There was a time, not so long ago, when HTC was the gold standard for Android phones. At one point, around the release of the HTC One, it wasn’t outrageous to say its design chops were superior to Apple and the iPhone.
Things have not gone well since.
The company has kept churning out mostly decent phones, but has fallen further into obscurity as Samsung furthered its control at the top, competition from China grew, and the space below the highest-end phones became a morass of manufacturers.
The HTC U11, the company’s new $650 flagship, probably won’t reverse those fortunes. But if you’re just not digging Samsung — or Apple for that matter — it’s well worth a look. Here’s why:
From a distance, the HTC U11 is gorgeous. It’s coated in super smooth glass, and the back sports one of a few solid, tremendously deep colors. My blue review unit here is something I’d go out of my way to use — it’s clean, its shine immediately grabs the eye, and the way the light dances off the glass lets the phone almost change colors at different angles. When you rest it on a table, you want to put it face down.
The U11 isn’t the first phone with this look — I adored the similar finish of the Huawei Honor 8 last year — but pretty is pretty.
When you flip the phone over and look at its face, though, the U11 comes off as more dated. At a time where more and more phones are shrinking the borders around their displays, HTC still has giant black bars above and below its screen. Since it wants that screen to be big, the phone is taller than it has to be.
To be clear, having a bezel isn’t some grave sin. Just because the tech world is moving this way doesn’t mean HTC has failed. If the top and bottom bezels were nearly as thin as the ones on the sides, there’d be no issue here. But because they’re big enough to affect how you actually use the phone, they’re a pain point.
Of course, The Great Bezel Debate wouldn’t be as big a deal if phone makers would embrace small screens again, but it seems safe to say that’s not happening anytime soon.
To HTC’s credit, the way the U11’s glass rolls into the aluminum sides is delightfully smooth, and the whole thing is neither thick nor heavy. The fingerprint scanner is fast, and everything is water-resistant. It all feels luxurious. But, practically speaking, the glass is too slick for its own good. Put it on something that isn’t perfectly flat and it’s bound to slide its way to the ground. It can be slippery to hold, too; this is very much not something to use with one hand. And because the back is all glass, it’s a massive fingerprint magnet.
I wouldn’t trust it to be sturdy, either.
You can tidy most of this up by using a case, but then you’re neutering the big selling point of the design in the first place. As much as I love the look of the U11, I wouldn’t be surprised if the annoyances that continuously arise with an all-glass design become overwhelming over time.