The HTC U11 has been one of the best flagship Android phones of 2017, and now it has been upgraded and enhanced as a new U11 Plus model, freshly announced by HTC today. What are the big differences? The display is the most obvious one, moving from 5.5 inches up to 6 inches, though HTC has shrunk the bezels to fit the new phone into a physical footprint that’s only slightly larger. A new, substantially bigger battery has also been added, and the two changes together have led to a subtle alteration of the design. But, all in all, this device is exactly what its name suggests: a U11 with more of the good stuff and a topping of Android 8 Oreo to sweeten the deal.
I spent some time with the U11 Plus in London ahead of its unveiling and was left feeling encouraged by most of what I saw, but also a little disappointed. For US readers, though, the biggest disappointment is probably that HTC has no plans to bring this device Stateside. It’s intended for other markets around Europe, Asia, and the rest of the world.
Firstly, the good stuff. The new screen size and 18:9 aspect ratio might lead you to think this is another of those ill-fated LG Display OLED panels, but HTC is still using the same LCD technology as in the U11, and I can confirm that the U11 Plus presents sharp and vibrant images. The slimmed-down bezels aren’t in the same class as Samsung and LG’s extreme Galaxy S8 and V30 designs, but they’re certainly the thinnest HTC has done for a very long time. You’d have to go back to the immortal HTC HD2 for an HTC phone that felt this lean and stripped down to its essentials. The screen-to-body ratio of the U11 Plus is a laudable 82 percent. The resolution of 2880 x 1440 is a direct match to LG’s G6 and V30, and HTC also promises future support for HDR10 video via a software update.
More than the display, which I think is a nice step up in screen real estate over the U11, I’m excited about the 3,930mAh battery of the U11 Plus. In my time with the U11, I found it to be one of the longest-lasting, most-reliable Android smartphones of its generation, and that was with a 3,000mAh cell. Imagine what an extra 31 percent of juice will do to such a device, even with a larger display. It’s worth dwelling on this upgrade, because the battery is one of the most critically important — and, when it’s deficient, most aggravating — components of a phone, and HTC has done its utmost to maximize it.
The new battery is a very welcome upgrade, however it comes at the cost of some design refinement
But the battery is also part of what I don’t like about the new U11 Plus. This device is noticeably heavier than the U11 (188g vs. 169g), and it loses the tapered edges of its predecessor. In practice, that means the U11 Plus feels a lot more blocky and chunky. The U11 is a large phone that feels smaller because of its perfectly curved back. Needing to fit a larger display and battery, the U11 Plus is simply more brutish and unrefined. HTC also missed an opportunity to build out its credentials as a leader in battery life by adding wireless charging to the U11 Plus, instead making do with support for Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3 fast-charging tech.
The other major feature that everyone’s been insisting on in 2017 — beyond bezel annihilation and wireless charging — is waterproofing, and HTC has taken a step forward with the U11 Plus. The company’s new Android flagship is IP68-rated, giving users a higher level of reassurance than the IP67-rated U11. Beyond that, you’re looking at an almost unchanged spec sheet on the inside: Snapdragon 835 processor, the exact same rear camera system as on the U11, and a choice between 4GB of RAM with 64GB of storage or 6GB of RAM with 128GB of storage. (The UK will only have the latter.)
The U11 Plus supports the latest in wireless audio tech with Bluetooth 5, Qualcomm’s AptX HD, and Sony’s LDAC all making it onto the feature list. HTC has made good use of the larger chassis of the U11 Plus by making the new phone’s speakers 30 percent louder than those on the U11. The company has also moved the fingerprint sensor to the back, in the same spot as you’d find it on Google’s Pixel phones.
On the software front, both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa are supported, and both can be triggered by using HTC’s Edge Sense squeezing action. You can assign one to activate on a light squeeze of the U11 Plus and the other on a stronger squeeze. HTC explained the presence of the two voice assistants as just giving people flexibility: some might like to have Alexa at home and Google while out on the move, and I can’t argue with that logic. Edge Sense has been upgraded to serve as a remappable button in any app of your choosing, and it can do cool things like zoom in on Google Maps or send you straight to your subscription feed when you’ve got YouTube open.
One last tidbit that HTC has added is a new radial menu that can be triggered with a squeeze: it’s a rotatable wheel that serves as a sort of app palette under your thumb, and it reminds me of previous efforts at such designs from the likes of the First Else. It might be cool, it might not. It will take some time getting used to it to see if it actually speeds up use of the phone, but it’s certainly a refreshing and intriguing idea.
The U11 Plus is shaping up to be among the most complete and compelling Android phones of 2017
Taken as a whole, the U11 Plus is a logical and almost entirely positive upgrade from HTC. I’m still a huge fan of the original U11, but this device builds on it in exactly the fashion that a “Plus” model should. The U11 Plus loses some of the design luster of its predecessor — especially because it lacks the handsome “solar red” color; it will be available only in a so-called “ceramic black” (which isn’t actually ceramic, naughty HTC for the misleading title) — but it gains a whole lot of desirable updates and improvements. HTC is also showing off a semi-translucent option for the U11 Plus, however the company is equivocal about whether it will ever sell the latter model. If the translucent U11 Plus does show up, it will be at some point early next year.
The U11 Plus will be available to buy unlocked, with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, for £699 from November 20th in the UK. In Europe, the device will cost €799, however HTC has yet to announce the complete set of markets it will be available in and the timing of release.
Photography by Vlad Savov / The Verge