HTC U11+ started life as a Google Pixel 2 XL project — but the story isn’t that simple

Oh how things could've gone differently.

If you think back to the original rumors surrounding the Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, you'll recall there was a third Pixel 2 family design supposedly in development. That project, designed by HTC and codenamed "muskie," was eventually canned in favor of what became the LG-made Pixel 2 XL. It was a big phone, with a 6-inch 18:9 display and of course similar proportions and design elements to the eventual Pixel 2 XL.

As it turns out, that original muskie project, after winding down as a Pixel 2 variant, was carried on to eventually be the HTC U11+ that was just announced.

The similarities between the HTC U11+ and Google Pixel 2 XL are pretty easy to see (although most of these features are shared by many modern phones). The proportions are similar, and the aforementioned larger, taller display fits the bill — as does the rear-mounted fingerprint sensor, which HTC has rarely used on its own-branded phones. And then, of course, we have the data point that HTC is the manufacturer of the smaller Pixel 2 — and making both phones, as it did with the Pixel and Pixel XL last year, would have made just as much sense.

To say that the U11+ is a re-badged Pixel 2 XL project is too simplistic.

But considering the substantial hardware and design differences here, it's clear there was a split away from Pixel 2 XL development into making the U11+ its own phone quite a while ago. HTC has fully applied its own design and features to the U11+, keeping it far closer to the family of the original U11 rather than being some "re-badged" Pixel 2 XL. The full glass back, differently sculpted sides, larger battery and of course decision to use an LCD screen all set it apart as its own distinct device.

So this also isn't to say that what we see today in the HTC U11+ would've translated over in terms of hardware if HTC had been chosen to make the Pixel 2 XL, or that the U11+ wouldn't have been released anyway. As we see in the Google Pixel 2 and 2 XL today, the phones share many design elements and features despite being made by two different companies — and there's no doubt this so-called muskie phone would have looked like the Pixel 2 XL we know now, rather than the U11+ we eventually got later.

HTC U11+ hands-on preview

But still, it's fun to think about what could have transpired if the muskie project went on and eventually became the Pixel 2 XL. Who knows if the screen may have been different, or what other subtle tweaks HTC would've had up its sleeve with more development time up to a final release.