We have so many great high-end smartphone choices this year.
OnePlus is riding pretty high after a year of great success with the OnePlus 3 and 3T, and it's trying to parlay that momentum with the OnePlus 5. It's sticking to the same recipe as before, but doubling down on the importance of the camera and also raising its price. Despite being the bigger of the two companies, HTC broke out from a slump in 2017 with the U11. It's a great overall phone that directly competes with the flagships of the year, surprising many after a few years of lackluster high-end phones.
With the OnePlus 5 ostensibly targeting all of the flagship competition, and having the highest price of any phone from the company's history, it's worth comparing it directly to the U11 as one of the current leaders in the market. Does the OnePlus 5 have what it takes to be considered over the U11, considering it comes in at $170 less? Here's what you can expect.
What's the same
As is the case with most of the leading phones today, you get a great baseline experience from both of these phones. Both are built on a Snapdragon 835 processor, plus plenty of RAM and storage. That leads to both the OnePlus 5 and HTC U11 having super fast software all around. Both phones offer a solid battery, USB-C and fast charging. They're also both sold unlocked with wide LTE support, which is always great to see.
In terms of the external hardware, they're quite similar from the front where they stick with traditional 16:9 displays, normal bezels, a front fingerprint sensor and capacitive keys (though the OnePlus 5 offers optional on-screen navigation). The volume and power buttons land in expected spots as well. Both phones give you a solid feel when you pick them up, though the U11 feels a bit heftier around back as it's thicker than the OnePlus 5.
For all of the similarities between these two, there are a handful of clear differences you can find — with the U11 and OnePlus 5 each winning in specific areas.
Where the HTC U11 wins
Being the more expensive of the two, the HTC U11 is bound to have some areas where it's ahead of the OnePlus 5. The big differentiators right out of the box are the things you see and feel: the screen, and the back of the phone. The 5.5-inch display is the same size as the OnePlus 5, but its QHD resolution is higher and its overall properties are better. It gets brighter than the OnePlus 5's AMOLED panel, and that helps boost the colors a bit as well.
The finer points of the hardware, and an outstanding camera, nudge the U11 ahead.
So long as you're not vehemently opposed to glass-backed phones (which some people definitely are), you'll find the U11 looks and feels better than the OnePlus 5. Its unique color-infused glass looks great in any of its five color options, and the combination of a curved glass back and solid metal frame feels great. It's also just downright more exciting looking than the more generic OnePlus 5. The hardware also hides two other nice-to-have features: full waterproofing, and a dual speaker setup that offers fuller sound than the single speaker on the OnePlus 5.
Perhaps the biggest area that the U11 differentiates itself in is the camera. Hardware-wise, it's all there: 12MP, big 1.4-micron pixels, f/1.7 lens and OIS. Software-wise, HTC has just about nailed the processing in a way that really leverages the hardware to get really great photos. During the day it's crisper and more colorful than the OnePlus 5's photos, and at night it competes with the best out there — meaning it's a step above what OnePlus is offering right now. That's not at all to say the OnePlus 5's camera is bad, but more so that HTC has finally pulled it all together to make a great all-around camera, and it doesn't stumble in the few areas the OnePlus 5 does.
Finally, it's a small thing but for those of us in the U.S. you could potentially be tempted to check out the U11 because it actually supports Verizon and Sprint. Yes it doesn't have CDMA on the unlocked model, but that's a small detail — if Verizon or Sprint are your carrier, the U11 will work on them, while OnePlus 5 just isn't an option.
Where the OnePlus 5 wins
The OnePlus 5 continues to step ahead where it always does in these comparisons: in the software experience. Now don't get me wrong, the HTC U11 has an equally amazingly fast and responsive interface — but the OnePlus 5 is completely free from the shackles of any interface customization or bloat apps. HTC's changes to Android are nice and relatively clean, keeping well within reason, but if you like that "stock" Android look the OnePlus 5 is the better bet. It also includes tons of wonderful customization options to tweak the little things without making any big changes to how you use the phone.
It's all about the software experience ... oh, and a headphone jack.
Then there are a couple more subtle things that help the OnePlus 5 stand out with its hardware. If you're in that group mentioned above that just can't stand glass-backed phones, you'll be happy to know the OnePlus 5's aluminum body is solid and far less susceptible to damage. There's also one big feature: the inclusion of a 3.5 mm headphone jack. Despite being thinner than the U11, it has this port so many people still rely on — and even if you don't use it daily, you can't argue a 3.5 mm headphone jack isn't nice to have considering its amazing ubiquity in the world.
OnePlus technically one-ups the U11 with its RAM and storage options, even though HTC technically offers a model in some regions with 6GB of RAM and up to 128GB of internal storage. OnePlus can always take the cake with offering 8GB of RAM and 128GB storage everywhere in the world if you pay up the extra $60.
I've already mentioned how the U11's camera is a solid step past the OnePlus 5's, but OnePlus deserves a mention for at least offering something different. The secondary 20MP rear camera lets you zoom in with far more fidelity than the U11's 12MP camera, and the Portrait Mode, while not perfect, gives you a neat effect in some shots that once again just can't be done by the U11. That addition isn't enough to make up for the shortcomings in the main camera, but it does make things a bit closer.
Bottom line: Pay more, get more
Even at its increased price of $479, the OnePlus 5 still offers an incredible value. But you still get more for the added cost of bumping up to the $649 HTC U11. Choosing to spend the extra money for HTC's latest phone gets you an arguably better-looking phone, a nicer display, waterproofing and a better overall camera than the OnePlus 5.
But for those who are more price-conscious, it's a great sign that the OnePlus 5 and HTC U11 are matches in most areas across the specs, performance and features. The OnePlus 5 even bests the U11 in a couple areas, namely the near-stock software and inclusion of a headphone jack.
If you can find the extra money to step up to a higher-end device, the U11 is probably your best bet. But if you can't go beyond that $480 level, know that the OnePlus 5 still offers a great experience that nearly matches it.
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