HTC ditched the headphone jack on its new smartphone -- but replaced it with something way better

  • HTC removed the headphone jack on its new smartphone, the U11 Life.
  • But free headphones are still included in the box — they plug into the USB-C charging port.
  • Because they use the USB-C port, the earbuds are noise cancelling.

When I first took HTC’s new smartphone out of the box, I noticed right away something was missing: the headphone jack.

At this stage in the game, that’s hardly a surprise. Most smartphone makers are ditching the traditional headphone jack to make phones thinner and to embrace the wireless-headphones revolution. Even Google, which poked fun at Apple last year for removing the headphone jack, got rid of it on this year’s Pixel 2.

So HTC’s new U11 Life phone isn’t unique for removing the headphone jack — but it is unique for the solution it presents instead.

The U11 Life — which aims to be the HTC U11’s nearly identical, cheaper sibling — comes with free headphones in the box called HTC USonic. Rather than relying Bluetooth or a special dongle, however, HTC opted for USB-C headphones that plug into the phone’s charging port.

But wait, it gets better: USB-C ports are able to power things that are plugged into them, which means that a pair of pretty standard, free earbuds are able to become noise cancelling.

This was pretty mind-blowing to me as a user. Noise-cancelling headphones are usually pricey, and not free with the purchase of a $US349 smartphone (they cost $US39.99 if you choose to buy them separately). So while many other companies — Apple included — have ditched the headphone jack with the promise of something better, HTC is the first company to actually successfully do that. This solution actually is better.

I can back it up: given the choice between using the free HTC earbuds and the U11 Life, or my iPhone paired with my standard commuting headphones — a pair of $US250 Powerbeats — I chose HTC and its solution. Sure, I had to deal with wired headphones again, but they blocked out external noise much better and fit my ears just fine.

HTC does another cool thing where its headphones are concerned: You can create a personal audio profile on the U11 Life in order to tune the headphones to your own hearing. The phone will play sounds through the buds to scan your ear structure, then tune the noise cancelling for your personal needs. It seems a little gimmicky, but it actually works — HTC will let you hear music both with and without your audio profile, and I could hear a major difference.

I’m guessing that without the noise cancelling and custom audio profiles, HTC’s earbuds wouldn’t very special. But those touches turn a relatively cheap pair of buds and a relatively cheap phone into one of the coolest — and most accessible — gadgets I’ve used lately.

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