HTC U11 review after months of S8

I already did an article of (me) an HTC loyal customer who get the S8, after about 9 months with the Galaxy S8 it’s time to go back to HTC and I got a U11.

So this is a real review based on everyday usage of the U11 and how I feel going back to HTC after using the S8 for a long time.

Design:

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The superb Blue Sapphire

When the Galaxy S8 was out I was baffled by its look, it was revolutionary, sleek, sexy and frame-less, compared to it the U11 was ”old school” with its bezels.

With the S8 the design begin to be boring after a couple of months, the screen feels more plastic than glass and it begins to feel like a toy.

While the U11 is a classic, the bezels are not so bad, the Sony Xperia of 2017 and iphone 8 have even larger bezels. the back of the U11 is superb, much better than the S8, it has this mix of glass and metal that looks more like a liquid metal texture, I got the blue sapphire one which is very sexy, I must say all the colors of the U11 are pretty.

The whole phone feels serious and in the same time with a special signature of colors in the back.

 

Screen:

Ok now a point where the S8 was praised for: the HDR Samoled screen! so how dos the U11’s screen compare to it?

Let’s begin with the size:

We have 5.8” of 18/9 with the S8 which is an equivalent of 5.65” on a 16/9 ratio, and the U11 with 5.5”. And frankly I feel both screen to be as big.

The S8 is longer while the U11 is larger, personally I prefer the 16/9 factor even after using the 18/9 one, yes the 18/9 advantage is that the phone is a bit more one handed friendly, but the U11 16/9 screen has the advantage to have better looking wallpapers due to its more natural look and more screen estate in width.

Blacks are definitely better on S8, the Amoled screen of course is the big help here, the U11 has pretty good blacks as long as you are facing the screen, unfortunately it has bad viewing angles with blacks that turn grey when viewing the screen from left or right sides, you won’t have bad viewing angles viewing from top or bottom though. So in real life usage it won’t really matter.

Whites! Here the U11 is way better, whites are pure, even if you make them slightly warmer or colder (in the screen settings) they will stay much whiter than on the S8, specially that because of the infamous pink tinted edges I had to decrease the reds to the max even after applying the edges fix, making the whites even greener and bluer.

Viewing under direct sunlight with the Lebanese sun was easy with both devices, the U11 is even very slightly better using Automatic brightness as long as you don’t use the red limit brightness boost of the S8 that will make it on top, and like Samsung’s warning  I strongly don’t recommend using the red zoned boost because of battery drain and more importantly screen burn-ins, the U11 and the S8 are very close to each other and will be the perfect smartphones to use when controlling a drone for example in a Spring or Summer day, with a small advantage for the U11 as there are no burn-ins danger at all.

Sound & Audio quality:

As you may know already, HTC is not using front facing speakers anymore but still uses 2 speakers, one being on the top front of the phone and one at the bottom side, stereo is still there and you can pick between ”Theatre” and ”Music” Boomsound mode. The speakers are loud, clear and have some bass, music reproduction on them are better than on the tight speakers of the S8 even if you are using the stereo mod on rooted models.

As for the 3.5mm jack I am disappointed by the rather foolish move of HTC to take it away just to copy apple, it was a huge advantage on the HTC 10 as it was coupled with a powerful Amp and one of the best DAC on smartphone ever. It was one of the reason I opted for the S8 back in June as it kept the headphone jack. With the S8 I had to use the Dolby Atmos app to give some life to the sound quality over the earphones and the result was very nice. The U11 comes with and adapter USB C to 3.5mm and out of the box it’s as loud if not very slightly louder than the S8 using my beloved KZ ZS3, coupled to V4A (another root app) I can reach nearly the same loudness as with the HTC 10 which is amazing, though I have found a better app called USB DAC Gain Control which also boost the max DAC volume but also keeps it clean from noises while V4A can be louder but raise the noise floor. Unfortunately the only Dolby Atmos port on Oreo for the moment is poor and doesn’t give a clear audio quality like it used to be with Nougat. So I am using Ainur Sauron (available at Magisk downloads) while waiting for a better version.

Keep in mind that I will grab a Razer USB C to 3.5mm dongle soon as they are known to be louder and clearer than HTC’s dongles.

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The HTC dongle coupled with a pair of KZ ZS3

The U11 comes with a pair of Usonic earphones which are the best pair of stock earphones I ever got with a smartphone, the soundstage is wide, the details are crisp and good, the bass is not to heavy and sound isolation is very good. It’s the perfect pair of iem for people who use buses,subways…As for sports lovers like me who use the earphones while running,skiing, gym…we need earphones that fit well and don’t pop out easily from our ears, the Usonic are not the best choice for that as they don’t have any memory wire like the  KZ ZS series,  I have added ear guides to make them harder to pop out but it’s still not perfect. I would recommend a good pair of memory wired Kz ZS3 for example coupled on the dongle.

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Camera:

While the S8 was pretty good with the jpeg given by the camera, it was so-so for Raw, HDR and low light was too soft due to heavy noise removal. Using the Google Pixel camera port aka Gcam the results were better, HDR worked like a charm and the photos got more details. The U11’s camera on another hand is supreme! Even using the stock camera app and HDR the results are better than with S8, low light is superior thanks to lower noise removal and so more detailed results.

Using Gcam is the cherry on top! In case of more dynamic range the HDR+ makes wonders. the U11’s lens suddenly has more micro-contrast, clarity and off course better HDR results. You can download the C version here or here.

HDR dog fight between HTC stock cam HDR and Gcam, as you can see gcam not only renders better dynamic range but also have much less noise. Focus was on the house’s roof on both photos.

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Stock HTC cam HDR Auto

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Gcam HDR+

Gcam also gives a ”Portrait” mode, that will blur out anything outside a subject’s face, which is really cool if you want to blur out unwanted decor or/and want to use this effect to give more attention to this specific person as you can also choose which face(s) to focus on. Bare in mind this mode will slightly zoom the image, so the field of view will be narrower.

Both camera apps will give you the Raw option by producing DNG, to give you total control on your photos if you want to edit them later on PC or Mac. Don’t expect a Fujifilm X-T10 Raf level of details and noise as obviously there is a huge difference in sensors size, but the U11’s Raws definitely outperformed the S8’s Exynos cameras ones.

The only negative with Stock HTC camera Jpeg is that it’s very slightly over-exposed and blues are slightly more into purple, so if you use stock jpeg don’t hesitate to use lower a notch the exposure level while on the app and adjust the WB with editors.

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Raw Stock HTC cam quickly edited with my liking

 

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Raw from Gcam quickly edited with my liking

 

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Stock HTC cam with HDR Auto Jpeg untouched

 

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Gcam Jpeg full Auto untouched

 

Ok now there are some difference between Gcam and stock HTC camera apps in other areas like for example the jpeg size out of Gcam can weight between 7 and 10mb per photo while a jpeg from HTC stock app can vary between 2.5mb and 5.5mb, but the Jpeg from Stock HTC has really good levels of details ans sharpness at 100% crop. The difference now between Raw and jpeg is not significant in that matter.

Raws DNG from gcam have already noise removal while the Raws from HTC cam app are really 100% Raw, meaning you have to use the noise removal tool, but in the end you can get more details with Raw stock.

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100% crop from Jpeg

 

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100% crop from Raw treated in Capture 1

 

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100% crop from Gcam DNG treated with Capture 1

So in the end, for a maximum of details I will use stock HTC raw, for difficult lighting situations (strong shadows+ highlights) I will use Gcam and for quick but good jpegs I will use stock HTC cam.

Now as discussed already for close-up we have 2 main modes, classic close-ups and portrait, as it sounds portrait is for faces.

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Close-up with Stock HTC cam Jpeg

Thanks to Hamdir from XDA here the recommended settings for Gcam:

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Battery:

One of the reason I sold the s8 was the poor battery, I could get 3h30 SOT max with the Exynos S8 and that was before Oreo, with Oreo people are reporting even worse battery.

With my Oreo U11 I can reach 5h SOT with the same max brightness Auto, from what I heard HTC is releasing an update soon to fix the battery drain of Oreo, so I should expect even more than 5h SOT. With a heavy usage (4G, Wifi, VR, BT, browsing social medias…) I can have a full day of battery while with the S8 I had to charge it twice a day.

UI:

Another reason I hated the S8 was the lags and bad touch response of the S8, the UI won’t seem laggy at first with good animations but when you will open a stock app like Messages or dialer you will see the lags, same goes for the slow touch response. With the U11 it’s 100% lagless, everything is super snappy, every stock app opens in a fraction of second and the whole experience is enjoyable thanks to the great touch response.

Edge Sense is also another welcomed add-on as you can launch for example the camera and take a photo without even touching the screen! You can now customize it to launch any app and function you want

VR:

At first I was a bit deceived by the U11 performance with VR movies using VAR’s player, it has lot of aliasing killing the image quality whatever FOV I picked in the app, but since I am using VRTV app everything is as smooth and good as on S8, this app uses the same method of special screen mode as GearVR do for movies, eliminating any aliasing and making the movement smoother.

Conclusion:

With the presence of the HTC U11+ in the market as well as the brand new S9, and the incoming U12+, you wonder if the HTC U11 is still a good option, well I will say definitely YES! Even if you already have a 2017’s S8 I recommend getting the U11.

Yes the U11+ has a bigger and better screen in terms of contrast and viewing angles, though it suffers from an average brightness and so an average sunlight visibility, and there are no custom roms, the U11+ price also is about +150$ compared to the U11.

The S9 is the exact same design as the S8 so if you are bored from the S8 you won’t be happy with the S9, it’s also reported as being slow, and of course the price is much more expensive than the U11, we are talking +250/300$

The U12+ will have all the U11+ advantages plus dual rear cameras and the even faster snapdragon 845, but the price would be about +200/250$ and it won’t be out before late May, so if you are gonna wait for the price to drop a bit you can wait till August.

Here some conclusion keys:

Screen: U11 has a 16/9, bright, colorful and splendid whites but suffers from rather poor viewing angles, while the S8 has better black and viewing angles but can suffer from pink or blue edges, and burnins risk.

-Design: U11’s back is marvelous, front is pretty good even with the frames, S8’s back is boring, the front is sexy but it’s also boring after a while.

-Camera: The U11 win in every aspects of the camera, Raw,jpeg and HDR.

-Audio: I still find the choice of HTC to suppress the superb the amp+DAC we saw with the HTC 10 to eliminate the 3.5mm jack on the u11 a bad choice and I congrats samsung to keep the 3.5mm jack, though with the proper mods the U11 + stock dongle is impressive, I will get a Razer dongle later to compare. Of course the on-board speakers are better than s8 (with or without the stereo mod for rooted S8)

-UI and speed: If there is something I particularly love with HTC phones it’s the UI, it’s blazing fast, logic and full of themes, while the S8’s UI is much better than previous Galaxy S it’s still full of lags specially with stock apps. The U11 touch response beat the hell out of the S8’s one making the whole experience much more enjoyable with the U11.

So yes with the actual lowered price of the U11, I highly recommend it, don’t be fooled by the S8 or S9 sexiness because you will curse the lags, the snapdragon 835 is perhaps a 2017 model but on the U11 it’s still fastest and buttery smooth than all other Android phones but Pixel (XL). You will also get a better battery,camera and speakers than S8.

 

 

 

 

 

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One thought on “HTC U11 review after months of S8

  1. Pingback: Welcome to Fuji and Stuff | Fuji and Stuff

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