Go on… give it a squeeze. You know you want to.
HTC was ahead of the game with last year’s U11, adding squeezable sides long before Google would adopt them as its own for the Pixel 2. That wasn’t it's only trick, either, with a stunning glass design and a fantastic camera.
And now it’s back - only better. The U11+ is an upgraded, overhauled 2018 edition, with an 18:9 screen that all the kids are going crazy for, and an even bigger battery. What’s not to like?
HTC U11+ DESIGN & BUILD
The truly lush Liquid Glass design, which made the U11 one the most gorgeous phones of 2017, is back. Haven’t seen it before? You’re gonna love it.
The way HTC bakes different coloured layers into the glass back gives off all manner of lovely reflections when you hold the U11+ up to the light. It’s a whole lot more impressive than the iPhone 8’s basic glass, and happily holds a candle to the Samsung Galaxy S8’s shimmering vibes.
It’s a shame the U11+ isn’t arriving in the same stunning solar red hue as the U11, though. More vibrant colours let you appreciate the effect a whole lot more.
The most obvious change is the 18:9 screen, which arrives with much skinnier bezels than the U11’s 16:9 setup. They’re not quite Galaxy S8-thin, but do a great job at modernising the phone, and makes it ever-so-slightly narrower in the hand.
HTC has ditched hardware buttons and a front-facing finger scanner to make space for the screen, opting for onscreen keys and a rear fingerprint sensor instead. The scanner is perfectly placed, sitting right where your index finger naturally rests, and is far enough away from the rear camera that you won’t constantly smudge the lens.
Any negatives? Well, it’s a little bit on the chunky side in your hand - possibly to make room for the larger battery. You won’t find a 3.5mm headphone port here, either. HTC’s bundled USonic buds are pretty decent, at least with active noise cancelling stripping away the outside world so you can concentrate on your music. High quality aptX HD Bluetooth means you’re perfectly placed to ditch wired headphones altogether, too.
HTC U11+ SCREEN & SOUND
It would be all too easy to call the U11+ a U11 with a better screen. It’s more than that - but the screen is indeed improved.
You don’t get an edge-to-edge treatment like the Pixel 2 XL or iPhone X, and there aren’t any eye-catching curves to mimic Samsung’s Galaxy S8. The size has jumped to 6in, though, up from 5.5in in the vanilla U11, and you get that 18:9 aspect ratio that’s all the rage right now.
HTC has stuck with what it knows best, using an LCD panel instead of an OLED one. That means it can’t quite reach the same calibre of contrast and colour accuracy as its rivals, even if it has DCI-P3 wide colour gamut - and will be getting HDR10 support in an over-the-air update later in the year.
It doesn’t have the visual punch of OLED, but visuals are still bold and sharp, with the 2880x1440 resolution really packing detail into your photos and videos. Viewing angles also hold up very well. Brightness is a worry, though: it can be tricky to see outdoors in direct sunlight, and it can’t match the vanilla U11 when you crank the levels up.
That makes it good, rather than great - which isn’t quite enough to stand out.
The BoomSound speaker setup, on the other hand, is probably the best sound you’ll find in a smartphone right now. It combines the earpiece speaker and bottom-firing driver to kick out impressively loud audio, with clarity you wouldn’t usually expect from something that slips in your pocket.
HTC U11+ CAMERA
We called the U11’s 12MP camera “exceptional”, so it makes sense HTC has used the same sensor here. It keeps the f/1.7 aperture, optical image stabilisation and dual pixel autofocus, too.
HDR boost, HTC’s answer to Google’s HDR+, is also present and correct. This helps the U11+ take expertly exposed photos, with more dynamic range than just about any other phone, save Google’s Pixel 2. It pulls colour and definition out of even tricky conditions, and does well at night, too.
On the U11, HDR boosted pics took a split-second longer than we’d like to save each shot, but there’s none of that here - snaps are saved instantly. The level of detail is fantastic, too.
Keep it stable enough and the U11+ takes fantastic low-light shots, with OIS doing an excellent job at minimising shake. It’s not perfect, but as our sample shots show, you can get some impressive results - even when shooting handheld.
It can’t quite take the top spot from Google, but the U11+ is easily our second favourite cameraphone right now.
The front-facing selfie cam has been fine-tuned, too, with an 8MP sensor and 85-degree field of view. It might have half the pixel count of the U11 now, but it still does a great job - even if it doesn’t have any kind of portrait mode, software or otherwise. The Edge Sense shutter controls make for neater snaps, though.
HTC U11+ PERFORMANCE & BATTERY LIFE
It might be arriving at the tail-end of the Snapdragon 835’s life, but that doesn’t mean the U11+ isn’t a stonkingly fast phone. Apps load quickly, everything animates smoothly, and the Android home screen is a joy to flip through.
That CPU is paired with 6GB of RAM, which makes all the difference when you’re flipping between apps or running two things in split screen. Everything we tried ran flawlessly, with no stutters or stalls.
That includes games, with Riptide GP 2 looking near-flawless in motion.
The U11+ has 128GB of built-in storage, which should be more than enough for all your apps, games, photos and music. If you do run low, though, you can always add more with a microSD card.
So far, so similar to the vanilla U11. The big upgrade is the battery, which has been boosted from 3000mAh to 3940mAh - a 30% upgrade, which lets the U11+ easily last a full day between top-ups. Avoid demanding apps and games and you’ll be nudging on the door of day two before it’s time to plug in.
The semi-transparent black version (which sadly isn’t heading to the UK any time soon) looks like it’s hiding a wireless charging coil underneath all that glass, but sadly it’s just the NFC antenna. You’ll need to plug the U11+ into the mains like a neanderthal, while Galaxy S8 and iPhone X owners enjoy cable-free charging.
At least USB-C quick-charging will get you back up to full relatively quickly.
HTC U11+ SOFTWARE
In the early days of Android, HTC’s Sense UI used to be the best version you could get - but Google has stepped its game up in the past year or two. Android Oreo really is very good by itself, so it’s great to see HTC hasn’t messed with it.
The interface is really stripped back, with just a few custom icons and a redesigned Settings screen - if you like vanilla Android, you’ll be pretty happy here. It’s not all good news: Blinkfeed returns if you swipe the homescreen, and is now renamed highlights, but isn’t as customisable as the OnePlus drawer, and unbelievably comes with adverts baked into the feed. Good job it’s easy to remove, then.
HTC’s EdgeSense squeezy sides make a return, with more flexibility than Google’s Active Edge version. You can squeeze to snap a selfie, wake Google Assistant for some voice-enabled AI bantz, or open Edge Launcher - the new scrolling wheel of apps and shortcuts.
This really builds on this phone’s squeezable nature, and helps account for its larger design. The pop-out wheel is much easier than stretching your thumb around the screen like you’re taking a yoga class.
HTC U11+ VERDICT
The U11 was a phone that went out on a limb, doing its own Liquid Glass thing while most other manufacturers chased the dream of an edge-to-edge display.
The U11+ is a fantastic upgrade, bringing that formula up to date with an 18:9 screen, while keeping the same lightning-fast performance and superb superb camera that only narrowly falls short of Google’s algorithmic Pixel 2.
The problem is timing.
We’re only a few weeks away from 2018’s first crop of new flagships, so asking £699 for a slightly tweaked version of last year’s model is a monumental ask. And with no networks selling it here in the UK, you’ll have to pick it up SIM-free directly from HTC.
We’re betting most of you would rather wait and see what’s around the corner - making the U11+ just a little too late to the party.