The Sony Xperia XZ Premium and HTC U11: true showstoppers or overpriced gimmicks?

Sony Xperia and HTC U11 at a glance

2017 has seen Sony and HTC revamp their handsets to improve their phone’s speed, design and ease of use. This has taken shape for the Sony Xperia X range, where the camera and user-friendliness have come on. While for HTC, the U11 is a newly released centrepiece, which comes complete with ‘squeeze control’ (more on that later) and accurate voice recognition.

Regarding pricing, the Sony Xperia XZ Premium and HTC U11 are on par – each coming in at £649.00. So, we’ve drawn a like-for-like comparison to help you understand which is better value for money.

Camera capability

Sony has gone all-out to draw attention to the Sony Xperia XZ Premium’s slow-mo feature – the phone’s most unique piece of functionality. Just activate the slow-mo mode, and playback will slow to an impressive 960 frames per second. The result: a pretty cool visual that’ll delight your inner Spielberg.

Xperia XZ Premium Camera Components

Xperia XZ Premium Camera Components

The Sony Xperia XZ Premium’s image processing might be market leading, but you’ll find that using the camera in dim light impacts image quality. Also, the camera app can feel clunky at first use. For example, to activate slow-mo, you need to launch the camera, swipe along to video and then find the slow-mo button. For a phone’s defining feature, this feels like one step too many.

The video capability of the HTC U11 doesn’t rival its Sony counterpart. There is a slow-mo feature, but it feels like it’s been added half-heartedly to tick a box. Certainly, it doesn’t have the production quality you’ll want to show off to your friends. As with the XZ Premium (and most devices in fairness), the camera works best outside in natural light.

HTC U11 Camera

HTC U11 Camera

Where HTC U11’s camera outperforms, Sony is its user-friendliness. Remember that ‘squeeze control’ I mentioned? HTC refers to the app driving this as EdgeSense, and it allows you to activate features, such as the camera, at a squeeze of the hand. By default, a squeeze is set to activate the camera. So, if you spot something you have to photograph right there, right then, you can whip out your phone and snap it in a squeeze.

Design & usability

The design and user-friendliness of the Sony Xperia XZ are lacking. The second you pick it up it feels large and weighty in your hand. Its size (5.46 inches) might make the phone ideal for watching videos, but on the flip side, good luck fitting that in your jean pocket.

By contrast, the HTC U11 has a sleeker look and feel. The 3D glass overlay, which you can buy in one of five colours, gives the phone an air of luxury. The reflective surface making the device all the more attention-grabbing by radiating shades of its original hue.

There are a couple of issues with the U11’s design. The continued presence of a bezel – that dark strip that surrounds your screen – makes the front of the phone look dated. Also, that lustrous finish might be eye-catching, but the ease with which it shows up fingerprints undermines those exclusive vibes.

HTC U11

HTC U11 Glass Casing

Its simplicity helps the usability of the U11. HTC have chosen to give the phone a light interface rather than overloading it with third-party apps. The absence of useless apps you’re unlikely to care about is worthy of praise and is a refreshing departure from vendors dictating what’s already on your phone upon set-up.

Audio

The Sony Xperia XZ Premium performs well when it comes to audio. You’ll find the loudspeaker clearer than most other phones. What’s more, playing music only begins to produce that unpleasant tinny sound typical of mobiles when turned up to full volume. This clarity just about clinches Sony a win over HTC when it comes to audio.

Audio quality for the HTC U11 is reasonable. You have both a bottom and front-firing speaker and the ability to reach decibels far beyond previous HTC phones. The HTC is also great at recognising your voice – which will become handier as voice search takes off. Here at Gadget Comparer, we found the phone more than capable of picking up voice commands even in our buzzy office.

The main sticking point for the HTC is that it has no headphone jack. Okay, Bluetooth enabled headphones are on the rise, but many of us continue to use plug-in headsets. What’s more, the USB headphone-converter saps your power, so music fans won’t be going far without their charger. By comparison, the Sony Xperia XZ does have a jack, albeit the port is at the top of the phone, which some might find irritating.

Battery life

A nice feature of the Sony Xperia XZ Premium is intelligent battery life management, which prevents your battery waning long-term. How does it work? The phone learns when you usually take your phone on and off charge, and adapts its charging speeds accordingly. This way, your battery isn’t being overtaxed by charging at 100%.

The out-of-the-box battery life of the HTC U11 just about trumps Sony. Making regular use of both phones throughout the day saw the Sony Xperia XZ Premium die about an hour earlier than the HTC U11. That said, you’ll notice when you put the HTC U11 through its paces and start to loop videos, battery life decreases faster.

Crowning the winner

Unfortunately, both Sony and HTC have chosen gimmicky features that don’t have much substance to build hype around their flagships. But neither the Sony Xperia XZ Premium’s slow-mo video nor the HTC U11’s EdgeSense squeeze activation is enough to ignore the device’s other functionality.

If you’re a video keeno who appreciates good audio quality, the Sony Xperia XZ Premium is for you. You won’t be disappointed by the camera, which reduces noise and quickly comes into focus. While the sound system can only get better by standalone speakers, not other phones.

For those who care more about the look and simplicity of a device, the HTC U11 is a better option. Admittedly the bezel and fingerprint-prone back let the design down. But the fancy outer casing will always secure this phone the edge for the more image-conscious among us. The attractive exterior is matched by an intuitive user experience that minimises the time it takes to flit between various features. It’s this ease of use which shows how far HTC have gone to understand their customer and adapt the U11 to their needs.

Sony Xperia and HTC U11 Specification Comparison

 Sony Xperia XZ PremiumHTC U11
Pricecirca £649.00circa £649.00
Body
Weight195g169g
Dimensions156 x 77 x 7.9 mm (6.14 x 3.03 x 0.31 in)153.9 x 75.9 x 7.9 mm (6.06 x 2.99 x 0.31 in)
Display
Size 5.46 inches 5.5 inches
Resolution3840 x 2160 pixels (circa 807 ppi pixel density)1440 x 2560 pixels (circa 534 ppi pixel density)
Platform
OSAndroid 7.1 (Nougat)Android 7.1 (Nougat)
ChipsetQualcomm MSM8998 Snapdragon 835Qualcomm MSM8998 Snapdragon 835
CPUOcta-core (4x2.45 GHz Kryo & 4x1.9 GHz Kryo)Octa-core (4x2.45 GHz Kryo & 4x1.9 GHz Kryo)
GPUAdreno 540Adreno 540
Memory
Card slotmicroSD, up to 256 GB (dedicated slot) - single-SIM model
microSD, up to 256 GB (uses SIM 2 slot) - dual-SIM model
microSD, up to 256 GB (dedicated slot) - single-SIM model
microSD, up to 256 GB (uses SIM 2 slot) - dual-SIM model
Internal64 GB, 4 GB RAM64 GB, 4 GB RAM or 128 GB, 6 GB RAM
Camera
Image capture19 MP, f/2.0, 25mm, EIS (gyro), predictive phase detection and laser autofocus, LED flash12 MP, f/1.7, phase detection autofocus, OIS, dual-LED (dual tone) flash
Video2160p@30fps, 720p@960fps, HDR2160p@30fps, 1080p@30/120fps, HDR
Sound
Audio24-bit/192kHz audio
Active noise cancellation + dedicated mic
24-bit/192kHz audio
Active noise cancellation with dedicated mic
LoudspeakerYes, with stereo speakersYes