HTC’s big announcement today is the new U11 Plus, but that’s not the only thing it’s bringing out. The company is also expanding the U line in the other direction with the new U11 Life, a lower-tier model that incorporates some of the design elements and features from the U11, but at a lower price.
Unlike the U11 Plus, the U11 Life will be coming to the US, and T-Mobile will be selling the device starting on November 3rd. In addition, HTC will sell the phone unlocked through its website starting today for $349.
From a distance, the U11 Life looks all but indistinguishable from the U11 proper. It has HTC’s new “liquid surface” design language with two exceptionally glossy panels that meld into a metal frame. It comes in the same striking Sapphire Blue that the U11 is available in. The black front features a 16:9 display, fingerprint scanner, and buttons for back and recent apps.
Other similarities include support for HTC’s Edge Sense feature, which lets you squeeze the sides of the phone to launch apps or perform actions. The U11 Life lacks a headphone jack, but it does come with the same surprisingly good USB Type-C headphones that include active noise cancelation as the standard U11. The U11 Life also has the same IP67 water and dust resistance as its more expensive sibling.
But once you go beyond the surface, you see where cuts were made to bring the U11 Life down to the price it’s at. The back panel is now acrylic instead of glass, and it feels subsequently less premium. (HTC says it’s also more prone to scratching than the Gorilla Glass panel on the U11, but on the plus side, it should not crack or shatter as easily.) The front glass panel does not curve into the frame like the U11’s, and the frame is not metal, but painted plastic. The net effect is a device that looks premium, but doesn’t feel so nice when you pick it up.
The U11 Life’s LCD screen is slightly smaller, at 5.2 inches, and has a 1080p resolution instead of the 2K panel on the higher-end model. Inside, the phone has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 processor with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage (in the US, a 4GB / 64GB model will also be available globally), plus microSD card support. Both front and rear cameras have 16 megapixels of resolution and f/2.0 aperture lenses, but no optical stabilization. The phone is powered by a 2,600mAh battery and comes with a 10 watt charger in the box.
HTC will be selling two different versions of the U11 Life, depending on where you live. In North America, the U11 Life will launch with Android 7.1.1 Nougat and HTC’s Sense software, but elsewhere it will be an Android One device running Android 8.0 Oreo out of the box. An update to Oreo for the North American model is expected to arrive before the end of November.
No matter which version you get, the U11 Life does offer some high-end features and design at a much lower price than we usually see. Things like Edge Sense and water resistance are features typically reserved for premium phones and are rarely found on devices that cost less than $400. If you’re able to live with the details not quite being up to the level of HTC’s premium devices, then the U11 Life might be a compelling device at a relative bargain price.