The HTC U11 Life brings together a solid set of features at an accessible price point, making it a highly attractive mid-range handset – but is it enough? Let us dig deep to know more about its specs and features in our in-depth HTC U11 Life review.
What We Like?
- Dust and water resistant
- Easy, one-handed use
- Android One guarantees updates
What We Don’t?
- Doesn’t feel overly premium
- No headphone jack
- Only a single speaker
Highlights Of HTC U11 Life Review
Read on the highlights of HTC U11 Life review, to give a glance to its peculiarities.
- The Life is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 processor and 3GB of RAM.
- Though it’s amazingly small at 14nm, it packs a powerful punch providing you crystal clear graphics, seamless streaming of hi-def movies or staying connected at ridiculously fast speeds on less battery power.
- HTC U11 life has an IP67 rating and is dust, splash and water resistant up to 1 meter of freshwater for up to 30 minutes.
Display & Design
- The U11 Life sports a 5.2-inch screen. The U11 Life doesn’t have skimpy edges around the screen, or what’s known as a “bezel-less” design.
- The U.S. model of the HTC U11 Life runs Android 7.1.1, overlaid with HTC’s Sense user interface.
It utilizes a 16-megapixel rear camera with a f/2.0 aperture.
- The HTC U11 Life has a 2,600mAh battery capacity, and it may not last you a full day with heavy use.
The HTC U11 marked a return to form for a company that had fallen on hard times in recent years. Once Android’s premier phone maker, HTC had failed to produce a truly captivating product since 2013’s HTC One M7. The $649 U11, in all its shimmering, color-shifting glory, marked a new beginning.
Now, HTC is looking to distill that winning formula into a smaller, less expensive model known as the U11 Life. From the exterior, it would seem HTC mostly succeeded; the U11 Life is a dead ringer for its big sibling. But competition among budget phones is fiercer than ever, and the newest member of HTC’s family will need more than a flashy look to ascend to the top of the heap.This is why, we thought to give it a comparison in our HTC U11 Life review.
- 5.2” IPS LCD Display (1920×1080)
- 16 MP Camera, f/2.0 aperture, No OIS
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 platform, 3 RAM, 32GB of Storage
- 2600 mAh battery capacity
- Android 7.1.1 (until “late Nov 2017”), then Android 8.0
You’d be hard-pressed to tell the U11 Life from the U11 at first glance. It’s only when you look closely at the phones that you begin to notice where HTC saved money on the more compact handset.
The U11’s high-gloss sapphire-blue finish makes a return in the U11 Life, and it looks almost as good as it did on the original. But there’s a catch: Whereas the U11 employed glass on the rear and aluminum for the frame, the U11 Life utilizes a mix of acrylic and polycarbonate.
Rest assured; it still looks like it belongs alongside HTC’s other U Series products, but it simply doesn’t feel as premium. There’s nothing wrong with plastic in phone design when used properly, but the U11 Life can’t help coming off hollow, tacky and a bit cheap.
Gorilla Glass 3
The U11 featured a curved slab of Gorilla Glass 3 atop the display that steeply sloped at the edges to sit flush with the aluminum frame. The glass on the U11 Life is much flatter, but to sell the illusion of depth, HTC painted the top portion of the sides black, right where the plastic rises to meet the face of the device. It’s not very convincing, and leaves the front of the phone looking much worse than the back.
Then again, those bezels definitely don’t help the cause. To be clear, I’m not of the mind that every phone must look like a Samsung Galaxy S8 or an LG V30. Reasonably sized bezels are more than acceptable, especially on inexpensive phones. But the U11 Life commits the same sin as its premium counterpart, in that its bezels are different sizes. The one above the screen is perfectly fine, but the bottom bezel is much too chunky, and the buttons and fingerprint sensor sit just a hair too low on the chin.
“I felt like I had to crush the device every time I wanted to use Edge Sense during the test for HTC U11 Life review.”
None of these complaints are necessarily design deal breakers, but in a sea of gorgeous smartphones that utilize a diverse range of materials ranging from ceramic to metal, the U11 Life is a step in the wrong direction.
The 5.2-inch Full HD display on the HTC U11 Life was a very nice surprise. The Super LCD panel offers rich colors, good dynamic range, stable viewing angles, decent if not exceptional outdoor visibility (in excess of 500 nits), and was generally a lot better than I was expecting when I got to test it for HTC U11 Life review.
It wasn’t always very responsive to touch input, requiring some pretty forceful jabbing at times to register presses. This is a concession one has to make at lower price points, but it is more than made up for in the overall quality of the display.
Performance and Interface:
The main talking point about this phone in our HTC U11 Life review is it’s the firm’s (and most of Europe’s) first Android One device. It means you get a pure Android 8 Oreo experience on screen, free from HTC’s Sense overlay and duplicate apps, and guarantees on future updates.
Together with Google, HTC promises three years of monthly security update and two years of OS upgrades for the U11 Life, giving the handset some solid longevity.
Updates should also arrive promptly, in line with Google’s own Pixel devices, ensuring you’re among the first to have the latest and greatest software and protection.
There is slightly worse news for those in the US though, as while the handset will be arriving Stateside, the exclusive deal with T-Mobile means a version running HTC’s Sense UI rather than Android One is destined for North America. We’ll let you know if that ever changes.
Under the hood Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 630 chipset is paired with a hearty 4GB of RAM which saw Android run smoothly during our hands on time, but we won’t know its true performance until our full review.
There’s also 64GB of internal storage for you to play with, plus a microSD slot allowing you to expand on that space if you need more.
HTC’s squeezable Edge Sense technology also features on the U11 Life, giving you all the abilities that you’ll find on the U11, including giving you an easy way to launch Google Assistant and perform certain actions within your favorite apps. Read on our HTC U11 Life review to know more about it.
HTC also has its USonic audio tuning baked into the Settings menu. The U11 Life comes bundled with a pair of excellent USB Type-C USonic earbuds too. They can be used with the USonic software to tune the U11 Life’s audio to your particular hearing profile.
If you’re unfamiliar, HTC USonic essentially uses sonar to map your ear canal. There’s really nothing to it, simply insert the super-comfortable buds, tap a button to emit a short audio signal and it’s done. Your USonic active noise cancelling earbuds are now tuned specifically to your ears. Of course, the tuning can be disabled at any time.
I’m far from an audiophile, but even my ears can appreciate the richer bass and punchier highs USonic enables. Disabling the feature flattens everything out a little, and while this adds more to the mid-range I prefer the crispy highs and solid low end the USonic buds produce. They’re also admirably spatial for included headphones and have active noise cancellation to boot, another rare bonus at this price point.
Android Oreo’s high-end Bluetooth codecs
Audio on the HTC U 11 Life is also fine if you want to use Android Oreo’s high-end Bluetooth codecs like Sony LDAC or Qualcomm aptX and aptX-HD with compatible wireless headphones. The absence of a 3.5mm headphone jack will be make or break for many, and there isn’t even a USB Type-C to 3.5mm adapter in the box. HTC sells a digital adapter on its website though, which includes a built-in DAC.
Despite the excellence of the USonic earbuds, your alternative audio options are limited. Besides the bundled USonic buds, there’s not many USB Type-C headphones on the market that we’d actually recommend in HTC U11 Life review. You can buy the dongle from HTC for your wired cans (because a regular “dumb” adapter won’t work with the U11 Life) or you can switch to Bluetooth headphones.
It’s also worth noting that the USonic buds won’t work with the majority of other phones either. Plug them into the USB Type-C port of the Galaxy Note 8, LG V30 or Pixel 2 and audio will continue coming out of the external speakers rather than switching to the buds. This is because HTC uses a digital protocol not supported by many other companies. The USonic buds worked just fine with the Huawei Mate 10 Pro though.
“The USonic earbuds are really your best option, with no BoomSound stereo speakers”
Even without the wired headphone issue, there’s no stereo BoomSound Hi-Fi Edition speakers on the U11 Life, just the single mono speaker on the bottom edge. Although the U11 Life’s speaker is apparently “built to be heard from the front”, don’t expect it to be anywhere near up to par with other U11 devices. I’ll grant that it’s relatively loud, it just doesn’t sound great. As far as audio on the U11 Life goes, the USonic buds are really your best option.
More from HTC U11 Life review, the U11 Life smartphone has an IP-rating, which means that it is protected to some degree from dust and water. Here’s what the U11 life’s IP67 rating means: dust tight, no dust can penetrate. Up to 1-meter immersion for a limited duration will not harm the device. Tested for 30mn.
Since competitors often don’t have the IP67 rating, being able to survive a complete immersion in water is a significant design advantage over other phones in the same price range. We do know that many phones die from exposure to water, so this may save you from much trouble if that ever happens.
One of the things we loved most about the U11 in HTC U11 Life review was its camera, and we’re pleased to find that the U11 Life inherits some of that photographic prowess. The front and rear shooters are both rated at 16 megapixels and feature f/2.0 apertures, though the single camera on the back of the phone also gets phase detection autofocus.
The photos from the U11 Life aren’t quite iPhone- or Pixel-quality. But they are excellent considering the device costs just half as much as most flagships. In comparisons with the $400 Moto Z2 Play, HTC’s phone consistently delivered the better shot; with better dynamic range and low-light performance, and more realistic white balance.
Consider the blue wall above. The U11 Life gets the colors just right and reins in the highlights; while the Z2 Play casts a greenish tint over everything and blows out the scene where the light falls.
Moving to a close-up on that fruit,; the Z2 Play actually claims the crisper shot, which is evident in the texture of the apple. But the U11 Life fares better with the concentration of light falling on the orange pear.
When you compare selfies, you can see that the U11 Life’s photo possesses truer-to-life contrast with finer detail; which is particularly evident in my hair and shirt. Again, the HTC shows a clear advantage in lighting the scene.
Oddly enough, long-lasting batteries have almost exclusively become the domain of budget phones; like the $179 Moto E4 Plus and the $199 Asus ZenFone 4 Max. You would think, then; that HTC has equaled its value-minded rivals in this crucial area.
Whereas the U11 employed glass on the rear and aluminum for the frame, the U11 Life utilizes a mix of acrylic and polycarbonate.
It hasn’t, and there’s a good reason why. At 2,600 mAh; the U11 Life’s battery is a little more than half as large as the ones powering the E4 Plus and the ZenFone 4 Max. Those handsets deliver around 15 hours of usage on a single charge. In our testing, conducted via continuous web surfing on AT&T LTE; HTC phone managed to last just 8 hours and 25 minutes
That’s more than an hour off the 9:40 smartphone average. And to make matters worse; the U11 Life doesn’t support any of Qualcomm’s Quick Charge technologies. Granted, a battery this small doesn’t take a long time to top off, but nevertheless; the U11 Life seems woefully shorthanded here.
Battery life is one of the few areas you shouldn’t have to compromise on when spending less on a smartphone; and it makes HTC’s otherwise well-rounded offering that much harder to recommend.
Our Point Of View:
Should you spend €350 on the HTC U11 Life? I can’t give you a definitive “yes”. There’s simply too many other competitive devices in that price range right now that now you’d need to check out first; some of which offer dual cameras and other things that might be make or break for you like the presence of a 3.5 mm headphone port.
What I can say though is that if you do buy it; I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. If the issues raised above aren’t the kinds of things that would immediately put you off a phone; the U11 Life Android One offers a whole lot of good stuff; from software and design to display and camera.
My biggest gripe with the U11 Life is the feeling that it’s slightly overpriced. That’s ultimately due to its chipset and battery size. If and when this phone goes on sale; I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it in this HTC U11 Life review— assuming you can make peace with its slower performance and a smaller battery.