HTC U11 Life review: Hands-on with the U11’s affordable squeeze

Once, there was a time when the tail end of the year wasn’t filled with smartphone launches. You might, like me, have expected to have already seen everything 2017 has to offer. But oh no, with Razer only recently launching its 120Hz screened smartphone, HTC is now getting in on the action, with a pair of new handsets under the U11 name.

We’re not here to talk about the bezel-less U11 Plus (although you can read my thoughts on that phone here); in this review I’ll be going into depth about the U11’s smaller and cheaper alternative, the HTC U11 Life.

HTC U11 Life: What you need to know

The HTC U11 Life is the younger and cheaper sibling in the now-three-strong HTC U11 family. It comes equipped with Qualcomm’s latest mid-range processor – the Snapdragon 635 – and includes 4GB of RAM and 64GB of expandable storage by up to 1TB via microSD.

On the front is a 5.2in Full HD Super LCD display and, on the back, sits a 16-megapixel f/2.0 camera. It also runs Android 8.0 Oreo straight out of the box, is Android One certified (more on that later) and is IP67 dust- and water-resistant.

HTC U11 Life: UK price, release date and specifications

The HTC U11 Life is available to pre-order from 2 November 2017 for £349. At that price, it goes up against  our current mid-range favourite, Samsung’s Galaxy A5 (£350). The Honor 9 (£380) is another excellent flagship killer to contend with, and the Motorola Moto Z2 Play (£379) better watch its back.

HTC U11 Life vs HTC U11: What’s the difference?

The HTC U11 Life is significantly smaller than the now five-month-old HTC U11. It has a standard shape, 16:9 5.2in display and the resolution is a tad lower, too at 1080p. Of course, Full HD on a phone this small is perfectly acceptable.

The crucial differences lie in the HTC U11 Life’s innards and the camera. Inside, you’ll find Qualcomm’s latest mid-range processor – an octa-core Snapdragon 630 – instead of the top-end 835 in the U11, with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. If you run out space, there’s a microSD slot with support for cards up to 1TB in capacity.

At the reduced price, the U11 Life gets a 16-megapixel camera on the rear, with phase detection autofocus, zero-lag HDR capture, 4K video recording and an f/2.0 aperture. The front camera is much the same, with a 16-megapixel, f/2.0 snapper.

HTC U11 Life review: Design, key features and first impressions

At face value, the HTC U11 Life isn’t a radical departure from the regular U11. On the back, you’ll spot the, still wonderful, coloured “liquid glass” rear, which gleams different shades of blue or black depending on where the light catches it. The material it’s made up of is slightly different from the U11 – it’s acrylic glass this time – but it still picks up plenty of fingerprints.

Elsewhere, like its plus-sized alternative, the volume rocker and power button are sensibly placed on the right edge, with the solitary USB Type-C port on the bottom edge. And again, there’s no 3.5mm headphone jack.

As for the display, the U11 doesn’t follow down the same, bezel-less, edge-to-edge display of the U11 Plus but instead opts for a regular 16:9 5.2in effort, bezels and all. There’s a fingerprint reader doing double duties with the central home button just underneath, flanked by touch-based back and recent-apps buttons.

Software-wise, the U11 Life is a little bit special. It ships with Android 8.0 Oreo straight out of the box; it’s also the first “Android One”-certified smartphone encountered. What does that mean? In short, it’s a certification that limits manufacturer customisation and guarantees both security and software updates for a certain time. In this case, it’s three and two years respectively.

HTC U11 Life review: Early verdict

And that’s what makes the U11 Life so appealing. None of its competition, be that the Moto Z2 Play or Honor 9, are Android One certified. With the U11 Life, you know you’ll be receiving regular software updates for at least two years.

Elsewhere, HTC has cooked up a strong contender for mid-range smartphone of the year. Its specifications are intriguing, and its design is excellent, but whether it can nudge 2017’s excellent mid-rangers off the top spot remains to be seen.

Processor Octa-core 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 630
Screen size 5.2in
Screen resolution 1,920 x 1,080
Screen type Super LCD
Front camera 16-megapixel
Rear camera 16-megapixel
Flash LED
Compass Yes
Storage (free) 64GB
Memory card slot (supplied) microSD
Wi-Fi 802.11ac
Bluetooth 5.0
Wireless data 4G
Dimensions 149.1 x 72.9 x 8.1mm
Weight 142g
Operating system Android 8.0
Battery size 2.600mAh

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