It’s a tragic reality of mobile life that there’s one thing about “lite” variations of flagship smartphones which is invariably disappointing. Making an attempt to take what makes a flagship telephone particular, and distill down from it these core competencies and emotional attraction to a extra inexpensive worth level all too typically leads to a subpar system with a reputation that over-promises. Making an attempt to flee that black gap of mediocrity is the HTC U11 life, a $300 model of the well-reviewed however niche-selling HTC U11.

Whereas it’s smaller than the U11, the U11 life isn’t as compact a model as you would possibly assume. Nonetheless, it’s sufficient of a distinction to make one-handed use extra sensible, with out sacrificing display screen real-estate too significantly. The 5.2-inch show doesn’t pack the punch of OLED, nevertheless it’s brilliant and colours are good, as are viewing angles. Beneath it there’s a fingerprint reader and capacitive buttons for again and app-switching.

The U11 life could also be acrylic moderately than glass, however you won’t understand whenever you first decide it up. HTC has used the identical multi-layering strategy as with the U11, placing the colour on the underlying layer in order to make it extra scratch-resistant and provides the telephone’s again a lovely shimmer when it catches the sunshine. It’s nonetheless a fingerprint and smudge magnet, thoughts.

Water and dust-proofing have taken a slight step down too, now at IP67, although that also means you’ll be able to dunk the U11 life in a meter of water for as much as 30 minutes. You don’t have to plug the USB Sort-C port first, although HTC does say you shouldn’t attempt to cost the telephone till its completely dry once more. As soon as that’s completed you’ll be able to plug within the bundled USonic headphones which have lively noise cancellation; it’s inferior to what you’d discover on a set of Bose, however contemplating they’d value the identical once more because the U11 life itself it’s an ideal added-extra.

Out of the field there’s Android 7.1 with HTC Sense, working on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 630 chipset. US consumers will get 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, with a microSD card slot to broaden the latter; a world model of the telephone has extra RAM and reminiscence, however runs Android One as a substitute. HTC says that the US telephone will get an improve to Android Oreo inside 30 days of launch.

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MORE HTC U11 Overview

I didn’t notably discover the chipset step down from the U11’s Snapdragon 835, when it comes to efficiency at the very least. Nonetheless I did miss the assist for a second wake-word: on the U11 you’ll be able to say both “Okay Google” or “Alexa” to launch the Google Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa, however on the U11 life it’s locked to Google.

In fact, the U11 life has a second shortcut choice, Edge Sense. Squeeze the decrease half of the telephone and, by default, the digicam launches. Nonetheless, you’ll be able to set it to set off Alexa, the HTC Sense Companion, or launch every other app on the telephone. If I’ve a minor criticism, it’s that the amount and energy button on the facet of the U11 life are set a bit additional down than you would possibly count on; typically once I squeezed for Edge Sense I by accident hit the facility button by mistake.

Sadly, whereas HTC might have used a plastic again for the U11 life, there’s nonetheless no wi-fi charging. Certainly you don’t even get Fast Cost three.zero, although HTC does embody a 10W charger within the field. The two,600 mAh battery gave me pause initially, nevertheless it proved fantastic for a full day of use away from the charger.

Then there’s the digicam. No UltraPixel this time round, however HTC does put a 16-megapixel sensor on the back and front. The primary digicam will get phase-detection autofocus (PDAF) together with an f/2.zero aperture lens, with assist for 4K video recording. On the entrance, there’s fixed-focus and 1080p recording.

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The images aren’t going to win any awards, however give the U11 life loads of gentle and maintain nonetheless, and you may get some first rate photos. The absence of optical picture stabilization doesn’t come as a shock given the worth, nevertheless it does cut back a few of the point-and-shoot flexibility that costlier telephones have come to supply. HDR Increase may help convey extra dynamic vary out of a body, once more for those who can hold nonetheless sufficient. Low-light efficiency is extra of a wrestle: the picture of my cat within the gallery beneath ended up with blur due to the low shutter velocity the U11 life opted for.

All HTC’s trimming, refining, and normal fettling can be for naught if the U11 life was too costly: it’s actually one thing which has hamstrung the corporate’s earlier makes an attempt at midrange telephones. Fortunately that’s not the case at this time. Whereas HTC might be providing the U11 life unlocked and SIM-free for $349 – it’ll work with each AT&T and T-Cellular within the US – T-Cellular is the unique service and is promoting it for $300 outright or $12/mo on a two-year installment plan (with $12 down).

Wrap-up

The midrange smartphone area is a difficult place. On the one hand, you have got made-for-segment telephones just like the HTC U11 life, competing with astonishingly priced rivals from fashionable upstarts like Huawei’s Honor. On the opposite, there are final yr’s flagships: eclipsed by newer silicon, however nonetheless typically packing a greater than succesful punch.

On the one hand, I really feel just like the HTC U11 life doesn’t actually stand out in anybody space. Definitely it’s engaging to take a look at, it has a wonderfully good display screen, and its cameras produce serviceable images. But there’s nobody, single spotlight round which the worth proposition can coalesce.

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As a substitute, it’s a telephone that ticks all the mandatory containers: the trifecta of worth, design, and specification that HTC tells me was its focus from the beginning. T-Cellular’s $300 sticker makes a strongly compelling case, and I favor the U11 life to Motorola’s Moto X4. That will not make for probably the most thrilling handset, nevertheless it’s refreshing within the midrange all the identical.

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