When HTC launched their U-focused rebranding at the start of the year, it felt like something was missing. The devices had a striking look to them, solidly impressive technical specs and a suite of promising new software features. However, there was a sense of omission haunting the initial entries in the range. Make no mistake – the U Play and U Ultra are good phones, but they fall short of being truly great ones.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the company are positioning the HTC U 11 as the flagship handset that breaks through that precedent.
We had a sit down with HTC to go hands-on with the U 11 ahead of its official unveiling today and came away pretty impressed.
Spec-wise, it’s packing a Snapdragon 835 processor, 4GB of RAM and a crisp 5.5-inch 1440p display.
On the design front, it’s a little slimmer and lighter package than the U Ultra – but maintains the same liquid surface profile. At first glance, the unique material is as striking as ever and a sharp contrast to its competition. This time around it’s even got a IP67 rating for water and dustproofing.
The U 11 is also packing the same 3D high-quality microphones and BoomSound speakers as its predecessors. HTC are even making a small improvement on the bundled accessories side – adding a degree of noise-cancellation to their USonic USB-C earbuds.
The central pitch here lies in the “squeezable” sensors running along the edge of the U 11.
Speaking to journalists, HTC’s Thomas Dexmier insists that while the market might suggest that innovation is on the decline, “innovation is alive”.
Explaining the motivation behind the new haptic sensors (called Edge Sense), he says that HTC “love innovation” and see squeeze as the next leap forward when it comes to the way in which users interact with their smartphones.
First there was buttons. Then there was the touch screen. Now, Edge Sense.
Jumping right into it, he demonstrates how easily the Edge Sense makes taking selfies. Rather than fumble with the on-screen controls, users can now just gently squeeze the edges of the phone to take stills, video and even panoramas.
The U 11’s cameras (which include a 12.2-megapixel shooter on the back and a 15.8-megapixel snapper on the front) has received a score of 90 from photography tech experts DXO mark. This marks the new highest score ever given out to a smartphone by DXO. As with the U Ultra, it’s a beefier improvement on what they’ve done before – something the company sees as a point of pride.
The U 11’s camera will also feature Ultra-Fast Auto-Focus and the ability to shoot in HDR with “zero lag”.
The Edge Sense comes with the capacity to recognise 10 different levels of sensitivity and customization. Thomas says that almost anything that doesn’t require security pass-through can be configured to work with Edge Sense. HTC are even going to be opening up access to the feature to developers from July.
When it comes to the company’s gambit with AI, the HTC Sense Companion, Dexmier insists the company are still putting work into the feature – even if the biggest improvements won’t come until after the HTC U 11’s launch window.
He indicates that when the Amazon Echo finally comes to the Australian market, users will able to choose which voice assistant they want on their handset: Google Assistant or Alexa. Even both, if they want.
Official availability for the HTC U 11 won’t be revealed until later today but when it does arrive, it’ll be available in Blue, Black, Silver, White and Red variants.