HTC U11 vs Samsung Galaxy S8: Which is better?

Two of the top Android smartphones join battle in a winner-takes-all standoff

HTC’s new flagship has arrived – and the U11 a superb slice of smartphone, combining eye-catching looks, solid build quality, useful quality-of-life features and scorching performance.

But how does it measure up to its closest competitors? Let’s compare it to that other piece of prime Android gadgetry, the Samsung Galaxy S8, to see how these two pocket titans measure up.

HTC U11 vs Samsung Galaxy S8: Design

Who says all smartphones look the same? In this pair of phones, we have two of the most striking handsets on the market: the HTC U11 with its coloured, curved glass back and dazzling liquid surface finish, and the Samsung Galaxy S8 with its gorgeous, sweeping Infinity Display screen, which curves around the sides to seamlessly merge with the glass back panel.

The Galaxy S8 certainly has a more understated look than the U11 (the HTC’s multiple layers of glass mean the surface shimmers with different colours depending on the angle, like the paint job on a 1990s TVR), and if we were forced to pick a winner - which we kind of are, given the format of this piece - its elegance edges it; it really is the best-looking phone on the market, bar none. But really, both of these phones are great pieces of design that stand out from the pack.

In terms of build quality, things are similarly close. Both phones use Gorilla Glass 5 on their screens (the S8 has it on the rear too), and both are IP67 rated for water and dust protection, which means they’re completely sealed against dust, and capable of withstanding a sub-aqua sojourn to a depth of 1m for up to 30 minutes.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S8

HTC U11 vs Samsung Galaxy S8: Display

The HTC U11 has a lovely screen – albeit one you’d probably call par for the course for a 2017 flagship phone. It’s a 5.5in IPS LCD with a QHD resolution (that’s 2560 x 1440 pixels), and delivers a vibrant, bright and detailed image. Nicely done, HTC.

The Samsung Galaxy S8, however, has what’s probably the best smartphone screen ever. It’s a beautifully rich 5.8in Super AMOLED panel with a resolution of 2960 x 1440 (a stretched QHD, basically) and an 18.5:9 aspect ratio. That means it’s significantly taller (or wider, in landscape view) than most smartphone screens, and covers a much greater proportion of the phone’s front side. It also curves around both sides of the device, delivering even more usable screen real estate.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S8

HTC U11 vs Samsung Galaxy S8: Camera

The Samsung Galaxy S8’s rear camera is a 12MP f/1.7 shooter with optical image stabilisation, always-on HDR and super-fast dual-pixel autofocus, and delivers superb results in good lighting and impressive images in low light. Some of this is down to a clever image processing tweak, whereby the camera takes three photos per shutter button press, using two of them to eliminate blur and reduce noise.

The HTC U11 rocks a similar rear camera setup: 12MP sensor, f/1.7 lens, dual-pixel AF, optical image stabilisation (5-axis this time), always-on HDR. We did find it a little slow to use (there’s something of a delay in saving your shot after you hit the shutter button) but the results are up there with the Galaxy S8’s in terms of quality.

Both cameras record 4K video at 30fps. The Galaxy S8 can also record 1080p at 30/60fps or 720p at an ultra fast 240fps for smooth slo-mo playback, while the U11 can record 1080p at 30 or (for slo-mo) 120fps.

Flipping to the front camera, the U11 has a 16MP sensor paired with an f/2.0 aperture and 1080p video recording, while the Galaxy S8 has an 8MP sensor with an f/1.7 aperture and 1440p (aka 2K) video.

Given the strong similarities all around, this is another round that could almost be called a draw. These are two excellent camera phones, no doubt about it - but we think the Samsung just edges things with its front camera and high-speed 720p video skills.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S8

HTC U11 vs Samsung Galaxy S8: Performance and battery

There are two versions of the HTC U11 (one has 4GB of RAM and 64GB of built-in storage, the other 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage; both are powered by an octa-core Snapdragon 835 chip). We’ve only reviewed the 4GB version, but found it plenty powerful – able to handle any app or game the Google Play Store threw at it with stutter-free smoothness. There’s a microSD card slot for storage expansion too.

The Samsung Galaxy S8 is powered by a homegrown Exynos 8895 processor paired with 4GB of RAM. There’s 64GB of storage and card slot for expansion. It’s a fast, smooth performer with any current app, and zips through multitasking and general operation without a stutter.

The Galaxy S8 comes with a 3000mAh battery that supplies a decent amount of stamina – we found that, with normal use, you’ll have around 30% capacity left at the end of a day. There’s fast charging via the USB-C port, allowing you to fully juice up the handset from 14% in only 1.5 hours. And wireless charging built in, if you’re one for convenience.

The HTC U11 has a 3000mAh battery too, with Qualcomm QuickCharge 3.0 tech squeezed in. We reckon it might have the edge on ekeing out every last bit of power from that final 15% of capacity, but the Samsung’s low-power always-on screen means that, for minimal users, it probably lasts for longer (you won’t have to wake the phone constantly).

It’s prudent to call this one a tie, unless we suppose wireless charging is particularly important to you (in which case, go for the Samsung).

Winner: Draw

HTC U11 vs Samsung Galaxy S8: Features

Samsung has kept the 3.5mm headphone socket, while the HTC has dropped it – you’ll have to connect up your old wired headphones via the USB-C port and a supplied adapter, we’re afraid. However, you might want to try the bundled USonic earbuds, which self-calibrate for your personal ear-size using sonic waves and feature active noise cancellation to help negate exterior babble. They’re pretty decent – if perhaps a little heavy-handed on the bass front.

Sticking with audio, both phones support playback of hi-res files. The U11 also has Boomsound speakers, which turn the entire phone into a resonating chamber and deliver room-filling audio. They’re brash and refined enough to make most Bluetooth speakers redundant, and much better than the S8’s built-in speaker to boot.

Both phones have voice assistants built-in, with the Galaxy S8 favouring Samsung’s own Bixby and the HTC U11 offering not one but two options in Google Assistant and (once a July update hits) Amazon’s Alexa. We’d say the U11 is the better-equipped of the two here.

In terms of security, you get fingerprint sensors with both devices, but Samsung also includes an iris scanner that uses your eyeball as authentication (it can also use facial recognition, should you prefer). Samsung certainly has the edge on this front, even if iris and face scanning aren’t perhaps as watertight as we’d like.

On the other hand, the U11 is the first phone to come with squeezable sides. Yes, yes – it sounds a bit daft, but there are customisable, pressure-sensitive side panels that add a welcome degree of extra control to proceedings. Set them to open up the camera and take a selfie, for instance, or launch Google Assistant. A bit gimmicky? Sure. Still good? Yep.

Winner: HTC U11

HTC U11 vs Samsung Galaxy S8: Verdict

Well, don’t we have a pair of similar phones here? Both the HTC U11 and the Samsung Galaxy S8 are powerful, well-equipped Android handsets with killer cameras, gorgeously eye-catching designs and waterproof builds.

In fact, judging by our reviews (both of which culminate in full five-star ratings) and their specs, you’d do well to squeeze a cigarette paper between them. But when it comes down to it, which of these heavyweights gets the belt, and which loses on points?

The Samsung Galaxy S8’s jaw-dropping design and rich, ultra-wide screen are its killer features for us, and they tip it over the line in this particular race. It’s close, but if we have to name the better phone, we’re naming Samsung.

Buy the HTC U11 SIM free here from Amazon (UK) | Amazon (USA)

Buy the Samsung Galaxy S8 SIM free here from Amazon (UK) | Amazon (USA)