While HTC already launched a pretty pricey phone earlier this year, the company would be quick to point out that it never called the HTC U Ultra its flagship handset. Instead, that position is reserved for the new HTC U 11, which looks to combine the best of last year’s HTC 10 and the U Ultra into the new top dog of HTC’s phone line.
Available for pre-order today, the HTC U 11 will cost $650 and will start shipping sometime in June. It will be available as an unlocked model or as Sprint and Verizon variants direct on HTC.com and through Amazon. The U11 should deliver blistering performance via its Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor. But what’s more intriguing is how you interact with this phone.
Get Ready to Squeeze
The U 11’s most unique feature is its squeezability, a feature HTC calls Touch Sense. By embedding low-power pressure sensors on both sides of the phone, a simple pinch becomes a new way to open an app or take a selfie. The sensor can differentiate between short and long presses, and an option in the phone’s settings will let you reconfigure which app will be summoned the next time you squeeze.
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Depending on the app, Touch Sense’s contextually aware programming will let do things like squeeze the phone once to open the camera app, then snap a pic with the second squeeze.
Alexa Done Right
The U 11 is also always listening. It packs four onboard mics and a trio of built-in digital assistants. The first two, Google Assistant and HTC’s Sense Companion, are expected inclusions, but the third, Amazon's Alexa, is the one that takes this assistant ménage-a-trois to the next level.
Instead of being something that you have you to manually open in order acknowledge your presence, as you do with the Mate 9’s Alexa app, the U 11 is the first phone with Alexa integration that works like you want it to. When you want Alexa’s help, all you need to do is say her name.
The four mics are there to see that the U 11 delivers the best voice recognition of any phone. One mic is always listening; any time it detects a wakeword like “Alexa” or “OK, Google,” the other mics will turn on and figure out which is in the best position to listen to what you have to say. And while some may this phone an example of digital assistant overload, HTC claims Alexa, Google Assistant and Sense Companion will work together in harmony to best meet your needs, even though you might need to ask each one for help individually.
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Sweet Specs, Sweeter Sound
In addition to a Snapdragon 835 chip, the HTC U 11 packs 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage and a micro SD card slot. The 5.5-inch 2560 x 1440 super LCD display, IP 67 water-resistance and USB-C port fall in line with what you’d expect from a flagship phone. There are even capacitive touch buttons on either side of the home button/fingerprint sensor, a feature many other Android phone makers have stopped including.
One thing that HTC hasn’t brought back is the phone's headphone jack. Instead, the company hopes to expand on the rich audio experience it included on the HTC Bolt, which used sensors in the included USB-C headphones to create a personalized audio profile that sounded best based on the shape of your ear canals. The U 11’s included headphones will also feature active noise canceling, which is a feature largely reserved for headphones priced above $200, not earbuds that come packaged with a phone.
While HTC did not provide any batter life estimates, the U 11 will feature a 3,000 mAh battery, the same size as the one in Samsung's Galaxy S8. And in keeping with HTC's tradition of potent audio performance, the U 11 sports surprisingly loud Boomsound stereo speakers.
Classy in Glass
The U 11 also carries over HTC’s Liquid Surface design, which uses multiple moldings to form a single sheet of Gorilla Glass 3 into a curvy, super smooth and durable back cover. It’s a pretty striking effect, and when you combine it with one of the U 11’s colors (ice white, brilliant black, amazing sliver and sapphire blue), the phone looks more like a giant polished opal than a piece of gadgetry.
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Pricing and Availability
Sprint is the exclusive U.S. carrier partner for the the HTC U 11; you can pre-order the device now or wait for it to hit store shelves June 9th. The price is $696, so a bit less than the Galaxy S8, which comes out to $29 per month for 24 months. If you'd rather go the unlocked phone route, you can get an unlocked version of the U 11 in June through Amazon or htc.com for $649. that version will work with AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon.
While I’m still not convinced Touch Sense is much more than a clever gimmick, I’m going to reserve judgement until I get more of a chance to check out the U 11. The exact price and release date of the HTC U 11 will be revealed during a livestream at the company’s headquarters in Taiwan, so check back for more information soon.
The U 11 won't be a true Sprint exclusive either. It will be available directly through HTC in unlocked, Sprint, or Verizon branded variants.
With this new squeeze function, you won't have to even look at the phone and search for the "shortcut button" to hit. I can see it being really useful now for the camera function. Even with "shortcut buttons", it always takes just enough seconds to fumble and get the phone in position with the finger on button correctly, to miss that precious baby cooing or cat acting silly shot. Now it's just squeeze and squeeze. No need to think.