HTC U11 Life (Androidjunctions) reviews
The HTC U11 Life with Android One is one of the best affordable phones. There’s a lot to like about the U11 Life, but a few things to be wary of. Find out more in our HTC U11 Life Android junctions reviews
At half the price of the HTC U11 or Pixel 2 but with a lot of similar perks, the U11 Life Android One looks great on paper. It runs a stock+ version of Android Oreo, augmented by a full-fledged version of HTC Edge Sense and HTC USonic audio tuning.
It comes with guaranteed OS updates for two years and security patches for three via Google’s Android One program.It has an IP67 water-resistant rating, a relative rarity at this price point, some of the best bundled earbuds I’ve ever tried, and a really competitive camera for this tier.
It borrows the flagship design language of the HTC U11, has an excellent LCD display and fairly decent mid-range specs. But once you scratch the surface, there’s a little more to it that needs discussing.
HTC U11 Life (Androidjunctions) reviews
It all starts with the design. While I applaud HTC for so faithfully emulating their flagship styling in a mid-tier offering, the U11 Life necessarily makes some concessions to its price point. Rather than Gorilla Glass wrapped around an aluminum frame like the U11, the U11 Life puts a Gorilla Glass front on top of a polycarbonate frame with an acrylic back panel.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say the U11 Life feels cheap, but it is clearly plastic. It sounds hollow, is very light and scratches much easier than a glass-backed phone. Considering how terribly this phone picks up fingerprints, I’d recommend using a case, even if its plastic construction makes it less likely to break than glass.
Changes in material choice are pretty standard in a mid-range phone. The same can usually be said of bigger bezels, but considering HTC only just managed to reduce its bezel size in the upcoming U11 Plus, the HTC U11 Life has basically the same bezel situation as the flagship U11. Unfortunately, the U11 Life doesn’t inherit the BoomSound Hi-Fi Edition speakers found on the larger U11 models.
The U11 Life uses its large bottom bezel to house capacitive navigation buttons and a solid-state fingerprint scanner. The navigation buttons work fine and can be constantly illuminated or switched off entirely. It’s a bit of a shame HTC didn’t offer on-screen navigation buttons as an option. The fingerprint scanner is reliable but not as fast as you’d find on a more expensive phone
The USB Type-C port is offset to the right of the mono bottom-firing speaker, something my lizard brain just couldn’t get used to no matter how many times I jabbed at the speaker with the USB Type-C charging cable or headphones.
There’s a microSD card slot in the nano-SIM tray on the top edge of the phone, which lets you expand the 32 or 64 GB of built-in storage. Those versions come with 3 and 4 GB of RAM respectively, with the 4 GB/64 GB version being an online exclusive available only via HTC.com. Considering the very minimal price difference between the two, the 4 GB/64 GB version is the natural choice (I reviewed the 3 GB/32 GB version). The mid-range Snapdragon 630 chipset lies at the heart of the U11 Life. While it might have been nicer to see a 660, the 630 is still used to good effect.
With its IP67 rating, the U11 Life can withstand submersion in a meter of fresh water for up to a half hour, which is a nice addition for a mid-range phone. Like other U11 models before it, the Life doesn’t have a 3.5mm headphone jack, though HTC tries to make up for it in other ways, which we’ll cover further later.
to make up for it in other ways, which we’ll cover furt
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.
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.
HTC’s Edge Sense is a particularly nice addition to the U11 Life. Despite the Android One software experience, HTC managed to get a fully functional version of its squeezable frame technology on board, something even the Pixel 2 hasn’t got right now.
Some may see a pressure sensitive frame as a useless gimmick, but I found it very intuitive and used it a lot. The default options are pretty much the most useful, with a short squeeze taking you to the camera app whether the phone is unlocked or not. While in the camera, a long squeeze switches between front and rear lenses and a short squeeze takes a photo. Obviously this is a handy feature while in the water, wearing gloves or when you’re otherwise unable to use the camera as normal.
Outside the camera app, a long-squeeze typically launches Google Assistant (you can, of course, modify any or all of the default Edge Sense actions to your liking). Assistant can also be activated via voice or by long-pressing the home button. Unlike the US-bound Sense version of the U11 Life, HTC Sense Companion and Amazon Alexa are not included in the software out of the box.
On the other hand, the camera is a surprising strength. The phone’s 16 MP f/2.0 cameras on the front and back produce very good photos for a phone in this price range. There’s no dual-camera bokeh trickery or zoom lenses.
As with practically any phone these days, the true measure of a camera comes in low light conditions. An f/2.0 aperture isn’t super wide, but it’s perfectly sufficient for most low-light scenes. You’ll need a decently steady hand though, as the U11 Life doesn’t feature OIS. Its phase detection auto-focus (rear camera only) is reliable though.
I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the low light photos captured by the U11 Life. Having just gotten used to the Mate 10 Pro’s tendency to crush blacks while obliterating all noise, the U11 Life was a nice reprieve. Noise only just creeps into shots taken in very dark environments, the kind that would defeat almost all phones, no matter the cost. Generally speaking, the U11 Life minimized noise to a admirable degree while maintaining good colors and range.
Excellent software experience
Guaranteed updates via Android One
Very good LCD display
Good camera for the price
Impressive included earbuds
Not the fastest performance
Limited audio options
Perhaps a little overpriced
Not coming to the US
Acrylic back scratches easily