Ahead of next week’s iPhone 8 launch, and following the recent appearance of the Galaxy Note 8, it’s worth taking a moment to remind ourselves that not all high-quality smartphones are made by Apple and Samsung.
Other smartphones from different companies are available. And some of them, like the HTC U11, are actually pretty good, if you feel like a change from the larger manufacturers.
The Taiwanese firm’s flagship U11, launched in the UAE in June, is a beautifully designed smartphone that has plenty of noteworthy features. While it doesn’t match Samsung and Apple’s latest devices in terms of wow factor and high-end performance, it still brings a lot of great features to the table, not least its audio and camera performance.
The U11’s design trump card is its Liquid Surface rear cover, which changes colour depending on the angle at which you hold it. The Sapphire Blue model I tested modulates between blue and purple with a slight tilt of the wrist, while the Solar Red version (which HTC released in the UAE earlier this month) alternates beautifully between red and gold. A gimmick perhaps, but a very clever one, which makes the phone very easy on the eye.
Screen-wise, the U11 uses the same Quad HD display as last year’s HTC 10. It does the job very well; the trailer for The Last Jedi displays beautifully, with vibrant colours and deep blacks. The display does however pail a bit in comparison with the newest HDR displays from the Galaxy S8 and Note 8, as well as the LG G6 and Sony Xperia ZX Premium.
One of the HTC 10's great strengths was its audio performance, and the U11 has not dropped the ball. The USonic headphones included in the box are a cut above those bundled with other smartphones, even offering (limited) noise-cancellation. Using any other headphones will require an adaptor, as HTC has followed Apple's lead and (annoyingly) ditched the 3.5mm headphone socket.
This move is forgiveable though, given the performance of HTC’s Boomsound inbuilt speakers, which produce a much more rounded sound than my iPhone 7 and the vast majority of other smartphones I’ve tested. You won’t be ditching your Bluetooth speaker anytime soon, but it’s a superior experience for streaming audio on the go.
Also providing a superior experience is the U11’s camera system; its front facing 16MP camera (yes, 16MP) sports an f.2.0 aperture, producing truly superb low-light selfies. The 12MP rear camera system doesn’t go for the double lens option of so many of its peers, but still produces high quality images that rival those of high-end Samsungs, thanks to features like HDR Auto, which easily combines multiple shots to produce a single vibrant image.
Elsewhere, HTC has made a big deal of Edge Sense, which allows you to, wait for it, squeeze the U11 to launch particular functions like the camera or YouTube. If you squeeze the phone for a little longer, another function, like actually taking a photo, is activated. An interesting idea, but one that I found more annoying than helpful. What’s more welcome is the fact that the U11 is waterproof to IP67 standard.
The HTC U11 starts at Dh2,399 for a 64GB version, rising to around Dh2,599 for a 128GB setup, making it roughly the same price as the Samsung Galaxy S8. It might not have the wow factor of that device or more recent Samsung and Apple launches, but the U11 is definitely worth considering, thanks to its fluid design, great cameras and superb audio.