HTC U11 Life vs. HTC U11: How different is HTC’s slimmed-down budget U11?

HTC U11 Life vs. HTC U11
Julian Chokkattu / Digital Trends
This year has been one of the most competitive ever for smartphones, with a steady stream of desirable devices flowing onto the market. Despite serious competition, the HTC U11 stands out as one of the best, but at $650 it’s not one of the cheapest.

If you like the look of the U11, but don’t have the cash, you’ll be glad to know the Taiwanese manufacturer has launched a scaled down version, dubbed the HTC U11 Life, for just $350. To find out precisely what changes HTC has made, we decided to compare the two.

Specs and performance

HTC U11 Life

HTC U11 Life

HTC U11

HTC U11

Size 149.1 x 72.9 x 8.1 mm (5.87 x 2.87 x 0.32 in) 153.9 × 75.9 × 7.9 mm (6.05 × 2.99 × 0.31 in)
Weight 5.01 ounces (142 grams) 5.96 ounces (169 grams)
Screen 5.2-inch Super LCD 5.5-inch Super LCD
Resolution 1,920 x 1,080 pixels 2,560 × 1,440 pixels
OS Android 7.1 Nougat Android 7.1 Nougat
Storage 32/64GB 64/128GB
SD Card Slot Yes Yes
NFC support Yes Yes
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
RAM 3/4GB 4/6GB
Connectivity Wi-Fi, 4G LTE, GSM Wi-Fi, 4G LTE, GSM
Camera Front 16MP, Rear 16MP Front 16MP, Rear 12MP with OIS
Video 2,160p 4K 2,160p 4K HDR
Bluetooth Yes, version 5.0 Yes, version 4.2
Fingerprint sensor Yes Yes
Other sensors Edge Sensor, gyroscope, accelerometer, compass, proximity sensor Edge Sensor, gyroscope, accelerometer, compass, proximity sensor
Water Resistant Yes, IP67 Yes, IP67
Battery 2,600mAh 3,000mAh
Charger USB-C USB-C
Quick Charging Yes Yes
Wireless Charging No No
Marketplace Google Play Store Google Play Store
Color offerings Black, blue, white Silver, blue, black, white, and red
Availability HTC, T-Mobile HTC, Sprint
DT Review 4 out of 5 stars 4 out of 5 stars

While the HTC U11 is a true flagship, boasting Qualcomm’s popular Snapdragon 835 processor inside, the U11 Life makes do with the mid-range Snapdragon 630 processor. The U11 is significantly faster than its smaller sibling, but the difference isn’t as great as you might presume.

In terms of benchmarks, the U11 Life managed an AnTuTu score of 71,397 and a Geekbench 4 multi-core score of 4,078, compared to 175,748 and 6,493 respectively for the U11. Although the U11 Life is a bit slower to load apps and occasionally stutters, it still feels plenty speedy enough. It’s worth remembering that the U11 is one of the silkiest performers we’ve tested all year.

Both phones come in two varieties. You can get the HTC U11 Life with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage or 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. The HTC U11 comes with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage or with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. Both phones have MicroSD card slots for expansion.

With a better processor and the option of more RAM and storage, the U11 takes this round, but the U11 Life is an impressive performer in its price bracket.

Winner: HTC U11

Design, display, and durability

HTC U11
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The metal frame and eye-catching liquid glass back really make the HTC U11 stand out, although we’d like it more if the body was a bit smaller and those bezels were shaved down. The U11 Life looks quite similar at first glance, but there are a lot of important design differences.

The back is acrylic instead of glass, so it doesn’t change color as you move it around in the light, like the U11 does. The frame in the U11 Life is also plastic, so it feels very different in the hand. It’s much lighter (27g lighter to be precise) and less classy, but HTC has done a good job of matching the general aesthetic. Overall, the U11 Life is slightly shorter and not as wide, though it is a hair thicker than the U11.

While the U11 boasts a 5.5-inch display with a resolution of 2,560 x 1,440 pixels, the U11 Life makes do with a 5.2-inch screen and a standard full HD 1080p resolution. Both are Super LCD, and while the U11 screen is obviously sharper, the screen in the U11 Life is perfectly decent.

On the durability front both these phones score an IP67 rating, which means they can survive rain, unexpected spillages, and even the odd dunk in shallow water. The U11 is less durable, as it’s sandwiched by glass that’s shatter prone. Cases are a good idea.

Winner: HTC U11

Battery life and charging

HTC U11 Life review quick settings
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The HTC U11 impressed us with its battery life, easily lasting a day and beyond between charges. It has a 3,000mAh battery in it, whereas the battery in the U11 Life is rated at 2,600mAh. It’s not a big difference on paper and you may wonder if the slightly smaller, lower resolution screen would make up for it, but we found the U11 Life offered average day-long battery life.

In terms of charging, both phones can juice up quite quickly. They charge via USB-C and you can expect a useful chunk of battery life from a 30-minute charge. Sadly, there’s no support here for wireless charging.

Winner: HTC U11

Camera

HTC U11
Simon Hill/Digital Trends
Simon Hill/Digital Trends

We’re big fans of the 12-megapixel main camera in the HTC U11. It has a large f/1.7 aperture, with optical image stabilization (OIS), a dual LED flash, and HDR Boost. Our point-and-shoot results using the automatic settings have been very pleasing. It’s one of the top cameras around at the moment, though there’s a lot of stiff competition, so it doesn’t quite make our best camera phones list.

The U11 Life has a 16-megapixel camera with an f/2.0 aperture and it simply can’t compete. There’s no OIS, it struggles with low light conditions, and there’s some shutter lag. It’s still good for a phone in this price bracket, but it’s streets behind the U11.

Both phones sport a 16-megapixel front-facing camera with an f/2.0 aperture, which serves just fine for selfies.

Winner: HTC U11

Software

HTC U11
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Both these phones run Android 7.1 Nougat out of the box with HTC’s Sense UI on top, though they are both slated to get Android 8.0 Oreo updates very soon. Sense UI offers a lot of customization options, but it may feel a little busy if you’re coming from stock Android.

You’ll find a trio of assistants on board the U11 and U11 Life in the shape of Google Assistant, Sense Companion, and Amazon’s Alexa. If you’re an Alexa fan, then there’s an important difference to watch out for – the U11 Life doesn’t respond to the voice trigger, whereas the U11 does.

We’re pleased to find Edge Sense, which allows you to squeeze the sides of the phone to launch Alexa, or take a photo, or whatever else you care to map it to, is present on both phones. It’s unusual to find a flagship feature like this carried over to a cheaper device like the U11 Life.

Winner: HTC U11

Price and availability

You can snag the HTC U11 direct from HTC or buy it unlocked at Amazon for $650. The only U.S. carrier to pick it up was Sprint, which offers it for $29 per month on contract.

The HTC U11 Life only costs $350 direct from HTC and it’s available on T-Mobile for a $12 down payment, and then $12 a month for 24 months, which comes down to $300.

At $300 cheaper, the U11 Life finally wins a category.

Winner: HTC U11 Life

Overall winner: HTC U11

It should come as no surprise that the HTC U11 wins this contest, sweeping every category except price. It’s a superior phone with a more stylish design, higher quality finish, better processor, sharper and bigger screen, and a far better main camera.

Whether it’s worth $300 more than the U11 Life is a tougher question to answer. Both these phones scored 4 out of 5 in our reviews and they’re amongst the best in their respective price categories. There’s actually a lot less quality to choose from in the mid-range segment than there is in the flagship field, so if your budget is around that $350 mark, the U11 Life is a compelling option.

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