Rumour has it that the HTC U11+ was once destined to be the Pixel 2 XL, before a capricious Google changed its mind and chose to work with LG instead.
Look around HTC’s latest flagship and you might even spot some remnants of Google-y design decisions, such as the rear-mounted fingerprint scanner, alongside some HTC hallmarks that did manage to find their way into the Pixel’s eventual design, like the squeeze-sensors on the sides.
They’re evidently related. The HTC U11+ is the Ursula to the Pixel’s Phoebe, the Niles to its Frasier. The phone has the quality, heft and presence of a handset that was very almost Google’s pick to be its six-inch Android superstar.
Instead the understudy arrives to the stage in an altered form as the U11+. This 2018 update to the U11 introduces a larger LED screen on a six-inch 18:9 widescreen display. It’s chunky at 8.5mm thick, like a chocolate bar, and has an utterly mesmerising curved glass finish that could blind a gaggle of migrating geese if pointed in the wrong direction on a sunny day.
The larger sized chassis means the phone can accommodate a seriously juicy battery too, as well as 128GB storage capacity to rival the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus.
HTC’s record of producing audio-focused phones with upscaled and amplified output sets the company apart from its competitors. Here, while HTC has ditched the audio jack, they bundle the U11+ with an DAC-equipped adaptor and a generous pair of noise cancelling earbuds.
Like the Pixel 2 XL, the HTC U11+ makes do with just a single-lens rear camera setup, so while it produces decent photographs it won’t spit out those fancy-pants depth-of-field effects seen on the iPhone. Also worth mentioning is the phone’s “3D audio” feature during video recording, which uses multiple mics to produce high-quality sound during playback. Ideal if you’re one of those people who insist on recording live gigs.
While the operating system and software feel zippy and responsive, the underlying specs powering the HTC U11+ won’t light any fires, and will look positively dated in a couple of weeks when MWC rolls around, bringing new phones with it.
While the HTC U11+ marks the best handset the company’s yet made, this is still a distinctly 2017-feeling phone, a mid-generation stopgap before the soon-to-be-announced next wave arrives.