HTC U11, the company’s new flagship Android smartphone. As the name makes abundantly clear, the U11 is a phone which straddles the gap between two of HTC‘s existing lines.
Camera no longer has the chunky bulge on the rear, and similarly the raised bump around the USB-C port has been flattened out. The detailing is more restrained and precise, too. There’s a smoother join where the glass meets the metal frame, and the LED flash relies on a smaller assembly. You get IP67 water and dust resistance.
That glass is cleverer than it might first appear, too. It’s three-dimensionally formed, a multi-stage process that sees each piece bent in multiple planes. Step by step, the compound curves are built up. The color – Amazing Silver (which has an unusually blue tint), Sapphire Blue, Brilliant Black, Ice White, and Solar Red – runs through the second surface of the glass, meaning scratches won’t dull or mar it. It also opens the door to more interesting light refraction that change considerably depending on angle.
U11 encourages you to pick it up, and when in your hand there’s a special feature too. HTC built pressure sensors into the sides, running down roughly the lower 50-percent of each edge, which allow the phone to figure out how tightly you’re holding it. Since they don’t rely on capacitive touch, they’ll recognize your grip even if you’re wearing gloves or the U11 is inside a case..
It’s called Edge Sense and, to begin with, it can be used for two shortcuts: a short squeeze and a longer squeeze. For instance, a quick application of pressure could load Google Now, while holding a little further could open the camera. It’s customizable, as is the degree of pressure required to trigger Edge Sense in the first place. Depending on the app, a further squeeze can act as a trigger, too: in the camera, for instance, you can take a photo by squeezing rather than having to reach for the on-screen control.
12-megapixel UltraPixel camera on the back, using a third-generation chip with f/1.7 optics and 4-axis optical image stabilization. Gone is the laser autofocus of the HTC 10, replaced with Dual-Pixel autofocus instead. The front camera is a 16-megapixel sensor paired with a 150-degree wide-angle lens.
HTC has fitted the U11 with a total of four microphones, and the phone uses them in different ways. For recording 4K video, you get the choice of either Hi-Res 24-bit audio or 360-degree surround audio. Thanks to Qualcomm’s low-power audio processing, however, one of the microphones is always listening out for a keyword trigger.
U11 is designed not only to work well with the “Ok Google” trigger for the Google Assistant but Amazon’s “Alexa” wake-word too.
Alexa support won’t be in the U11 right at launch, with HTC saying it expects to add it as an update within 30 days of release. When that happens, though, you should have a fairly consistent voice experience with Amazon’s own Echo. While other phones have offered Alexa functionality through the Amazon app, the U11 will offer completely hands-free interaction.
Our BoomSound Hi-Fi edition speakers got an upgrade too improved our speaker design to deliver 100% more loudness and 150% improvement in Dynamic Range Audio. On top, the tweeter now offers an acoustic chamber that allows the highs and mids to sound richer. While below, the woofer sports a new speaker and improved magnetic circuit design for louder, clearer and appreciably deeper bass tones. The result? A natural soundscape with exceptional audio detail.
Using four optimally positioned omni-directional microphones together with our new Acoustic Focus technology, HTC brings you our best 3D audio recording quality yet. The HTC U11’s microphones work together to record audio from all directions and with Acoustic Focus, you can zoom in on the video to target your subject and amplify their specific sounds.
HTC’s processor choice came under scrutiny. Turns out, the phone-maker was working with Qualcomm on a Snapdragon 835 device all along, and it’s that which powers the U11. It’s paired with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, plus there’s a microSD slot; some regions, like Asia and Australia, will get a 6GB/128GB version, though there are no current plans to bring that to North America.
The U11 has Quick Charge 3.0, but there’s no Qi or PMA support. Again, the company line is that rapid wired charging is more useful than slower wireless, but given the switch to glass-backed phones means metal interference is no longer.
Android 7.1.1 Nougat there’s the latest iteration of Sense. As we saw on the U Ultra it’s pared back from some of the earlier excesses of the interface, but you still get the HTC Companion which promises personalized, contextual suggestions and assistance. Even though the Google Assistant and, eventually, Alexa are onboard, HTC insists there’s still a place for its own technology. After all, it has deep – and low power – links to things like the GPS and sensor suite, for tracking steps and such.