HTC U11 review: A powerful Android phone that knows how to have fun

The HTC U11 fixes many of the U Ultra's problems, and adds a killer chip, a great camera, and a super-fun gimmick.

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Good performance, bland battery

The U11 runs off Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 chip, which wasn’t available in time for the U Ultra launch. The difference between the two processors isn’t all that great, but it’s nice to know the U11 has the latest-greatest chip inside.

htc u11 pcmark 2 IDG

The Snapdragon 835 in the U Ultra and the Galaxy S8 clearly outperforms the 821 in the G6 and U Ultra, but the gains are easier to see on paper.

But even without a massive speed boost over the prior model, the U11 is still a beast of a performer. Like the S8, the phone zips through tasks and switches apps effortlessly, but it feels like we’ve reached a level where all phones perform basically the same. The U11 is plenty fast, but like the Galaxy S8, neither benchmarks nor real-world testing show it running circles around the G6 or even the Pixel.

One thing HTC hasn’t upgraded in the U11, however, is the battery. Like the U Ultra, it has a 3,000 mAh battery, but with the smaller screen, it’s much better prepared to keep the phone powered through the better part of a busy day. It’s no Galaxy S8, mind you, but it beats the LG G6 in our preferred battery test.

htc u11 battery life IDG

The battery life in the U11 was good but nothing like we saw in the S8.

In our benchmarks it got about seven hours of use, and real-world testing bore that out. On long trips, you’ll want to keep a battery pack nearby just to be safe, but the U11 should get you through to the end of most days. The U11 supports the Quick Charge 3.0 standard (which will fill a half-drained phone in about a half-hour), but doesn’t have built-in support for wireless charging.

The Edge Sense squeeze play

Since the U11 is something of a mea culpa responding to the U Ultra’s slippery, oversized frame, it only figures that gripability, if you will, would factor into the phone’s premier feature.

htc u11 screen Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

When holding your phone with one hand, you can literally squeeze it to quickly launch apps.

HTC’s Edge Sense is basically a shortcut trigger—you literally squeeze the sides of the phone to launch various features, apps and actions. You can set up two different behaviors to trigger: one with a short squeeze and one with a long squeeze. It sounds somewhat silly, but try it for yourself, and you just may appreciate it. I did.

The phone’s set-up process will take you through several Edge Sense orientation screens, where you’ll customize the experience with your favorite app, and practice squeezing. The phone will measure how hard you can squeeze the sides while still maintaining a comfortable grip. You get a surprising level of personalization, and while it’s all a little weird at first, HTC clearly doesn’t want Edge Sense to be a gimmick that you quickly forget about.

The Edge Sense short cuts

Edge Sense runs on top of the entire interface, so it will work anywhere you are, whether you’re in an app or on the lock screen. Since you can set it to launch any app and even some actions (like taking a screenshot or toggling the flashlight), it can reduce multi-step actions to a single squeeze.

htc u11 edge sense IDG

When you activate Edge Sense, you’ll see blue indicators appear on the sides of the screen.

For example, if I’m writing a text message and want to send my recipient a pic of where I am, I only need to squeeze the sides of the phone to launch the camera. Or if I want to ask Google Assistant a question while in my calendar, I can squeeze a little harder. There’s a visual indicator on the sides of the screen to indicate the force of your squeezes, as well as a small vibration once the feature has triggered the action.

After a while, Edge Sense became second nature. Sure, I needed to take a couple trips to the set-up screen to nail down my “squeeze force level,” but once I learned to use my palm rather than my thumb, it became much more comfortable. It’s super fun to use, but it’s also the kind of feature you need to remember to use. As such, I don’t see it ever expanding beyond the U11.

htc squeeze Doug Duvall/IDG

When setting up the U11, you’ll also set your squeeze force level for activating Edge Sense.

At a Glance
  • The HTC U11 has a top-notch processor and camera, and its Edge Sense quick-launch feature is a gimmick that's super fun.

    Pros

    • Fixes most of the U Ultra's problems.
    • Edge Sense is a fun way to launch apps.
    • Incredibly fast with a great camera.

    Cons

    • Battery life is only OK.
    • No headphone jack.
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