HTC U11 – Hands-on Preview With The World’s First Squeezable Phone

By 24th June 2017All, Phones

HTC U11 Silver

Yep, you read it right. The HTC U11 is the world’s first squeezable phone. Squeeze for selfies, squeeze for Facebook, squeeze for music – just like squeezing a sponge. Although the U11 sounds like a odd gimmicky device at first glance, it is far from a one trick pony – this phone is HTC’s newest flagship phone and it packs a huge amount of power behind its shiny glass body. We were able to squeeze the the U11 to our heart’s content at HTC’s launch, and we think that it is quite a strong competitor to flagships such as the Samsung Galaxy S8 and LG G6.

HTC U11 - the next evolution of the HTC Flagship

HTC Evolution

The Evolution of HTC Phones – Source: Engadget

HTC has been at the forefront of mobile innovation ever since smartphones hit the market. Their flagships have always been trendsetters – they were first to produce an touchscreen phone in the 1990’s, first to make 3G phones at the turn of the millennium, and first to introduce premium audio features in the mid 2000’s.

The last evolution of the HTC Flagship came in the form of the M series – the first all-metal unibody flagship phones in the world. However, this new iteration of HTC’s flagships had a very rocky launch – many users complained about HTC’s Ultrapixel camera issues on the M7 and M8, and were very, very underwhelmed by the company’s marketing and promotional efforts. Sales took a massive dip, and many people became doubtful of HTC’s future – let alone their willingness to listen to customers, or ability to produce attractive flagships.

HTC responded to this setback with the M9 and M10 – well-specced flagship phones which inherited the metal unibody design of its predecessors. Although the phones were very commendable entries, they didn’t win over many buyers due to the immense popularity of the new Samsung, LG and Apple phones.

This year, HTC’s back with an all new approach – they’ve done away with metal and redesigned their flagship phone with some unique features, in hopes of recapturing the hearts and minds of fresh Android converts and long-time fanboys alike.

 


 

Top Unique Features

HTC Edge Sense (Squeeze)

Activate apps or any phone function with a squeeze, can be customised

12MP ƒ/1.7 Ultrapixel Camera

Highest DxOMark (camera benchmark) score of 90, outranking Google Pixel and Samsung Galaxy S8

HTC USonic Type-C earphones

Free active noise-cancelling earphones, optimizes sound to your ear structure and ambient noise levels

 

HTC U11 Specifications

  • 5.5 inch LCD display, QHD (2560 x 1440 pixels)
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor (up to 2.45 Ghz)
  • 128GB storage with MicroSD Support (Dual SIM/SD Card slot)
  • 6GB Ram
  • 12MP ƒ/1.7 back camera (Ultrapixel, 1.4μm, OIS, 1080p video @ 120fps)
  • 16MPƒ/2.0 front camera (HDR, 1080p video)
  • USB Type C 3.1 with DisplayPort
  • Bluetooth 4.2, NFC, 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi
  • 3000mAH Battery with Quick Charge 3.0
  • Android 7.1
  • Squeezable frame, fingerprint sensorcapacitive buttons
  • IP67 dust and water resistant glass body, 153.9 x 75.9 x 7.9cm, 169g
  • S$ 988

 

A Great All-Rounder Flagship

HTC U11 Body

The body of the U11 follows in the footsteps of leading Android flagships – it comes in the traditional bar form factor, and has the same back, home fingerprint scanner and recent apps buttons like most Android phones. HTC’s gone with a reflective glass body which curves to fit comfortably in the hand, similar to what’s found on the Samsung Galaxy S8 and LG G6.

Though the HTC U11’s glass back feels fragile and is fingerprint prone, HTC has decided to go with glass instead of metal to achieve a very unique aesthetic – the ‘liquid surface’ design of the back features several unique, bright colors – some of which change tint when viewed at certain angles.

 

Check out how the Sunset Red HTC U11 shifts color from red to orange!

While the U11’s back is made of scratch-resistant Corning Gorilla Glass 3, the front screen is protected by a layer of Gorilla Glass 5 (a more durable variant). The U11’s frame is also made of solid metal, and the entire phone is rated IP67 dust and water resistant. Although these materials make the U11 sound hardy, it is still made of glass, and quite vulnerable to cracks and exterior damage when dropped. The 5.5-inch QHD LCD screen provides a bright and vivid viewing experience. Though the HTC U11’s screen is far cry from the Samsung Galaxy S8’s almost bezel-less curved AMOLED display, it performs on par with most conventional smartphones.
The HTC U11’s Snapdragon 835 processor is almost as powerful as the Exynos processor found on the Samsung Galaxy S8, and outperforms the Google Pixel and LG G6. With 6GB of on-board RAM, the HTC U11 works fast and provides a buttery smooth smartphone experience – apps open fast and work very quickly. Although we didn’t manage to test the gaming experience on the phone, we’re sure that the built-in GPU will handle heavy games no problem.

 

HTC U11 Antutu
We love the fact that HTC has included 128GB of built-in storage on the HTC U11 – together with an expandable MicroSD slot, we’re very sure that users will have more than enough space for their favourite music, photos and videos.
The HTC U11’s speaker sounds similar to the one on the M10 and iPhone 7 – sound is pushed out from the bottom of the speaker as well as the front-facing earpiece of the device.

We feel that the HTC U11 has quality flagship internals and is a worthy contender to the flagships of early 2017 – but what makes this phone absolutely unique are three features: HTC Edge Sense (Squeeze function), an award-winning Ultrapixel camera, and support for their USonic intelligent noise cancelling earphones. Let’s take a closer look at them, starting with HTC Edge Sense.

 

Edge Sense - Squeeze Sense

HTC Edge Sense is new a way of interacting with a phone. Remember when older phones used to have a multifunction button? Well, Edge Sense is similar to that. Think of it as a programmable button on your phone – except that you need to squeeze the sides of the HTC U11 to activate it. You can use it to launch any app on your phone, or activate built-in functions such as the torchlight or camera.

 

To set up the squeeze function, you simply need to access the Edge Sense settings and begin the setup process. Once you squeeze the phone a couple of times to determine your ideal ‘squeeze strength’, you can assign the desired app or function to be executed upon squeezing. You can even program a “short squeeze” and “squeeze and hold” to launch different apps.

Edge Sense even works within an app – which means that you can program different squeezes to launch different functions within the app your phone is currently running. For example, you could program the phone’s camera to take a selfie on a short squeeze, or a video on a long squeeze.

Although this only works with a few HTC stock apps, HTC is making the Edge Sense platform available to third party app makers soon. Hypothetically, you could program a regular squeeze to snap a photo on a social networking app, a short squeeze to take a video, or a long squeeze to go live. It sounds pretty neat, but we’ll have to wait and see if any developers actually take the time to build these into their apps.

Although the phone’s frame is made of rigid metal, it can recognise squeezes because of a suite of sensitive pressure sensors on each side of the phone. This means that the HTC U11 can be used in nearly any condition – including rainy weather and with gloves, which would normally pose a challenge with capacitive buttons.

Unfortunately, you can’t squeeze the phone with a traditional hard case from the likes of Spigen or UAG, as the rigidity of the accessories prevents the sensors from detecting the squeeze. Hopefully, these manufacturers will consider modifying their cases to enable the U11 to work with solid protection.

 

Innovative Interaction

We think Edge Sense is a fascinating, innovative way of interacting with phones and works far better than the Samsung Galaxy S8’s un-programmable Bixby button. Enabling users to customise Edge Sense is a nice move from HTC as it allows users to activate various functions very quickly, rather than having to unlock the phone and dig into the settings to do it.

We can foresee users using this in several useful scenarios – for us, we assigned a squeeze to open Spotify, a short squeeze to open the camera to take selfies (we think this is especially useful for underwater ones), and a long squeeze to launch Google Assistant. It’s a unique feature that sounds gimmicky, but is in fact very handy and potentially very useful, if third party developers start to support Edge Sense in their apps.

 

Ultrapixel Camera

HTC U11 Ultrapixel Camera

Ultrapixel is HTC’s unique implementation of a smartphone camera sensor, which packs in less megapixels to create brighter, higher quality photos. Although most consumers believe less megapixels results in worse image quality, the U11’s 12MP Ultrapixel camera breaks this stereotype by delivering flagship quality camera performance.

Wait – how does this work? Less pixels = better?

Having less megapixels in a camera sounds like a counter-intuitive strategy in improving image quality, as many phone makers have been trying to beat each other by increasing the megapixels on their phones every year. According to HTC, cramming in more megapixels in a sensor does result in sharper photos, but at a cost – the higher the megapixel count on a same-sized sensor, the darker the photo.

A camera sensor has limited space and can only accomodate a fixed amount of pixels. Manufacturers can cram in more pixels by reducing it size, but the smaller the pixel, the less light each one collects – so higher megapixel cameras on a small sensor result in darker, low quality photos.

HTC’s approach is to reduce the megapixel count and increase the pixel size, enabling the sensor to  300% more light than many cameras on the market. The more light a camera can capture, the more information it can record, resulting in better picture quality in more varied conditions.

Unfortunately, the first implementation of this Ultrapixel camera didn’t go well on the HTC M7 (2013) and M8 (2014). Smartphone buyers couldn’t fathom why HTC reduced the megapixel count to 4MP, while competitors at that time had phones cameras sporting 13-16MP shooters. Even though many HTC fans had high hopes for this new technology, the Ultrapixel sensor produced photos which were too bright – often showing overblown highlights and generally very low image quality.

However, HTC has spent years refining Ultrapixel behind the scenes and has produced a flagship-standard camera on the U11, ready to go head to head with the Samsung Galaxy S8 and LG G6.


HTC’s Ultrapixel camera shoots pretty well!

In our brief time with the U11, we observed that photo quality on the U11 was generally good – images were sharp, relatively color accurate and vivid. Highlights and exposure were well controlled, resulting in bright – but not too bright photos.

Although the front camera is a standard non-Ultrapixel 16MP shooter, it does pretty well for a selfie camera – images had a decent amount of detail and the front camera managed photo brightness quite well in the face of direct sunlight.

The HTC U11 also has optical and electronic image stabilization, which prevents blurry shots and enables users to take sharp photos, even with shaky hands. This implementation worked especially well with videos, which came out quite smooth.

 

HTC U11 Shots

 


Camera success that builds on past failures

Overall, the camera on the HTC U11 does a pretty good job. Compared to previous flagships by HTC, the U11’s Ultrapixel camera surpasses anything else the company has ever made.

Despite DxOmark (independent website which rates camera quality) rating the HTC U11’s camera better than the ones on the Galaxy S8, Google Pixel, iPhone 7 and LG G6, we’re not quite convinced that it performs better than the top flagships of 2017 – we feel the U11 performs on par, rather than beating them hands down.

We’ll have to review the phone extensively to confirm our initial impressions on the camera, but we can confidently say that the 12MP Ultrapixel/16MP front camera perform decently for a flagship of 2017 – not revolutionary performance, but definitely quality standard.

 

HTC USonic - High Fidelity, High Tech Audio

Although HTC has removed the headphone jack on the U11, it does this for the sake of providing better audio quality through HTC USonic – the USB C earphones found in the box of every U11. Fortunately, HTC has provided a USB C to 3.5mm headphone jack adapter for users who want to use their own earphones.

The headline feature of USonic is its ability to automatically create a Personal Audio Profile when used with a HTC U11. Previously, users could create their own audio EQ profiles on HTC devices and other high-end smartphone(Samsung Adapt Sound). However, they would have to answer a long series of questions related to audio prompts, which help to tune the individual elements of the phone’s sound signature – a relatively long complex procedure that took a minutes to complete.

 

HTC U11 uSonic Audio

HTC’s USonic earphones calibrate audio to a user’s preference automatically and almost instantly. When a personal audio profile is created, white noise is played into the ears of the user – which is then picked up by microphone built into at the front of the earbuds. The microphones on USonic analyse the structure of the user’s ear canal and eardrum, and tunes the phone to produce better sounding audio. The U11 can also store multiple profiles for use with different headphones, or for multiple users.

Overall, the we find that USonic performs very well for a bundled set of earphones. Sound quality seems good – while there’s a large amount of bass, it doesn’t overpower the mids and the highs, which come out relatively clearly. The USonic also has an active noise cancellation, so sound isolation is really good – you can’t hear much background noise with the earphones on. The Personal Audio Profile created by the USonic for our ears made audio from the U11 sound a little richer and clearer than the default audio settings.

We’d say that the USonic is far superior to the stock earphones you’ll find bundled with most smartphones today. Although the Samsung Galaxy S8 and LG G6 come with AKG-tuned earphones and B&O earbuds respectively, they are traditional 3.5mm earphones and don’t offer the same unique audio features such as noise cancellation and automatic calibration of sound signatures. Sony has noise-cancelling earphones available for its phones – but they are purchased separately.

 

HTC U11 vs The Competition

Samsung Galaxy S8 vs HTC U11

HTC U11 vs Samsung Galaxy S8
The HTC U11 has much better audio features, more RAM (6GB vs 4GB on the S8) and Internal Storage (128GB vs 64GB). The HTC U11 also has slightly faster storage – some S8 units ship with older, slower UFS storage while the HTC uses UFS 2.1. It is also less expensive – the S8 sells at S$1148, while the HTC U11 retails at $998. Camera, processor and battery life of the two phones seem to be quite similar at this point of time.

However, the HTC U11 ‘s LCD display can’t compare to the S8’s one-of-a-kind AMOLED curved screen, and the S8’s support for accessories such as the Gear VR, Gear 360, and Samsung DeX. Bottom line: If you’re willing to pay for the best screen experience on a phone, consider the Samsung Galaxy S8.


LG G6 vs HTC U11

HTC U11 vs LG G6
The LG G6 loses out to the HTC U11 – the U11 has a faster processor (835 vs 821), more RAM (6GB vs 4GB) and storage (128GB vs 64GB). Although the G6’s screen supports HDR 10, it is similar to the display found on the U11. Both phones retail around the same price bracket ($988 vs S$998 for the U11), but the G6 can be found selling at almost half price from third party retailers.
What the LG G6 does differently is the camera implementation – the G6 has dual cameras which can capture very wide angle shots at 8MP or closeups at 16MP, while the HTC U11 has only one 12MP Ultrapixel camera. LG is releasing an updated version of the G6 with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, but is unclear if they’ll bring this variant to the Singapore market. Bottom line: if you’re looking for an affordable flagship experience which can take wide angle shots, consider the G6.

 


Sony Xperia XZ Premium vs HTC U11

HTC U11 vs XZ Premium
The Sony Xperia XZ Premium seems to be quite a solid competitor against the HTC U11. The XZ Premium has a higher resolution screen (4K vs QHD), slightly higher battery capacity (3230 vs 3000), and a higher megapixel camera which can take super slow-mo shots (19MP vs 12MP). The XZ Premium uses the same Snapdragon 835 processor found on the U11 and is also dust and water resistant.
However, the HTC U11 has more megapixels on its front camera (16MP vs 13MP), more storage (128GB vs 64GB) and more RAM (6GB vs 4GB). It is also cheaper than the XZ Premium (S$988 vs S$1098).

iPhone 7 vs HTC U11

iPhone 7 vs HTC U11
The HTC U11 beats the iPhone 7 hands down in almost every department specifications wise – the U11 has a higher resolution screen, more battery, better front camera, and more RAM. It is also less expensive compared to the 128GB version of the iPhone 7 (S$998 vs S$1218). Despite its shortfalls, the Apple iPhone 7 has a higher storage capacity available at 256GB.
Keep in mind that the iPhone 7 runs iOS and is a completely different experience as compared to Android – iOS’s quick software updates, fantastic integration with other Apple devices and great support might justify the increased price to some. While the iPhone 7 was released last year, its successor will be released in September with much better specifications.

 

Bottom Line

HTC U11 Colors

The HTC U11 is a great phone to consider if you want a good all-rounder smartphone with a solid audio experience and a few unique features. We can’t speak for battery life and long-term performance as we haven’t had a chance to review this phone yet, but it looks to be promising.

The HTC U11 is available in Singapore at a price of S$998 in all the colors above. It can be bought through Singtel, Starhub and M1, or third party retailers such as Redwhitemobile, Mobyshop and Mobilesquare.

Stay tuned to us for more hands on previews with HTC and other smartphones!

Billy Zheng

Author Billy Zheng

Billy is a writer and photographer based in Singapore who aims to bring readers an insightful local angle on the hottest consumer electronics. He has a huge passion for gadgets and mainly covers smartphones, laptops, PC’s, wearables, cameras, and audio equipment. Outside of work, he plays the guitar, experiments with web + graphic design and plays lots and lots of computer games.

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