It’s been a tough year for HTC. It started badly with the disappointing HTC U Ultra, got slightly better with the HTC U11, and then swerved off course again when Google bought some of the company’s top talent. Looking to end things on a high, the Taiwanese company has just launched a new phone.
The HTC U11+ is, in many ways, the phone that should have been released earlier in the year. It takes the majority of the components from the U11, but adds a wider 18:9 display and a more modern design. If I had recently purchased an U11, I’d be very annoyed about the launch of this new phone.
Like the Galaxy Note 8, LG V30 and iPhone X, the HTC U11+ has a screen that’s stretched nearly edge-to-edge. There’s still a bezel running around the display, but it’s noticeably smaller than before. Aside from giving the device a significantly more modern look, it has also served to offer up more screen without the need to increase the size of the phone.
The screen itself remains an LCD, rather than OLED, but it looks fantastic: bright, nicely saturated and with excellent viewing angles. With all the talk recently of dodgy OLEDs featuring in the Pixel 2 XL and LG V30, maybe it isn’t so bad that HTC has stuck with LCD. Switching between the U11+ and the Pixel 2 XL does highlight OLED’s obviously better black levels, though.
To match that new aspect ratio, the resolution has been bumped to quad-HD+ resolution. HTC says it will be HDR10-enabled through a software update later in the year. Why this isn’t available at launch, I’m uncertain.
Other than the screen, the most significant update for this HTC U11 reboot is the battery. It now includes a 3930mAh cell, absolutely dwarfing the 3000mAh version in the previous device – and it should make the HTC U11+ an endurance king. Considering I’ve been getting nearly 48 hours of use from the similarly sized cell in the Huawei Mate 10 Pro, I’d be hoping for something comparable here.
Everything else on the HTC U11+ is familiar territory, though. It features a Snapdragon 835 inside, a 12-megapixel UltraPixel 3 camera with OIS on the rear, and squeezy sides for quick access to apps and settings.
The camera on the U11 is great, so I’d assume this would remain the case here – but it isn’t quite in the same league as the iPhone 8, Galaxy Note 8 or Pixel 2. Considering this is a new phone that’s launching at a similar price point to those phones, it would have been nice to see a few camera upgrades.
HTC has always excelled at audio, and its BoomSound speakers are some of the best around. HTC says that same setup features in the U11+, but the larger phone means the speakers can get 30% louder. That’s welcome news, considering there’s no headphone jack. To offset the lack of a jack, HTC has added a pair of USB-C noise-cancelling headphones in the box, alongside a dongle for connecting older cans.
The design of the U11 proved a bit Marmite in the Trusted Reviews office. Some loved the shiny, fingerprint-attracting glass back, while others hated it. Luckily, those who loved it are likely to feel the same about the U11+. The only visible difference between the two devices is a new translucent colour option and fingerprint scanner that now sits below the camera in the U11+.
Android 8.0 Oreo will come installed, but with HTC’s Sense on top of it. HTC said the software wasn’t final, but it looks similar to the previous version but with Oreo enhancements. One new software tweak lets you squeeze the sides of the device to bring up an app launcher, which can be customised. There’s also a bigger focus on gestures and swipes.
The U11+ is the phone HTC should have released in place of the U11. Unveiling it now just seems like the company admitting it got the design wrong before.
The battery upgrade is welcome and the screen is very nice, but there isn’t that much else here that wasn’t already present in the U11.