Is HTC Back in the Game?

Many companies have stumbled with their 2017 flagship smartphone releases. The LG G6 uses last generation hardware and has a second-rate software experience. The Huawei P10 is such a minor improvement you may as well save money and purchase the P9. The OnePlus 5 isn’t the value choice it once was. But HTC has somehow managed to buck this trend and produce a phone that’s not only better than last year’s model, but a genuinely decent phone that stands up to this year’s competition.

It all starts with the camera. The HTC U11 contains an outstanding rear camera, in my opinion the second best on the market after only the Google Pixel. Yep, that’s right: HTC, a company who couldn’t produce a half decent camera for years, has smashed competition from Samsung, LG and even Apple with the U11. Whether you’re indoors or outdoors, in good lighting or at night, the U11 takes fantastic photographs assisted by OIS and an excellent automatic HDR mode.

The camera is complemented by decent improvements to performance. HTC packs the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 SoC and leveraged the full Gigabit LTE capabilities of the Snapdragon X16 modem, which makes the U11 one of the fastest Android devices on the market, both from a raw performance and network perspective. You’re also getting plenty of storage, even though it falls behind in access speeds, with support for microSD cards.

The display hasn’t changed too much – it’s now a slightly larger 5.5-inch 1440p LCD – though default color performance has tightened to produce a more pleasant viewing experience. The Super LCD5 here is sharp, vibrant, produces great brightness and contrast for an LCD, and delivers a larger-than-sRGB color gamut (and therefore oversaturation).

I wasn’t as impressed with the exterior design, but the U11 is comfortable to hold and now IP67 water resistant. On the downside, HTC has kept the enormous bezels, not just above and below the display, but on the sides as well. Many manufacturers are moving away from massive bezels in favor of expansive displays, and I wish HTC would follow suit here because the U11 is larger than necessary.

The U11 also does not include a headphone jack. Ugh.

On a more positive note, I don’t mind HTC’s Sense skin these days, as the company has stripped out most of the crap in favor of an experience that falls closer to stock Android. Bloatware and duplicate apps are minimal, the design fits in well with the rest of Android, and HTC’s update track record has been improving over the past year or so.

The HTC U11 is available unlocked for $649, which I feel is a fair price for the phone considering the hardware and experience provided. Sure, phones like the OnePlus 5 and Xiaomi Mi 6 are cheaper, but I believe the U11 genuinely delivers superior hardware, a far better camera and Gigabit LTE support.

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If you’re after a phone in 2017, I think it’s safe to recommend the HTC U11. Saying those words is a bit of a surprise to me, but HTC deserves it.

85
TechSpot
score

Pros: Outstanding camera. Top-end performance and display, with support for Gigabit LTE. Squeeze feature is unique. HTC has finally made a water resistant phone.

Cons: HTC loves bezels. No headphone jack!