HTC has been quick to respond to the trend that's pushing phones towards an 18:9 aspect. Rather than waiting for an update with its next predicted device refresh in early-2018, it has chosen to unveil an 18:9 aspect phone in late-2017.
In doing so, HTC updates the HTC U11, a great phone in its own right, with something that's bigger, bolder and better in many ways. Called the HTC U11+, this is a serious phone that could well appeal to those turned off by the Pixel 2 XL's display fiasco.
Glorious design, but a little on the large side
- 158.5 x 74.9 x 8.5mm, 188g
- Liquid Surface glass back
- IP68 waterproofing
There's a lot about the design of the HTC U11+ that's familiar. The aluminium core of this phone, paired with the Liquid Surface back, makes this feel like part of the expanding U family of devices, but with a twist that stands it apart.
The shift in display aspect is the biggest part of this shift - which we'll talk about in a second - but there's only two launch colours for this phone, which is something of a surprise. HTC's Liquid Surface is one of the most unique looks we've seen in 2017 and it's glorious, with those glass backs shimmering with a depth and array of colours you don’t get on the range of common phone finishes - although they are very glossy and reflective.
Ceramic Black is one option - which really isn't as glorious as Solar Red or the colours offered on the U11 - but the other Translucent Black is a different kettle of fish. It's not completely see-through, instead having a sort of smoky look to it. You can see some of the internals, but it's not like holding a naked phone.
Sadly, HTC doesn't seem to have decided who will get the Translucent Black at launch and who won't: in the UK you can expect Ceramic Black, but let's be fair, it's still a great looking phone.
What might be surprising is the size. Although HTC has shifted the aspect to 18:9, this hasn't really resulted in a reduction in size. This phone is some 5mm taller than the original U11 and only 1mm narrower, while it also piles on 19g of weight.
But this display is a little different, so let's dive straight into that.
Big, bold LCD display
- 6-inch Super LCD 6 display
- 2880 x 1440 pixels, 536ppi
- Gorilla Glass 5
The biggest thing about the HTC U11+ for most will be the display. It offers an 18:9 aspect, following that trend that was really kicked off by LG and Samsung in early-2017. Since then we've seen Google and Huawei join in, we've seen Apple come aboard and we're hearing that OnePlus is going that way too. Basically, wide screen is in and bezels are out.
Some of the body size we've mentioned is sitting above and below the display, which to the sides it is rather minimal. There's a general reduction in bezels, giving over more of the front of the phone to the display.
The resolution steps up to 2880 x 1440 pixels, matching that of LG's displays, but the big thing that makes this phone different to some of those rivals is that HTC is sticking to LCD. It's using a panel it is calling Super LCD 6 and in doing so it might sweep aside some of the recent criticisms that have been levelled at OLED displays on phones.
Super LCD has been used by HTC for many years and recently it has offered more natural visuals than the sort of OLED that you'll find on Samsung's devices. Colours might not be quite as vibrant, there may not be quite as much brightness and the black might not be so black, but at the same time, HTC is saying that this is a DCI-P3 calibrated display and that it will support HDR10 in the future (following an update).
First impressions of this display are good, however. It does look pretty natural. It's less vibrant and saturated than the LG V30, but delivers a lot more realism and pop than the Pixel 2 XL. Viewing from an angle creates some dimming, but not a huge colour shift and that sets this display in a strong starting position. Of course we'll have to spend a lot more time with it before we can fully assess it.
Power assault and battery
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
- 6GB RAM, 128GB storage + microSD
- Rear fingerprint scanner
- No 3.5mm headphone socket
- 3930mAh battery
The Snapdragon 835 will be familiar to smartphone fans. It's the hardware platform that underpins most of 2017's flagship phones and HTC is pairing it with 6GB of RAM for the version coming to the UK. That's a good spec, giving you a little more flagship power, although we can't ignore that this platform will probably be replaced by Snapdragon 845 within the next 4 months.
Still, in the here and now, this is about as powerful as phones get, with the 128GB of storage you'll also get, setting this phone out as rather generous. You'll get microSD card support too, so storage is your oyster, as it were.
One of the other thing that gets a very generous boost is the battery. The HTC U11+ packs in 3930mAh which should make everyone happy. That might account for some of the additional size and most smartphone power users will tell you that they'd rather take a larger phone that lasts all day, rather than a slim phone that doesn't.
Of course we haven't tested this, but having used recent HTC phones, we're pretty hopefully that this will be a batter master. There's fast charging, naturally, through the USB Type-C on the base of the phone.
You'll have also noticed that there's a fingerprint scanner on the rear of this handset, because there's no space on the front for it anymore. We've not tested the speed of this rear scanner - HTC hasn't had a rear scanner for many years.
Android Oreo meets HTC Sense
- Android Oreo at launch with HTC Sense
- Google Assistant and Alexa
- Edge Sense and Launcher
The HTC U11+ launches with Android 8.0 Oreo, making it up-to-date on the software front. That's skinned with HTC Sense, giving an experience that's very close to what you might expect from the HTC U11.
Part of this is the inclusion of Edge Sense, HTC's software that supports the squeezable frame that can be used to launch various apps. By default, this is setup to launch Google Assistant, but it's fully customisable, with a new Edge Launcher dealing with the problem of how to use your phone one-handed.
The Edge Launcher will open up a dial-style interface at the side which you can hit to launch apps or access settings, meaning you don't have to swipe up the apps tray or swipe down the settings. It seems pretty easy to get to grips with too (we're not even sorry for that pun), but it's not all that's offered.
With Edge Sense being fully customisable, you can set it to launch Alexa too or instead, as well as squeeze being supported in a number of apps, like the camera, to zoom on maps and a whole lot more.
The software on the HTC U11+ isn't quite finished yet and HTC asked us not to take photos of the software off the home screen, leaving us with a lot more to explore closer to launch, however it looks like a fairly light skinning from Sense. You'll find things like Blinkfeed in place and other apps and services, so it's not as raw Android as some might like.
There is another neat trick though, which is letting you swipe anywhere on the home screen to get access to the apps tray (which the Pixel 2 also does) meaning you can swipe up anywhere and have the apps tray pop open. This is matched with the ability to swipe down anywhere and have the quick settings and notifications pane drop down, which makes it easy to get around.
Cameras keep it simple
- 12-megapixel, 1.4µm, f/1.7 rear camera
- 8-megapixel, f/2.0 front camera
The rear camera on the HTC U11+ doesn't jump to a dual system which is common on lots of rival devices, but it does stick to the great camera that graced the HTC U11. We were really impressed with its performance on the older device, so we're happy that it stays here. It offers a wide aperture, large pixel for low light capture and optical image stabilisation.
The front camera is different however, and Android fans will spot that it's the same setup as the Pixel 2, with an 8-megapixel front sensor.
Of course we haven't had the chance to test these cameras, but we're hoping that they match the performance of the older phone as that was pretty impressive, offering great fast focusing and good lag-free auto-HDR.
We'll be putting the camera through its paces closer to launch.
BoomSound and a whole lot more
- BoomSound HiFi
- USB Type-C audio
- USonic headphones with ANC
- Bluetooth 5, aptX HD, LDAC
HTC has long been positioning itself as a leader in mobile sound. The lack of a 3.5mm headphone socket shouldn't be a surprise, but will probably be a disappointment to some. If that's what swings it, you'll probably have to go with Samsung or LG instead…
But the HTC U11+ comes with BoomSound HiFi and with a larger cavity inside the phone to amplify that sound and add gusto to the bass, HTC is saying that it's 30 per cent louder than the U11. That should mean that you don't have to reach for the headphones as soon as you fire up a YouTube video.
Bundled in the box are HTC's USonic headphones. These are not only great-sounding Hi Res headphones, but they also auto-tune to your ears to customise the sound, while also offering active noise cancellation. It's a pretty pairing, although the USonic headphones only work with HTC's phones.
Boosting the audio offering is Bluetooth 5, with support for aptX HD and LDAC, so you should be well positioned for wireless high quality music too.
The HTC U11+ looks like a great addition to the range of 18:9 phones we've already got on the market. It might not sway you from the Samsung Galaxy S8+ which we think has a slicker design with those curved edges. However, with the Pixel 2 XL suffering with displaygate there might be plenty looking at the alternatives.
We're a little divided on the overall size: sit this next to the LG V30 and you have to wonder why it is so much larger, but with that huge battery, this might be a big phone that offers great battery life too.
What you might be surprised to hear is that the HTC U11+ is only £699. That's £300 cheaper than the iPhone X, £100 cheaper than the Pixel 2 XL, £80 cheaper than the Galaxy S8+ and £50 cheaper than the LG V30. For HTC to be cheaper at launch than its rivals is virtually unheard of.
There's a lot more to learn about the HTC U11+, but we'll be bringing you a deeper dive into this new phone closer to the 20 November pre-order date. So far, we're impressed.