The flagship HTC U11 is the smartphone you can squeeze

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The power of touch takes a new form. At least that’s what HTC is counting on. The Taiwan smartphone maker has just unleashed its latest flagship smartphone – the HTC U11.

HTC calls it the “revolutionary new squeeze interaction.” And here’s the pitch.

“You affectionately squeeze the hand of the one you love. A baby intuitively squeezes her mother’s finger. A child squeezes his teddy bear to feel safe at night. Nothing feels as close, connected and personal as the sensation of touch or the warmth of an embrace. And no device is as personal in our lives as our smartphone.”

I shed a tear. I’m just not sure for what reason. It isn’t for joy, though.

HTC U11

Squeeze sense

HTC calls its new squeezy-feely tech – HTC Edge Sense. Let’s see if it makes sense.

So, we interact with our phones in different ways, the most common being touch, swipe, tap. Voice is now a thing. And eyes, were at one point, sort of a thing too.

With HTC Edge Sense, you interact with a simple squeeze. It’s meant to be intuitive, and natural. So, you can launch your camera app and take a photo; fire up Facebook, or launch any of your favourite apps.

You can even activate “advanced touch” and use a “short squeeze”, or “squeeze and hold” for other functionality.

HTC U11

Wait, that’s not all. There’s something called HTC Edge Sense for Voice to Text. It’s so you can speak your text messages so the phone can type it out and send it for you… kind of hands-free but not. You’ll have to squeeze the phone first of course.

As it works based on actual pressure, it can be used in almost any condition – that includes when you’re wearing gloves, or in snow or rain.

But what if, and it’s highly likely that it would, there’s a protective cover on the HTC U11?  It remains to be seen how well HTC Edge Sense works, but I’ll give it a benefit of a doubt.

Next up, design.

HTC U11

Design sense

Design has always been something HTC has been good at. I mean, look at the beautiful HTC One, and its subsequent iterations – HTC One M7, One M8. Even the One M9 and HTC 10 weren’t half bad.

I’m saddened that HTC has decided to ditch the all-metal look of the old, but people are fickle. They want new things.

With the HTC U11, you get a Liquid Glass surface, something we’ve seen on the HTC U Ultra and U Play. It’s a whole new design direction – it’s fluid, transformative. The process is called Optical Spectrum Hybrid Deposition. Pretty fancy that. And it does look good, I give you that. Do keep a piece of cleaning cloth nearby though. Hint: Fingerprint magnet.

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HTC U11

The new look is seamless and curvy, achieved with 3D glass on both front and back. There’s a level of symmetry that’s quite mesmerizing to an extent, which reminds me of the honor 8 and the Omni-Balance design language of Sony Xperias.

The new flagship boasts a 5.5-inch Quad HD display, which HTC says is its best display yet.

Oh, and surprise, surprise, the HTC U11 is water resistant, up to IP67 rating. Not quite up to the Galaxy S8 or iPhone 7 level, but enough to keep it protected from spills, splashes and or accidental dunks.

HTC U11

Audio sense

Audio is another department where HTC has traditionally excelled. I miss the front-facing BoomSound speakers of One device of old. While gone are the much-loved front-facing stereo speakers, HTC uses some technical wizardry to make it sound as good, if not better.

The new HTC BoomSound Hi-Fi Edition speakers are said to be improved, with more loudness and better dynamic range. The tweeter on the top speaker now offers an acoustic chamber that delivers richer highs and mids.

The bottom speaker, meanwhile, acts as a woofer with an improved magnetic circuit design for punchier bass.

The new HTC U11 also introduces the enhanced HTC USonic – combining Active Noise Cancellation with the ability to tune audio to your unique hearing. It uses built-in mics in the headset to cancel out distractions to let you stay focused on your music, videos or games.

It also has four optimally positioned omni-directional mics that work with HTC’s new Acoustic Focus technology. It’s “3D audio” recording if you will, helping you zoom in on your subject and get the best possible sound.

There’s also a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter with a built-in DAC included in the box (yeah, sorry, no headphone jack) for compatibility with other devices and headphones.

HTC U11

Photo sense

It’s hard not to talk about the camera when we’re on the subject of smartphones. Especially coming from HTC. I say that because the HTC 10 had one of the highest DxOMark ratings in the smartphone business last year.

And it looks like the Google Pixel’s top position is shortlived.

The HTC U11 scores a remarkable 90 points in DxOMark tests, for both photo and video. This tops even the highly rated Galaxy S8, Xperia X Performance and Huawei P10.

Check out DxOMark’s review of the HTC U11 here.

Key to this success is the multi-axis optical stabilisation system and new superfast UltraSpeed autofocus system. The enhanced camera also boasts better dynamic range with HDR Boost without lag. There’s new white balance enhancement, a major reduction in noise and excellent detail preservation.

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The rear shooter uses a 12MP 1/2.55-inch sensor with an f/1.75 lens and dual-PDAF autofocus.

The front camera is a 16MP Ultra Pixel unit with HDR Boost and noise reduction.

HTC U11

Companion sense

Virtual assistants are all the rage at the moment. Throw in keywords “artificial intelligence” and “machine learning” for effect. HTC takes this seriously, because it’s bundling no less than three digital companions to hopefully make life easier for you. There’s HTC Sense Companion, Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. In China, HTC U11 also offers Duer AI Assistant: Powered by Baidu DuerOS.

Google Assistant and Alexa co-existing? Wow, never been done before.

The HTC U11 happens to be the first smartphone in the market to feature hands-free wake word access to Alexa. Alexa responds to phrases like “Alexa, what’s the weather like today?” The voice service is available to customers in the US, UK and Germany.

Power sense

Under the hood, the HTC U11 is packed with goodness. It’s one of the first smartphones in the world to use the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor, joining the likes of the Galaxy S8, Xperia XZ Premium and Mi 6.

It gets up to 6GB of RAM, with blazing fast UFS 2.1 storage of up to 128GB. The integrated Snapdragon X16 LTE modem delivers Gigabit LTE (up to 1Gbps).

HTC U11

Pricing and availability

The HTC U11 is available in Amazing Silver, Sapphire Blue, Brilliant Black, Ice White, and Solar Red. It will be available worldwide from May 2017 onwards.

It comes in two variants – 4GB RAM/64GB storage and 6GB RAM/128GB storage.

It’s expected to hit Malaysian shores later in June.

For more information, visit htc.com.

Making sense of it all

So, is squeezing your phone the next new cutting-edge way of interacting with your phone? Hardly. Gimmickry at best.

That aside, there’s plenty to like about the new HTC U11. I’m no great fan of the glossy liquid surface design, I can tell you that. But I think, based on first impressions, HTC has packed enough into the new device to be called a “flagship.”

On paper at least, the camera and hardware look great, and audio may be the best yet.

Can’t wait to squeeze a review device.

What’s your take? How do you like HTC’s new smartphone?

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Photos: Alexander Wong | Soyacincau #TeamMindBlow

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