THE HTC U11 is here as HTC's flagship smartphone for 2017. 12-months ago, HTC launched a brilliant phone, the HTC 10. They hoped it would bring them back into favour after the mediocre M9 damaged their rep, but that alone couldn't do it, and neither could the imperfect HTC U Ultra.
Now, HTC is going hell for leather, bunging everything under the sun into its new flagship, including, wait for it - squeezy tech. Is it enough to flip HTC's fortunes?
The HTC U11 is a traditional looking phone that, head-on, looks virtually identical to a HTC U series phone. Think: bezel, lots of bezel. On the front sits the 5.5in screen, fingerprint scanner and a front camera. Packing a Liquid Surface design around the back, it's a continuation of the U Ultra's styling. This means shiny Gorilla Glass 5 at the back and a range of colours - Sapphire Blue, Brilliant Black and Ice White.
For the first time, the Liquid Surface finish is available in two new colours, Amazing Silver and Solar Red. What's amazing about Amazing Silver is that it isn't really silver, it'is blue. As for the Solar Red finish, this is actually pretty cool - it changes from red through to copper depending on the angle at which you tilt it.
There's a USB-C port at the base and it'll be paired with a clear case available in the box - a must, given how much the U series clings on to fingerprints. Of note is also the fact there's no 3.5mm headphone jack, though fret not, it ships with an adapter in the box - more on that later.
As for the HTC U11's screen, it has a 5.5in Gorilla Glass 5 panel on the front. Just one screen this time, ditching the secondary display found on the U Ultra. A QHD resolution paired with Super LCD5 technology leaves everything looking excellent head on and off angle.
The screen can be used in wet conditions too, thanks to a new ultrasound screen tech paired with IP67 water and dust resistance.
Running Android 7.1 with HTC Sense, the experience is familiar on first glance, but it's hiding something pretty, weird - a squeeze sensor.
Edge Sense is |a new touch dimension beyond the screen. It's a form of touch that conveys a sense of organic interaction"… er, that's the official line, but why would you want to squeeze your phone?
There are a couple of implementations I tested which actually worked really well. Squeeze the HTC U11 from off for example and it'll fire-up the camera. Squeeze it in the camera app to take the picture. Long squeeze the phone to switch cameras.
It isn't just about that camera though, Edge Sense can also trigger Google Assistant, saving you an awkward verbal "Okay Google" when in public. Meanwhile, machine learning should help the HTC U11 figure out what's a squeeze and what isn't, so your assistant doesn't start yapping away in your pocket.
This ultrasound squeezy tech in the sides paired with the BoomSound stereo speakers may lend to explain, and compensate for the really, really big bezels on the HTC U11. Because of them, the U11 unfortunately already looks dated alongside the Galaxy S8 and LG G6.
HTC is also supporting third party apps with its Edge Sense, even if developers aren't. This will be through an add-on app available on 11 July. The app will enable you to configure two squeeze commands for each application to shortcut through to an action within it. Tinder - squeeze to swipe left, long squeeze to swipe right? Hmm.
While the HTC U11 packs Google Assistant, it also supports Amazon Alexa - a bold move on HTC's part. Paired with four always-on listening microphones, using both assistants you can unlock your phone from a sleep state. This means you can jump into maps with Google Assistant, and still access things like Audible books from Alexa, something Google Assistant can't do. Alexa will be available as a Play Store update in July in three countries, including the UK and US.
The 12MP, f/1.7 camera is also incredibly quick, with a new UltraSpeed autofocus camera loaded up with an UltraPixel 3 sensor. It's basically a Pixel camera version 2 which, on paper sounds amazing. Using it left me nothing short of impressed. Having just reviewed the LG G6, after mere moments with the HTC U11, I knew it wiped the floor with LG's latest offering.
The new sensor and software inside bring with them all your standard photo modes including full manual, as well as Instant HDR. This means the HTC U11 should take images with higher dynamic range while still managing to fire up and snap in no time. As for the front camera, it's a 16MP f/2 UltraPixel camera that can down sample its sensor to take lower-res pictures with better low light performance.
The multimedia story extends to the audio too, with the HTC U11 also offering personalised USonic sound as seen on the HTC 10 and U series. This time around, the USonic headphones which fine-tune audio to your specific ear canals also offer active noise cancelling and are included in the box with the phone. The HTC U11 also ships with a USB-C to 3.5mm jack converter loaded up with a DAC for even better audio.
The BoomSound HiFi Edition speakers are louder than any HTC BoomSound phones before. I can confirm, it's a beast in this department, so you shouldn't have any issues hearing calls using the loudspeaker or watching YouTube videos on the fly.
Specs and the rest
Unlike the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+, the HTC U11 will have a Snapdragon 835 across all regions. Inside, you'll get either 4GB RAM paired with 64GB storage, or 6GB RAM paired with 128GB configurations. Not that it matters just yet in the UK, but it's worth noting, the HTC U11 won't support the 1GB download speeds of the Sony Xperia XZ Premium.
There's no wireless charging on-board, but there is a 3,000mAh Battery supporting QuickCharge 3.0. With any luck, the U11 should get you through a full day, but we'll have to hang tight until we get a review device before we can confirm this.
You can expect the new HTC U11 to drop on May 18 in Taiwan, with a later release pitted for the UK. As for price, it will cost £679 RRP with network availability yet to be confirmed. µ