Hands On

Published on May 16th, 2017 | by Varuna Singh


HTC Announces the U11- the flagship you can Squeeze

HTC today livestreamed their new flagship- the HTC U11. This is in every way the best of HTC. From the new squeeze feature, camera and sound to the software and integration with Google and even Amazon Alexa. If you’re a fan of HTC, this is the device to look out for. We had access to the device ahead of the launch and here is all you need to know.

We got a change to talk with the head of product marketing at HTC Global, Mr. Darren Sng about the new HTC U11. There are some innovative new features in this device that work and make sense.

The HTC U11 is HTC’s flagship phone of 2017. It’s a product in line with the U series of latest HTC phones that are centric around-U. The phone is a flagship in every single way. It has the latest Snapdragon 835 processor.

Qualcomm has much improvements with the Snapdragon 835 processor. Its 35% smaller and uses 25% less energy than previous generations and that on its own is a pretty big deal. It has 8 Qualcomm Kyro 280 CPUs and a Qualcomm Adreno 540 GPU. All that fits in a 10 nm process technology with clock speeds of up to 2.45 Ghz.

It’s the best from Qualcomm and arguably the fastest and most efficient processor in market today. It’s the same processor used in the Samsung S8 regional versions, the SONY Xperia XZ Premium, Xiaomi Mi 6 and the OnePlus 5. This also means the U11 has QuickCharge 3.0 feature that should allow you to charge the phone very quickly.

Snapdragon 835, 6GB RAM, 128GB Storage, microSD, 3000mAh, 12MP, 16MP 150 degree selfie

The battery in the U11 is at an acceptable 3000 mAh. While we’re seeing as close to 4000 mAh in some devices out today, this is on par with the battery size in the Samsung Galaxy S8, the LG G6 and others.

The Middle-East version of the U11 will have the top of the line memory – 6GB RAM and 128GB storage

The U11 also has two RAM variations: 4 GB and 6GB. In the Middle-East the HTC U11 will come in 6GB of RAM with 128GB of storage. There is also a microSD card slot for expansion and you can top up up to 2 TB of microSD card storage. Its really the best of all in terms of memory over here.

The HTC U11’s design looks very evolved from the U Ultra. They call this Liquid Surface where there use multiple layers and processes to get a very reflective and almost changing reflection on the U11. HTC uses something called Optical Spectrum Hybrid Deposition to get this affect and so far it looks very unique. It makes for a stunning back that can only be appreciated in person however is prone to a lot of fingerprints. The U11 comes in three new colors: Silver, Solar Rd and Coral Blue.

The front however is very HTC. With curved liquid flowing design with smooth edges and curves that blend light with the over device. It’s quite nice to look at.

At the front is a 5.5 inch 1440 p screen with 16 million colors. It looks really nice. It may still be LCD but its turning to be one of the best LCD panels I’ve seen. The front is covered completely by Gorilla Glass 5. Below the display you have the fingerprint reader that works perfectly as you’d expect. The capacitive back and menu buttons don’t align well with the button and are further below closer to the bottom edge of the phone. I have a certain annoyance with this design however it wasn’t something I was too bothered with while operating the device.

“All about big”

“Innovation is alive” is what Darren Sng said while unveiling the HTC U11. It’s a well known fact that there is always a product that comes along and changes the way we use technology. In Darren’s words the U11 is “all about big”. In terms of phones, Darren believes that not much has fundamentally changed in the way we interact with out devices. Pointing to the new mode of interaction in the U11 – squeezing the phone itself.

htc u11 edge sense squeeze

HTC calls this Edge Sense- where the U11 is aware of your hands around itself and can respond to how and how much you squeeze it. HTC U11 isn’t using a complex touch sensor. In fact they use a combination of pressure and ultrasonic sensors inside the bottom sides to react to your press. That means two things:

  1. The phone can learn how much you squeeze it. It can learn to what extent you push it and train itself to respond to you sensitivity.
  2. The squeeze feature can also work underwater and using gloves as well. In real life over here it would mean you can better operate the phone under water as well as be able to take pictures, say you’re in Ski Dubai.

HTC U11 Squeeze

So what will you be able to do with squeezing your phone ? For now, HTC defaults to:

  1. Squeeze once – it opens the camera
  2. Squeeze again – It takes a picture
  3. Long Squeeze in the camera app -camera flips to take a selfie
  4. Long Squeeze from the home or lock screen – Google Now Assistance opens up and you can command the phone

These set of features aren’t just applicable just for Camera or the Google Assistance. The HTC U11 will also come with an app where you can map these squeezes to any certain action you want. You can open up a setting or an app, or show intent and do something by setting rules. This app will be available as a BETA app on July 17th.

Innovative phone, unlike any other – Darren Sng

Looking ahead HTC doesn’t just want to stop there. They want to do a lot more. Judging by the leaks out for the codenamed HTC Ocean, you could possibly in the future use gestures to do much more. Again, HTC has deliberately chosen to only do very few things with their squeeze feature. HTC wants to observe the adoption and is looking at this feature in a very lean and learn fashion.

The HTC U11 is also waterproof. Its rated at IP67. While HTC doesn’t encourage you to necessarily scuba dive with it, the IP67 rating should be okay with the occasional swim and splashes.

Google Now and Amazon Alexa assistants both on the HTC U11

The biggest bet in the Samsung Galaxy S8 is their Bixby assistant. It goes against Google in many ways. According to HTC, there is already an assistant that’s better than Cortana, Google Now and others. It’s the Amazon Alexa in the Echo. In certain markets, the HTC U11 – a google phone, will come with Amazon’s voice Assistant: Alexa!

This starts to really make sense when you think about the kind of devices in home automation around us. Almost every device that we saw at CES this year had Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant service in it. The sheer amount of devices that already work today with the Alexa is impressive. It might not have the bonus of Google Now’s ecosystem in services, but Alexa does appear to do a better job. That’s what HTC says and they swear by it.

That’s why in the HTC U11 you will can have either Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa or both on the device. Both these assistants will work with the U11’s four (4) microphones that are always listening. The HTC U11 will have always on microphone (you can disable it) for both Google Assistant and the Amazon Alexa.

Will Amazon Alexa feature ever come to the Middle-East ? While HTC could not comment on this just yet, you can always enable it yourself on the U11.

Speaking of voice, another impressive feat done by the HTC U11 is Voice unlock. You can unlock the HTC U11 by just your voice. This cognitive service runs on the device and uses your trained voice to unlock it. Contrary to popular belief, voice recognition is highly accurate and the authorization happens on the device and not the cloud. Which means even if you aren’t connected to the internet, the HTC U11 will be able to unlock the phone using your voice alone.

Unlock the HTC U11 with your Voice

HTC still has a bare smart setting assistant of sorts in the phone and it isn’t in your face. Instead its mostly used for setting things like Smart Alarms, Phone usage and quite often will give you restaurant recommendations. This is the evolution of HTC Sense that most HTC phones are used to seeing. You can turn this off if you really want to make your HTC more like stock experience.

That brings me to the software experience on HTC phones. I am happy to say that HTC has not done much to its Sense UI. It looks more like stock Android than any other major Android phone manufacturer. It feels more like Google’s and HTC has in the past (especially with the HTC 10) worked with Google to remove some of the redundant applications. This is a win-win for the ecosystem and the HTC U11 is probably the best phone next to the Google Pixel for a stock Android experience.

Lets talk about the camera. HTC stressed to us how much they improved the camera performance on the U11. The HTC 10 got a DxOMark Mobile score of 88. That’s in line with Samsung Galaxy S8. HTC told us that the U11 will get a better score than that. Right now, the Google Pixel has the highest rating of DXOMark of 89. But the final image mark doesn’t always translates to better photo taking experience. Take the iPhone for example: The ability to take the picture exactly when you press the shutter button and the time it takes to open up the camera all make sure you capture exactly what you want and when you want.

All the benefits without the lag” Darren Sng, VP Global Product Marketing

HTC has made some improvements in the rear camera of the U11. It’s a 1.4 um 12 MP lens with Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) with an aperture of F2.0. The front facing camera is a 16 MP 150° wide f2.0 lens. That’s quite wide and you can be sure to get a group fitting well in your selfies. In addition to camera specs, the U11 can record in 3D sound. It does that by the use of 4 microphones that should in theory give you a wider and more accurate sound.

Speaking of audio, HTC has worked and built upon its BoomSound feature that was much loved in previous HTC phones. The new BoomSound makes use of the entire U11’s housing to create better lows and highs. The phone whole becomes an acoustic chamber. BoomSound has come a long way since 2013 when it was introduced. I got a chance to try it out and I can assure you its one of the best sounding phones out there today.

However the HTC U11 does NOT have a 3.5 mm headphone jack. It’s all USB-C. HTC is including their new USonic earphones in the box. If they sound close to what was included in the HTC 10, then its really good news. The earphones are just fantastic from my experience. HTC is also bundling a USB-C to 3.5mm headphone adapter. However it doesn’t stop there.

The adapter even has a built in DAC in the cable. You even get active noise cancelling on the new USonic earphones. The adapter has been tested to bend over 10,000 times and with the built in DAC, its definitely going to be one important feature for your 3.5mm headphone investments. Kudos to HTC for doing that. That’s courage according to me.

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About the Author

I work with technology in Education. I also write stuff. I love design and people. @varunasingh

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