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HTC U11 vs. HTC U Ultra: Which HTC phone reigns supreme?

htc u11 vs u ultra design
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
When HTC said it would nix affordable phones in favor of several high-end handsets, it wasn’t kidding. Case in point? The HTC U11, a new flagship on the heels of this year’s U Ultra.

The HTC U11 and U Ultra don’t share much in common. The U11 omits the U Ultra’s secondary display, for one, and the new phone has a much more powerful processor. But they’re certainly cut from the same cloth, or liquid glass, as the case may be. Both boast HTC’s UltraPixel camera tech and BoomSound speakers, ship with the same amount of memory (4GB), and come preloaded with with HTC’s AI-powered Sense Companion assistant.

Still, there’s enough of a difference between the HTC U11 and U Ultra to crown a winner. To put an end to the debate, we pitted the two phones against each other in a specifications battle to the finish.

Specs and performance

HTC U11

HTC U Ultra

HTC U Ultra

Size  153.9 × 75.9 × 7.9 mm (6.05 × 2.99 × 0.31 in) 162.4 × 79.8 × 8.0 mm (6.39 × 3.14 × 0.31 in)
Weight  5.96 ounces (169 grams) 6 ounces (170 grams)
Screen  5.5-inch Quad HD+ Super AMOLED 5.7-inch Quad HD Super AMOLED

2.05-inch secondary display

Resolution  2,560 × 1,440 pixels 2,560 × 1,440 pixels

160 × 1,040

OS Android 7.1 Nougat Android 7.1 Nougat
Storage  64/128GB 32/64GB
SD Card Slot Yes Yes
NFC support Yes Yes
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 Qualcomm Snapdragon 821
RAM 4/6GB 4GB
Connectivity Wi-Fi, 4G LTE, GSM Wi-Fi, 4G LTE, GSM
Camera  Front 16MP, Rear 12MP with OIS Front 16MP, Rear 12MP with OIS
Video  2,160p 4K HDR 2,160p 4K UHD
Bluetooth Yes, version 4.2 Yes, version 4.2
Fingerprint sensor Yes Yes
Other sensors Edge Sensor, gyroscope, accelerometer, compass, proximity sensor, iris scanner Barometer, gyroscope, accelerometer, compass, proximity sensor
Water Resistant Yes, IP67 Yes, IP67
Battery 3,000mAh 3,000mAh
Charger USB Type-C Micro Type-C
Quick Charging Yes Yes
Wireless Charging No No
Marketplace Google Play Store Google Play Store
Color offerings Blue, black, silver Black, blue, white, pink.
Availability AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile
DT Review Hands-on 4 out of 5 stars

The differences between the U11 and U Ultra start under the hood. Both phones share the same RAM (4GB, up to 6GB) and base storage (64GB, up to 128GB) in common. But the U11 packs Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835, one of the newest in Qualcomm’s arsenal. The U Ultra, on the other hand, ships with Qualcomm’s aging Snapdragon 821 — the processor in the Google Pixel and OnePlus 3T.

On a surface level, the two processors aren’t all that different. They have the same number of cores — four faster, high-powered cores that kick in for intensive tasks and four power-efficient cores that handle background apps — and architecture. But the Snapdragon 835 — the processor that also powers Samsung’s Galaxy S8 — is built on a 10-nanometer process, which means it crams 30 percent more parts into the same physical space as the Snapdragon 821.

In most apps and real-world scenarios, the Snapdragon 835 appears to best the Snapdragon 821 handily. Anandtech recorded it achieving a score of 3,844 in 3D Mark’s Slingshot Extreme test compared to the Snapdragon 821’s 2,106, and other benchmarks show a performance advantage as high as 40 percent. The U11 is likely to crush day-to-day tasks like a champ, in other words.

To sum up, there’s no question when it comes to overall processing power. We’re expecting the U11 to breeze through apps, games, and other tasks. That’s not to say the U Ultra’s a slouch — the U11 just does things faster 

Winner: HTC U11

Design

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

At first glance, the U Ultra and U11 don’t look all that different from each other. That’s because they both sport HTC’s bright “liquid surface,” a glass back specially machined to shine and shimmer in the light.

The liquid metal surface isn’t the only design similarity between the two. There’s a lot of unused space near the U11 and U Ultra’s top and bottom, and sizable edges between the screen and edges. The U11 inherits the Ultra’s oval-shaped fingerprint sensor, physical power button, and volume rockers.

Otherwise, though, the U11 shares little in common with its months-old cousin. The rear camera is almost flush with the rear cover as opposed to protruding on the U Ultra, and the dual-LED flash has been moved to the opposite side of the sensor — from the left to the right. The U11’s edges also curve more gradually than the U Ultra’s, and have fewer seams — especially near the U Ultra’s charging port. It evokes the iPhone — right down to the position of the plastic bits that cover the U Ultra’s antennae.

Both the U Ultra and U11 pack four microphones that record high-quality sound from a distance. Neither have a headphone jack; instead, the U Ultra and U11 ship with HTC’s proprietary USB-C USonic headphones, which pack two microphones — one that sits on the outside of your ear canal and one that sits on the inside — to generate a detailed profile of your ear’s anatomy.

But unlike the headphones that shipped with the U Ultra, the U11’s have built-in noise-cancelling. HTC says they work in tandem with the U11’s BoomSound app to drown out the ambient noise around you.

We’re still not convinced that eliminating the 3.5mm audio jack is a great design move. But U11’s overall design improvements and noise-canceling headphones are enough to earn it the win here.

Winner: HTC U11

Display

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

In our review of the U Ultra, its display — or displays, more accurately —  colored us unimpressed.

The 5.7-inch Quad HD Super LCD 5 screen was dimmer than Apple’s iPhone 6S, even at full brightness. Colors seemed relatively accurate, but not from any angle — tilting the HTC U Ultra a little to the side resulted in washed-out blues and reds.

We haven’t had a chance to put the U11’s screen to the test, but we’re not expecting miracles. The U11 packs a slightly smaller 5.5-inch LCD screen with the same Quad HD (2560 x 1440 pixels) resolution as the U Ultra. Assuming HTC hasn’t made any brightness-boosting or color-correcting software tweaks, we wouldn’t be surprised if there wasn’t a difference.

We’re calling this one a draw. The U11’s slightly smaller screen doesn’t appear to offer a marked technological advantage over the U Ultra, and we’re expecting it to perform about — if not exactly — the same.

Winner: Tie

Battery life and charging

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The U Ultra and U11 share the same 3,000mAh battery capacity. And based on our experiences with the U Ultra, we have a pretty good idea of what to expect.

In our testing, we got about a day and a half out of the U Ultra. With brightness set to automatic and Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cellular data enabled, we slogged through an eight-hour workday’s worth of emails, social media updates, Slack messages, and app updates without about 40 percent power to spare.

HTC estimates the U11’s battery life at 24.5 hours on 3G/4G, and up to 14 days on standby. That’s on par with the U Ultra, which HTC’s pegs at 26 hours on 3G/4G and 13 days on 3G/4G. The Snapdragon 835’s power efficiency could give the a boost in real-world usage, of course. And there’s a chance that HTC’s optimizations — and U11’s lack of secondary display — will make a meaningful difference day-to-day. But as of now, we’re not anticipating a drastic difference.

The U11 and U Ultra both support Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 standard, which delivers roughly 1 hour of battery power for every 1 minute of charge.

Given the negligible difference in battery life between the U11 and U Ultra, we’re calling a tie this round.

Winner: Tie

Camera, software, unique features, and price

Camera

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

HTC has stuck with its in-house UltraPixel tech with the U11 — just as it did with the U Ultra. The rear 12-megapixel camera in the U Ultra has an f/1.8 aperture, but that has been widened to f/1.7 on the U11, for better low light performance and bokeh. Both have a laser autofocus module, and an optical image stabilization (OIS) system that mitigates shaky hands and bumpy car rides, and a dual-tone LED module.

We’re expecting the U11’s camera to produce better shots than the U Ultra — which is a good thing. In our testing of the U Ultra, we noticed a persistent film-like haziness in sunny outdoor shots. Bright blue skies lacked contrast and color, and interior shots in natural light tended to register warmer on the spectrum than we expected.

All that said, the camera was quick to lock focus, honing in on dimly lit subjects without much fuss. Low light performance was rather good, too — in a dimly lit storage closet packed to the brim with cardboard boxes, the U Ultra managed to resolve fine details and edges.

Videos also came out crisp, thanks to optical image stabilization. Even at the maximum resolution of 4K and 30 FPS, clips were smooth, stable, and free of the jitter sometimes exhibited by poorly calibrated sensors.

The U11 and U Ultra’s 16MP selfie camera, meanwhile, takes excellent shots. They’re detailed and vivid, with great depth of color and excellent low-light performance.

A slight improvement here, ensures that the U11 camera is a better option.

Winner: HTC U11

Software

The U11 and U Ultra ship with the same software, Android 7.0 Nougat, and for the most part, they ship with the same HTC apps and software.

Both the U11 and U Ultra have HTC Connect, which wirelessly streams music, pictures, and videos to TVs and portable speakers. They both have Motion Launch, which lets you perform simple actions by waving U Ultra in the air, and HTC Themes, which lets you customize the software’s look and fee.

In addition, the U11 and U Ultra have HTC’s Sense Companion, an artificially intelligent assistant that taps signals like your current location, activity level, and calendar to anticipate your needs. If your battery is 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 will plop a link to a highly-rated nearby restaurant on your lock screen.

In terms of software, it’s a tie between the U11 and U Ultra.

Winner: Tie

Unique features: Secondary screen and touch-sensitive bezels

HTC U Ultra
HTC U Ultra

The U Ultra and U11 aren’t without touches that set them apart.

The U Ultra’s secondary display is an obvious difference. It — much like the second display on the LG V10 and LG V20 — sits above the primary screen. Rather than perform stand-in duty for the big color touchscreen beneath it, it handles notifications, incoming messages, and app alerts that would otherwise take up prime real estate. A secondary screen sounds useful in theory, but in our testing, we found it to be more distracting than helpful. All considered, it’s probably a good thing HTC ditched it with the U11.

The U11 swaps the U Ultra’s secondary screen for touch-sensitive edges. It’s called Edge Sense, and it’s triggered by squeezing the bottom portion of the phone’s frame. Edge Sense is programmable, like the Convenience Key on the new BlackBerry Key One — you can use it to launch apps, take photos, and more.

While it’s true that the U Ultra’s secondary display is more versatile than the U11’s Edge Sense, we argue that Edge Sense is more functional. The U Ultra’s secondary screen is difficult to reach and sometimes distracting, while Edge Sense is literally at your fingertips and programmed to the app, setting, or action you use the most. For that reason, the U11 comes out ahead.

Winner: HTC U11

Price and availability

The 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 full price.

The HTC U11 is available for pre-order now, and will start shipping in June.

The U Ultra, by comparison, starts at $750. It’s available unlocked from HTC’s website, or from Amazon.

HTC U Ultra HTC U11
Verizon N/A N/A
Sprint N/A $696, or $29 for 24 months
AT&T N/A N/A
T-Mobile N/A N/A
Unlocked $750 $650

The HTC U Ultra is quite a bit more expensive than the U11 — and available from far fewer places. For that reason, the U11 earns the crown this round.

Winner: HTC U11

Overall winner

It’s a close battle between the U Ultra and U11, but we’re awarding HTC’s newcomer, the U11, the overall win. Its design refinements, noise-canceling headphones, Edge Sense feature, and faster processor are enough to edge out its older, thicker sibling. We’ll have to see how the U11 measures up as a daily driver against the disappointing U Ultra, but for now, we think it’s safe to say that the U11 is the better choice.

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