HTC U11 vs. Samsung Galaxy S8: Which flagship reigns supreme?

ip ratings explained
The HTC U11 is a compelling smartphone. It boasts the company’s UltraPixel camera — which is now the highest scored smartphone camera on DxOMark — and it’s powered by Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 835 processor, with an AI-powered assistant for good measure.

But Samsung’s Galaxy S8, its prime competition, is no less a powerhouse. It sports the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor as the U11, plus wireless charging, a water-resistant design, and Bixby, Samsung’s own AI-powered assistant. Which phone gives you more bang for your buck? We pit the HTC U11 against the Samsung Galaxy S8 in a hardware battle to the finish.

Specs and performance

HTC U11

 htc u11 google pixel thumb

Samsung Galaxy S8

 google pixel vs samsung galaxy s8 thumb

Size 153.9 x 75.9 x 7.9 mm (6.06 x 2.99 x 0.31 in) 159.5 x 73.4 x 8.1 mm (6.28 x 2.89 x 0.32 in)
Weight 5.96 ounces (169 grams) 6.2 ounces (173 grams)
Screen 5.5-inch Quad HD Super LCD 5.8-inch Quad HD Super AMOLED
Resolution 2,560 x 1,440 pixels 2,960×1,440 pixels
OS Android 7.1 Nougat Android 7.0 Nougat
Storage 64 (U.S.) 128GB (International) 64 (U.S.) 128GB (International)
SD Card Slot Yes Yes
NFC support Yes Yes
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
RAM  4GB (U.S.) 6GB (International) 4GB
Connectivity GSM / CDMA / HSPA / LTE GSM / CDMA / HSPA / LTE
Camera  Front 16MP, Rear 12MP with OIS Front 8MP, Rear 12MP with OIS
Video 4K 4K
Bluetooth Yes, version 4.2 Yes, version 5
Fingerprint sensor Yes Yes
Other sensors Edge Sensor, gyroscope, accelerometer, compass, proximity sensor Barometer, gyroscope, accelerometer, compass, heart rate, proximity sensor, iris scanner
Water Resistant Yes, IP67 Yes, IP68
Battery 3,000mAh 3,000mAh
Charger USB Type-C USB Type-C
Quick Charging Yes Yes
Wireless Charging No Yes, Qi and PMA
Marketplace Google Play Store Google Play Store
Color offerings Blue, black, white, gray, red Black, silver, gray, blue, gold
Availability Unlocked, Sprint AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile
DT Review Hands On 4 out of 5 stars

You’d have a tough time telling the U11 and Galaxy S8 apart from internals alone. Both phones share 4GB of RAM and a base storage of 64GB (some markets will have 6GB of RAM and 128GB for both). They’re both have MicroSD card slots in case you need more storage, and they’re powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835, the flagship processor in the chip maker’s arsenal.

In most apps and real-world scenario, the processor bests its predecessor, the Snapdragon 821, handily. Benchmarks show the 821 earned a respectable 141,092 on AnTuTu, but the Snapdragon 835 went above and beyond, hitting a hefty 183,227. These two phones are certainly more powerful than any other Android phone on the market.

If there’s one major spec advantage the Galaxy S8 has over the U11, it’s Bluetooth. The Galaxy S8 utilizes Bluetooth 5, which has 4 times the range of Bluetooth 4.2, which is what the U11 uses. It also has 2 times the data speed, and it can pair to two different devices at the same time.

It’s too early to tell whether the respective optimizations HTC and Samsung have made will confer meaningful advantages. But for now, we’re calling this round a tie.

Winner: Tie

Design

htc u11 hands on review handson 2
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The U11 and Galaxy S8 might not be all that different on the inside. But from the outside, they couldn’t look less alike.

The U11 boasts HTC’s bright “liquid surface,” a glass back specially designed to shine and shimmer in the light. There’s a lot of unused space on the front, with sizable edges between the screen and edges. The Galaxy S8, by contrast, is mostly curves. It features rounded glass and metal with a big screen and minimal edges, and a massive screen that stretches the edges back on all sides. The haptic home button, which sits under the Galaxy S8’s display, is a nice touch.

We can’t stop staring at the front of the S8, but the rear isn’t as pretty. The fingerprint sensor is in an awkward position next to the camera module. The U11 doesn’t have that problems — its oval-shaped fingerprint sensor is on the front, below the screen, and its primary shooter is flush with the rear cover. The U11’s edges curve gradually, but it’s the back we can’t stop looking at — it’s simply gorgeous.

Both the Galaxy S8 and the U11 are water resistant, with an IP68 and IP67-rating, respectively. The Galaxy S8 has a slight improvement in depth here, but it’s not enough to decry the U11.

Both the Galaxy S8 and U11 pack USB Type-C charging ports. But unlike the Galaxy S8, the U11 eschews the standard 3.5mm headphone jack. HTC justifies it with its USB-C USonic headphones that comes with the phone — the U11 can power active noise cancelling tech to the earbuds, and it’s a feat made possible with the USB Type-C port.

The U11 also packs four microphones that record high-quality sound from a distance, and it’s optimal for using voice assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

But despite the U11’s audio prowess, we’re not convinced that noise-canceling headphones were a great reason to do away with the 3.5mm headphone jack. As pretty as the U11’s liquid metal material is, it’s no match for the Galaxy S8’s futuristic, curved screen. For those reasons, we’re handing the Galaxy S8 the win.

Winner: Galaxy S8

Display

htc u11 google pixel front
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The U11 and Galaxy S8’s screens may be roughly the same size, but the technology couldn’t be more different. The U11’s 5.5-inch Quad HD (2,560 x 1,440 pixels) is Super LCD, meaning it’s illuminated with a backlight. The Galaxy S8’s 5.8-inch screen, meanwhile, is Super AMOLED, and it produces some of the brightest and most colorful images we’ve seen on a smartphone.

As an added bonus, the Galaxy S8’s screen supports high-dynamic range (HDR) content, which means it boasts greater color volume. Samsung produces the best displays, and the Galaxy S8 blows the competition — including the U11 — away in terms of color accuracy, contrast, and black levels.

Winner: Galaxy S8

Battery life and charging

htc u11 hands on review handson 4
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The U11 and Galaxy S8 share the same 3,000mAh battery capacity. HTC estimates the U11’s battery life at 24.5 hours on 3G/4G, and up to 14 days on standby. Samsung’s Galaxy S8 lasts just about as long. In our review, it made it about a day on a charge — we ended with about 25 percent around 8 p.m. after a day of taking photos, music streaming, and browsing. We’ll see how the U11 measures in our review, but expect a similar result as the S8.

Both phones charge quickly. The U11 supports Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 standard, which delivers roughly 1 hour of battery power for every 1 minute of charge. And the Galaxy S8 uses Samsung’s Adaptive Fast Charge, and supports wireless charging (QI/PMA).

It’s a close call, and we’ll have to see if the HTC’s software optimizations — or lack of — make a day-to-day difference. But for now, the Galaxy S8’s wireless charging features are enough to win it this round.

Winner: Galaxy S8

Camera

htc u11 google pixel back 2
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

HTC’s stuck with its in-house UltraPixel tech with the U11. The rear 12-megapixel camera a f/1.7 aperture, an optical image stabilization (OIS) system that mitigates shaky hands and bumpy car rides, and a dual-tone LED flash module.

The S8 sports a 12-megapixel camera that’s an excellent low-light performer. All the extras you’d expect are here, including optical image stabilization. In our testing, we were impressed by the Galaxy S8’s ability to produce great shots in tricky lighting conditions. The Galaxy S8’s front 8-megapixel camera isn’t anything to write home about, but we appreciate the wide-angle mode — especially for big group selfies.

DxOMark has rated the U11’s camera as the best smartphone camera with a score of 90, narrowly beating out Google’s Pixel, and the Galaxy S8. We’ll have to test this out further before claiming a winner.

Winner: Tie

Software

The U11 ships with Android 7.1.1, which is slightly more recent than Android 7.0 on the Galaxy S8. It’s layered over with HTC Sense, the company’s Android skin, which isn’t too far off from stock Android. Similarly, the Galaxy S8 ships with TouchWiz, which has greatly improved in design, and isn’t as power intensive as previous versions.

The Galaxy S8 offers features such as Edge Panel, which lets you stick shortcuts to the curved edges of the Galaxy S8’s screen. There’s Smart Stay, which keeps the screen on as long as your eyes are staring at it, and multitasking options let you reverse the app position with a tap.

One of the Galaxy S8’s headlining features is Bixby, an artificially intelligent assistant in four parts: Bixby Home, Reminder, Vision, and Voice. Bixby Home is a dedicated screen that shows you information like your current step count, your next calendar event, the weather, what’s trending on Twitter, and even random GIFs from Giphy. Bixby Reminders surfaces tasks and images you want to be reminded of later on. Bixby Vision recognizes objects and suggests relevant Amazon search links and more. And Bixby Voice lets you perform actions with voice commands.

The U11 has Sense Companion, an artificially intelligent assistant that taps signals like your current location, activity level, and calendar to anticipate your needs. If your battery’s at 50 percent and you have a long-distance flight ahead of you, for example, Sense Companion will remind you to charge your smartphone. If it’s lunchtime, it’ll plop a link to a highly-rated nearby restaurant on your lock screen. Alternatively, the U11 offers access to the Google Assistant (as does the S8), and to Amazon’s Alexa.

The U11 has touch-sensitive edges — it’s a part of a new feature called Edge Sense. It’s triggered by squeezing the bottom portion of the phone’s frame. Like the Convenience Key on the new BlackBerry Key One, it’s programmable — you can use it to launch apps, take photos, and more. We think this will prove more useful, as well as Sense Companion, than Bixby — at least in Bixby’s current state.

The HTC U11 will get monthly security updates, an HTC spokesperson told Digital Trends. Samsung should be following through with the S8, but HTC has been quicker to issue updates — especially Android version updates. It’s also already on a more recent version. The U11 gets the win here, but it’s narrow.

Winner: HTC U11

Price and availability

HTC U11 is available unlocked on HTC’s website and Amazon for $650. It’ll be compatible with Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile networks, but Sprint is the only carrier that’ll sell it directly at launch. It’s available on the carrier for $29 per month for 24 months, or $696 at full price. The HTC U11 is available for pre-order now, and will start shipping in June.

The Galaxy S8, by comparison, starts at $725 unlocked. Alternatively, it’s available from Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile, Amazon, B&H, and other retailers for between $720 and $750.

Galaxy S8 HTC U11
Verizon $720, or $30 per month for 24 months N/A
Sprint $750, or $31.25 per month for 24 months $696, or $29 per month for 24 months
AT&T $750, or $25 per month for 30 months N/A
T-Mobile $750, or $30 per month for 24 months N/A
Unlocked $725 $650

The HTC U11 may not be available from as many retailers as the Galaxy S8, but it’s quite a bit cheaper. That’s enough to win it this round.

Winner: HTC U11

Overall winner: Galaxy S8

It’s a narrow win for sure, and the Galaxy S8’s win does not mean the U11 isn’t a good phone. The Galaxy S8 is better — its curved AMOLED screen is fantastic for consuming media, it has superior Bluetooth connectivity, it supports wireless charging, and it has a headphone jack. That’s not to discount the U11’s Edge Sense, liquid metal display, or Sense Companion, all of which are innovations worth celebrating. You also save some money going for the U11.

Article published on 05-16-2017. Correction made on 05-23-2017: Original article incorrectly stated the HTC U11 featured a barometer.

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