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.


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84 Comments

1. omnitech

Posts: 1131; Member since: Sep 28, 2016

Great reasons. I guess nothing else needs to be said. Lol

29. Settings

Posts: 2943; Member since: Jul 02, 2014

We all know it's not the best selling phone but the title is too much. PA is once again biased on OEMs which delivers little site traffic.

57. omnitech

Posts: 1131; Member since: Sep 28, 2016

I posted that comment when there was no article. It was empty. Lol

65. killer7D

Posts: 551; Member since: Sep 18, 2014

I appreciate your comment !

50. Tony_Stark unregistered

Nothing here from HTC makes Sense. /Pun

2. aegislash

Posts: 1499; Member since: Jan 27, 2015

Gosh...seeing the image of the M8 in the article really makes me sad that I sold mine. Granted, I had the Google Play Edition, so I got stock Android rather than Sense....but I still loved every single thing about it. If HTC re-released the one M8 without the black bar/HTC logo at the bottom of the screen, a larger display to fill the space occupied by the black bar, bumped up the camera and internal specs, kept the front facing speakers and headphone jack...it could easily be the best smartphone ever made, honestly.

42. USCarlos

Posts: 6; Member since: Jun 06, 2014

Please stop telling this fairytale. The M8 today would get shouted down as a stale design. You can't go backwards like that. The camera on this device is a true winner. The USonic sound is not a gimmick. Lots of dedication and science went into both aspects of the device.

58. nebula

Posts: 1009; Member since: Feb 20, 2015

I agree in away with you. I think , at least from what I saw on presentation , phone deserves some praise. Sound and photography is at most importance to me. Only one thing that bothers me which is design and its garbage. There are many ways to design phone but this phone looks like a soap bar plastic plastic box.

3. NoAllegiance unregistered

Well at least they got the 3 year contact with google to make the Pixel.

8. HugoBarraCyanogenmod

Posts: 1412; Member since: Jul 06, 2014

Oneplus is the new 'nexus' and Google pixel will not save anyone

4. jellmoo

Posts: 2595; Member since: Oct 31, 2011

A gimmicky feature that solves a problem that does not exist is not a solition. This is a rehash of the LG G5 and its terrible back plate design.

43. USCarlos

Posts: 6; Member since: Jun 06, 2014

Are you serious, the squeeze feature is beyond useful and will only get better. Check my Instagram for a quick demo of the feature at work. I'm @uscarlos over there.

5. ibend

Posts: 6747; Member since: Sep 30, 2014

"If you can't guess which phone this is, it's not your fault" same can be said with iPhone :v

18. AmashAziz

Posts: 2930; Member since: Jun 30, 2014

Everyone can guess an iPhone. You're kidding nobody.

25. cmdacos

Posts: 4216; Member since: Nov 01, 2016

At 20 feet face or back to you, can you tell the difference between a ip6 and ip7?

33. Zylam

Posts: 1817; Member since: Oct 20, 2010

Did he ask for which iPhone? No. Who cares if he's a 7 or 6S, the point is you'd be able to tell it's an iPhone immediately. If you can't recognise an iPhone, then whoever you are, you must be lost because phone arena is not the website you are looking for.

48. AmashAziz

Posts: 2930; Member since: Jun 30, 2014

Thanks, Zylam.

66. killer7D

Posts: 551; Member since: Sep 18, 2014

Welcome to iPhonearena

6. Mreveryphone

Posts: 1822; Member since: Apr 22, 2014

It's almost like they completely neglected to update the front design of the phone... I used to be a htc fanatic.. I still have my m7, that is still the best designed htc phone to date.

7. Plasticsh1t

Posts: 3108; Member since: Sep 01, 2014

I bet PA got the review unit of the U11. Can you predict the score?

10. Madmax

Posts: 110; Member since: Aug 19, 2016

4-5 maybe? What say about 3 for the XZ premium?

14. maherk

Posts: 6884; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

The XZP must receive atleast a score of 8.5.

20. androiduser

Posts: 510; Member since: Jun 18, 2014

I think it will receive less than 8 and it deserves that

30. Plasticsh1t

Posts: 3108; Member since: Sep 01, 2014

I would say 8.0 to 8.5 for the U11. 8.5 to 9.0 for the XZ Premium.

11. NoAllegiance unregistered

8.5-8.9

12. ibend

Posts: 6747; Member since: Sep 30, 2014

7.0-7.5

9. Madmax

Posts: 110; Member since: Aug 19, 2016

And..... You forgot to mention that it currently holds the spot for the best smartphone camera in the world.. Hate much? Except for Appie and Sammie and Googie and some Huaweiiie, you can't speak good of the real players, can you? Sony Xperia XZ premium is bad because of its naming scheme, and this phone is bad because it doesn't differentiate itself.. Pray tell, can you tell tell the difference between the majority of the phones in the market.? From apple to cheap Huawei everyone's got metal phones with similar design.. at least sony and htc have taken a different approach. well lg and Samsung is a different case.. Still majority of their phones look alike..

17. Lumberjack

Posts: 306; Member since: May 04, 2017

I bet PA will say htc11 has camera worst than i7+

26. tyrion_lannister unregistered

Having the best camera doesn't make it the best phone ever. It's 2017 where a phone has to be differentiated based on its flaws, not the features. The camera won't save it from the mediocre battery capacity, the huge bezels, the lack of audio jack and the sky high price. This phone commands the same price as the S8 and just offers a slightly better camera. S8 on the other hand has better screen, design, has an audio jack, is much smaller with bigger screen and has much much more features like wireless charging, Samsung pay and so on.... What's more, the Oneplus 5 will come in less than a month and make this phone completely worthless with better specs for half the price.

13. notfair

Posts: 745; Member since: Jan 30, 2017

I agree the phone is not that impressive but please, this is a pure hate article and there's no deny to that. Basically what he wrote here he can just change the name from HTC to iphone and there you go, same bad stuff. I'm not trying to defend HTC but that squeeze feature is some innovation, what apple brought in the last 5 years? same bezels?

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