Android 7.1 is paired with HTC's custom interface, HTC Sense. This combination is bolstered by a host of app-based enhancements HTC hopes will differentiate the U11 in a sea of customised versions of Android.
The fundamentals of the UI are familiars - home screens, an apps tray, and a notifications/quick toggle menu. HTC's Blinkfeed is also to the left of all the home screens, aggregating news and social media content. This is handy for mindlessly scrolling through a feed that isn't Facebook or Instagram, though, for anyone who prefers to be a bit more mindful, you can easily disable it.
As far as additional apps go, the most in your face is HTC Sense Companion. This volunteers up information like weather, local restaurants, your daily step-count and battery saver suggestions. It also gets to know you over time, offering restaurant suggestions at lunch time and reminding you to charge your phone if it thinks you won't quite make it through a day. After only a week with the U11, our tailored suggestions were limited, though useful weather updates and charging suggestions were well-timed and welcome.
HTC's Boost+ app is also onboard helping with smartphone housekeeping like cache file clearing and app management. Giving you the ability to mass uninstall applications and control the resolution games are displayed - thereby saving you battery, it's a handy, comprehensive tool that doesn't really feel like bloatware.
The final pre-loaded app of note is the UA Record app. This is Under Armour's own suite of fitness tools, pairing with UA branded accessories like the excellent JBL Sport Wireless headphones and HTC Health Box. This delivers heart rate monitoring from the headphones paired with your GPS tracking from your phone for accurate calorie burning information. For fitness enthusiasts, it's a great app and it can easily be uninstalled, so doesn't really classify as bloatware.
The U11 has the same theme experience the HTC 10 does, with a choice of freestyle themes or traditional Android skins. There's also a neat option to create a theme from a picture or current wallpaper, so personalisation is comprehensively accounted for.
As for personal assistants, currently, only Google Now is available for the U11, though by the end of June, Amazon's Alexa will be on-board too, available to download from the Google Play Store.
Unique, gimmicky, bonkers - all words that come to mind when thinking about the new squeezy tech, aka, Edge Sense found on the U11. Squishing the bottom half of your phone between your thumb and fingers acts as an input, with HTC offering tons of customisation around the experience.
By default, squeezing is set to launch the camera app, while a long squeeze will fire up Google Now. You can customise your own squeeze level in the settings, so it only activates when you want it to. Other optional squeeze associations include launching an app, taking a screenshot, turning on and off the flashlight, starting a voice recording, launching HTC Sense companion and finally, toggling the U11's WiFi hotspot. Down the line, HTC has also promised in-app customisation, so you can interact with third party apps with a squeeze, but that feature hasn't dropped just yet.
The first question to ask is - does it work reliably? The answer is an unequivocal yes. After customising your squeeze level it's relatively comfortable to use while on a surface and in your hand, and can be used while wearing gloves and when wet - also handy.
The second question to ask - is it worthwhile? This is less cut and dry. After cycling through commands, the best answer to that question is, maybe. HTC already offers a quick launch camera feature by double tapping the power button. This felt less awkward than squeezing the U11 when quickly trying to take a snap. The long press for Google Now was handy, but doubles up what a verbal "Okay Google" can do, which is a means of interaction we've gotten used to. As a result, on our U11, Edge Sense toggled the Wi-Fi hotspot with a short squeeze and turned the flashlight on with a long squeeze.
The Honor 7 had an additional hardware key, the Honor 8 had a fingerprint scanner button, the Samsung Galaxy S8 has a less useful Bixby key. This just feels like much of the same when it comes to real-world use. As a result, right now, Edge Sense feels more like a gimmick than a key selling point, which is a shame.
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