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November 8, 2017

HTC U11 Life vs. Moto X4: Who rules the midrange smartphone market?

by John_A

The release of the HTC U11 Life has reignited the battle for the affordable smartphone market. With a powerful Snapdragon 630 processor, Android Nougat, and up to 64GB of internal storage, HTC’s latest handset is a force to be reckoned with. But how does it stack up against the Moto X4, one of the midrange market’s best phones? We took a look to find out.

Specs

HTC U11 Life

Moto X4
Size
149.1 x 72.9 x 8.1 mm (5.87 x 2.87 x 0.32 inches)
148.4 x 73.4 x 8 mm (5.84 x 2.89 x 0.31 inches)
Weight
142 grams (5.01 ounces)
163 grams (5.75 ounces)
Screen
5.2-inch Super LCD
5.2-inch IPS LCD
Resolution
1920 x 1080 pixels (424 ppi)
1920 x 1080 pixels (424 ppi)
OS
Android 7.1.1 Nougat/Android One (international)
Android 7.1.1 Nougat/Android One
Storage
32GB (3GB of RAM), 64GB (4GB of RAM)
32GB
MicroSD card slot
Yes
Yes
NFC support
Yes
Yes
Processor
Qualcomm Snapdragon 630
Qualcomm Snapdragon 630
RAM
3GB (32GB model), 4GB (64GB model)
3GB (4GB in some markets)
Connectivity
LTE, GSM, HSDPA, HSPA, 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi
GSM / HSPA / LTE, 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi
Camera
16MP rear, 16MP front
Dual 12MP and 8MP rear, 16MP front
Video
2160p up to 30 fps
2160p up to 30 fps, 1080p up to 60 fps
Bluetooth
Yes, version 5.0
Yes, version 5.0
Audio
Bottom-firing speaker
Front speaker, 3.5mm headphone jack
Fingerprint sensor
Yes
Yes
Other sensors
Accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass
Gyroscope, accelerometer, ambient light, proximity sensor
Water resistant
Yes, IP67 rated
Yes, IP68 rated
Battery
2,600mAh
3,000mAh
Charging port
USB-C
USB-C
Marketplace
Google Play Store
Google Play Store
Colors
Brilliant Black, Sapphire Blue, Ice White
Black, blue
Availability

T-Mobile, HTC

 Newegg, Amazon, Motorola

Price
$349
$399
DT review
4 out of 5 stars
3.5 out of 5 stars

Being budget-friendly phones, both the Moto X4 and the HTC U11 Life have forgone the big and expensive Snapdragon 835 processor in favor of its little brother, the Snapdragon 630. This is a fine little processor that’s becoming the standard for midrange phones, and it’s a good performer in this price bracket.

With both phones rocking the same hardware, you’d expect them to handle somewhat similarly. While this is largely true, there are some differences. In our HTC U11 Life review benchmarks, we found the Moto X4 ahead on single-core tests, and the U11 Life ahead on the multi-core tests. That said, we felt that the U11 Life was the snappier and smoother of the two, though the difference is admittedly minimal.

It’s a similar story when we turn to RAM and storage options. Both phones offer starting models with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage. While both offer an extra GB of RAM in certain markets, only the U11 Life offers a model with increased storage space. Both offer MicroSD storage, though, so you shouldn’t run out of storage with either of these devices.

There’s really not much to call in this contest. These phones are loaded with very similar hardware, and both are powerful enough for their price bracket. The HTC U11 Life does get some extra points for its additional storage options, as well as for feeling slightly more responsive and smooth.

Winner: HTC U11 Life

Design and display

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

While the two phones may be very similar in terms of specifications, they couldn’t look more different. The HTC U11 Life takes its design cues from its bigger brother, the HTC U11, with a shiny body and gentle curves. But you won’t be fooled when it’s in your hand — plastic acrylic replaces the smooth glass on the U11, mimicking the look, but cutting down on expense. It’s not a bad choice, and it does a good job of looking the part, but don’t expect any more than plastic fantastic. Despite that, the U11 Life is a pretty good looking phone.

The Moto X4, on the other hand, is a more usual glass-and-metal affair, with a metal frame sandwiched between two glass plates. It’s an attractive piece of design, but it’s not the most comfortable phone to handle. Although the two phones are very similar in size, the weight difference is clear with the X4 weighing rather more than the U11 Life. The camera module also sticks out rather a large amount, and that makes the phone rock when placed down on a surface — though that can be solved with a good case. What can’t be solved by a case is the lack of a headphone jack on the U11 Life. This is hardly surprising — HTC has been moving forward with this recent trend, and the U11 lacked this basic feature too, but it’s likely to be a deal-breaker for many, especially since the Moto X4 includes a standard 3.5mm audio port.

In terms of display, both phones have 5.2-inch screens with full HD, 1920 x 1080-pixel resolutions, which translates to identical pixel-per-inch scores of 424. Despite the similar specs, the Moto X4 has a slight edge over the U11 Life, thanks to the slightly brighter display. The U11 Life is a little dim for our liking, though it’s still a decent display.

Durability sees more back-and-forth between the two devices. The U11 Life’s acrylic outer shell, though not as pretty as the X4’s glass-and-metal, is likely to be much more durable over the long run, being more resistant to shock. There’s no escaping the anxiety of shattering with Motorola’s phone. The Moto X4 has an impressive IP68 rating compared, but the HTC U11 Life is IP67-rated. A water resistance rating is rare in this price bracket, and both phones should be capable of surviving an accidental dip in the pool or down the toilet, but the Moto can handle slightly greater depths than the HTC.

This category is tough to call — though the U11 Life pulls ahead slightly on physical durability, thanks to the plastic body over the glass, that worry can be waylaid significantly with a good case. The Moto X4 is a touch better equipped to deal with water resistance, though there’s very little in it. If the presence of a headphone jack is important to you, then the Moto X4 wins, but we prefer the design of the U11 Life.

Winner: HTC U11 Life

Camera

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

As you might expect with midrange phones, neither of these devices is going to end up on our best smartphone camera list. However, both the U11 Life and the X4 come with decent snappers for the price. In pure numbers, you’re looking at a 16 megapixel, f/2.0 aperture lens on the HTC U11 Life, while the Moto X4 follows the recent dual-camera trend with a 12 megapixel, f/2.0 lens paired with an 8 megapixel,  f/2.2 wide-angle lens. The extra lens on the X4 gives it an edge in certain situations, though we found that the wide-angle mode suffered from a drop in image quality. Also, while the X4 took excellent photos with good light, it isn’t a great low-light camera — but to be fair, the U11 Life fared little better in the same situations.

Both cameras are hampered by a lack of optical image stabilization (OIS) — and most frustratingly, both suffer from far too much shutter lag. But these are typical complaints for cameras on midrange and budget phones, and as long as you stay in well-lit areas and stay as still as possible, both cameras are capable of delivering decent snaps. The similarities in design return on the front of the phone, where both are using 16-megapixel front-facing cameras. There’s not much to say here — they’re both decent selfie snappers.

Again, this is a tough call. Despite the different set up on the rear cameras, both cameras suffer from similar problems. We found that the shutter lag on the Moto X4 was slightly worse than that on the U11 Life, and we just prefer the performance of the U11 Life’s camera over the X4’s. However, the X4 has more features, including a DSLR-like bokeh mode, but they’re not enough to push it over the HTC’s slightly better performance. This one’s a tie.

Winner: Tie

Battery life and charging

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The HTC U11 Life comes with a 2,600mAh battery that went from 100 percent at 8 a.m. to 17 percent at 5.30 p.m. after a day of fairly heavy usage. That’s not terrible battery life, and light users will probably find that this phone lasts the day pretty easily. But it pales next to the Moto X4’s 3,000mAh battery. With similar heavy usage, the X4 went from 100 percent at 8 a.m. to 23 percent at 11 p.m. That’s a pretty big difference in battery performance, and if you’re a heavy user, the extra stamina of the Moto X4 might be valuable for you.

It’s a similar story with charging — the HTC U11 Life has a fairly standard charging speed, going from 15 percent to 50 percent within 35 minutes. The charger included with the Moto X4 (loaded with Motorola’s TurboPower) charged the Moto X4 from zero to 85 percent within 40 minutes. Again, that’s a pretty big difference, and heavy users who don’t want to be sat on their charger could see a potential draw there.

There’s no contest here. The extra 400mAh makes a huge difference in battery life between the two phones, and Motorola’s TurboPower charger seals the deal. The Moto X4, every day.

Winner: Moto X4

Software

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

This is a tricky one to judge, as both the HTC U11 Life and the Moto X4 have models offering the Android One operating system. For the unfamiliar, Android One is a pared down version of stock Android, specially altered to work on budget hardware. Since it’s close to stock Android, it doesn’t come with any additional bloatware and benefits from updates directly from Google — so you’ll always get the most updated device as soon as possible. You’ll be able to buy a Android One-loaded Moto X4 from Google’s Project Fi, and you’ll find this version of Android loaded onto the international versions of the HTC U11 Life sold outside of the United States.

If you’re in the U.S., then you’ll find the U11 Life running HTC Sense over Android 7.1.1. It has a few bloatware apps — but most of these can be turned off. Interestingly, the HTC U11 Life features three different assistants. The first is Google Assistant, accessed in the usual ways, and via Edge Sense. Second comes Amazon’s Alexa assistant, familiar to those who’ve used an Amazon Echo. Finally is HTC’s Sense Companion — not a voice assistant, but it does appear on the home screen to offer suggestions based on potential nearby interests.

The non-Android One Moto X4 also comes with an experience that’s pretty close to stock Android, though there are a few additions that add value to the phone. Moto Voice is also included alongside Alexa and Google Assistant, as well as Motorola’s “Moto Key” which allows users to log into sites on their laptop or PC with the X4’s fingerprint sensor. Tempow Bluetooth Audio Profile is also included in the non-Android One model of the X4, allowing you to connect to up to four Bluetooth speakers at once, and boosting audio quality on Bluetooth connections.

Both phones currently run Android 7.1.1 Nougat, and both manufacturers have stated that they’re looking to get Android 8 Oreo on each of the devices by the end of November, so both are neck-and-neck in this category. We can’t rule on this one, especially since both phones have Android One alternatives if you don’t like what the manufacturer has to offer.

Winner: Tie

Price and availability

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

You can buy the HTC U11 Life from HTC for $349, or from T-Mobile, though HTC has stated that the U11 Life will work on AT&T if purchased unlocked. The X4, however, is a no-go for Verizon and Sprint customers, since it lacks the bands to function on those networks.

The Android One version of the Moto X4 is available from Google Fi, and the regular version will be available from a large number of retailers, and is supported by the major carriers. The Moto X4 is more expensive at $400, but, if you’re a Prime member, it can be bought with ads from Amazon for just $330, less than the price of the HTC U11 Life.

For most people the U11 Life is going be cheaper and so it takes the win here.

Winner: HTC U11 Life

Overall winner: HTC U11 Life

Honestly, this is one of the toughest calls that we’ve had to make. Both phones are among the best in this price range, and you need to stretch your budget and start looking at phones like the OnePlus 5 to find handsets that top these. We prefer the slightly better processing speed, stylish design, and camera on the HTC U11 Life, but the Moto X4 definitely wins on battery life and we love the support for multiple Bluetooth speakers in the Moto version. They’re both solid handsets with a lot to love. We’re confident that if you pick up either of these you’re unlikely to regret your choice. If you’re an Amazon Prime member and you want a headphone port, the X4 should be your pick, but everyone else can save themselves $50 and pick up the capable HTC U11 Life.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Everything you need to know about the HTC U11 Life and HTC U11 Plus
  • HTC U11 Life review
  • LG V30 vs. LG V20: Does the new outshine the old?
  • Moto X4 vs. Moto Z2 Force: Which Moto reigns supreme?
  • HTC U11 Life vs. HTC U11: How different is HTC’s slimmed-down budget U11?




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