REVIEW: HTC U11, High Res Audio, Noise Cancelling, New Camera, So How Does It Stack Up?
HTC is one of those Companies, that seems to have been around the smartphone scene forever, they are the phone Company that big brands such as Google turn to, make their devices, the big question now is does their own, all new HTC U11 premium smartphone stack up?
Coming into the market right off the back of Samsung’s launch of the S8 is a tough gig, for any smartphone company and at HTC, the company knew that they had to deliver a product that stacked up if they had any chance of growing their share of the premium smartphone market.
This is a Company that is more about engineering a product than marketing a product which many a reviewer has discovered after handing out praise for past devices only to see them struggle to get traction in the market.
Unlike Samsung, LG or Sony smartphones are the lifeblood at HTC, it’s what they do best.
After spending four days in Taiwan the home of HTC I believe that what they’ve delivered with their HTC U 11 is as good as any smartphone out there today especially as it comes in under $1,000.
They have not only hit the market with a new look and feel that is designed from toughened glass, they have under the bonnet delivered core functionality whether it be an all new camera or their 24-bit audio or the performance that this mobile deliver’s when processing apps that seriously impressive.
With the release of Amazon Alexa just around the corner in Australia and the sound market moving to high res audio HTC has already built in capabilities that are not found in other smartphones that sell for sub $1,000.
There is for example their squeeze technology, that allows a user to simply squeeze the U 11, to activate the camera or a series of commands programmed into the device.
While this feature works, it’s still early days.
Another unique feature is their ‘Liquid Surface’ design that delivers a unique fluid look for the HTC U11, this technology has been in development at HTC for several years.
Several people that I have shown the HTC U 11 too, cannot believe that the device is made from glass and carved metal, it not only looks good it’s significantly smarter than some of the more expensive smartphones that have recently been launched in Australia.
What is unique is that the colour of the glass changes depending on the angle from which you view your smartphone.
I initially had a silver version and each time, you looked at the device the colour appeared to change from silver to a blue to a touch of black, it was very smart.
Measuring in at 7.9mm thick the device is easier to operate in the hand than the S8+.
The fingerprint scanner is on the front bottom of the device and not on the back like the S8+, this makes it easier to reach and when combining new Google Android features with the fingerprint scanner one can easily retrieve information via this device using ‘Okay Google’ voice commands.
The fingerprint scanner sits in the U11’s front home button and is consistently reliable when unlocking the phone.
Adding to the look and feel of this device is the 5.5-inch panel’s quad-HD (2560 x 1440 pixels) resolution display screen which is crisp and sharp and despite its brightness does not suck battery juice.
The Super LCD 5 panel is also up there with the more expensive AMOLED display screens.
One element of the HTC U11 that seriously appealed to me was HTC’s audio and voice recognition technology.
Inside the box the U11 comes with a pair of headphones that are noise cancelling, the device itself supports 24-bit Hi-Res audio files, and the handset is one of only a select few handsets that actually allow users to playback 24bit Hi Res tracks.
As for the USonic headphones, which feature a built-in DAC (digital-to-analogue converter), these are the best we have ever seen out of the box.
Plug them in and the U11 automatically scans your ears to build an optimised audio profile of your ears.
The noise cancelling is good enough to block out background office noise and people talking such as in a busy pub or railway station.
Also in the box is a USB-C-to-3.5mm converter that features its own powered amplifier, which further improves the U11’s audio capabilities.
Under the bonnet HTC has improved the U11’s BoomSound speakers.
The radical improvements are noticeable with improved audio volume and acoustic chamber that allows the highs and mid ranges to sound richer and clearer, though I am yet to find someone who listens to music from a smartphones speaker.
The U11 also comes with four omnidirectional microphones that are great for picking up voice commands such as OK Google and when asking for a phone number or directions.
What is missing is a headphone jack which I found annoying especially when I wanted to attach a more expensive pair of headphones. I also had problems remembering the adapter which added to my frustration.
Because the camera on this device is so good I installed an additional 64GB microSD card, the U11 already features either 64GB (tested) or 128GB of internal storage. I did this because I am constantly shooting or downloading video.
Another plus for this device, unlike the new G6 is that it can immersed in water up to depths of 1m and below for 30 minutes.
One area where I believe that HTC excels is in the development of every day software, phone, contacts, messaging. Unlike several other brands HTC appears to work on the basis that evolution is better than revolution resulting in the functions on this device being taken to yet another level.
Not only has HTC delivered the best implementations of Android 7.1 Nougat that I have seen this year, they have also layered around this OS capabilities that deliver additional functionality.
One of the first things I do when switching to a new smartphone is go to Apps in settings and delete the apps that you don’t want.
With the U11 you will find that it is free of bloatware and duplicate apps.
The HTC U11 is one of the first smartphones to run using Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 835 CPU. It’s fast and responsive.
With a clock speed of 2.45GHz and heaps of RAM this device delivers excellent gaming and video playback.
As for the HTC camera, I was seriously impressed in a shootout with the new LG G6, and the all new Samsung S8+ the U11 outperformed both these competitors though I do like the wide-angle capability of the G6.
What HTC has is their custom UltraPixel image technology, which during a visit to their picture/camera lab revealed that these guys take shooting images seriously.
Their new stabilisation software left the iPhone 7 looking like yesterday technology when it came to shooting video.
This camera is not only better than the Huawei P10 and the overpriced Google Pixel it’s significantly ahead when it comes to shooting images with the G6 and S8+ this is especially noticeable when one enlarges an image.
What HTC has developed are algorithms that improve processing speeds and low-light performance by capturing light on larger pixels than what they have been able to deliver in the past.
Colour balance is solid and images don’t look overexposed or oversaturated.
The HTC U11 is a tick the box phone.
Design: Excellent, their liquid surface technology really sets this device apart and one has the choice of a red, black or silver/bluish model.
Camera: This camera is one of the best found in a smartphone and while it lacks when it comes to wide images similar to the G6 it compensates for this with the quality of the images one can shoot.
Audio: One of the first smartphone makers to invest in High Res Audio the combination of noise cancelling technology sets this device apart from the pack.
Functionality: The HTC U 11 is fast and when combined with the smooth way that the Android 7.1 Nougat OS delivers functionality one can only be impressed with the performance that this device delivers.
Design: while I love the ‘Liquid Surface Design” fingerprints on the glossy surface are still a problem. There is a clear plastic case supplied, but this defies the beauty of the design.
Keyboard: while I liked the keyboard having to key down to numbers which only appear to the far left of the keyboard is an irritant.
Audio: Everything stacks up with the exception of a headphone jack especially if one forgets the HTC supplied headphones or the adapters.