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Did the HTC U11 Plus start off life as the Pixel 2 XL?

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It looks like you’re looking at the original Pixel 2 XL… before LG took over the process

HTC announcing two phones yesterday took us a little by surprise, but look closer at the HTC U11 Plus, and perhaps we should have seen it coming all along. Within its designs are hints that this is the Pixel 2 XL Google originally signed up for, before passing duties over to LG, which promptly muffed things up.

While HTC continued to make the excellent Pixel 2, the theory goes that Google was originally planning on giving them the Pixel 2 XL as well. Anyone familiar with the history of the Pixel 2 range will know that there were three devices codenamed “walleye”, “muskie” and “taimen”. This originally led people to think that there were going to be three Pixel 2 phones this year, but only walleye and taimen went on to be released. Muskie vanished.

Except it didn’t. Muskie is the HTC U11 Plus.

That may sound a little far fetched, but sources familiar with the matter have confirmed to The Verge that that is indeed the case. And the clues are certainly there: this week an Android code drop referred to muskie again, naming HTC as the manufacturer, highlighting the same pixel density and namechecking a whopping battery. With hindsight, the fact that HTC has included a round fingerprint sensor on the back – just like the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL – is the biggest clue of all. HTC hasn’t had a backplate fingerprint sensor since the HTC One Max.

Of course, the artist formerly known as muskie has had some time to take on HTC’s identity. The shiny glass case is very much like the original U11, and the software takes a similar path. Crucially, while LG stumbled with the Pixel 2’s weak OLED screen, HTC has stuck with LCD – which will almost certainly make for a better experience, given the screen is the Pixel 2 XL’s Achilles’ heel.

There are no winners here. For Google, their ultimate flagship phone is a huge disappointment, and for HTC – however good the U11 Plus ends up being – it’s hard to see it making great waves due to the price, and the weakened power of the brand. If the HTC U11 Plus were the Pixel 2 XL – complete with Google’s amazing camera technology – it might well top our best smartphones list as well as being a best seller. As it is, we’re likely looking at an excellent also ran, much like the U11 before it.

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