HTC U11

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Tech Advisor - - Review -

The an­nals of An­droid are lit­tered with one-and­done gim­micks that were orig­i­nally hailed as the next big thing. In­deed, from slide-out game pads to built-in pro­jec­tors, way too many An­droid phones have in­cluded fea­tures that never caught on. So, will the new Edge Sense fea­ture in the HTC U11 meet a sim­i­lar fate? Prob­a­bly. But the U11 is still a great phone that’s fun to use.

A more pock­etable ver­sion of the ill-con­ceived U Ul­tra, HTC’s new­est flag­ship isn’t just an­other high­lyspec­i­fied hand­set with good looks and a great cam­era. The new Edge Sense fea­ture lets you launch apps and ac­tions by squeez­ing the sides of the phone. It’s a gim­mick for sure, but one of the best gim­micks ever to grace an An­droid hand­set.

It’s great to see HTC think­ing out­side the box, and with the U11, HTC is mak­ing a

state­ment: Any­one can make a pow­er­ful phone, but re­mem­ber when these hand­held com­put­ers used to be de­light­ful too?

De­sign

If you’ve ever seen a U Ul­tra in the flesh, the U11 will be in­stantly fa­mil­iar. From the front, it looks ex­actly the same as the U Ul­tra, with the off-cen­tre cam­era, pill-shaped home but­ton/fin­ger­print sen­sor, and ex­tralarge fore­head and chin. A tex­tured power but­ton is still un­for­tu­nately po­si­tioned be­low the vol­ume rocker.

Flip it over, and the U11 is even more rem­i­nis­cent of the U Ul­tra. The back plate uses the same ‘liq­uid’ sur­face, which looks just as stun­ning as it does on the U11’s big brother, de­spite the per­sis­tence of the mi­cro­phone hole, which mars the liq­uid ef­fect a bit. The Ul­tra’s sig­na­ture Sap­phire Blue colour re­mains as well.

You’ll find some other small de­sign changes, like a round cam­era in­stead of a square one, a far-lesspro­tru­sive cam­era bump, and slightly less ta­pered edges. But HTC has fully em­braced its new de­sign lan­guage with the U11, putting all traces of the an­tenna lines and speaker grills of the HTC 10 and One M9 firmly in the past.

While the U11 and U Ul­tra may share many of the same vis­ual cues, the sim­i­lar­i­ties end when you pick it up. Gone is the U Ul­tra’s sec­ond screen. And where the Ul­tra was mon­strous and cum­ber­some, the 5.5in U11 is down­right svelte. Its smooth con­tours let it rest nat­u­rally in your hand with a glass back that some­how feels more lux­u­ri­ous than the glass on the Galaxy S8 or the LG G6.

One of the many com­plaints we have with the U Ul­tra is that its enor­mous size makes it far too prone to drop­ping when hold­ing it with one hand. The U11 fixes that with not just smaller di­men­sions, but also (re­port­edly) a change in ma­te­ri­als. We re­peat­edly rubbed my fin­gers across the back of each phone, and the U11 felt tack­ier and more re­sis­tant to glid­ing. The new liq­uid de­sign phone is still a fin­ger­print mag­net, but the U11 seems to pick up fewer smudges than the U Ul­tra.

Dis­play

After the LG G6, the Galaxy S8, and now the Es­sen­tial Phone, we have cer­tain ex­pec­ta­tions for screen-to­body ra­tio in new flag­ship hand­sets. HTC didn’t get that memo. The U11’s bezels are about as big as the eight-month-old Pixel’s, and its 71 per­cent screen-to­body ra­tio makes it look more like a bud­get phone and less like a pre­mium one.

But just be­cause its Su­per LCD5 Quad HD screen doesn’t stretch to the edges doesn’t mean you’re get­ting an in­fe­rior prod­uct. At 534ppi, its dis­play has a higher pixel den­sity than the U Ul­tra’s 513ppi, and de­spite stick­ing with an LCD panel, the U11 is just as bright and vi­brant as its OLED peers. Else­where, you get a Snap­dragon 835 chip, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of stor­age, all of which add up to a phone that can stand shoul­der to the shoul­der with the G6s and S8s of the world.

Au­dio buffs will be bummed to learn that the U11 doesn’t re­turn the head­phone jack that was cut from the U Ul­tra. That said, HTC has in­cluded a 3.5mm-

to-USB-C adapter this time around. Also in the box is a pair of noise-can­celling USonic ear­buds that use the phone’s ear-scan­ning wiz­ardry to de­liver the best pos­si­ble au­dio pro­file for each user.

Per­for­mance

The U11 runs off Qual­comm’s Snap­dragon 835 chip, which wasn’t avail­able in time for the U Ul­tra launch. The dif­fer­ence be­tween the two pro­ces­sors isn’t all that great, but it’s nice to know the U11 has the lat­est-great­est chip in­side.

But even with­out a mas­sive speed boost over the prior model, the U11 is still a beast of a per­former. Like

One thing HTC hasn’t up­graded in the U11, how­ever, is the bat­tery. Like the U Ul­tra, it has a 3,000mAh bat­tery, but with the smaller screen, it’s much bet­ter pre­pared to keep the phone pow­ered through the bet­ter part of a busy day. It’s no Galaxy S8, mind you, but it beats the LG G6 in our pre­ferred bat­tery test.

In our bench­marks it got about seven hours of use, and real-world test­ing bore that out. On long trips, you’ll want to keep a bat­tery pack nearby just to be safe, but the U11 should get you through to the end of most days. The U11 sup­ports the Quick Charge 3.0 stan­dard (which will fill a half-drained phone in about a half-hour), but doesn’t have built-in sup­port for wire­less charg­ing.

Edge Sense

Since the U11 is some­thing of a mea culpa re­spond­ing to the U Ul­tra’s slip­pery, over­sized frame, it only fig­ures that gri­pa­bil­ity, if you will, would fac­tor into the phone’s pre­mier fea­ture.

HTC’s Edge Sense is ba­si­cally a short­cut trig­ger – you lit­er­ally squeeze the sides of the phone to launch var­i­ous fea­tures, apps and ac­tions. You can set up two dif­fer­ent be­hav­iours to trig­ger: one with a short squeeze and one with a long squeeze. It sounds some­what silly, but try it for your­self, and you just may ap­pre­ci­ate it. We did.

The phone’s set-up process will take you through sev­eral Edge Sense ori­en­ta­tion screens, where you’ll cus­tomize the ex­pe­ri­ence with your favourite app, and prac­tice squeez­ing. The phone will mea­sure how

hard you can squeeze the sides while still main­tain­ing a com­fort­able grip. You get a sur­pris­ing level of per­son­al­iza­tion, and while it’s all a lit­tle weird at first, HTC clearly doesn’t want Edge Sense to be a gim­mick that you quickly for­get about.

Edge Sense runs on top of the en­tire in­ter­face, so it will work any­where you are, whether you’re in an app or on the lock screen. Since you can set it to launch any app and even some ac­tions (like tak­ing a screenshot or tog­gling the flash­light), it can re­duce multi-step ac­tions to a sin­gle squeeze.

For ex­am­ple, if we’re writ­ing a text mes­sage and want to send our re­cip­i­ent a pic­ture of where we

are, we only need to squeeze the sides of the phone to launch the cam­era. Or if we want to ask Google As­sis­tant a ques­tion while in my cal­en­dar, we can squeeze a lit­tle harder. There’s a vis­ual in­di­ca­tor on the sides of the screen to in­di­cate the force of your squeezes, as well as a small vi­bra­tion once the fea­ture has trig­gered the ac­tion.

After a while, Edge Sense be­came sec­ond na­ture. Sure, we needed to take a cou­ple trips to the set-up screen to nail down our ‘squeeze force level’, but once we learned to use my palm rather than my thumb, it be­came much more com­fort­able. It’s fun to use, but it’s also the kind of fea­ture you need to re­mem­ber to use. As such, we don’t see it ex­pand­ing be­yond the U11.

Cam­eras

If you do re­mem­ber to use Edge Sense, it will no doubt be to launch the cam­era (it’s the de­fault, in fact), and HTC has put a great cam­era in the U11. Users of the U Ul­tra will be fa­mil­iar with the specs – a 12Mp lens with an f/1.7 aper­ture, op­ti­cal im­age sta­bi­liza­tion and phase de­tec­tion aut­o­fo­cus.

Us­ing the same cam­era isn’t nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing. The U Ul­tra’s cam­era was one of the few fea­tures that re­ally shined, and the U11’s does as well. Its score in the vaunted DxOMark bench­mark is 90, the high­est ever handed out to a mo­bile phone (though, to be fair, the cam­era qual­ity dif­fer­ences be­tween U11, Pixel and the Galaxy S8 are small).

We put the U11 through a bat­tery of tests against our favourite cur­rent cam­era, the LG G6, which has al­ready bested the Pixel and the Galaxy S8 in our

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