On the heels of their disappointing U Ultra (which was almost literally a waste of space), HTC needed a hit in 2017. Thankfully, with the HTC U11 smartphone and its slew of features, they found one. We got our hands on a Brilliant Black model and have been playing with it ever since. Our conclusion? HTC’s lastest is a sleek stunner that retains the formidable size of its predecessor, but makes better use of its own built-in breadth. It also includes a squeeze activation feature that’s managed to raise more than a few eyebrows–we’ll get to that later.
When taking the HTC U11 out of the box, the first thing to catch our eye was the curvy ‘liquid surface’ that practically glimmered in the light, occasionally to the point of producing glare. While it’s essentially the same physical design as the U Ultra, that’s fine by us because aesthetics weren’t really the issue on HTC’s earlier entry. Like the U Ultra, the U11 is missing a headphone jack. Unlike the U Ultra, the U11’s body is (finally) waterproof.
Once the U11 is operational, the improvements start to speak for themselves. The phone runs on the latest and greatest in mobile tech: Android 7.1.1, Snapdragon 835, 4GB of RAM and a 3000mAh battery. That’s paired with a 5.5″ quad 1440p LCD display under 3D Corning Gorilla Glass 5. The high pixel display is truly bright and legible, though those vivid colours fare marginally better inside than out.
HTC mastered audio performance on previous models, and the U11 is no exception. Included with the device are wireless HTC USonic earbuds, which map your ears and then customise the audio based on your personal preferences. Active Noise Cancellation kicks in automatically to drown out distracting exterior sounds. The result is immersive, unfettered and personalised audio.
Should you prefer the miniaturised boombox experience, the U11 offers upgraded speakers with increased Dynamic Range Audio. Touch ups to the woofer and tweeter equate to better mid-range frequencies along with deeper, smoother bass lines. Put simply, you’ll find no complaints from us in the audio department. Naturally, the strangers shooting us the crook eye when we openly blasted Frank Ocean at the park might feel otherwise.
The phone’s ability to capture sound is similarly impressive. That is, four built-in omni-directional microphones left pretty much no room for error. The microphones also include Acoustic Focus, which can narrow in on specific sounds when you’re making a video and simultaneously relegate other sounds to the background.
Speaking of video, the U11 aimed for the sky on their 12MP sensor camera. It features electronic stabilisation, white balance enhancement, improved dynamic range, multi-axis optics and lightning fast autofocus. The result is seamless pictures and videos that get an HDR boost with virtually no discernible lag. Throw in the optimised audio capture and you’re a few steps shy of self producing an indie film.
Of course, the one feature that has everyone talking is EdgeSense, where you can take a selfie or activate apps by simply squeezing the phone at the bottom half. We love the concept, but the execution takes some getting used to. For starters, anyone with a tendency to squeeze their phone when they grab it might find themselves unintentionally launching Instagram or Twitter or snapping a pic. Indeed, it could very well become the new butt-dial in that you might accidentally end up posting something you didn’t intend to post.
On the other hand, EdgeSense is adaptive enough to withstand the trial and error process. For instance, you can calibrate the “squeeze level” so that the phone doesn’t get triggered every time you grab it. Namely, you can opt for a “quick squeeze” or “long squeeze” as well as plenty of options in between. Ultimately, the more we squeezed, the more we liked the squeeze. It’s also a novel way to inject functionality into an arena where innovation gets harder with each passing year.
With its bevy of specs, long lasting battery and new EdgeSense capability, the U11 is a big step up from the U Ultra. Indeed, HTC’s latest device handily “squeezes” out a niche for itself without reinventing the wheel. For the time being, that’s the most you can ask for in a smartphone.
Now available in Australia, the HTC U11 is priced at about $788 USD.