Review: HTC U11 puts the squeeze on rivals

Tech Tools: Could latest flagship handset from HTC restore its position?

The HTC U11: it comes with a 5.5 inch display, quad HD, and Gorilla Glass 5. However, its unique selling point seems to be that it’s squeezable

Product name: HTC U11

Price: €749.0

Where to buy: htc.com

Website: htc.com

Thu, Jul 20, 2017, 07:45

   

At the premium end of the smartphone market, things are tough. Really tough. From Samsung and Apple to Sony and OnePlus, there are plenty of flagship phones to choose from. Each has its own strength, and it can be difficult for the different firms to make up any ground they’ve lost to rivals.

At one point, HTC was riding high in the smartphone market. In recent years though, a few missteps has seen it lose out to Samsung and other Android makers. It has tried to redress the situation with recent releases, opting to concentrate on its camera skills and put out some eye-catching designs to help persuade phone buyers that they need to make the switch.

First, the specs. The HTC U11 comes with a 5.5 inch display, quad HD, and Gorilla Glass 5. On the inside, it has 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage space; a larger capacity phone is available, at 128GB and with 6GB of RAM, but that isn’t being sold here just yet.

Every phone needs a unique selling point. The HTC U11’s, it seems, is that it is squeezable. Edge Sense is the latest technology that HTC has built into its flagship phone, allowing you to trigger apps and functions with a squeeze. And it’s not just for what HTC decides either; it’s not limited to a single app. HTC allows you to customise it, so you can link the squeeze gesture to turning on the flashlight or activating Google Assistant.

Speaking of Google Assistant, HTC has built its own AI into the phone too. It runs alongside Google Assistant rather than instead of it, and it learns as it goes along. The more you use it, the smarter HTC’s Sense Companion gets. It will make suggestions to you based on location or the time of day, similar to having a small, smart personal assistant always at your elbow. It will also support Amazon’s Alexa.

Out of the box, Edge Sense is linked to the camera. That’s another thing HTC is proud of: its camera. The rear camera in the U11 is 12 megapixels with Ultraspeed Autofocus and optical image stabilisation. The front camera has been bumped up to 16 megapixels, perfect for selfies. Both cameras do exceptionally well, wit the rear camera in particular performing well in low light. There’s also 3D audio recording for video, with HTC’s Acoustic Focus technology.

Like other phone makers, HTC has ditched the headphone jack, opting for USB C headphones instead. But the included headphones are designed to map audio to each individual user’s ears, so they deliver excellent sound. The phone itself has HTC’s boom sound speakers too.

The good:

HTC has stuck with the good looks of the U Play for the U11; the shiny-coloured glass case is certainly eye-catching. The idea of scratching it doesn’t sit too well though, and you’ll likely encase it in something protective and a lot less beautiful than the phone itself. It also takes some of the slipperiness off the phone.

The “squeeze” Edge Sense gesture may feel a bit like a gimmick – and to some extent it is – but it’s useful one if you can get it right. It means you can take photos by simply holding the phone, or open an app without having to touch the screen. Because it’s customisable to a certain extent, you can choose what Edge Sense activates. That means you aren’t stuck with just camera abilities, if selfies are not really your thing.

The not so good:

HTC has opted to ditch the traditional headphone jack for the U11, similar to Apple and other phone makers. The headphones are included in the box, and they’re good ones, but if you’ve spent money on decent headphones – non Bluetooth ones – you may be irritated that they’re of no use here.

That shiny case is still a fingerprint magnet, despite its good looks, so be prepared to have to clean it on a regular basis.

The rest:

The phone comes with 4GB of RAM and 64GB internal storage, and the ability to expand that with a micro SD card. It’s also IP67 rated – water resistant and dust resistant too.

The verdict: One of HTC’s best efforts in recent years, the U11 is worthy of the flagship phone title.

4 stars