2017 in phones so far: HTC U11 and Honor 8 are sleeper hits

even months of 2017 have already come and gone and it is a good time to assess the smartphones that have graced the labs at India Today Tech in this period. This year has been very good for smartphones overall – from the dawning of a new era in smartphone design with the Galaxy S8 to the rebirth of an old stalwart like Nokia.

In fact, there have been a few smartphones which have really surprised us at India Today Tech. These are the devices which (regrettably) we did not expect to like very much or we thought will not be able to compete with the segment leaders. These are the smartphones which managed to outstrip expectations and emerged as surprise contenders for best in class devices.

Some smartphones however  failed to meet expectations or were a victim of their own hype. Here are the 5 smartphones that genuinely surprised us folks at India Today Tech because they either exceeded expectations or failed to meet them:

 2017’s surprises


None of us expected the HTC U11 to be as staggeringly good as it turned out to be. The smartphone comes with top of the line specifications, a beautiful design that changes colour depending on the way the device is held, a killer camera that can stand toe to toe with the likes of the Galaxy S8 and Google Pixel (and even outperform then in instances) and Edge Sense, which allows you to open applications and trigger commands by squeezing the sides of the device.

There have been a few smartphones which have really surprised us at India Today Tech – some like the HTC U11 which managed to outstrip expectations and on the other hand others like OnePlus 5 which were a victim of their own hype.

The HTC U11 is also one of the best sounding smartphones in the market. The U11’s audio credentials blow most smartphones like the Galaxy S8 or iPhone 7 Plus out of the water. HTC’s U Sonic technology which personalises sound according to your ears structure, the BoomSound stereo speakers, the USB Type-C to 3.5mm adapter which comes with an external DAC built-in are some of the features that make it an audio lover’s delight. You can check out more about the U11’s audio performance here .

All in all, after a period of falling market shares, losses and uninspiring smartphones like the HTC U Ultra, the U11 is a solid comeback from HTC which can proudly stand tall with the best flagships out there. It surprised us greatly and it may as well surprise you if you give it a try.

Honor 8 Pro

The Honor 8 Pro is another device that seemingly came out of nowhere and earnt itself an excellent 8.5/10 in our official review . It even closely beat out the mighty OnePlus 5 in our Honor 8 Pro vs OnePlus 5 comparison thanks to its excellent build quality, pixel perfect display, superb performance and impressive battery life.

The Honor 8 Pro is not only cheaper than most of its competition, it comes with features like storage expansion and a QuadHD display which its competitors lack. What really surprised us was how butter smooth and snappy the software of the Honor 8 Pro is considering how heavy and bloated early iterations of Huawei’s EMUI have been.

Huawei has worked hard to streamline the software. Performance updates include improved mis-touch detection, a new algorithm for faster touch response called Ultra Response and advanced machine learning to track and predict which apps you use the most. Additionally, the smartphone’s dual cameras are best in class and low-light photography is mighty impressive for the price.

Moto Z2 Play

When the Moto Z2 Play was announced many, including some at our office had painted it as an uninspired update which looked overpriced for what it offered. However, the Z2 Play turned out to be one of the biggest surprise packages of the year and one of the most well rounded smartphones available in the market currently.

Even though the smartphone is not powered by the most high-end processor and comes with a battery which is slightly smaller than its predecessor, it is blazingly fast and has absolutely incredible battery life. During our official review , we recorded an incredible screen on time of around 7.5- 8 hours and saw the smartphone last 1.5-2 days on average on a single charge.

In addition, the Moto Z2 Play also comes with a bright and vivid display, super snappy stock Android and the ability to expand the feature set of the smartphone via Moto Mods – snap on accessories which attach to the back of the phone via magnets. The camera struggle a bit in low light but is a big improvement from its predecessor and shoots great shots in good and above average lighting conditions.

2017’s disappointments

OnePlus 5

Let’s get one thing straight from the get go. The OnePlus 5 is not a bad smartphone. In fact, it is a pretty good smartphone that has great build quality, is very fast, has clean and fluid software and will keep most users happy.

So why is it on this list? Because to put it simply, the OnePlus 5 was a victim of its own hype and did not live upto the expectations set by OnePlus themselves. The marketing campaign behind the smartphone was huge – on a much bigger scale than that seen with the OnePlus 3 and OnePlus 3T. OnePlus themselves leaked the device to no end and promised the moon with its dual camera setup.

And most reviewers, including us were unimpressed with the telephoto lens on the  OnePlus 5’s camera which produced grainy and noisy images. Here is what we had to say about it in our official review – ” The 20-megapixel camera is disappointing. In low light, this ‘zoom’ camera stumbles hard. In fact, most of the time the 20-megapixel camera is average and you will probably get better results if you click shots with the main camera and then crop.”

The fact that the OnePlus 5 looks a lot like the iPhone 7 Plus, is the most expensive OnePlus flagship yet (without being waterproof or having a QuadHD display), has the same display and has been suffering from various issues like the ‘jelly effect’ has not helped its case.

Smartron srt.phone

The srt.phone had so much potential. A smartphone made in association with the India’s most loved cricket player should been ‘smashing’. However, the actual device behind the name is disappointing to say the least.

The srt.phones superb internals (for the price), decent display and stock Android are squandered due to very mediocre cameras, poor battery life, build quality issues and lack of storage expansion. The cameras of the srt are way behind the times and struggle in almost all kinds of situations. Low light performance is especially poor and at a level not seen since 2012-2013 in this price range (Rs 12,999).

The makings of a great device are there – a powerful CPU and GPU and stock Android but this is all compromised by the fact that almost every other aspect of the smartphone is quite sub-standard. We really hope that Smartron fixes these issues in future smartphones.2