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HTC U11 Hands-on Review: Does it have the edge?

HTC U11 hands-on review: We’ve already met two members of HTC’s U Series but the company waited until May of 2017 to release the most significant handset of the bunch; the new flagship HTC U11. Here’s what we discovered when we went hands-on with the phone.

HTC U11: Specs at a glance

Screen size 5.5-inches
Screen resolution WQHD (2560×1440)
Weight 169 grams
OS Android 7.1.1 w/ HTC Sense
Front camera 16-megapixels w/ 150-degree wide-angle lens
Rear camera 12-megapixel PixelSense 3 w/ f/1.7 aperture, EIS, OIS & dual LED flash
Processor 2.45GHz/1.9GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
Memory 4GB RAM
Storage 64GB. Expandable via microSD up to 2TB
Battery 3000mAh w/ Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0
Extras IP67-certified, HTC USonic w/ active noise cancellation, Edge Sense, HTC Companion, Amazon Alexa
Colours Brilliant Black, Ice White, Sapphire Blue, Amazing Silver, Solar Red

HTC U11: Hands-on review

Don’t worry, you weren’t in a fever dream during the reign of the U1 to the U10, HTC has simply condensed its two existing naming conventions; the U Series serving as the company’s new premium line for 2017 and the ‘11’ furthering the lineage from last year’s flagship, the HTC 10.

The U11 looks like a rather unassuming handset on first impressions, at least if you plan on picking it up in Brilliant Black. Similarly to the U Play and U Ultra, HTC has ditched its signature metal unibody design work and wrapped the U11 in pillowed Gorilla Glass 5 with a colour matched metal frame. That does mean it’s an absolute fingerprint magnet but it also feels softer and slimmer in the hand than its predecessor as a result.

Whilst not all will be available at launch, the U11 will eventually come in a total of five colourways, with the black version being accompanied by Ice White and Sapphire Blue as with the U Play and Ultra, along with two completely new hues that leverage that same, eye-catching Optical Spectrum Hybrid Deposition process that HTC loves to shout about: Amazing Silver and Solar Red (Recombu’s personal choice), the latter of which drops from a bold red to a bright orange as you tilt the phone, apparently engineered to emulate a sun setting.

HTC U11 front

On the front, there’s a 5.5-inch 16:9 Quad HD Super LCD 5 that offers slimmer bezels than its predecessor for a sexier overall look, as well as exceptional overall brightness based on first impressions. It’s also no secret that HTC’s top phones sport some of the best LCDs in the business. Beneath the screen sits the company’s standard recipe of backlit capacitive keys and a home button which doubles as a decidedly snappy fingerprint sensor, whilst up top alongside the earpiece sits a 16-megapixel selfie snapper with a 150-degree wide-angle lens.

HTC’s BoomSound Hi-Fi edition audio setup endures on the U11, with a design that this time leverages the entirety of the phone’s body as an acoustic chamfer to theoretically offer better frequency range. Add to that new USonic headphones in-box with active noise cancelling and the same custom tuning for each users’ hearing with one-touch setup.

As the U11 ditches the headphone jack in favour of USB-C-powered audio HTC has also seen fit to include a 3.5mm adapter in-box which features its own integrated amp, supposedly giving you a more consistent and superior sound than what your phone’s internal hardware would usually offer. The company also says that its adapter will available as a standalone accessory and will work with almost any phone that supports USB-C.

HTC U11 USB-C headphone adapter

Aside from fingerprints, the phone’s back is pretty devoid of anything save for a relatively small camera arrangement that protrudes slightly, accompanied by a dual LED flash. As with last year’s HTC flagship, it promises big, with the company’s third-generation UltraPixel sensor, which in the U11’s case packs a 12-megapixel resolution with 1.4µm pixels, an f/1.7 aperture, OIS and EIS, and a 0.3-second shutter, making it one of, if not the fastest smartphone shutter out there.

In fact, DxO Labs has already heralded the HTC U11 camera as the best mobile snapper of all time. Impressive work indeed, beating off competition from the likes of Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and the Google Pixel phones.

On the software side, the U11 comes running a similar spin of Android 7.1.1 Nougat to the U Ultra with the company’s Sense overlay on top. That means the HTC Companion is in effect (from launch this time) to offer reminders and helpful information based on your usage habits, location and calendar, as well as integration with multiple virtual assistants; not just Google’s, but Amazon’s Alexa and in China, Baidu’s Duer offering which is set to arrive within 30 days after the phone’s launch. The idea behind this being that different assistants can help with different things.

Such interaction is possible by way of four always-on far-field microphones (again, like the U Ultra), so that in many ways the U11 will be the first phone that can ape the interaction and functionality of both Google Home and Amazon’s Echo speaker family in a single device. Those microphones also give you 3D and high definition audio recording options when shooting video.

Interaction is a key focus of the U11, not just through the assortment of virtual assistants it’ll offer but also through a new technology HTC has dubbed Edge Sense. For specific tasks, users will be able to squeeze the lower portion of the phone’s body on either side to pull off a variety of actions.

By default you can open the camera and snap a picture with two short squeezes (it also simulates a virtual shutter button if holding the phone in landscape whilst using the camera) or summon the Google Assistant with a long squeeze but an app from HTC hitting the Play Store soon after the phone’s launch will let you reconfigure these actions to open any app or action almost any shortcut you desire. It doesn’t rely on conduction either so users with a case on their U11 or wearing gloves will still be able to pull off Edge Sense interactions, potentially making it a serious time-saver in certain situations.

HTC U11 back

On the inside, HTC’s new flagship is joining the likes of the Sony Xperia XZ Premium and US Samsung Galaxy S8 by leveraging Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 processor, backed up by 4GB of RAM. HTC also confirmed that some markets may receive a variant of the U11 with 6GB of RAM and double the internal storage at 128GB, but if you’re in the UK assume you’ll be getting the more conventional version.

HTC has also promised greater powered efficiency over the HTC 10 so that despite offering the same-sized 3000mAh battery, you should get greater longevity (the company quote 45 per cent more web browsing time as one example) than last year’s flagship, as well as Quick Charge 3.0.

We still don’t have a clear launch date for the new HTC U11 but it’s expected to arrive in markets including the UK in June with SIM-free pricing of £649, undercutting Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and the iPhone 7 Plus.

You can grab the HTC U11 from O2 from June 1.

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