Once meant to be a part of Google's lineup, the U11+ has now become HTC's flagship for the holiday season instead. Competing with the Pixel 2 XL won't be easy, but HTC has tried to make the U11+ special, attractive, and competitive. What could go wrong, right?
Well, one thing stands out. The U11+ fails in what many would consider the most important foundation of a good smartphone - the screen. Sure, the 6" LCD has a flagship-grade resolution, contrast, and wide-gamut color support. But HTC has used a panel with low max brightness and we noticed color and contrast shifting when looking it at an angle.
Then there is the battery life - unlike what the beefy battery capacity may suggest at first look, the U11+'s battery life is in fact average at best. That was especially true for on-screen tests, which probably means the screen panel is again to blame.
Of course, things do get better from here. The U11+'s design is nothing short of stunning although this comes at the expense of slipperiness and smudges all over.
We can't argue with the choice of CPU or the amount of RAM and storage. This phone scored the highest mark we've seen an Android phone score on Antutu.
The camera has already earned praise across the internets and we can only join our colleagues with our positive impressions from the 12MP shooter.
HTC even outdid the Pixel 2 XL in a few departments. It improved the video recording with high-res audio capturing, while its proprietary Sense UI offers unmatched customizations for the squeeze gestures. Unlike the Pixel 2 XL, the U11+ can be easily operated with just one hand thanks to the rich squeezable skills implemented within the otherwise clean Sense UI. And finally, the Boom speakers fully live up to their name being the loudest mobile speakers we've tested to date.
So, if we look past the downsides of the LCD and the subpar battery life, the HTC U11+ is a great smartphone. But the mobile landscape is highly competitive and there is no place for If's in the high-end. HTC has done a great job in all other departments but skimping on those two prevents them from winning enough gadget points in our books.
Of course, that doesn't mean there aren't many areas where they've done a commendable job. Here's a recap of what we found in this review.
The HTC U11+ is stepping on so many toes that it's hard to keep track of its competitors. For starters, let's kick off with the Pixel 2 XL. Google's extra-large flagship is somewhat more expensive than the U11+ but offers a 6" OLED screen, bokeh effects for its main camera, much better battery life, and faster Android updates. You lose all the audio goodness and extra squeeze gesture support, while the jury is still out on the gains in design.
LG V30, where available, is the Pixel 2 XL on steroids. It has the same screen and chip, better-looking and more compact body, and comes with upgraded camera department with a dual (wide + super wide) setup, but also enhanced audio recording. LG has equipped the V30 with everything a smartphone "pro" may need.
The Galaxy S8+ offers another attractive AMOLED screen within a slippery glass body, but it excels in battery life and screen eye-candy. Once again - it lacks the audio features and squeeze gestures, and the TouchWiz might not be the most responsive UI out there. The Galaxy S8+ is cheaper, though, so there is that.
Of course, you can have some cheaper top dogs with equally impressive all-round packages. The OnePlus 5T has a wide AMOLED screen and metal body, the Mi Mix 2 has the bezel-less thing going on, the Oppo R11s also bets on AMOLED and a great camera, and Nokia 8 has similarly rich audio recording features like the U11+.
Huawei's Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro are offers many will consider this holiday season because of the huge wide screens, fast chips, big batteries, and excellent Leica-powered cameras. Sure, those two already fall in the mainstream class whereas the U11+ aims for the opposite.
And finally, if money isn't an issue, you may want to give the iPhone X a try. It's unique alright, with notch, horns, all-screen and everything. It has one of the best main snappers, too, so it's a worthy consideration.
HTC U11+ isn't shaping as the best flagship of the season, that's for sure. While our tests paint a powerful and skillful flagship, the public may not be as interested in numbers. The poor looking LCD and the average battery life are a tough bite to swallow.
Then again, the HTC U11+ does offer some unique treats like matched by very few, if any, on the market. One of the best cameras with FLAC audio recording, the loudest Boom speakers to date, unique and recognizable design, squeeze gestures. So, while the U11+ may not be ticking all the boxes for the must-haves, it surely goes above and beyond to make up for them in the other departments. So if you are tired of the usual mainstream crop, give the U11+ a chance and you may find yourself surprised.