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HTC U11 vs Google Pixel XL: Which should you buy?

They're both made by HTC, pack similar display sizes, high performance and phenomenal cameras. But there's a big price difference between the Google Pixel XL ($769), and HTC U11 ($649) — and you'll also be getting a significantly different software experience. So which should you buy? Let's take a look at some of the major points of divergence between two of the top Android phones of the moment.

First off, the specs. And in this area, you're mostly looking at a generational gap between the U11 and the Pixel XL. As great as the Pixel is, this is late-2016 smartphone hardware going up against a 2017 flagship.

CategoryGoogle Pixel XLHTC U11
Operating SystemAndroid 7.1.2Android 7.1.1
Display5.5-inch Quad HD AMOLED
Gorilla Glass 4
5.5-inch Quad HD SuperLCD5
Gorilla Glass 5
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 821Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
RAM4GB4/6GB
Storage32/128GB64/128GB + microSD
Main Camera12MP f/2.0 with HDR+, laser AF12MP f/1.7 with OIS, HDR Boost
Front Camera8MP f/2.416MP f/2.0, UltraPixel Mode
Battery3,450mAh3,000mAh
Fast ChargingUSB-PDQuick Charge 3.0
Water ResistanceIPX3 Splash ProofIP67 Water Resistant
Edge SenseNoYes
Headphone JackYesNo
Daydream VR supportYesNo

Aside from faster benchmark scores and (potentially) quicker high-end gaming performance, the Snapdragon 835 powering the U11 also leads on efficiency. And that allows the phone to sip power from its fixed 3,000mAh cell at a rate which gives the U11 similar battery life to the Pixel XL, despite its larger capacity.

I've noticed virtually no difference in longevity between the Pixel XL and U11 in day-to-day use — both are "all day" phones, though you'd probably struggle to get a second day out of either. Quick charging — provided through Qualcomm QuickCharge 3.0 in the U11, and USB-PD on the Pixel — allows for fast refills on both phones, with the U11 having a slight lead on charging speeds.

Specs are all well and good — what about the way these things look and feel? Well, both phones share a handful of common design traits, like the style of speaker cutouts, the rounded corners of the display and the style of the metal trim. But overall these are two very different designs. The Pixel XL is understated, particularly in the silver and black color options, while the HTC U11 is all about color. There are five bold hues available, including the eye-catching "solar red" and "amazing silver" options, which change color as they tilt through light.

The glass back of the U11 makes it a little slipperier, and a good deal more fingerprint-prone, while the upper glass segment of the Pixel is a magnet for hairline scratches. So Google's phone wins on ease of use — it's easier to grip onto the angled side walls of the Pixel XL — while HTC's is prettier. Mostly, though, it's a matter of personal preference.

Pixel XL, HTC U11

LCD or AMOLED? Fingerprint on the back or front?

The same goes for the fingerprint scanner — both phones have excellent one-touch sensors, but the U11 keeps its fingerprint sensor on the front, flanked by capacitive keys for back and task-switching. On the Pixel, it's located around the back, and can be used in conjunction with a handy swipe gesture to bring down the notification shade. Again, neither is objectively better, it's just down to which you prefer.

The 5.5-inch displays, too, are equally matched, but differ in the technology they use — AMOLED on the Pixel, SuperLCD 5 (read: a pretty good IPS LCD) on the U11. I would give the U11 a slight advantage in daylight use, but it's a razor-thin edge, and you could just as easily call it for the Pixel if you prefer the more saturated colors of AMOLED.

Of course, one thing the Pixel's AMOLED panel gets you is Daydream VR support. Currently no LCD-based phones can use Google's VR platform, and HTC says it has no plans to support Daydream on the U11.

While both phones feature hefty top, bottom and side bezels, the U11 offers more on-screen real estate thanks to its off-screen buttons. That's a plus for a handset with a relatively large footprint by the standards of 5.5-inch phones.

If you can put up with not having a headphone jack, you'll find a great audio experience in the U11.

Audio, too, is won out by the U11, with one major asterisk. There's no headphone jack built into the phone, so you'll need to rely on HTC's 3.5mm-to-USB-C dongle included in the box, or use the company's (admittedly great) USonic noise-cancelling USB-C earbuds.

On the Pixel, you'll get that all-important headphone jack, but the sound quality from the built-in speaker doesn't come close to matching HTC's BoomSound Hi-Fi. Although the U11 features just a single bottom-firing speaker, alongside the earpiece up top, it's able to produce rich bass and enough volume to compete with even the noisiest of backgrounds.

That's not the only hardware advantage HTC has to offer in the U11. It's also water resistant, rated IP67 (as opposed to the "splash resistant" rating of the Pixel), so you needn't worry about dunking it in the sink or using it out in the rain. And there's also Edge Sense — HTC's squeezy shortcut feature, which can let you quick-launch the camera, jump into Google Assistant, or do any number of other (configurable) things by squeezing the phone in your hand. I was skeptical at first, but after a few days with the U11, I'm starting to appreciate the simplicity of the squeeze gesture compared to a double-tap.

Pixel XL, HTC U11

Google has an inbuilt advantage when it comes to software, but it's not as cut-and-dry as you may think.

Google's phones have always had an inbuilt advantage when it comes to software. Nexus and Pixel phones get new versions of Android first, and if that's something you care about, software alone might be reason enough to cough up the extra money for a Pixel XL. But HTC's software pedigree shouldn't be dismissed, even if Sense has been dailed back to a (mostly) stock Android experience, augmented by one or two extra apps and tricks. HTC's lightweight UI isn't a million miles removed from the Pixel software experience, and more importantly, it's every bit as fast.

On the other hand, don't count on the U11 getting Android O anywhere near as quickly as the Pixel. Google's phones are expected to get version 8.0 of the OS in August; for its HTC-branded cousin, you're looking, conservatively, at a holiday 2017 timeframe.

Pixel XL, HTC U11

Nevertheless, the U11 is wicked fast on Android 7.1.1. And that speed extends to the U11's camera, whether you're launching it from the Edge Sense squeeze shortcut, a double-tap of the power button, or an app shortcut on the home screen. Image quality, too, has come to rival pics produced by Google's legendary HDR+ mode. In fact, HTC has its own take on that technology in the U11, dubbed HDR Boost.

Two excellent smartphone cameras — the main difference here is how you'll store your photos.

I still think Google's post-processing is able to draw out more color detail from low-light images — while also doing a better job retaining highlight and shadow detail in extremely high contrast scenes. But there's no denying the U11 produces sharper and generally more accurate photos, as opposed to the more overtly colorful, less true-to-life Pixel pics. And HTC also benefits from a more fully-featured stock camera app, which includes a manual mode and RAW photo capture support.

HTC also leads in the selfie arena, with the U11's 16-megapixel front-facer producing high-res pics in daylight, backed up by a lower-res UltraPixel mode for use in darker settings.

Really, though, I'm picking nits here. What'll probably have a more significant impact on your photographic experience is the storage provided in these phones. The U11 comes with 64GB as standard — there's a 128GB model offered in parts of Asia, which also boasts 6GB of RAM — where as the Pixel comes with a mere 32GB, and good luck tracking down the more expensive, lesser-spotted 128GB variant. What's more, the U11 provides a microSD slot, letting you offload all your photos from precious internal storage. On a 32GB Pixel, storage anxiety will very quickly set in, despite the free full-res photo and video backup offered through Google Photos.

A clear win for the HTC U11 — with a few caveats.

So let's wrap things up: By just about every measure, the HTC U11 is the better phone of the two. It's faster, with a more attractive, eye-catching design, boasts more internal storage plus microSD expansion and costs less. And in other key areas like display quality, camera and battery life, the U11 goes toe-to-toe with Google's phone.

Unless you really want the Google Pixel UI and Daydream VR, or want to be among the first to update to Android O, you're better off with the HTC U11.

Alex Dobie
Alex Dobie

Alex was with Android Central for over a decade, producing written and video content for the site, and served as global Executive Editor from 2016 to 2022.

76 Comments
  • Tough call. Top specs go with the HTC. But everything else the Pixel... Updates, no bloatware...
  • bloatware in htc?? are you serious?
  • Yeah, you can't really say the U11 has bloatware.
  • Pixel for software support U11 if you want the latest hardware
  • If you care only about the power and specs then the HTC for sure. Everything about it is better. However, that glossy case on the HTC and lack of headphone jack mean I'd take the Pixel every time.
  • I usually want my phone to look at as unassuming as possible, but holy crap, the U11's crazy reflective back looks so absurdly cool.
  • For me, lack of sd slot means I'll drop the pixel everytime from the running
  • Build quality would be my deciding factor between these two and I'd give the nod to the HTC based strictly on past experience.
  • They're both built by HTC
  • I am aware of that but the Pixel is made to Google's specifications the HTC is all HTC.
  • Main reason to get the HTC U11 is probably due to its amazing camera that no one else is currently able to compete against. The pixel once was Dxomarks #1 camera, now the U11 holds that crown and Dxomark also gave the U11 their highest score ever for a reason.
  • Sure, but you've got to take DxOMark scores with a grain of salt and at least balance them with claims about "real world usage," the kinds of processing tasks each phone performs, and the quality of shots each camera will allow relatively-un-sophisticated users (people who ain't even close to being photographers) to capture. A lot of DxOMark's pronouncements are made first and foremost to keep DxOMark in print & in business.
  • The real-world difference isn't all that huge, though. The U11 likely has better video with excellent photo performance, but HDR+ in the Pixel is pretty dope.
  • Yeah, the Pixel's camera capabilities was the level of excellence to beat and HTC's U11 accomplished that. In addition to the best DexoMark scores, I've read there are other 'more than subtle advantages' with the larger pixels, fast focus, and the rapid bracketing exposure that produces phenomenal HDR. The HTC U11 has both OIS & EIS which work in combination and, as such, would most likely provide better videos and photos particularly in lower lighting situations when shutter speeds are slower. Additionally, the high gain 360 sound capabilities of the HTC U11 are not even closely matched. Nevertheless, based on current reviews the ranking appears to be U11, Pixel, G6, and then S8, all of which should be excellent except for the most discriminating photo / video enthusiasts.
  • Which one survives a dunk in a sink full of water? I'll go with that one.
  • U11
  • Rhetorical question, but thanks.
  • Been using the U11 alongside S8 and the G6 and you will be surprised how good it performs, especially with just 3000mAh battery paired with SD835. Loving it so far. Software wise, let's not forget HTC's good track record of updating devices and it's no surprise U11 comes with Android 7.1.1 when rest of the flagships (of course not counting OP5) come with Android 7.0.
  • I have the S8 but am tempted to try the U11 (since they have a 30-day "no questions asked" return period). What's your take on S8 vs. U11 if you had to pick one? I love the hardware of the S8 but still get software issues here and there. Far less than previous Samsung flagships, but enough to be annoying.
  • S8 packs a lot, a lot of features when compared to U11 or even Pixel. Unless you are taking advantage of all those features or have the need to, you don't really need the S8 as those features which are a key advantage for many users is also its great disadvantage due to software issues. The Infinity Display is another factor to consider with its bezel-less design but then you get the HTC BoomSound speakers in the front which cannot stand with S8. If you want a simple, powerful and packed with great audio and camera experience, then U11 is a great choice. If you are OK with Samsung Experience and its slew of apps/features with a beautiful AMOLED display, then S8 is your choice.
  • Thanks for the detailed response. One more question: Can you use "OK, Google" with the phone locked and screen off? You can't do that with the S8 but most other phones (like the Pixel), you can. I may try the U11 and return in 30 days if I'm not quite satisfied.
  • Yes, U11 supports Ok Google wake up word. I use it a lot. And with a future update you can choose between Google and Alexa wake up keywords. S8 will only support its own Bixby assistant for wake up I guess.
  • I'm stuck between the u11 and g6. I have the green now and love it love the w cameras but I really like the u11. Can't upgrade until sept so plenty of time to see.
  • G6+ is also coming out
  • How do you find the camera on the U11 vs the S8? I had an S8 for a while but I found too many things about it irritating and the camera wasn't always great. When it was great, it was really great, but sometimes it missed hard (bad focus, blurry shots, washing out of textures)
  • Did you get 6 hours or more of SOT on yours? My friend has his and it regularly got that even in areas with bad signal and GPS usage. Exceeded my expectations.
  • Obviously if updates are your priority then the Pixel can't be beat but HTC did make a really nice phone minus the unnecessary squeezing feature and accompanying weak case build.
  • It is June, hold off few more months and get a Pixel 2 (if you can get one).
  • Bet you won't get the 3.5mn headphone jack. Expandable?
    And hopefully the Pixel speaker(s) don't continue to suck. Price?
  • There's a chance that the U11 will go on sale. If the Pixel 2 doesn't cut it, the U11 will probably be cheaper.
  • You mean November?
  • obviously htc. updated hardware. htc's track record with software update. expandable memory. water resistant. plus 200$ price difference. only downside is the headphone jack. but, I seriously can't remember when was the last time I used a wired headphone.
  • Not sure about HTC's record on updates. My HTC M8S is stuck on 6.0.1 with 01.04.2016 security patch.
  • that's a pretty old device to compare to. What about the M9 or 10? where are those at in software updates? honestly curious.
  • They both have 7.0 already. I have the M9, 10, and U11. So far the U11 has been good but I still really like the HTC 10. It really was a underrated device last year in my opinion. I been thinking about returning the U11 and just getting a pixel XL but it's still too expensive plus all the issues the pixel has had kinda puts me off. Build quality I would give it to the 10 when compared to the U11. It just feels better and the 10 is still has fast as the U11 is. I'm give the U11 another week of solid use before I decide what to do.
  • thanks for the reply! How's the camera of the 10 compared to U11? I know the 10 had a good camera but I'd imagine the U11 is quite a bit better?
  • No problem. Glad to help. I haven't fully tested the cameras yet and that is cause I'm not a huge picture taker. I think the 10 has a good enough camera for me. I don't do alot of social media. So I find myself not using it. The U11 seems good in the few times I have used it so far. I'm more of a multimedia user. The speakers are improved for sure. I'm not the biggest audio guy but the 10 has great headphone quality as alot of said. I wished the U11 had it but it is what it is. I actually bought the JBL reflect aware C headphones that came out last year for cheap a few days ago and imo they said very good. Feel free to ask any questions you might have
  • No, this is the M8S, not the M8. It was only launched in April 2015.
  • I think at this point why would you buy the Pixel over the HTc U11? The U11 wins in so many areas. The HTC U11 wins with the Sd835 vs the SD821, water resistance over none, better external speakers, expandable storage, Usonic earbuds with noise cancellation vs none. Plus the pixel is over priced $769 vs the U11s $599. The HTC U11 wins IMO.
  • Completely agree. The pixel almost offers nothing compared to the U11 other than a stock experience and it's ready to shoot camera.
  • I own a Pixel XL, and it's a great phone, but if I were buying one of these two phones today, as in right now, I would go with the U11 without hesitation. A glass back should feature wireless charging, but beyond that, the phone is going in case anyway. The U11 solves my two biggest gripes with my Pixel XL, a pathetic sounding speaker and a very poor level of water resistance. The lack of decent water resistance allegedly stems from Google breaking up with their prom date Huawei late in the cycle and they were too "rushed" to include a decent level of water resistance. As far as the very weak speaker goes, why in the hell Google didn't hand over the audio to HTC once they made their emergency move to HTC is beyond me. As I said, if I had to have a phone right now, it would be the U11. Without an immediate need, I would wait to see if the Pixel 2's corrected the shortcomings of the 1st generation Pixels.
  • How bad is the water resistance?
  • IP53, the 3 being the level of water resistance. Not the official definition, but basically, don't be out in more than a light sprinkle and hold your phone upright at that, for less exposure of vulnerable ports.
  • I initially was very hesitant to get the U11 but I did it anyway...I must say it's a pleasant surprise and the battery life is very good compared to the Pixel XL...it is getting a second OTA update now...
  • what did you have before the U11? I have an S8 but am tempted to get the U11 to test drive.
  • I have pretty much tried most of the 2017 phones (e.g., P10+, S8+, BB Key1, G6, Xperia xzs)...i just like to try them...Using the U11 is like using a better Pixel XL and it's extremely responsive.
  • good to know. thanks for the response.
  • I'd go with the U11, wins on paper and looks great, I already have the HTC 10 and it's been great phone over the 12 months I've owned it and still never stutters or slows down, no brainier as an upgrade just a shame it won't work with the Daydream hardware.
  • I'd pick the U11. Audio quality is important to me. I've already adjusted to having no headphone jack with the Moto Z.
  • I won't make the mistake again of buying a phone from HTC, Samsung, or really any Android phone manufacture. They simply don't provide timely updates. I currently own the Pixel XL and love it. I've spent some time with the Galaxy S8 plus and while it's an amazing phone with an amazing screen it can't compete with the Pixel when it comes to software and updates.
  • To quote Android Central: "Computerworld's JR Raphael ranked HTC No. 2 (behind Google) in his latest "Android update report card", so I wouldn't call it a deal breaker. It's not like you would be neglected or abandoned, like Lenovo does.
  • Exactly
    HTC provides the most timely updates except for Google's Pixel. What does a slightly faster update really do for you compared with the best overall smartphone experience?
    Absolutely Nothing, IMO!
  • Those pictures look fantastic!
  • I like the u11 , but lets be real only google can properly support a phones software throughout its life cycle.
  • I am on an enterprise account which only allows Samsung phones..So there you go...:(
  • I wish the old megapixel race in cameries carried on with mAh race in batteries.
  • Oh the irony! The phone I did not buy because OF the back, being compared to the phone I would buy just FOR the back! Out of curiosity, why is an amoled screen required for daydream? It surely can't be resolution. Contrast perhaps?
  • Nevermind: "Google doesn’t specifically demand an OLED display in the CDD, but the need for low latency and persistency probably means that only phones with OLED panels will make the cut"
  • Having no expandable storage sucks, but having no headphone jack sucks even more. I vote the Pixel.
  • ... if lousy sound is important to you! Otherwise the best Android experience, according to Android Central, until now. Want a headphone jack? The HTC 10 provides significantly better sound than the Pixel and it doesn't look beat up after 6 months. And you can get it for $240 from Sprint until the end of June and unlock it if you want. Unbeatable deal! And like Alex said "...you're better off with the HTC U11."
  • It's not really lousy. Just nothing more than merely functional
  • How can one proclaim that a 1 month old phone will not "...look beat up after 6 months"?
  • Choose the Google Pixel XL. You'll get a headphone jack and better, quicker, smoother updates.
  • Would not buy any of these so called flagships. Can't afford it. I just bought a Xiaomi for USD 182 and it has everything I need in a phone. First time using a Chinese branded smartphone, so far so good.
  • Neither.... Better options are out there.
  • Better options for you.
  • The author seems to neglect that the same model Pixel can work on almost any network in the world including Google Fi, which means a much better off contract experience with more choices to be had. GSM, CDMA, doesn't matter.
    On the other hand I'm not certain if the U11 can hop carriers like the Pixel but we do know for certain it cannot be used on Fi.
  • You can buy the HTC U11 unlock too, it`s working fine on any network too.
  • Updates are nice to have but sometimes they break things or make things inconsistent or at least that seems to be googles track record in certain instances. I would probably go with the HTC if I was looking for another phone. Have owned the pixel since day one and there are certain things, blue tooth, LTE signal issues, hollow bar issues etc that still have not been addressed properly for an expensive phone to my liking. The phone for me to watch is going to be the Nokia 9. Google should have Nokia build their phones. Hardware on Nokia in the past has always been top notch
  • I gave HTC my money this year for a Red U11. I was waiting to see what OP came out with yesterday and it really didn't feel like it was a big upgrade over my OP3. In box headphones should be good enough for me, and when I'm driving I use bluetooth so i'm covered there. I just can't wait to see what I can do with the U11's camera. I'll try Samsung again when they start using Oxygen OS. Not holding my breath.
  • Pixel is listed for $649 in the Google Store. Article has incorrect price. https://www.androidcentral.com/e?link=https2F2F...
  • That is for a regular Pixel, not the Pixel XL, which is what this article is about.
  • No headphone jack, no deal!
  • "aging Pixel XL" It's a wrong choice of word for a phone that isn't even 1 year old!
  • Any flagship phone in the past 7-8 months would be a better buy than Pixel/Pixel XL. And no, I didn't say that sarcastically. The way Google insulted their loyal fanboys with the ridiculous pricing of Pixel/Pixel XL, these 2 phones totally deserve to fail.
  • People complain about the pixel not offering as much as Android devices but then are totally cool with iPhones. Get the phone that fits YOU not what some dude on the internet says