor, same “UltraPixel 3” rear camera, same squeezy edges, although oddly the front camera has seen a downgrade, from 16-megapixels to just eight.

HTC U11 Plus review: Price and competition

The HTC U11 Plus is available now at the current price of £699. That’s pretty much par for the course for a new flagship phone of this size. It’s the same price as Razer’s recently announced Razer Phone (£699) and the Huawei Mate 10 Pro, although it’s £250 more expensive than the OnePlus 5T (£450) and £120 more than the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus, which you can currently buy for around £580.

HTC U11 Plus review: Design and key features

Aside from the bezel-less display (more on that later) the HTC U11 Plus is hauntingly familiar. Unlike the model it one-ups, the phone is available in only one colour this time: Ceramic Black, with a Translucent Black design launching later next year.

As before, the rear is coated in a mirror-finish rear panel topped with glass that veers between a subtle reflective grey and a darker black, depending on where you catch the light. It’s still a marvellous sight, although I can’t say I’m not disappointed at the lack of more vibrant colour choices.

Size-wise, it’s a bit of a bulky beast as well. Compared with the Huawei Mate 10 Pro, which I’ve been using for the past couple of months, there’s more heft (10g), more height (4.3mm) and more thickness (0.6mm), too, all of which is noticeable when you pick it up; it’s a more cumbersome phone. And although the rear of the U11 Plus seems to have improved fingerprint resistance, you’ll still be cleaning constantly to keep it looking its best.

Elsewhere, both the volume rocker and power button are sensibly placed on the right edge, with the solitary USB-C port on the bottom and audio emanating from a small slot on the bottom edge and from the phone’s earpiece.

There’s still no 3.5mm headphone jack but you do get a pair of HTC Usonic USB Type-C earphones included in the box, which have active noise cancellation and ear-scanning capabilities. They’re far from the best earphones you’ll ever hear, though, with a slightly over-bassy and muddy sound to them, so it’s just as well that HTC also includes a 3.5mm adapter in the box so you can connect a pair of your choice.

Elsewhere, there’s a bigger 3,930mAh-capacity battery than the HTC U11, the phone is dust- and water-resistant to the IP68 standard, like many of its rivals are, and it has a microSD slot that doubles as a second SIM card slot if required.

HTC U11 Plus review: Display quality

As for the display, the HTC U11 Plus follows the same long, tall and bezel-free fad as its cutthroat competition and that means nearly the entire front is dominated by its 6in QHD+ display (1,440 x 2,880). Due to slightly thicker top and bottom bezels, the phone’s screen-to-body ratio isn’t quite as high as it is on the Mate 10 Pro or the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus, though.

It’s also worth noting, too, that you can’t adjust the resolution as you can with the Samsung Galaxy S8; this is useful for smoothing out choppy frame rates in demanding games and eking out a bit of extra battery life.

Another difference between this phone and its two key rivals is that it uses an IPS-derived Super LCD panel instead of an AMOLED one and that translates here to slightly low sRGB and DCI-P3 coverage rates of 89.7% and 87.3% respectively. Likewise, colours, overall, look a touch wan and washed out.

A bigger problem, however, is the display’s brightness. I measured it at a maximum of 365cd/m2 in auto-brightness mode (it was even dimmer with adaptive brightness disabled) which means you’ll struggle to read the screen in bright conditions. The Samsung Galaxy S8, for comparison, peaks at well above 500cd/m2 when displaying an all-white screen, while the Huawei Mate 10 Pro hit 570cd/m2 and the OnePlus 5T measured 420cd/m2 at their brightest.

HTC U11 Plus review: Software and improved Edge Sense

As for software, other than the appearance of Android Oreo, Edge Sense has been updated. Yes, that squeezy gimmick from last year is now new and improved. Give it a grope and it’ll bring up a rotary wheel of shortcuts to your favourite apps, and it’s now much more customisable than before.

Otherwise, the HTC U11 Plus is as you were on the software front, with Edge Sense providing what could charitably be called “its own quirky way of doing things UI”. I don’t like the way it looks out of the box, but you can at least download themes for it to adjust the way it looks, or install something like Nova Launcher if you prefer a purer Android appearance.

The phone is also supposed to support Amazon’s Alexa in addition to Google Assistant, which would at least give the phone a unique angle but I couldn’t get it to run on my review sample at all, despite the HTC Alexa app apparently being installed.

HTC U11 Plus review: Performance and battery life

At least HTC hasn’t messed with the performance of the phone. In fact, it’s pretty much the same as the HTC U11 and every other Snapdragon-based phone on the market. There’s a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 under the hood, with its twin quad-core CPUs running at 2.45GHz and 1.9GHz respectively, an Adreno 540 GPU and 6GB or 4GB of RAM. There isn’t much that fazes HTC’s big beast.

 

The only outlier is the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus, which (as noted above) allow you to reduce the screen resolution in favour of increased frame rates. Since the HTC U11 Plus does not allow you to do this you’ll have to rely on in-game quality settings to get a smooth frame rate. Still, there aren’t many Android games demanding enough to really push the capabilities of the Adreno 540 anyway.

Battery life is pretty good, too. Although the HTC U11 Plus didn’t perform particularly well in our video rundown benchmark lasting a mere 11hrs 29mins, in day-to-day use I’ve so far been getting around a day and a half from the 3,930mAh battery. It’s early days yet, but after about a week of use GSAM Battery Monitor is reporting 1 day 12.3hrs per average charge. I’d expect to see that number fall slightly in the coming weeks, but it’s a good start and the only phone I’ve used recently that’s better than this is the Huawei Mate 10 Pro.

One disappointment is that although the Snapdragon 835 chipset supports Gigabit 4G speeds, the U11 Plus’ speed is capped at 800Mbits/sec – that’s a downgrade from the HTC U11.

HTC U11 Plus review: Camera

Given that HTC is behind the superb Pixel 2 you’d expect a pretty good camera as well. And largely that proves to be the case. The rear camera is a 12-megapixel effort with an aperture of f/1.7, which is pretty darned bright. It has dual-pixel phase detect autofocus, ensuring super snappy focus across the sensor and there’s also optical image stabilisation (OIS) and a dual-tone LED flash.

Image quality is superb. With and without HDR engaged, the HTC U11 Plus’ camera picks up superb amounts of detail, captures scenes of extreme dark and bright shades sympathetically and reproduces rich colours in low light without too much noise spoiling the show.

If I were to be picky, on close analysis the Google Pixel 2 beats it for colour reproduction and overall performance. In the outdoor comparison shots above you can see that there’s more speckly compression artifacting in the HTC’s image’s lower contrast shots. Meanwhile, in the low light indoor shots, the HTC U11+ is smearing the stuffed bear’s fur far more and introducing a touch more distracting noise in the background. There isn’t much in it, but the difference is tangible.

For video, quality is excellent with the camera recording crisp, colourful 4K footage at up to 30fps. Once again, though, it falls short of its main rivals, because you can’t record 4K footage with EIS (electronic image stabilisation) applied. The result is very shaky shots, no matter how hard you try to hold the phone still.

HTC U11 Plus review: Verdict

And that’s the story with the HTC U11 Plus as a whole: it’s good, just not great, and there are phones at least as good that cost less. The OnePlus 5T is a good example: it has a Snapdragon 835 inside, a superb dual-lens rear camera and excellent battery life, yet it costs £450 - a whole £150 less than the HTC U11 Plus.

That’s not all, though. The Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus is now available for around £580 and is a much better phone, while the Huawei Mate 10 Pro is slimmer, looks nicer, has a superior screen and beats it for battery life.

Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with the HTC U11 Plus. It’s a great smartphone that I’d happily use as my day-to-day handset, but the simple fact is that, for the money, you can do better than this. 

Hardware
ProcessorOcta-core 2.45GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
RAM6GB
Screen size6in
Screen resolution2,880 x 1,440
Screen typeSuper LCD
Front camera8-megapixel
Rear camera12-megapixel
Flashdual-LED
GPSYes
CompassYes
Storage (free)128GB
Memory card slot (supplied)microSD
Wi-Fi802.11ac
Bluetooth5.0
NFCYes
Wireless data4G
Dimensions58.5 x 74.9 x 8.5 mm
Weight188g
Features
Operating systemAndroid 8.0
Battery size3,930mAh

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