HTC U11 Life hands-on review: HTC just unveiled two handsets to expand its U11 product family; the larger U11+ and a competent new mid-ranger in the U11 Life. Here's what we learnt about the latter.
The U11 Life serves as the spiritual successor to last year's HTC U Play but focuses on distilling down the fundamental selling points of HTC's flagship U11 into a more affordable and compact package, something it looks to have achieved with great success based on our first encounter with the smartphone.
HTC U11 Life hands-on review: Specs at a glance
|Screen resolution||Full HD (1920x1080)|
|OS||Android One 8.0 Oreo|
|Processor||Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 630|
|Storage||32GB/64GB w/ microSD expandability up to 2TB|
|Battery||2600mAh w/ QuickCharge 3.0|
|Extras||IP67, Edge Sense, Hi-Res audio certified, fingerprint sensor, HTC USonic w/ Active Noise Cancellation, NFC|
|Colours||Brilliant Black, Sapphire Blue|
First of all, let's talk about that software experience. Unlike the US version of the Life, which will pack in HTC's own Sense overlay when it launches, the rest of the world, including the UK, will receive a version of the phone powered by Google's own Android One experience.
If you're not familiar with Android One, it's a variant of stock Android that we initially saw Google introduce onto dedicated handsets in emerging markets as a means of better controlling and maintaining a consistent Android experience. The reason the U11 Life is now sporting the OS isn't clear but it might have something to do with Google's recent procurement of a large part of HTC's smartphone team, perhaps as a means of pushing the OS into new markets on a device with an established name. The company wasn't willing to talk about the purchase or its implications, however.
Android One on the U11 Life means a practically stock Android 8.0 Oreo software experience with guaranteed OS updates from Google for two years and security updates for three. Similarly to Google's latest Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL (as well as the standard HTC U11), the Life also benefits from the company's squeezable Edge Sense technology, which can be programmed to open the Google Assistant or any app you fancy.
For a mid-ranger, the Life also packs in some other premium touches like IP67-certified dust and water resistance and Hi-Res audio support tied into HTC's own certified USonic earbuds, which feature active noise cancellation. There's also a 2600mAh battery, which paired to the phone's Full HD resolution should dole out respectable longevity of at least a full 24 hours. Qualcomm's QuickCharge 3.0 smarts are also in there too. All this is wrapped up in a form that closely resembles the U11 proportions albeit at a slightly smaller scale with a cheaper and light acrylic glass back that'll come in two colours (see above).
As for the camera experience, the phone's pair of 16-megapixel snappers both benefit from the company's HDR Boost technology to offer zero-shutter lag and auto-HDR capture by default. The front-facing sensor features a wide-angle lens with an automated selfie mode and the primary rear camera, although unlikely to match the UltraPixel 3 capabilities of HTC's flagship smartphone snapper, have still been tuned in the same manner, yielding a highly respectable DxO Mark score of 90, something we're not used to seeing in the mid-range space.
The Snapdragon 630 SoC places it in the same company as the likes of the Moto Z2 Play and in the UK we're expecting the slightly beefier iteration that includes 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage, with microSD expandability of up to a whopping 2TB.
HTC U11 Life hands-on review: Pricing and availability
HTC confirmed that the U11 Life will hit pre-order on November 2nd toting a respectably competitive price tag of £349 SIM-free. We'll update this article when we have a clearer picture of carrier availability in the UK.
HTC U11 Life hands-on review video
In this video you can see our hands-on review of the U11 Life at the press launch, where we run through the specs and check out some of the best new features.