“The U11 is a strong and powerful contender in the premium flagship segment. We go hands on…”
The smartphone-user interaction primarily happens via touch, but voice has also come up as a viable alternative, especially given the rise of voice-driven smart assistants like the Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri and the like. But how would you like to operate your smartphone by squeezing it? Yep, you read it right. If HTC has its way, you’ll soon be doing exactly that. The Taiwanese major’s latest flagship, the HTC U11 has just broken cover, and brings with it a unique Edge Sense functionality that allows you to perform tasks by squeezing it from the sides. Intrigued? Read on for the details…
In a nutshell, HTC has used the same sexy glass design we saw on the U Ultra (review) and the U Play (first impressions), made it even sleeker, crammed it with top-of-the-line hardware as is apt for a true blue flagship, and then added some secret wizardry to enable the special edge features. In essence, the U11 is HTC’s main flagship for 2017 – the ’11’ in its moniker comes from the fact that it’s the successor to last year’s HTC 10 (review), while the ‘U’ indicates that it’s part of the U series.
Let’s cover the special goodies right up front. Since the two sides of the device are sensitive to pressure, the HTC U11 lets you perform tasks by literally squeezing and applying pressure on the edges. And because of the slim bezels, the smartphone nestles nicely in the hand, making the task easier. It recognises short and long presses, and those actions can be customised as well, Using Edge Sense (i.e. by squeezing the phone), you can use it to launch apps, start the camera and capture snaps, invoke the Google Assistant, record voice, capture screenshots enable the flashlight etc. Under device settings, you’ll find the options to customise Edge Sense as per your preferences. The pressure sensitivity can be tweaked as well. Future updates to Edge Sense can be expected to bring even more features and customisability. Thanks to this unique feature, you can operate your phone during times which hitherto made the task difficult – such as when you’re wearing gloves for example… or trying to click underwater photos. By the way, did we mention that the HTC U11 is also resistant to dust and water, and carries IP67 rating for the same? HTC says the Edge Sense features should work with custom phone cases they’re working on, though we suspect the functionality could get affected to some extent at least. When we tried out Edge Sense, it felt weird squeezing the phone from the sides at first, but it doesn’t take too long to get the hang of it. The trick is cradle the phone in your palm and apply pressure on both sides, and once you know how, you’d be able to make the phone respond fairly accurately to your (rather hard) caresses.
The U Ultra is a gorgeous-looking device, but the new phone looks even more sexier. It sheds the bulk of its dual-screened sibling, and is far sleeker too, with a 5.5-inch 2K display acting as its window to the world. HTC has played around with colours, so the U11 will come in five hues, all more beautiful than the other. The shades have been given exotic-sounding names – Amazing Silver, Sapphire Blue, Brilliant Black, Ice White, and Solar Red. While the black and white models look elegant enough, it’s the Sapphire Blue that can really turn heads. The silver and red are even more flamboyant, and thanks to the layered process the company has used for construction, change shades depending upon ambient light. The silver throws up shades of grey (literally speaking) and blue, while the red can turn into anything between orange and purple depending on light. Worth mentioning that the red variant will ship a few weeks later than its other brethren. Of course, all these differently-coloured models are highly reflective, and are prone to smudges and fingerprints. Feast your eyes on the different colour variants by browsing through the gallery below.
The other elements on the device include a fingerprint scanner integrated into the home button on the chin, flanked by capacitive navigation keys. Above the screen, you’ll see the earpiece, along with the front camera and the sensors. On a side note, the U11 comes with HTC’s BoomSound speakers, and we’re told that this feature has received an upgrade too, promising to deliver better sound. The speaker design has apparently been improved, the tweeter now has an acoustic chamber, and the woofer’s magnetic circuit design has been tweaked to enrich the sound output.
The port placement is the same as the U Ultra’s – the power button and volume rocker have been placed on the right, the top has the hybrid SIM tray, while the bottom is home to the USB Type-C port and the speaker. There’s no 3.5mm headset socket, as you’d expect, but thankfully, HTC will bundle an adapter in the retail box this time (there was no adapter included with the U Ultra). What’s more, the company has even managed to cram in a DAC inside the adapter, which promises to offer an immersive listening experience even if you choose to use your own set of headphones. The USonic earphones available inside the pack now boast Active Noise Cancellation. Clearly, HTC is pulling out all the stops to make the new phone special. For shooting, you get a 12MP primary camera with f/1.7 aperture and a large pixel size of 1.4 microns. This shooter rocks optical image stabilisation, and employs the same dual-pixel technology we’ve seen on the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ – HTC is choosing to call it UltraSpeed AutoFocus. This not only improves the speed, but also the image quality. Auto HDR Boost is another new feature, and basically starts shooting pics as soon as you launch the camera app. However, it only saves the results (after combining multiple shots for better dynamic range) when you hit the shutter. And then there’s something called Acoustic Focus, a feature that tries to cut down background noise as you zoom into a subject, while shooting video. The few test shots we took during our hands indicate that the camera should be able to deliver good results, but we do need to test it our properly to make sure. Thanks to the U11’s DXoMark score of 90 (higher than the Google Pixel’s 89), we are expecting nothing less than outstanding photo quality. For selfies, the new flagship comes with a 16-meg shooter up front, and we’re expecting the world from it as well.
In terms of software, you get Android Nougat 7.1 with HTC’s usual custom skin on top, complete with the BlinkFeed news aggregator that gets its own dedicated page on the home screen. The Sense Companion contextual assistant we saw on the U Ultra is there too, working alongside the Google Assistant. The U11 would also work with Amazon’s Alexa voice service in countries where the latter is available, and that means users would actually have at least three assistants at their beck and call at all times. The UI is standard HTC, and includes support for Motion Launch gestures, along with offering different battery-saving modes.
The Snapdragon 835 chipset, which is the latest and greatest from Qualcomm, powers the proceedings, and works hand-in-hand with 4 or 6GB RAM, depending upon the variant. The 4GB RAM model comes with 64GB storage, while the 6GB variant offers double of that. The availability go these variants would differ from region to region. A 3,000mAh battery with Quick Charge 3.0 support is tasked with keeping the phone alive. In our brief usage, the U11 worked quite smoothly… which is hardly a surprise given its powerful specs.
The device gets all the frills we expect from a new HTC flagship. It’s loaded on the connectivity front, offering gigabit-speed LTE, NFC, dual-band Wi-Fi, DisplayPort, and streaming via AirPlay, DLNA and Miracast. Disappointingly, it doesn’t get the new Bluetooth 5.0 standard and sticks to v4.2 instead. The HTC U11 would start shipping in Taiwan on June 1st, and in Europe soon thereafter. The starting price is pegged at €749, which converts into Rs 53,000 approximately. It’s expected to land in India before mid-June, and the company has already confirmed that it had decided to bring the 6GB / 128GB variant to our shores – a wise decision we think. The exact Indian pricing hasn’t been worked out yet, but we should have that info before it launches in India. HTC would be announcing various offers at the time of launch, and you can expect EMI offers, and even cashbacks. The HTC U11 would be the first smartphone in India with the Snapdragon 835 SoC, at least till the time the Xiaomi Mi 6 (first impressions) and the OnePlus 5 make it to the country. To some extent, the likes of the Google Pixel and the LG G6 (review) can also be considered as rivals, but spec-nerds will probably dismiss them outright because of their one generation old Snapdragon 821 chipsets. However, the main competition that the U11 will face is the pair of flagships from Samsung, the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ (review). If HTC can deliver on the core experience (including performance, camera quality and battery life) with the U11, and price it aggressively in India, we think it might just have a winner on its hands. From what we can make out, the HTC U11 packs in enough to grab its rivals by their throats and squeeze hard… really hard.
Disclosure: this writer was in Taipei on HTC India’s invitation