Sound is a big part of the HTC U11's story. The phone supports Hi-Res audio, ships with noise cancelling USonic headphones and has really loud BoomSound stereo speakers.
Given the fact there's no 3.5mm headphone jack on the U11, the USonic headphones plug in via USB-C. Calibrating them in the settings is a must if you intend to use the out of the box headphones. This allows the in-ear cans to scan your ear shape and adapt sound accordingly. The difference after the scan was less flat audio and increased volume. Sure, these are all EQ adjustments, but it still results in better a listening experience which is great.
The noise cancelling feature of the supplied headphones is pretty weak. We have used a lot of active noise cancelling headphones, including those that shipped with the Xperia Z3, and these are by far the least aggressive. So while excellent quality for an included pair of earbud headphones, curb your expectations if you're looking to drown out your neighbours rave or in-flight engine hum.
As for the BoomSound speakers, these are very, very loud and clear. They are incredibly close to being the best smartphone speakers around. In fact, they may be in terms of pure sound - never has a YouTube clip played for friends at a dinner been so audible or generated so many lols.
That said, holding the U11 in landscape while you're watching movies or gaming on it more often than not covers up phone's more powerful speaker - there is one by the USB-C port, and one by the in-call speaker.
This results in muffle. So while unequivocally better than, say, the Sony Xperia XZ Premium's front speakers when it comes to volume and quality, when gaming, making kitty litter of Batman with our sharpest Catwoman claws in Injustice 2 is way less fun when you're constantly adjusting your grip.
Speaking of gaming, there's nothing the HTC U11 can't do that any other modern day flagship can. Probably the most graphically challenging game around, the aforementioned Injustice 2 looks spot-on, interaction across titles is swift and with 64 or 128GB storage, there's plenty of storage space.
Despite packing an identical processor/RAM combination, we actually got better framerates from the U11 than the Sony Xperia XZ Premium - likely due to the 4K display on Sony's flagship, so when it comes to graphics alone, the HTC U11 could be the best Android gaming phone money can buy.
With 12MP around the back paired with an f/1.7 aperture and OIS, the HTC U11's camera specs read well from the get go. HTC has also introduced something called Instant HDR, imbuing pictures with higher dynamic range without the waiting usually associated with HDR pictures.
Despite the comparatively low resolution, the picture quality on the U11 is plenty sharp, beating out the 19MP XZ Premium, with low-light performance being exceptional. The optical image stabilisation counteracts handshake beautifully and colours have a healthy amount of punch and pop. The U11 also resists the urge to overexpose shots unlike Sony and LG's latest flagships, resulting in less noise than much of the competition and more accurate results.
The only gripe we have with the camera is the refresh rate of the live viewfinder. It's a bit slow, so can make you think you're taking a worse picture than you actually are. This, however, is definitely not a deal breaker as chances are, the end result will look brilliant.
The host of shooting modes include manual mode, offering exposure times of up to 32 seconds, RAW support, Panorama, Hyperlapse and Slow motion video.
Capable of up to 4K resolution, the HTC U11's video camera is truly excellent. Focus is incredibly fast, accurate and detail looks sharp. It isn't perfect - while OIS does mean handshake is steadied out, it also results in a rolling shutter effect, aka, a warped, windswept look when quickly panning. Still, in most cases, the U11's camera nails it.
HTC hasn't neglected the front camera either. The 16-megapixel sensor sports an f/2 aperture and can down-sample photos when taking selfies in low-light. Again, the results are great, with detail looking spot-on and a good amount of versatility across lighting conditions. There's an optional Live makeup mode, Selfie Panorama as well as video recording up to a resolution of 1080p.
Performance and connections
Qualcomm's latest chipset, the Snapdragon 835. powers the U11 and boy does this thing fly. Paired with either 4GB or 6GB RAM, we had the 4GB variant - and it still wiped the floor with most of the competition.
Antutu benchmark scores came in at a staggering 176,755, beating out the XZ Premium and Galaxy S8+ and corroborating our experience with framerates when playing Injustice when compared to the still excellent Sony flagship.
Meanwhile, a Geekbench score of 6355 firmly cements the HTC U11 as one of the most powerful phones money can buy, and certainly the most powerful Android phone you can pick up in the UK.
With 64GB or 128GB storage and microSD card support, a USB-C port for speedy file transfers and NFC, the U11 is also relatively well connected. There's no IR blaster, 3.5mm headphone jack or wireless charging though, so if any of those are must haves, check out the Samsung Galaxy S8 or Huawei P10 Plus.
Much to our surprise, the HTC U11's 3,000mAh battery got us through a full day, day in day out. HTC has been banging the 'software optimisation' drum for a long time. The U Ultra however simply wasn't good enough, but it elates us to say, this time round, 3,000mAh nails it.
The U11 also supports Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 so it won't take you forever to top-up on the off chance you fall short before the day's up.
The HTC U11 is excellent and worth the £649 asking price when looking at the competition. But is excellent enough?
Depending on what you value, it absolutely is. HTC gets audio more right than any other manufacturer, making speakers that shout louder, headphones that work harder and sound recording that captures everything at higher quality. Gaming is also an area the HTC U11 nails it - save for the ease with which the bottom speaker can be covered up. Finally, it has amongst the best smartphone cameras around.
All this is enough to make the U11 a 9/10, even if the design isn't as futuristic as the Galaxy S8's and the killer new feature, Edge Sense, feels more like a gimmick than anything else, at least for now. µ
Class-leading audio and camera, well built.
Edge Sense feels gimmicky.