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HTC U11 Review: Better than the Pixel

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To beat the best, you have to know their product, learn from it, and make something even grander.

That’s the formula HTC followed: Manufacturer the Pixel under Google’s guidance, study Android’s blueprints, and create a smartphone with all that in mind.

The process took a while to complete — over half a year after the Pixel launched — but the U11 with its shimmering back speaks for itself. I can tell you as early as now that it beats Google’s flagship at its own game.

Except, the wasn’t very clear at first. HTC’s marketing push for the U11 highlights the gimmicky Edge Sense feature, which allows you to squeeze the handset for a function of your choice. Heck, the primary slogan is “Squeeze for the Brilliant U.” It’s a shame, since this smartphone isn’t some one-trick pony.

I admit to constantly using Edge Sense for activating the LED flashlight; being able to grip the phone a little harder in total darkness is a lot more useful than you’d expect. But for me, that’s as far as its usefulness goes.

I’d rather say “Okay, Google” to activate Google Assistant from standby, double-press the power button to turn on the camera app at anytime, or simply swipe through my app drawer and settings to access everything else.

There were times when Edge Sense would simply get in the way. An accidental squeeze meant shining a bright flash on my light-sensitive eyes — or worse, at an unsuspecting friend or stranger in the elevator (the latter actually happened).

Sure, you could adjust the pressure sensitivity of the feature, but delving any further into the gimmick meant missing out on the U11’s true strengths, namely the camera, silky smooth performance, and surprisingly, the incredible battery life.

Let’s start with the camera. As mentioned in our launch article, the U11 currently has the highest-rated smartphone shooter in the world based on DxOMark’s well-respected test. A score of 90 puts it above the 89 points of the former champ, the — you guessed it — Google Pixel.

As a preacher of real-world experience over fancy digits on data sheets, I have to agree with the numbers for once and say that HTC’s pride and joy does indeed edge out the Google phone by a… pixel. That says a lot, because the Pixel handily won our smartphone camera comparison earlier this year, and competed quite well against the more advanced Samsung Galaxy S8.

On top of that, the U11 comes with this thing called 3D audio recording, which maximizes the four microphones installed on the phone to record sound from all directions during video shooting. It also amplifies audio from where you zoom in, but I honestly couldn’t tell the difference, even with the pleasantly loud stereo speakers (one on the bottom for bass and another in the earpiece for highs and mids).

While we’re on the topic of sounds, let’s get this out of the way: This phone does not have a 3.5mm audio port. It sucks, and is something I have to deal with whenever I want to hook it up to my car’s speakers or any of my old non-wireless headphones. Sure, there’s a USB-C to audio jack adapter in the box, but that doesn’t solve the issue of charging while being plugged in.

HTC feels like it did enough though for audiophiles. Another bundled accessory is a pair of USonic adaptive earphones that plug directly into the phone’s lonely USB-C port. The “adaptive” part means the earphones adjust their output to the shape of your ears for a more optimized listening experience. If that doesn’t sound (pun intended?) high-tech enough, know that they come with active noise cancellation, as well — perfect for shutting out noisy officemates or that loud, never-ending construction outside your window.

Talking about how great the audio-visual splendor of the U11 is, you almost forget that this phone is, again, marketed as that handset you squeeze. That’s the point I’m trying to drive at: You have to look beyond what the brochures say to see how great this phone truly is. And I haven’t even begun focusing on performance or battery life yet.

The U11 is one of the few smartphones blessed with Qualcomm’s super-fast, incredibly efficient Snapdragon 835 chipset. Although not the first to make use of it — hot picks like the Galaxy S8, OnePlus 5, and Sony Xperia XZ Premium were ahead of the curve — HTC somehow managed to, ehem, squeeze out more of the processor’s potential.

Having reviewed all the aforementioned phones, I can claim with certainty that the U11 is just as fast as any of them, despite HTC applying the heaviest Android skin of the bunch. Its Sense UI feels — how do I put this — outdated. Having a separate button for the app drawer, no continuous scrolling for the app library, and unintuitive main settings and quick settings layout feels like I’m back in 2016.

I’ve given so much praise to the OnePlus 5 (and Pixel last year) for its steroid-fueled fluidity, but this phone can definitely compete. Extra credit goes to the variant I was privileged enough to review; it has 6GB of memory and 128GB of storage, both of which are still generous by today’s standards.

So, wait. Wouldn’t all that power translate to terrible battery life? On the contrary, the U11 has beastly endurance considering how smallish the capacity is (only 3000mAh) and how densely packed the pixels on the display are (a resolution of 2560 x 1440 within a 5.5-inch LCD).

I seriously wasn’t expecting a single charge to last this long. With moderate usage, which entails holding back on checking Instagram and Facebook every hour, I can get through Saturday morning to Sunday night without turning to the charger.

On weekdays, when I must be on my phone every waking minute, I can still manage over five hours of screen-on time before the battery cries for juice at the end of the day. That’s mighty impressive! Other smartphones with the same internals average around four hours of screen-on time during the same span; in comparison, the battery life kings of Xiaomi, specifically the Mi Mix and Redmi Note 4X, get up to six hours.

It’s possible to extend its life even further by turning off constantly active features like Sense Edge and Google Assistant’s voice detection. As you’d expect, I wouldn’t mind deactivating the former for greater longevity, but the latter is another reminder why the U11 trumps the Pixel.

You see, the Pixel was such a hit last year for offering two things: the best-performing camera in the market and exclusive access to Google Assistant at the time. As you can already tell, the U11 has both and more. In addition, HTC solved another one of the Google phone’s problems: waterproofing.

Yes, the U11 isn’t just a pretty sight; it has IP67-rated water and dust resistance, which is a technical way of saying it can withstand accidental splashes and dunks in a toilet. However, this doesn’t mean you can get reckless with it — I haven’t done any drops tests, but one solid drop could spell doom for its glossy glass back.

It’s such a beauty… until you get scuffs and ugly smudges on the rear. Even though HTC offers a plastic case in the package, I just can’t bring myself to putting one on and ruining the aesthetics. Funnily enough, there’s also an included cleaning cloth if you’re willing to wipe it down before every meeting or date.

I just wish I had a chance to review the solar red variant. Having seen it up close during the Philippine launch, I’ve been wanting one, badly. Not that the “amazing silver” I have with me isn’t any good; I simply can’t accept it being color silver. It’s very much light blue at any angle. HTC argues that their sapphire blue model is the true blue, so we have that.

If I were to nitpick, the thin antenna lines around the frame ruin an otherwise seamless design. It’s necessary though for getting a strong cellular signal (because, boy, does the U11 pick up 4G+ wherever I go), and it’s less jarring than Google’s half-glass, half-weird implementation on the Pixel.

Now, this brings us to the question: Is HTC’s best-ever smartphone your GadgetMatch?

I’m inclined to say yes for a variety of reasons and consumer types. And yet, the U11 is ultimately sandwiched between other Snapdragon 835-powered devices.

With a starting price of US$ 649 (PhP 36,990 for my review unit in the Philippines), it’s significantly more expensive than the similarly equipped OnePlus 5 and Xiaomi Mi 6; and despite being cheaper than the Galaxy S8 and Xperia XZ Premium, the U11 doesn’t have the former’s gorgeous Infinity Display or the latter’s 4K screen resolution, as well as either’s audio port.

In that case, what does the U11 offer that the others don’t? A marginally better camera, greater attention to audio output and recording, noticeably longer battery life, and… wait for it… a squeezable body.

It’s only fitting we conclude this review with yet another mention of Sense Edge. In the end, it somehow makes sense to highlight this edge.

SEE ALSO: HTC U Play Review: Just about design?

Reviews

Apple Watch Series 6 Review

Is it worth every penny?

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The Apple Watch Series 6 offers more than just being a “luxurious timepiece”. Over the years, they’ve pioneered in what a true smartwatch can offer. From the ability to track your runs, cycles, and swims, as far as reading heart rate and even ECG. This year, the Watch Series 6 has a new SpO2 sensor that can read blood oxygen levels within the reach of your wrists.

But does all of that make up for a fancy price tag? Why is the Apple Watch a worthy investment for your health?

You can head on to our Apple Watch Series 6 review by clicking the link here.

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Reviews

Huawei Mate 40 Pro Unboxing and Review: Last of its Kind

Hopefully not

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Every year, Huawei’s Mate series dominate the smartphone world with hosts of new features.

This October, the Huawei Mate 40 Pro finally made its way out of the limousine. As usual, it’s packed with the latest and greatest internals minus the full Android experience. Albeit, you still get support for AppGallery and other existing Huawei services.

With all that mind, is it still worthy to invest your money just to buy this smartphone?

You can watch our Huawei Mate 40 Pro review by clicking this link.

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Infinix Note 7: Best underrated budget phone?

Does size matter?

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The underrated brand, Infinix, is coming in with a perfect phone for when you’re strapped for cash. Infinix has consistently released great phones that deliver every bang for your buck and their recent release is no exception. What’s the latest addition to their great line-up? The Infinix Note 7

Show us what its got

The Infinix Note 7 is a dual-sim budget smartphone with a 6.95-inch HD+ and Corning Gorilla Glass display. It’s decked out in three different colors: Forest Green, Aether Black, and Bolivia Blue. Despite being encased in plastic, the Infinix Note 7 looks and feels premium. Just be more forgiving when the phone looks heavily smeared with your fingerprints — most phones tend to do so.

The phone features and specifications aren’t necessarily what people would view as technologically new or revolutionary. But, with phones on the same price range, this one delivers on all fronts of functionality, affordability, and durability. The phone has loud dual speakers, a great battery life, and reliable performance that makes it a stand-out in with its price tag.

Bang for your buck

The Infinix Note 7 is powered by a Helio G70 Processor paired with 6GB RAM and 128GB storage. If you’re worried about storage, the phone has a dedicated microSD card slot. But, note that the phone has more than enough space to run apps on the Google Play Store without much of a hitch.

The Infinix Note 7 doesn’t falter on features when tested. The phone didn’t stutter or struggle when putting it through the stress test of scrolling, unlocking, and opening and closing multiple apps. On top of that, the Infinix Note7 has a 5000mAh battery that makes your daily grind of work and play look easy.

For gaming, the phone didn’t seem at all bothered with Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, Genshin Impact, and Among Us. And, with the amount of storage the phone had, I’d downloaded all the games I wanted with reckless abandon. The phone held up to its dependable battery life too, despite a full day of work and play.

Does size really matter?

The Infinix Note 7 is big for a phone. Facts. If anything, it’s a love child of a phone and a tablet. With its 6.95-inch HD+ display and dual speakers, the phone makes watching Netflix or playing games an overall immersive experience. Despite Infinix sticking to HD+ on a bigger display, it doesn’t really impose on all the great features the phone has.

Remember: the Infinix Note 7 has a good price tag of PhP 7,990. If you’re asking it to feature 2k or 4k resolution, that good price tag isn’t even remotely ideal on top of the other features the phone comes with.

Is the cake a lie?

No, just misunderstood. Hear me out here: The Infinix Note 7 features a quad-camera set-up with a 48MP primary shooter, a 2MP macro lens, 2MP depth lens, and a 2MP dedicated video camera. On the front, the phone has a 16MP selfie camera. These specs can sometimes come misunderstood since Infinix does say the phone features a quad rear camera set-up. The phone technically features three with the fourth as its dedicated video recording camera.

Sunset view

Boop the snoot

The Inifinix Note 7 performed really well even with little lighting. I tried to photograph a dim sunset and most phones would often scrap some details in photos to compensate with the lack of lighting. That wasn’t the case for this phone. With a phone at its price point, it greatly outperforms phones in the same category quite easily. The phone delivers on detailed selfies with it 16MP in-display front camera and doesn’t struggle to focus using either rear or front cameras.

Strawberry and granola on yoghurt

it me

The phone doesn’t seem at all bothered with taking detailed photos. Sometimes the contrast can be a bit much but again, seeing a budget phone like the Infinix Note 7 perform well under tough circumstances that can just be from being nit-picky.

Is this your BudgetMatch?

If you need a phone to get you good shots and get you through a long day of non-stop work and play while delivering good photos overall, this is the phone for you. There’s nothing to complain about with this phone besides Infinix being utterly underrated for the quality of phones they put out. The Infinix Note 7 is a great phone for your daily grind if you’re looking for a phone that delivers on functionality, efficiency, and durability. It even delivers on good quality shots!

The Infinix Note 7 costs PhP 7,990 (US$ 165).

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