It has been a tough time for HTC of late. In many ways, the company finds itself in the rather odd position of being tossed around by the very waves it helped create (the first Android phone and the first Nexus devices were both made by HTC, remember?). Like Sony and (to an extent) LG, HTC today finds itself trying very hard to justify a premium price tag in a market that has become increasingly accustomed to good specs at relatively affordable prices. The U11 is its latest effort in this regard, and such is the perception about HTC’s “premium” pricing strategy that at Rs 51,990, it is being seen as one of the more reasonably priced flagships from HTC in recent times (understandable, when you consider the HTC U Ultra was launched at a much higher price tag of Rs 59,990).
And well, based on our initial impressions, HTC certainly seems to have thrown the design and spec kitchen sink at the device. It is a more compact device than the slightly more unwieldy U Ultra, with a 5.5-inch display as opposed to a 5.7-inch one, complete with 3D Glass with Corning Gorilla Glass 5 protection. Dual display lovers (hint: we are not among them) will be disappointed to note that there is just one display here. There is an oval-ish fingerprint scanner which also doubles up as the home button below that display, and is flanked by touch navigation buttons. The sides curve out towards the back, with the metallic power/display and volume rockers on the right side, a USB Type-C port on the base, and a dual SIM tray on the top, with the left side of the phone having been left totally plain.
Which of course brings us to the back, where HTC continues to follow its rather spectacular liquid glass surface with (hang on, let’s get this off the release) “Optical Spectrum Hybrid Deposition.” The result will polarize people between those who love it and those who find it slightly too conspicuous (given the sudden passion for matte black in some quarters) – we are firmly in the camp who loves it. We got the Amazing Silver Edition (it also comes in Brilliant Black in India) and loved the way in which the light played across it, creating almost liquid pools of illumination. Yes, it will pick up smudges but then HTC has included a transparent case in the box for that. The shiny back does not have the sort of mirror like finish that Sony’s Xperia XZ Premium – the shine is there but seems slightly less intense, and has a slightly bluish tint to it.
No, it is not as super compact as the Galaxy S8 Plus and the LG G6 are – there is no brutal bezel shaving around that display – and at 7.9 mm, the U11 is reasonably rather than spectacularly slim. It is no featherweight either at 169 grams, but let us be clear about it – it will stop traffic with its very distinct design. This is a dazzler, make no mistake. And not a fragile one incidentally – it is dust and water resistant (when are going to get a smudge resistant one, though!).
And below that design lies some hefty hardware. The 5.5-inch display is a quad HD one, and powering the phone is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor, allied with 6 GB RAM and 128 GB storage (expandable) in India. HTC has also made the bold claim of its flagship sporting the best camera seen on a smartphone – the 12.0-megapixel shooter on the back with a f/1.7 aperture and optical image stabilisation has the highest DxO score awarded to a smartphone, and also comes with what HTC claims is the “same full sensor autofocus technology that’s found in top DSLR cameras.” It is a tall claim and one which we will be subjected to due inspection in the coming days. The selfie shooter is a 16.0-megapixel affair. This is heavy duty hardware here, make no mistake about it. Allied with this is all the connectivity options you would expect in a flagship – 4G, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS, and NFC. There’s no infrared blaster here, however, and we can see some people complaining about the absence of a 3.5 mm audio jack but HTC has bundled in a USB-C to 3.5 mm adaptor in the box, and more importantly also put in a new version of the USonic noise cancellation headphones, which it calls “the most advanced headset ever built for personal audio” (the hype never dies, eh!). The BoomSound speakers have also been given a boost, with a tweeter on top and a woofer on the base. Round that off with no fewer than four microphones for high-quality audio recording and Android 7.1 with HTC’s Sense UI and this beauty starts getting into beast mode.
Which makes it rather odd that the most talked about feature of the device is actually the fact that you take pictures by squeezing its sides. Well, the lower portions of its sides to be exact. HTC calls this Edge Sense, and assisting this are sensors placed on the sides of the phone. No, we do not find squeezing a phone as intuitive as HTC would like us to believe it is, but it definitely is a new form of interacting with your device, and while its ability to launch the camera and take pictures has been highlighted, squeezing the phone can also be customised to launch other apps and functions. It right now seems more like a party trick than a real feature, but then these are early days.
Our first take on the HTC U11:
It’s a beauty at every locus
It’s a beast at which you can’t sneeze
A pity therefore that all the focus
Is on its sides that you can squeeze!
Stay tuned for our detailed review of both the device and yes, that camera!