HTC U11 review: A fragile, squeezable flagship

 

HTC introduced the “U” smartphone line back in January with the U Ultra and U Play handsets, and those were just a taste of what the company had coming. The U11 is HTC’s newest flagship and follow-up to last year’s HTC 10, and it looks significantly different from last year’s device. With an all-glass back and no headphone jack, the U11 chooses which of the typical flagship design choices it wanted to keep and forgoes others. It supports Google Assistant as well as HTC’s own Sense Companion AI, with Amazon Alexa support coming soon after it ships in the US on June 9. The HTC 10 was one of our favorite flagship smartphones last year, and the U11 is a thoughtful upgrade from that, even if its design is polarizing.

Design

The U11 smartphone looks and feels flashier than the HTC 10, but that doesn’t mean it’s better. Ars’ Ron Amadeo appreciated the simple yet solid metal design of HTC’s 2016 flagship, but the company certainly deviated from that blueprint with this device. The U11 has an all-glass back that makes it strikingly shiny but also a wild collector of fingerprints. That shine complements the bold colors it comes in (red, sapphire, silver, and black), but every time it catches your eye, you’ll be compelled to wipe down the phone.

SPECS AT A GLANCE: HTC U11
SCREEN 5.5″ 2560×1440 LCD
OS Android 7.1.1 with HTC Sense
CPU Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, up to 2.45GHz
RAM 4GB
GPU Adreno 540
STORAGE 64GB (expandable up to 2TB with microSD card)
NETWORKING 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS, GLONASS, NFC
BANDS GSM: 850/900/1800/1900 MHz
CDMA2000: 800/1900
3G UMTS: 850/AWS/900/1900/2100 MHz
LTE (FDD): 1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/13/17/20/25/26/28/66
PORTS 1 USB 3.1 Type-C
CAMERA Rear: 12MP HTC UltraPixel 3, UltraSpeed AF, OIS, f/1.7, 4K video recording
Front: 16MP front camera
SIZE 153.9 x 75.9 x 7.9mm (6.05 x 2.98 x .31 inches)
WEIGHT 169 g (5.96 ounces)
BATTERY 3000 mAh, Quick Charge 3.0
STARTING PRICE $650
OTHER PERKS Edge Sensor, fingerprint sensor, ambient light sensor, G-sensor, gyro-sensor, voice commands with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, Motion Launch

Samsung’s Galaxy S8 has an all-glass design, and while glass is pretty, it’s not as durable as metal, especially for devices that you use and abuse every day. The U11’s back is the main glass part of the handset, and technically the device still has a unibody design—you just can’t tell by the placement of the glass as it sits atop the aluminum underneath. The bold back colors aren’t built into the glass, but rather they slide underneath the glass, so they won’t fade as some metal finishes can with time and use. They can’t be scratched off either.

The handset’s aluminum body peeks through on its sides where the few buttons and connectivity options live: on the right are the power button and volume rocker, on the top lies the SIM/microSD card slot, and on the bottom is the single USB Type-C port. You can’t see them, but eight tiny pressure sensors are hidden in the device’s lower sides—those are the sensors you “squeeze” to activate Edge Sense features and apps, which we’ll discuss more in a later section. The handset is IP67 water-resistant, and Edge Sense can even be used when the device is wet.Image result for HTC U11 review: A fragile, squeezable flagship

The screen and front panel are where the U11 looks a bit dated. Hugging the 5.5-inch, 2560×1440 display are chunky top and bottom bezels and a set of hardware navigation buttons. This is a stark contrast from recent flagship designs that favor paper-thin bezels to allow maximum screen space. The typical Android back and app-drawer capacitive buttons are on either side of the physical home button/fingerprint sensor. This is another contrast, as both new Android smartphones and iPhones have started to move away from physical home buttons.

One similarity the U11 has with the iPhone 7 is the lack of headphone jack. Included in the box is a USB Type-C-to-3.5mm audio jack, so you can connect your wired headphones to the device with the adaptor. HTC also includes its own headphones in the box that have active noise cancelling; thanks to power over USB Type-C, the headphones don’t need their own battery to provide active noise cancelling.

Edge Sense

The U11’s most interesting feature is Edge Sense, or the squeezable nature of the handset. When holding the device naturally with one hand, you can squeeze both sides to initiate an action. Edge Sense has two customizable pressure points—a short squeeze or a long squeeze. Upon setting up the feature, you’re asked to adjust the pressure level for your own hand. For example, the natural amount of pressure I put on the device’s edges is different from what my boyfriend would, so you can set up Edge Sense to recognize a base level of pressure that feels natural for you. After setting it up on my review unit, Edge Sense worked well in that my squeezes were always recognized and software never mistook grabbing and handling of the smartphone for a squeeze.

At any time, you can use the Edge Sense settings to customize short- and long-squeeze actions. These are your current options: bring up the camera app, take a screenshot (my personal favorite), launch HTC Sense Companion, launch an app of your choosing, start an instant voice recording, turn on your Wi-Fi hotspot, or turn on the flashlight. Those are all practical uses for Edge Sense, and the ability to set it to bring up any app you want is convenient.

HTC told Ars that convenience is the main idea behind Edge Sense. The company wanted to address the ergonomic issues plaguing large smartphones (not being able to reach all your apps with one hand, etc.) without compromising the seamlessness of the device. HTC didn’t want to add another button to the edge of the U11, like Samsung did on the Galaxy S8 with its dedicated Bixby button. So the company found a different solution that would allow more functionality without cluttering the device’s sides.

As mentioned above, Edge Sense works even when the U11 is wet, since it’s all based on the pressure of your hand. Since it doesn’t recognize the presence of skin either, Edge Sense will also work when you’re wearing gloves. Even if you put a case over the U11, you can go back into the Edge Sense settings and adjust the pressure sensitivity so the feature works even while the case is on.

Overall, I enjoyed using Edge Sense more than I thought I would. I appreciate this design choice over adding another button or two to the sides of the U11, and I appreciate even more that it’s fully customizable. Unlike Samsung’s Bixby button that really only has one use, HTC’s Edge Sense can be what you want it to be. If you’re not a huge fan of Edge Sense, you can turn it off as well—and since there are no extra physical buttons, you won’t even know Edge Sense exists if you disable it entirely.

Cameras

The solid 12MP rear camera and 16MP front-facing camera from the HTC 10 have carried over to the U11. Most of the pictures I took outside in natural light are bright and full of color. With photos taken in sunlight on the HTC 10, colors sometimes appeared gray and washed-out, but that didn’t happen as much on the U11. There were a few times when the camera brightened the sunlight a bit too much, producing colors that weren’t as rich as those produced by the Galaxy S7 Edge—but instances of that issue were few and far between. Low-light photos continue to be noticeably brighter than those taken with the S7 Edge.

Software

The app drawer is pretty cluttered when you boot up the U11 for the first time. Many of the pre-installed apps are Google products, but a number of HTC apps are squeezed in as well: Boost+ for optimizing power and managing apps, HTC Help for troubleshooting, Themes for decorating your phone’s UI, and the like. Having so many apps already installed on the device before you even get to customize it is annoying, but the good news is that most of them can be uninstalled easily.

The biggest piece of HTC software on the U11 is the Sense Companion AI, which learns about you, your interests, and your phone habits to provide all kinds of suggestions, like where to go to dinner, with whom to share a photo, and which apps to delete.

As you use the U11, the AI learns how you use your phone, and a small blue orb will float into the display when it has a suggestion for you. You can also go into the HTC Sense Companion app to see a full list of the most recent suggestions if you tend to ignore the orb. Those tips are presented much like Google Now info cards are, with little doodles and text with information like traffic updates, weather changes, and more.

Where HTC’s AI comes in handy is for device optimization: HTC told Ars that Sense Companion may tell you that you have 20 apps on your U11 that you haven’t used in a month and suggest deleting them so you have more space. Over time, Sense Companion will also be smart enough to remind you to charge your smartphone during free times of the day when you have a busy schedule. Allowing Sense Companion access to your calendar will help it understand your schedule and suggest times to charge up on days when you have back-to-back meetings.

A note about Amazon’s Alexa: our review unit didn’t have Alexa yet. According to HTC, U11 devices will receive Alexa through an update to the Alexa Android app. Unlike Huawei’s integration with Alexa, you won’t need to open an app to access Amazon’s virtual assistant—the wake word “Alexa” will be enough to trigger a response. But the Alexa app will be necessary to configure and personalize the virtual assistant. Our review unit had Google Assistant only, which you can access by saying “OK Google” or long-pressing the home button.

A great feature that HTC brought over from the HTC 10 is adoptable storage. Introduced in Android 6.0, this feature lets the device “merge” internal and microSD card storage. The U11 comes with 64GB of onboard storage, but with the help of a microSD card, it could mimic a handset with up to 2TB of internal storage. After inserting a microSD card, you just have to go into the device settings and format the card’s storage as internal. Then the system will move apps and programs around as needed automatically, rather than making you manually choose where everything needs to be.

Software and security updates

The U11 has the April 1, 2017 security patch and will receive Android O, but HTC didn’t say when. The company also told Ars that smaller updates will depend on “carrier lab approval, scale, and urgency of the update.” Our review unit is a U11 on Sprint, and HTC says that model will get its first update at the end of this month or early July.

The U11 ships with the latest version of Android, which is great, especially since Samsung’s and LG’s flagships don’t (the S8 and the G6 ship with Android 7.0). But in the past, HTC’s major Android updates have been quite carrier-dependent. The unlocked HTC 10 received Nougat three months after the software’s initial launch, while the T-Mobile model waited five months for it. Updates only got worse from there, with the Sprint model waiting six months and the Verizon model waiting seven months for Nougat.

If you want the fastest update to Android O in the future, you should probably go with the unlocked version of the U11. Otherwise, it’s hard to say when your model will get the latest version of Android.

Even worse for HTC is the uncertainty of its security updates. There’s no guarantee that all U11 models will receive every security update in a timely fashion. Not only is that terrible in comparison to Samsung, LG, and Google, which all provide monthly security updates to their flagships, but HTC has also had legal troubles in the past surrounding this issue. In 2013, the FTC reached a settlement with HTC that required the company to patch notable security holes in millions of its Android smartphones and tablets. HTC is subject to a security review for 20 years after that settlement as well.

Listing image by Valentina Palladino

HTC U11 Squeezable phone launched in India: Key specs, price, and more

 

HTC U11 smartphone with the new ‘Edge sense’ feature has been launched in India. HTC’s new U11 is also called the ‘Squeezable phone’ thanks to its Edge sense feature, and the upcoming phone is priced at Rs 51,990 for 6GB RAM+128GB storage variant. HTC U11 will be available starting June end.

HTC U11 Squeezable feature aka Edge Sense

HTC U11 comes with something called Edge Sense, where a user can squeeze the smartphone to set certain commands and functions. For instance, the squeeze can be customised to open an email app, or a game, open the camera app, take a picture, activate any of the voice assistants. Essentially the ‘squeeze’ gesture can be customized by the user for whatever action they prefer. HTC’s Edge Sense can be used even with gloves on, and the phone will work fine.

HTC U11 Design and Specifications

In terms of design, HTC U11 continues with the 3D Liquid Surface design we saw on the HTC U Ultra Play. This phone will come in blue, black, red and silver colour options, and the overall finish is glossy, which did make the earlier HTC U Ultra a little slippery. Dimensions of the HTC U11 are 153.9 x 75.9 x 7.9mm, and it sports a 5.5 inch Quad HD (2560 x 1440 pixels) resolution display. HTC is using the Super LCD 5 display with 3D Corning Gorilla Glass 5 on top.HTC U11, HTC U11 price in India, HTC U11 Squeezable phone, HTC Squeezable phone, HTC Edge Sense

HTC U11 also runs the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor, which is a 64 bit octa-core one with up to 2.45 Ghz clock speed. The RAM and storage variant mentioned is 4GB + 64GB and 6GB RAM + 128GB storage. This one has a dual-SIM hybrid slot with microSD support, and the storage is expandable up to 2TB.

On the camera front, HTC U11 comes with 12MP rear camera with the company’s UltraPixel 3 one. It has 1.4μm pixel size, UltraSpeed Autofocus, BSI sensor and OIS. The aperture is ƒ/1.7 and there’s Dual LED flash on board. HTC has added a Pro mode with manual control as well as RAW format support on this phone. The camera is capable of 4K recording with 3D Audio, Hi-Res audio, Acoustic Focus as well. The front camera is 16MP with BSI sensor, live make-up, auto Selfie, Voice Selfie and HDR boost, along with support for 1080p video recording.

HTC U11 is a 4G-VoLTE enabled smartphone with support for most the major bands for India, including Band 5, Band 40, Band 41, etc. HTC says the U11 is capable of support Cat 15 LTE with download speeds up to 800Mbps. On the sound, audio quality HTC U11 has the company’s HTC USonic with Active Noise Cancellation as well as HTC BoomSound Hi-Fi edition. Sensors on the HTC U11 are Ambient light sensor, Proximity sensor Motion G-sensor, Compass sensor, Gyro sensor, Magnetic sensor, Fingerprint sensor, Sensor Hub, Edge Sensor.

For connectivity, HTC U11 also supports NFC, Bluetooth 4.2, Wi-Fi: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 & 5 GHz). It has a 3000 mAh battery with Quick Charge 3.0 and Type-C charging port. HTC is promising 24.5 Hours talk time with 3G/4G on this phone

 

HTC U11 Review: A ‘Squeezable’ Smartphone Designed to Flaunt

 

Quick Question: What’s common between an orange, a forearm exerciser and HTC’s new primo product called U11?

Answer: You can squeeze all of them!

Yes, that’s what HTC claims to be the U11’s UPS, “the squeezable smartphone”.

PS: Sorry for the lame forearm exerciser joke!

https://giphy.com/embed/3o7TKPdUkkbCAVqWk0via GIPHY

Yes, the HTC U11 looks something out of HTC’s top drawer, but the company seems to be trying too hard to make up for the shortcoming of the HTC U Ultra and U Play.

Does the HTC U11 really make you squeeze that extra buck out of your pocket? Let’s take a look.

Snapshot

Click here to collapse

Pros:

  • Great display
  • Battery life is good
  • Camera clicks excellent pictures
  • Clean UI
  • Beautiful mirror finish
  • Edge Sense
  • Water-resistant

Cons:

  • Attracts smudges & fingerprints
  • Slippery in the hand
  • No 3.5mm headphone jack

What’s Good?

The fact that I could squeeze and play with the phone instantly made me like the HTC U11. The ‘squeeze’ feature acts like a shortcut gesture, something like what we have seen with Moto’s flick gesture or OnePlus’ Alert Slider. Although, I feel HTC’s gesture squeeze is the most intuitive.

The HTC U11’s Edge Sense feature allows you to squeeze the phone where the pressure sensors on the phone’s sides helps you interact with different applications of the phone.

You have options like “short squeeze” or “squeeze and hold”. The company has said that they will add more gestures in the future. The liquid glass surface design looks beautiful and I loved the way it reflects different colours in different lights.

(Photo: The Quint)

The 5.5-inch quad-HD display is fantastic! HTC didn’t stretch this one, unlike the S8 or the G6 display and stuck to the traditional thick bezel design. It offers great viewing angles and performs well even under direct sunlight.

The phone is running on the latest Snapdragon 835 chipset coupled with 6GB of RAM. A standard in today’s flagships. Performance is great and really didn’t have any problems with the phone. HTC has kept the phone devoid of bloatware which gives some extra points to the U11 and also makes the Android Nougat experience much better.

HTC U11 runs on Android 7.0 Nougat
HTC U11 runs on Android 7.0 Nougat (Photo: The Quint)

The HTC U11 comes with IP67 water-resistance, which means that the phone can be completely submerged underwater.

Apart from the 64GB of on-board storage it comes with an option to expand and we always like that. The same woofer and tweeter combo gets carried forward from the HTC 10 but this time the audio via the speakers sounds much more refined and louder.

Also, despite the fact that the 3.5mm jack has been removed from the setup, audio via the USB type-C headphones was remarkable. The headphones also offer noise cancellation so that makes the deal more sweeter.

The 12-megapixel rear camera on the HTC U11 is one of the best out there.
The 12-megapixel rear camera on the HTC U11 is one of the best out there. (Photo: The Quint)

Camera quality is excellent. It’s rated to be the best camera according to the DxOMark ratings. Snaps in daylight look excellent via the 12-megapixel rear camera. The 16-megapixel front camera is also ‘wow’. Just to round it up, you won’t have any complaints with the camera on the U11.

3000mAh battery on the HTC U11 is enough to last you the entire day
3000mAh battery on the HTC U11 is enough to last you the entire day (Photo: The Quint)

Despite the fact that 3000mAh on paper might look underwhelming that HTC U11’s battery performed really well. After a complete days use there was still enough charge at the end of the day for your evening Youtube matinee.

What’s Bad?

This list is going to be very short because it was really tough finding anything wrong with the U11. To start with, the liquid surface design might look beautiful but it attracts a lot of smudges and fingerprints so always carry a cleaning cloth if you want to flaunt this phone.

Although the HTC Sense squeeze feature is pretty innovative, it is prone to a lot of accidental activation. Sometimes you might accidentally trigger the application inadvertently by gripping the phone too hard (happened with me). Though not a deal breaker, it has to be used carefully.

On-board you have three virtual assistants like HTC’s Sense UI, Amazon’s Alexa and even Google Assistant. Okay, Alexa isn’t in India yet, but isn’t one assistant enough?

Also, photos in low light settings have overblown highlights. It is clear that the camera tries to overcompensate for the dark areas.

Worth Buying?

At Rs 51,990 the HTC U11 is the most aggressively priced flagship in India. It has the wherewithal to hold its own and compete shoulder to shoulder with the likes of the S8 and the Sony Xperia XZ Premium.

No 3.5mm headphone jack on the HTC U11
No 3.5mm headphone jack on the HTC U11 (Photo: The Quint)

The only thing working against HTC is that they are still under the spotlight because the HTC U Play and Ultra weren’t a huge hit and customers are now weary about the U11 the same way. Don’t worry people, the U11 is a much better gizmo and justifies its price tag appropriately.

 

HTC U SQUEEZABLE SMARTPHONE SET TO OUTSHINE SAMSUNG GALAXY S8

The Taiwanese firm needs to pull something special out of the bag to avoid becoming irrelevant

New leaks suggest the upcoming HTC U could be more powerful than the excellent Samsung Galaxy S8.

A purported specs sheet for the unusual handset has been posted online, and points to a smartphone designed to take on the best on the market.

HTC has struggled to compete with Apple, Samsung and Google’s flagships over recent years, but appears to be pulling out all the stops with the Android-running U.

It will feature a Snapdragon 835 processor and a stonking 6GB of RAM, according to Gear India. The S8, meanwhile, comes with 4GB of RAM, making it the less powerful of the two.

That said, the S8 isn’t exactly underpowered.

We’ve experienced no performance issues during our time with it, with apps launching quickly and working perfectly smoothly.

The U is also expected to come with a 5.5-inch Quad HD display, IP57 water- and dust-resistance and expandable storage.

Camera quality has traditionally been one of HTC’s weakest areas, so it will be interesting to see how the U’s 12-megapixel UltraPixel rear camera and 16-megapixel “selfie panorama” camera compare with the Pixel and S8.

If that isn’t up to scratch and HTC gets its pricing wrong, it’s tough to see how the U will compete, especially when you consider that another outstanding phone, the OnePlus 3T, is available for £400.

That said, the HTC U could prove rather different to any other smartphone on the market, as it’s designed to be squeezed.

It appears to have a number of sensors embedded in its metal frame, which will allow users to control the handset by either stroking or applying pressure to its sides.

The phone will be unveiled at an event on 16 May.