HTC U11 is dead on arrival

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.

This company, HTC, was once at the forefront of mobile tech innovation, and only one of three companies that managed to make any kind of profit on Android – an achievement in itself. Now, with those beautiful times long behind it, it's desperately trying not to drown in the vast ocean of the mobile industry. Gasping for breath, ineffectively swinging and hitting arms in the water, HTC likely put itself in this ridiculous position due to its lack of general vision to guide the company's operations through the last 5 years or so, as well as its inability to keep key talent in house.

And this makes me sad, because I've always liked HTC for its quietly brilliant style. It could have made for a great company with great products. Now it's reduced to nothing.

Whether or not the beginning of the end for HTC started under Peter Chou is debatable. The firm's former CEO has been said to be difficult to work with, but if anything, he gave HTC the spark and character that defined much of its products from the past, brighter years. One thing is certain, though, everything started going downhill with a series of executive-level departures back in 2013 and 2014. We're talking chief product officers, design leads, global communications experts... This is an amazing example of just how valuable key talent is for a company.

HTC U11: a design catastrophe

Today, HTC announced the successor to the HTC 10, called U11. The U11 is a smartphone that can never be attractive to a large number of people, mostly because its appearance shows exactly zero character or taste for aesthetics. Since 2014, HTC has seen several catastrophic, high-level departures in its design department. If kids don't listen and refuse to go to bed on time, here's a scary story to make them want to hide under the blankets: Back in 2008, HTC acquired a design company named One & Co. It was a particularly smart acquisition because it was One & Co that helped HTC build its best phones ever, including the One series – it gave them their signature and likable design, which was the defining advantage of HTC smartphones. While Samsung was warming up the plastic press to print yet another Galaxy, HTC and the good people from One & Co exercised true craftsmanship and attention to detail when designing their products. This resulted in breakthrough devices like the One M7 and M8. However, the market had already started to evolve, which required HTC to establish a more solid stance, with long-term goals and vision for the future. Which didn't happen. Then one thing led to another, and in 2014 design chief Scott Croyle (later went to design the Nextbit Robin) left the company, vacating his position for Jonah Becker, who, like Croyle, also found himself at HTC after the One & Co acquisition. All was seemingly well, but less than a year later, Becker also decided to leave HTC, inevitably taking his design expertise along with him. Later, another influential One & Co design star, Claude Zellweger also left the company, effectively limiting HTC's design potential to zero, or something close to that.

The amazing thing is that you can see how HTC's smartphones get progressively generic and uglier after each of these departures. Little by little, you can see HTC's top devices devolve from the break-through design that was the HTC One M7, to the deal-breakingly dull U11. Yes, it has modern features like glass front and back, with aluminum frame and so on, but it has no style, it's generic, it has messed up front detail placement and proportions – a trend that started with the iPhone-esque One A9. A shiny back is not enough.

Just squeeze it? Um, no, thanks.

Some makers have always been struggling to think of meaningful innovative features, which is why they have historically tried to make up for that with specs. With varying degrees of success. These days, however, it seems it has been getting increasingly difficult for manufacturers to find new features to woo customers with. This is a legit concern, because most fundamental aspects of the smartphone experience (performance, camera, screen, memory, etc.) has already been perfected, or so we think. Some have decided to turn to voice assistants, others to AI and VR, still others have started to curve and extend their phone screens out of proportion... Some of these efforts have thus far delivered only partial results at best, mostly because they've been largely arbitrary, with no real answer to "OK, but why is it better this way?"

This video spot is the only good thing there is to Edge Sense

HTC though... these guys are redefining "lack of ideas" with this new squeeze thing. Or maybe the team behind this U11 is just so young and inexperienced that they still believe such things work. Spoiler: they don't. Squeezing your phone will be neither natural, nor intuitive. It's prone to accidental squeezes, it introduces the risk of having the phone slip out of your hand as you try to squeeze it, and most importantly: it doesn't do anything useful. It just launches apps, and may eventually be updated to perform some other actions, but it'll be a user-configurable thing, meaning users themselves will have to think of ways to use this so-called Edge Sense. HTC itself doesn't have any idea why and what you may want to squeeze your phone for, so it'll just set this action to open apps for now. Educated prediction: it won't get better with "a future software update". It's incredible how such a feature (and a product-defining one at that) may appear in a flagship phone by a company that takes pride in its 20-year experience in this industry.

Even more mind-boggling is how HTC presents this new feature: "We wanted to go beyond the touch screen so we created an entirely new and intuitive way to interact with the phone – Edge Sense. A simple squeeze unlocks a whole new world." Whoa! Translation: "a whole new world" now seems to mean "launch an app".

A few bright points that won't save this phone

If all this sounded somewhat extreme, well, there isn't much we can do about it – it's the truth. But it doesn't mean everything in the U11 is flawed. It'll supposedly have good stereo BoomSound speakers, and it'll come packaged with active noise-cancellation earphones, because it doesn't have a 3.5mm jack and they've taken advantage of the digital connection through USB. The U11 also has the top-tier Snapdragon 835, and the camera is said to be pretty good, so there should be nothing to worry about on the specs front.

Still, it's 2017 and you can no longer impress consumers with specs alone. You need a delightful experience, and a complete one at that, you need differentiation and clear positioning. The HTC U11 has none of this, or it has it but not in the right places. My point here isn't that the U11 won't be a "good smartphone". I'm sure it will, but that will by no means be enough. A $250 Moto G is now a "good enough smartphone", so why pay the premium price of $650 for the U11? In my Galaxy S8 review, I made the point that Samsung now has to prove to consumers that it's worth it to pay north of $650 for their phone, considering all the pressure from lower-cost alternatives. HTC will have to do the same, but the U11 just doesn't seems to make particularly strong argument.



84. Pukwudgie

Posts: 12; Member since: Aug 11, 2017

Everything in this article is wrong. The U11 has proven to be excellent. Whomever wrote this has no idea.

83. LiveFaith

Posts: 534; Member since: Jul 04, 2015

Everyone moaning about PA putting out a hit-piece on a phone should consider this. Do you really want your tech news site to become a sponsor controlled machine that spits out glowing reviews regardless of the turd a company may put forth. This phone is pretty much DOA. It has almost no buzz whatsoever. HTC is bleeding profusely and needs a moneymaker worldwide. This thing wont even come close. So, it months and months and months longer before they could bring a saviour to the table. Now, if you like this phone, great. People went out and bought that square screened albatross from BB too. I have no problem with people liking what they like. What I have a problem with is people ignoring the obvious concerning the market and demanding puff journalism.

81. LiveFaith

Posts: 534; Member since: Jul 04, 2015

What a statement in the article ... "Yes, it has modern features like glass front and back...". My Lord, what have we become? Modern mobile tech has to use temperature sensitive, fragile, slippery, and antiquated materials in order to have "modern features? This is the same material that Luara Ingles had installed here home on the Little House on the Prairie. I hope Apple brings us something truly modern, grippable, non-temp sensative, and durable, so that the sheepish tech media, pop-culture, and competitors will be able to make a better "modern" mobile device. It took forever on bezels, so it may take forever to get rid of antiquated metals and glass on our mobile devices.

80. NickSDC

Posts: 26; Member since: Nov 13, 2012

I *heart* phone arena. But this review is BS. And I haven't owned an HTC since the m8. So I'm not a "fanboy". Whoever this Ray S. guy is, needs to YouTube some reviewers and take notes.

79. JREwing

Posts: 1; Member since: Jun 11, 2017

Wow, what a review. This has to be one of the most biased reviews of the year. The author's hate toward HTC is obvious. I tend to look at things much more objectively. The squeeze is a smart feature for productivity. The lack of headphone jack is necessary to get the better sound. You can buy it unlocked, which makes sense. Sprint is probably the only carrier in the US selling it because the other carriers insisted on loading it up with their crapware. I personally like some bezel on my screen too. All glass screens are not my thing. My advice to the author is to pick it up and try the device and put your bias aside. I doubt you even used the device before writing this.

78. zelezo

Posts: 12; Member since: May 30, 2014

Dear Phone arena, we saw many bad phones on market comming out and jet you didnt write any bad review or article like this, this phone is far away for dooming its relise with such a words . Shame on you.

77. rramos76

Posts: 2; Member since: May 28, 2013

Your objectivity in your review is lacking. There is no evidence in your column that you have even touched or even seen the phone. It's reviews like this that confirms that majority influence rules the massess. It's too bad, because the U11 looks like a definite winner. The sense squeeze feature is a homerun according to your fellow bloggers. The Usonic sound system is great. The phone is beautiful. It's hard to comprehend your disdain and almost anger you have for HTC

75. StubbleTech

Posts: 1; Member since: May 18, 2017

This article is irresponsible garbage. I'm not some fanboy (I actually use and iPhone daily) But this article feels personal. And I know for a fact it was written by someone who never even held the U11. I was at the press event and as an iPhone guy I actually like a lot of what this phone has to offer. If someone doesn't like the device that's fine, but as I said, this article just feels like a opinion piece by someone that just hates HTC.

73. hazard1

Posts: 246; Member since: Feb 11, 2017

It's a good thing I am able to judge these things for myself and not go on the opinion of PA writers. This phone has the latest SOC, and seems to lack all of the missteps that HTC typically makes. The only questions may be the battery life (although withthe 835, it should be okay) and the screen quality. I would consider buying it. HTC has had some major missteps, including their earlier 2017 release. But they have also had some quality phones that have been overlooked.

72. tiara6918

Posts: 2263; Member since: Apr 26, 2012

I don't know why so much people are hating this phone. It's good enough. The huawei p10 also followed a similar fate by looking unoriginal and generic. The front of mi6 also looks the same as the others

74. HugoBarraCyanogenmod

Posts: 1412; Member since: Jul 06, 2014

Well many people hate huawei and xiaomi design too, while some love it, same goes to HTC too It may looks boring to some and some find the new features useful

82. LiveFaith

Posts: 534; Member since: Jul 04, 2015

It's good enough alright. They'll sell dozens! The article is generally correct IMO. When you're a company in a death spiral, you cannot afford either failing or even lackluster key product releases. HTC has used all it's mulligans in the last two models. This one is lackluster at the absolute best. People will have to choose this over the G6, S8, iPhone, Note 8, and Chinese brands in strong numbers. I see no path that this thing will even come close.

71. ijuanp03

Posts: 730; Member since: Dec 30, 2014

S8 "only" has 3000mah (bigger 5.8in screen), has 3.5mm jack, NO front stereo speakers (weak distorted volume) but nobody complained. iPhone 7 Plus only has 2900mah, NO headphone jack, HUGE bezels (158.2 x 77.9 x 7.3 mm screen-to-body ratio: 67.7%), but nobody complained. *HTC U11 (5.5inches) 153.9 x 75.9 x 7.9 mm screen-to-body ratio: 71.4% ---> everybody complained with the "huge" bezels but has better ratio than 7 Plus HTC10 was on par with the S7 Edge but everyone complained it isn't waterproof. When the iPhone 6s came out with no water resistance, nobody complained. HTC U11 key features (I don't care about the squeezy thing) 1. IP67 water resistance (same as Apple's) 2. Highest rated cameraphone by Dxomark 3. HTC boomsound speakers (VERY loud with no distortion as per reviews) 4. Acoustic zoom in video. People will ALWAYS find fault in HTC no matter what they do. Sad.

70. fongil

Posts: 1; Member since: May 16, 2017

I have a few comments about this review. First, a question for you, have you had hands-on time with the device? When I attended the press event yesterday, many people commented about how the U11, when holding it in hand, changed their mind both about the device and about the companies future. If you haven't had time to try it out, I would suggest doing so before drawing conclusions. Second, a company may have it's ups and downs but I don't think it's fair to dismiss a companies potential to grow and a be successful based on who leaves the company. We live in a world where there are many talented people and it is normal for talent to move around to different companies. Third, I think the design is anything but boring or a catastrophe. If you had a chance to see the amount of work that went into defining what liquid surface means and how does it translate across different materials to provide a seamless and intuitive experience, I think you may have a different outlook on this product. As an engineer who has worked at design firms like One & Co, I see the potential and success in the HTC U11 because it not only pushes the boundaries of manufacturing but also pushes the boundaries of materials. Currently, there is no company who is exploring glass like HTC has and will be continuing to do. You are entitled to your own opinion about the design but should not push that opinion on others. Fourth, Edge sense and squeezing your phone is more intuitive and natural than you would expect. It's about time that someone introduces a new way to interact with your mobile device and not just pressing firmer on the screen like what Apple introduced. There are many features that HTC included to prevent accidental presses or squeezes like being able to manually adjust the sensitivity of the sensors on the side or using the proximity sensor to know what it is in your pocket or bag. This is another feature that you must try before drawing conclusions. I have found a lot of practical use when I was playing around with the device including making it easier to open apps with one hand, quickly accessing information without needing to navigate through the lock screen the menus, or taking pictures quickly. You would think that squeezing your phone may break the device or feels awkward but I've found that I use that gesture on my phone even when it doesn't have Edge Sense. Lastly, vision and direction at HTC are hard to judge because these are things that you don't see until they are implemented. There are a lot of things that HTC may be working on that the public doesn't know about. Judging this topic is only being reactive and that is not always the best way to approach something. The reason why I am taking the time to touch on a few points brought up in this article is because I feel quite different about this device and about HTC. I believe the U11 is a success and will drive the company back to its former glory.

69. bonnie100th

Posts: 29; Member since: Apr 01, 2010

I totally concur with notfair, this is a hate article, no doubt about it. I will go a litlle bit deeper into this. WTF is this Ray S? What he accomplished so far to be able to write such a nasty/hate article and PA allowed it?

68. legiloca

Posts: 1676; Member since: Nov 11, 2014

Everyone has the right to speak their minds here, myself included, and yes this is related to the article, I am not happy that the author took the time to put out how disappointing the HTC U 11 is, see, every phone will always have features that can't or can be found on different brands, just because this is not your typical fruit or kimchi phone doesn't mean you should bad mouth on them. I can go on all day how better this phone is as compared to the other flagships.

67. ZeeNasir

Posts: 131; Member since: Nov 25, 2012

A very hate speech from Phone arena. The guy is saying all negative things and no praise at all. HTC has done a remarkable job for this phone. It's indeed a beautiful and high tech phone with unique features. High hopes for this phone.

64. A_A_A

Posts: 230; Member since: Jan 23, 2017

It's really good that this article came up. Because it means that unlike HTC management editors of tech portal are analyzing market, trying to learn from it and make a right conclusions. Unfortunately looks like nobody in HTC management did it.

63. kaansancar

Posts: 3; Member since: Aug 31, 2014

So, how much did Samsung pay you for publishing this nonsense hate article?

62. arsaliqbal

Posts: 5; Member since: May 16, 2017

most thrashing article ever seen on phonearena......there is a reason why u are being called iphonearena .... very much biased....

61. omnitech

Posts: 1131; Member since: Sep 28, 2016

HTC actually surprised me, they sort of brought it this year, although I guess they had to considering the competition all brought it this year. That said, I still hope that the Pixel 2 is nothing like this and more like the LG G6. That phone is well done and sexy and would have been king if the GS8 didn't exist,

56. jgates86

Posts: 13; Member since: Jan 14, 2015

HTC U11 review pros: n/a cons: not an iphone

55. tchad78

Posts: 17; Member since: Aug 17, 2012

If M7 was water resistant it would have been my favorite phone of all time. That said nothing released since the S7 (my current phone) looks worth paying money for. My next phone will need to be water resistant, have stereo speakers (preferably front facing) and no bs curved screen. I returned the god awful S7 edge because of how bad the colors distorted on the curved edges. S8 is just as terrible. I'm hoping the new Pixel won't have bezel's to rival Peyton Manning's forehead - then it might be a contender.

54. L0n3n1nja

Posts: 1625; Member since: Jul 12, 2016

Having Sprint as the only carrier on board has ruined it's chance in the US, even if it was an amazing phone it won't sell well relying on unlocked sales.

53. SaamA2

Posts: 3; Member since: Apr 04, 2017

I have a feeling that tells me this site hates the HTC brand... I mean , its quite obvious that they are Samsung and Apple fans

60. omnitech

Posts: 1131; Member since: Sep 28, 2016

Apple fans. Samsung seriously earns their chops and the sooner the non Samsung Android fans realize this, the sooner Android can chip away at the iPhone mindshare.

49. Doakie

Posts: 2478; Member since: May 06, 2009

I don't think the U11 is ugly. It's got a little personality. It's definitely got more than the iPhone...that s**t is so generic now. However I don't see enough of an upgrade to bother buying one to replace my Axon 7.

46. adi5222

Posts: 1; Member since: May 16, 2017

First off, "A shiny back is not enough" Pay more concentration when watching a presentation. The design story behind the Liquid Surface display is amazing and intriguing, so it's not just a shiny back. Oh wait, 3D touch is cool but Edge Sense isn't? It's a much more natural way of interacting with the phone. Imagining squeezing your phone while getting it out of your pocket and boon your camera is ready to capture that great moment you don't want to miss. Of course, it has a few other launch functions and third party developers can take further advantage of this just like they did with "Force Touch" So your point is completely baseless. The idea behind U Sonic is personalising the audio experience to suit your needs and when a pair of included Earphones can do that, you really have no reason to complain. I'm going to throw this out there, this article seems like it's intentionally overly harsh on HTC and that's not the way you're supposed to review a product. Sure reviews can be a little subjective but OBJECTIVITY should be the general theme of any review.

45. TBomb

Posts: 1792; Member since: Dec 28, 2012

I still don't know anyone who buys/doesn't buy a phone strictly because it looks good/bad. By keeping a similar look among upgraded versions of the same phone, the device creates a brand line. it's why a Prius of 2017 looks similar to the Prius of 2014 and not like a Corvette (along with other reasons of course). It's why the iPhone hasn't gone through intense changes over the years. Yes, HTC stuck with the M7 design a little too closely for a little too long but that's not going to be the deciding factor as to why the HTC 11 will be DOA. The reason it will be DOA is because people are not good at making a decision and when you throw more than 2 choices in the mix, people get flustered so they go with the more popular choices ie Samsung and Apple. (My theory has been shortened due to laziness and fear of getting a TLDR :) )

44. jkbane

Posts: 1; Member since: May 16, 2017

Click bait article. This phone is actually pretty good. I'm looking forward to using the BoomSound, Squeeze, camera, and those colors are hot!

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