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Hands-on: HTC U11 Life review

As well as announcing a bigger and better version of it’s flagship phone, HTC has also effectively launched the smaller and cheaper U11 Mini. Here’s our initial hands-on HTC U11 Life review.

Mini versions of phones have all but gone away with only really Sony offering this type of device with, most recently, the Xperia XZ1 Compact.

The HTC U11 Life isn’t quite the same deal in terms of specs but offers some of the flagship’s design and features in a mid-range handset. It’s a bit like the HTC U Play but with some U11 bits and pieces thrown in. Read about both new HTC phones here.

HTC U11 Life Price

With the HTC U11+ priced at £649, it’s unsurprising if it’s the kind of phone which is appealing but simply out of your budget. The cost of smartphones has gone up a lot in the last year or so.

With that in mind, the HTC U11 Life price of just £349 is very affordable, making it very much a mid-range effort – you can pre-order now. It’s impressive that in the UK, that price gets you the higher spec model. See below for details.

Whether or not it can compete with great value phones like the £379 Honor 9 is another question, though.

HTC U11 Life design and build

The best way to think about the U11 Life is a mini version of the U11. It looks very similar in style but in a more manageable size so if even a phone like the original U11 is too big, then the Life version might suit.

We like the look and feel of the U11 Life, it’s an attractive mid-range phone. HTC has used the same design language from the flagship so it’s got a striking curved shape.

HTC U11 Life design

This time, though, the rear cover is made from acrylic instead of glass. The colour still looks good, particularly the Sapphire Blue option, but it doesn’t feel as luxurious or expensive.

That’s understandable but the phone still feels nice in the hand and the acrylic is offers much more grip compared to glass and is more likely to fare well in an accidental drop.

We’d also understand no waterproofing at this price point but the U11 Life is IP67 like its bigger brother.

At the front things are fairly standard with regular sized bezels which below the screen make room for navigation buttons and a fingerprint scanner that’s also the home button.

A key feature from the flagship U11 is Edge Sense – pressure sensors on the side of the phone as another way of interaction. This didn’t blow us away in our U11 review but can now be programmed to do whatever you want – zoom on Google Maps, turn a page on the Kindle app etc.

Overall, this is an impressive start for a £349 phone.

HTC U11 Life colours

HTC U11 Life specs and hardware

Although we’re impressed with the design of the U11 Life, it’s the specs on offer that really show why it’s a lot cheaper.

Screen

The display is a bit smaller than the U11 at 5.2in and the resolution drops to Full HD. That’s understandable for the price tag and the screen looks perfectly acceptable for a mid-ranger.

During our hands-on time the screen looked bright and crisp.

HTC U11 Life screen

Processor, memory and storage

There are various differences when it comes to the internals that help HTC achieve a lower price point. Starting with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 630, a mid-tier processor.

Again, it’s an understandable choice and the U11 Life appears to run pretty smoothly on the Android One system – see software below for details. We’ll test out performance including benchmarks soon.

There’s either 3GB of RAM with 32GB of storage but for the asking price, we get 4/64GB as standard in the UK which is impressive. There’s also a microSD card slot should you need to add more.

Audio

There might not be HTC’s BoomSound speakers here but there are still some features for audio fans.

A lack of headphone jack is a bit of a shame but HTC includes its USonic headphones in the box which use USB-C. There’s also an adapter should you want to use a set of cans with a regular 3.5mm jack.

For such a cheap phone, it’s great to see the U11 Life supports 24-bit Hi-Res audio playback.

HTC U11 Life camera

Cameras

Like the HTC U Play, the U11 Life has a 16Mp camera instead of the UltraPixel 3 found on the U11. It’s got an f/2.0 aperture, HDR Boost and can even record video in 4K – not bad for a pretty cheap phone.

At the front is also a 16Mp camera with f/2.0 and HDR Boost. It’s limited to 1080p video, though.

We need time to test the cameras properly but they seem to be decent after some hands-on time.

Battery Life

Inside the U11 Life is a 2600mAh battery, not too much smaller than the 3000mAh one found in the U11. You’ll need to charge over USB-C and the phone supports Quick Charge 3.0.

We’ll test out battery life soon but for now HTC claims you’ll get an extra two hours of video playback or web browsing compared to the HTC 10.

HTC U11 Life software

HTC U11 Life Software

When it comes to software the U11 Life comes with Android 8.0 Oreo. Getting the latest version is great but it’s also an Android One phone, as the logo on the back shows.

This means that instead of coming with the HTC Sense interface, it’s pure stock Android. You’re getting a device like a Pixel 2, without any additional apps and all the handy Google things like Assistant.

You also get monthly security patches for up to three years and guaranteed OS updates for two years.

Having stock Android means you don’t get things like the handy app wheel found on the U11+, but the phone does have Edge Sense so you can squeeze it to do various things.

About Samuel Patrick

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