HTC is veering off in a new direction. Sure, the once-dominating Android heavy-hitter has fallen a bit on the wayside of late, but there’s a new feature in its latest flagship worthy of your attention. While Samsung says all-display phones are the way to go, HTC says otherwise. Apparently, we’ve got it all wrong: squeezable phones are the way forward.
That initial tease earlier in the month brought about a lot of speculation. HTC’s “Squeeze for the brilliant” tagline set minds in motion – and my money was on some sort of unholy mishmash between stress toy and smartphone. Or perhaps something like one of those squeezable toys you had as a kid, filled with that toxic liquid your parents warned you about. I might have laughed then, but this Edge Sense business is much better than I ever expected.
HTC U11 review: UK price, specifications and release date
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 835|
|RAM||4GB or 6GB|
|Storage||64GB or 128GB|
|Display||5.5in IPS 1,440 x 2,560|
|Release date||June 2017|
HTC U11 review: Edge Sense
HTC’s Edge Sense is interesting in its own right. In short, there’s a pair of pressure sensors embedded in either side of the lower half of the phone, perfectly poised for your inevitable groping. Their purpose? Launching apps from the lock screen, and performing specific actions as soon as you’re in those apps.
Let me explain. This “extended touch” should eliminate the need for frequent screen fiddling. Each squeeze of the hand is separated into two actions: a short and a long squeeze, each with its own little flourish of haptic feedback that lets you know you’ve squashed correctly.
Each squeezy action launches any app you see fit and – once you’re in that app – you can tell it to perform certain actions. It’s far easier to use than my butchered explanation ascertains; a short squeeze takes a picture in the camera app, while a long grope will have you switching between shooting modes.
The coolest thing? If your grip is a little limp, or if you possess Hulk-like handshakes, Edge Sense can be calibrated to the strength of your squeeze. This way, it won’t be over-sensitive and launch apps when you just pull the phone from your pocket, or function as one of those grip trainers
Now, HTC’s own apps are the only ones supported at launch. There might not be as many supported apps when you first take it out the box – which is disappointing – but I’m told we should expect third-party integration some time in July.
HTC U11 review: Design, performance and first impressions
So, that’s the squeezable Edge Sense out of the way, but how is the handset itself? Lay your eyes on it, and you’ll see that it’s not just a forgettable phone with a gimmick, it may just be the best-looking phone of 2017.
Design-wise, it doesn’t seem to deviate too far from HTC’s tried-and-tested aesthetics. It’s still got that smooth pebble-like back for a bit of extra grip, and it will still fit in the pocket – unlike Samsung’s lanky S8 Plus. Oh, and it comes in “Amazing Silver” and “Solar Red” colour schemes.
And that’s where the beauty lies. Its two-tone glory is absolutely dazzling, with that Solar Red paint job looking like part of Tony Stark’s Iron Man arsenal. It’s quite glossy, and picks up fingerprints easily – but the U11 is an utter stunner, and one you’ll be very happy to show off.
Obviously, there’s no ridiculously large front display like the Samsung Galaxy S8 or LG G6, but we’re treated to a rather nice 5.5in, IPS Super LCD screen with a resolution of 1,440 x 2,560. It’ll do the job, but it’s just not as nice to gawk at as its competitors’ flagships.
Internally, there’s not much to shout about. Following on from Sony’s Xperia XZ Premium, this will be the second of 2017’s flagships to come equipped with Qualcomm’s fanciest Snapdragon 835 chip, and it’s already set to be a notable performer. Expect up to 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage to back it up.
Battery life should (fingers crossed) see a marked improvement this year, too. The firm says we can expect a 45% bump in longevity compared to last year’s HTC 10. Greater power efficiency in that new chip must be afoot here, considering the 3,000mAh battery remains unchanged.
Camera-wise, you’ll find a 12-megapixel snapper on the back; equipped with dual-pixel autofocus, optical image stabilisation and an f/1.7 aperture. The keen-eyed among you might twig this is the exact same specification of Samsung’s latest flagship, although it doesn’t tout the same impressive multi-shot image processing.
And you know what? That camera isn’t half bad. The folks over at DxOMark have already put the HTC U11 through their rigorous camera testing, achieving an overall score of 90. That’s the best we’ve seen thus far, and one point better than Google’s Pixel. Perhaps the inevitable Pixel 2 will dominate once again? Only time will tell.
Scoring 90 out of 100 in the still image tests, and 89 out of 100 in the video tests, the HTC U11’s camera is no slouch. The camera overview mentions: “good detail preservation and colour rendering” as well as vibrant outdoor scenes with minimal scenes.
As with every review, I’ll be running my own camera tests as soon as I get a handset in for review, but it already looks like HTC has a strong future in that hard-fought phone camera competition.
HTC U11 review: Early verdict
HTC’s U11 flagship isn’t just a forgettable gimmick. Sure, its squeezy sides might not be quite the selling point the firm is hoping for – even if it is handy – but this is a decent smartphone nonetheless. Its dazzling design will catch your eye in shops, and you might just be willing to take it to checkout. That is, of course, if HTC can keep the price down.
And that’s the kicker. That £649 asking price is nigh on absurd for a phone that isn’t Samsung’s, Apple’s or Google’s, so HTC might be in for a tricky few months ahead. This is no Galaxy S8 after all, and at roughly the same price, the S8 will still likely be the pundit’s favourite. I’d love to be proven wrong.