Camera

HTC's modernized UltraPixel camera has what it takes to make a believer out of you


Much like Samsung did with the Galaxy S8, HTC's not delivering a hugely overhauled camera for this year's big flagship. Like the camera on the HTC 10, we're looking at a 12MP UltraPixel sensor. And actually, compared to the HTC 10, the U11's got a slightly smaller sensor, which initially had us a little concerned about image quality; could less surface area with which to capture light actually lead to higher-fidelity shots?

Well, there's a little more to the U11's camera than just size and resolution, and this year does deliver some real upgrades. One of the most prominent is dropping last year's laser-assisted auto-focus for a Dual Pixel system – just like Samsung uses.

Around front, the upgrades are even easier to spot, as the HTC 10's 5MP selfie cam has been upgraded to a hefty 16MP camera.

Going into this review, we weren't quite sure what to make of all this. Would those enhancements really put the U11's photo-taking in a class above the HTC 10? Was the smaller main sensor a step in the wrong direction? It didn't take using the U11 for very long to realize that we operating one of the best smartphone cameras to cross out path in months.

Image quality


Taking pictures with the U11 is extremely straightforward; the interface is clean and not cluttered with superfluous effects and shooting modes, yet powerful manual controls are also just a few taps away. And if you're taking advantage of Edge Sense, snapping a pic is as simple as giving the U11 a couple squeezes: once to call up the camera, and once to trigger the shutter.


But the truly impressive stuff isn't how easy the camera is to operate, but the quality of the pictures it generates. And let's not make any mistake about it: they're really, really good. The third-gen UltraPixel camera handles tricky exposures without taking too many missteps, and really speedy, precise focus helps ensure that your subject will cleanly captured. From distant landscapes to extremely up-close macros, the U11 shines across a multitude of shooting conditions.

That extends to indoor and other low-light environments as well, and despite our reservations about the smaller pixel size with this year's camera, the results speak for themselves. Even in really dark settings, you don't end up with some splotchy mess, but an image with pronounced grain that looks a lot like what you might achieve with a high-quality film camera.

The front-facer performs decently, too, and has the distinction of generating higher-res shots than the phone's main camera. We're just curious why there's no option like on the similarly 16MP-equipped U Ultra to trade resolution for light sensitivity with a 4MP UltraPixel mode.

Especially with the phone's auto-HDR setting engaged, the U11 is capable of producing some hugely impressive photos without requiring much in the way of user attention. It's not quite as stunning as the camera on the also-HTC-made Google Pixel, but it's very much in the same ballpark.

Taking a pic Lower is better Taking an HDR pic (sec) Lower is better CamSpeed score Higher is better CamSpeed score with flash Higher is better
HTC U11 1.8
2.1
1142
1175
Samsung Galaxy S8+ 1.2
1.3
730
622
LG G6 1.7
2.7
522
530
Sony Xperia XZ Premium 1.5
1.7
No data
No data

Video recording


As shouldn't be any kind of surprise, a phone with a camera that produces some really nice still shots also handles video recording without too much trouble. The U11 supports filming in resolutions up to ultra-HD 4K, however, while video recorded in 1080p looks fluid and stable enough, our 4K footage turned out rather jumpy and unstabilized. That said, no matter which resolution you're using, the camera is quick to keep up with shifting conditions, dialing exposure up and down as ambient lighting changes, and being really speedy adjusting focus to keep up with moving subjects – no doubt thanks to Dual Pixel technology.

But the real stars of the U11's video technology don’t have anything to do with what's happening visually, and instead are on the audio side of the equation. Your first choice is whether you want to record in high-res audio or 3D audio.

The former records sound at an impressive 96KHz in 24-bit fidelity, and saves it in the lossless FLAC format. Admittedly, that kind of sample rate is probably overkill, but it's still a little comforting to know that you're shooting video with the highest-quality audio you can.


Multimedia

HTC's bold introduction of active noise cancellation for its earbuds puts the U11 in a class of its own

Much like the U11's skill at recording video, the most interesting parts about how it lets you consume multimedia are less focused on visuals and more on audio. That's not to take anything away from the big, bright, high-res screen on the phone, but without anything interesting like an 18:9 shape going on here, there's little of note to talk about.

Instead, we're looking at some big upgrades when it comes to sound, both in the form of improved speakers and some intriguing new developments with the U11's earbuds.


The good news for the speakers is that they're noticeably louder and fuller-sounding than those on the HTC 10, generating decently-balanced audio … with the help of two pre-configured EQ settings, for either music mode or theater mode. Of the two, theater tends to sound a little better, but as the availability of the other option should help indicate, it's really not ideal for music playback: what it gains in enhanced mids, it loses with blown-out bass.

We don't love how HTC isn't feeling much affection for stereo front-facing speakers anymore, but the U11 does make a concession to those days of yore by using its earpiece as a front speaker, helping out the main speaker on the phone's bottom edge. As is far from uncommon with arrangements like this, the earpiece speaker is quiet and treble-heavy, but its presence adds just enough to the U11's audio output to elevate it above strictly-mono handsets.

What's a bit more interesting is what's going with the earbuds. First off – elephant in the room – no, the U11 isn't bringing back the analog headphone jack. HTC started moving away from that port last year, and there's no sign it's going to return. But even that's not all bad news, as the manufacturer has finally decided to bundle a USB Type-C-to-analog adapter in the U11's box, letting you easily take advantage of your existing headphones. How including such an adapter wasn't an obvious step with phones like the Bolt or U Ultra, we really, really can't say, but for now we're just glad that HTC's finally come to its senses.

Edge Sense may get the headlines as the U11's big new feature, but a feature with the potential to be even more impressive is waiting for you in the phone's USB Type-C USonic headphones: active noise cancellation. Already, we've seen how HTC's headphones can use on-board microphones to streamline the setup process, like how they scan your ear canal to configure a listening profile custom-tailored to your body.

Now with the U11, HTC takes that one step further and taps into the power of the phone's digital interface to sample background noise and generate a noise-canceling signal that's routed back up to the earbuds in real time. That's unlike anything we're seeing other phones attempt, and could easily put the U11 at a big advantage – depending on how well it works.

There's a hiccup or two to how you can take advantage of the noise cancellation, though. With stand-alone headphones, you may have tried turning on their noise-cancellation circuitry when not listening to any actual music – just using them as really advanced earplugs to let you enjoy some peace and quiet. Doing so is also a great demo for just how powerful noise-cancellation tech can be.

But on the U11, there's no way to simply toggle the cancellation on – not independently of listening to other audio, at least. Instead, the cancellation is tied to the custom audio profile you set up for your ears. You can turn on the custom equalizer and the active noise cancellation, or keep them both off, but there's no way to engage the features independently.

That makes it tricky to evaluate them separately, especially as the EQ-boost has a way of making everything sound louder – and correspondingly, makes it that much more difficult to appreciate the noise cancellation. But after creating some audio files consisting of just silence and loading them to the U11, we were finally able to evaluate the quality of the cancellation on its own.

And indeed, it does deliver on its promises, helping to minimize the intrusion of unwanted background noises. But the effect is also a little less pronounced than we've experienced on other noise-canceling headphones, and combined with the awkward software situation of tying its use to active audio playback, makes the feature less compelling than we feel it could be. Maybe HTC will tweak things a bit in the right direction through a future software upgrade, but we wouldn't buy the phone betting on it. In the end, the whole package of the noise-canceling earbuds is good – not great.

Headphones output power (Volts) Higher is better
HTC U11 0.795
Samsung Galaxy S8+ 0.74
LG G6 0.78
Sony Xperia XZ Premium 0.36
Loudspeaker loudness (dB) Higher is better
HTC U11 75.1
Samsung Galaxy S8+ 80
LG G6 74
Sony Xperia XZ Premium 70


FEATURED VIDEO

149 Comments

1. NoAllegiance unregistered

Lol, these cons are laughable. I expected this to get a 9, but then again, this is phonearena.

3. NoAllegiance unregistered

EDIT: ok, maybe not a 9, but definitely more than 8.2

11. combatmedic870

Posts: 984; Member since: Sep 02, 2015

I agree a 8.8 would have been appropriate. This rating is ridiculous. It's Major con is that it looks dated... It has a 3000 mah battery, beating out the competition that has a 3500...that is a feat on its own. It's the phone a 9? No. For what the phone is.... Its a 8.7-8.8. Seeing the battery life. This will be my next phone. BTW PA one PRO you forgot to meantion... Is having the ability to unlock the boot loader with out voiding the warranty... People still search for phones capable of this(let alone a Flagship!) . Myself included.

15. combatmedic870

Posts: 984; Member since: Sep 02, 2015

Wait.... You guys are using a Samsung geekbench score from a bootloader unlocked, S8+ with a custom kernel? You guys do realize this will be the first Sd835 device that will be able to take custom kernels(a full custom kernel at that). It's going to destroy the S8+ geek bench score that has a custom kernel. I expect the same to be done with the HTC and the score to be changed....

19. Hyperreal

Posts: 361; Member since: Oct 08, 2013

its easily a 9 phone with best audio, best camera, best battery life among 2017 flagships, with a 16:9 ratio non curved screen (I dont see 18:9 as a better aspect ratio by now, most videos are 16:9), great pixel like fast software, no USF 2.0 vs 2.1 cheating, DDR4X ram (not confrimed 100%).

69. sintruder

Posts: 162; Member since: Aug 30, 2012

This has to go as the most ridiculous review of all time. I don't usually comment but the review(cons) and score is so ridiculous that it forced me to comment

62. JesseJames

Posts: 226; Member since: Feb 22, 2015

I'll be honest, I do agree that it looks somewhat dated. The m9 was garbage and honestly the m10 is what the m9 should have been and the u11 is what the m10 should have been. So in my eyes, htc is basically a year behind. I'm still getting one on one of my other lines though.

70. Hyperreal

Posts: 361; Member since: Oct 08, 2013

so they are a year behing with a phone that is clearly one of the best right now? right...

63. NoAllegiance unregistered

I mean, this phone scored less than HTC M8 and M9. Let that sink in. The LG V20, one of the most underrated smartphones of last year got an 8.

65. Bankz

Posts: 2542; Member since: Apr 08, 2016

The v20 got an 8? Lol, lmao PA!

123. Darckent

Posts: 89; Member since: Sep 17, 2016

I've said it before phone arena are the worst tech sure around Dated design where was that when iPhone released the same design for the years in a row Big bezels again where was that in the iPhone reviews? HTC is still smaller than the big bezels iPhone and they never once mention how badly engineered the iPhone was I'm still wondering why people don't boycott this scam of a site

137. you_sukk_it

Posts: 219; Member since: Apr 11, 2017

dont worry about the v20. those who know what a kick ass phone it is, bought it. I dont need pa to tell me what a monster it is. youtube. com/watch?v=_44iBjFqo8I

80. rakel.kiki83

Posts: 2; Member since: Jun 01, 2017

Really? S8 has 3000 battery, don't lay to people.

101. combatmedic870

Posts: 984; Member since: Sep 02, 2015

It was compared to the S8+ dude.

139. WGACA

Posts: 130; Member since: May 08, 2015

Depends how the battery life is tested. I watch a lot of YouTube and Netflix on my phone. I can tell you the S8 will beat the HTC 11 by mile in that department.

78. cocoy

Posts: 457; Member since: Oct 30, 2015

I am expecting to see comments​ like this after seeing those cons and score given for a phone with excellent camera, audio output, excellent battery and snappy OS. almost everything needed for a phone to have.

82. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

Why? Boring design? Too shiny. HTC edge sense is stupid/gimmicky. A 9 just because it has a nice camera?

89. aknotts66

Posts: 3; Member since: May 24, 2017

Great Camera, Better performance that the S8 when both set to QHD, Better external speakers, no bloat, great battery life. Most important aspects are camera,battery, and performance.

109. amats69

Posts: 1527; Member since: Nov 12, 2012

how about.. a 9 for galaxy s8 because it has an extra useless screen??oh wait..not totally useless because u got more app icon in app drawer because of that... this phone is a lot better than the s8..camera,battery,performance.

88. aknotts66

Posts: 3; Member since: May 24, 2017

I agree. Phone Arena's final ratings are a joke. Great performance, great camera, great battery life = 8.2. The 3 pillars of a smartphone it nailed and phone arena gives it just a 8.2 lol. Phone Arena Grade = 7 meh of a website. lol.

134. Kal-el

Posts: 96; Member since: Dec 14, 2012

ONLY iphone arena can turn edge sense into a CON....hahahaha this site and it writers is a f**king joke . "over engineering" ....Its CALLED INNOVATION if iPhone take this same s**t next year you writers will call the PHONE OF THE CENTURY ...HERE IS 9 ARTICLES TALKING ABOUT THE SAME s**t WE ALREADY COVERED...#sponsoredSheep IM DONE with this site

6. Bankz

Posts: 2542; Member since: Apr 08, 2016

HTC U DEAD

24. BLUEBLASTER

Posts: 930; Member since: Feb 23, 2014

No its iPhonearena

25. Myphoneisonfire

Posts: 403; Member since: Sep 05, 2016

It deserves nothing more than what it got . Big bezels , no 3.5 mm . No resale value for sure. i sold my absolute mint condition htc 10 for 250$ after 6 months of use whereas my s7 edge with a couple of scuffs got me 450 $ after 8 months of use. HTC U is not even DOA .... Its DBA

57. Lois13

Posts: 61; Member since: Nov 20, 2015

Where do you live where you could only sell a HTC 10 for only $250 after 6 months? In the US the unlocked ones are still consistently sold for 300-400 on Swappa and it's been a year since release.

94. Myphoneisonfire

Posts: 403; Member since: Sep 05, 2016

I live in Chicago , i put the ad up on craigslist . There was hardly any response to my ad and all low ball offers. I ended up selling it for 270 or so. Ill try swappa the next time.

73. piyath

Posts: 2445; Member since: Mar 23, 2012

STFU troll....lol

112. Myphoneisonfire

Posts: 403; Member since: Sep 05, 2016

How is colombo? pooyath?

39. amro99

Posts: 114; Member since: Nov 29, 2012

Hahaha, so what HTC needs to do to get a 9+ rating from phonearena? Remove the noise canceling ear buds Disable the edge sense Disable 4 mics & 3d audio reording and use one or 2 normal mics like other oems :))) And why the heck have you compared it with s8+?? Isn't that phone almost 50% more expensive that u11?? Finally, go see vid comparisons of this 5.5 inch phone with a gs8 that has 5.8 inch on YouTube. You'll immidiately see that 16:9 is far better for audio and gaming, with no wasted black bars. S8 s screen looks dance only when no app is open and you are looking at wallpapers

41. amro99

Posts: 114; Member since: Nov 29, 2012

Correction: s8's screen looks nice..... :))
U11
  • Display 5.5" 1440 x 2560 pixels
  • Camera 12 MP / 16 MP front
  • Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, Octa-core, 2450 MHz
  • Storage 64 GB + microSDXC
  • Battery 3000 mAh(24.5h 3G talk time)

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