Hot on the heels of the HTC U Play and U Ultra – what we thought would be HTC’s 2017 flagship devices – comes the new HTC U11. This is the true top range phone for HTC this calendar year, and it comes with quite an interesting new feature to take on the other big wigs of the smartphone world. But then again, we’re at the stage in the evolution of the smartphone where innovation and gimmickery go hand-in-hand. Am I right, Samsung? Though I don’t think taping a phone to my face for virtual reality is really all that innovative.
The HTC U11 is about a new feature that can either be seen as a gimmick or an innovation. By squeezing the phone on its sides with your thumb and fingers, you’ll be able to do certain things with it. Think of it as Apple’s Force Touch interface, but instead of jamming your fingers on the screen and hoping iOS knows what you want, you squeeze the sides of the phone, hoping the sensors are calibrated properly. Using ultrasound waves to make a precise measurement of just how much deformation the phone is undergoing by being squeezed and for how long, the phone can be programmed to do a multitude of things.
Such actions could include taking a selfie, activating Google Assistant, activating push to talk or switching cameras or launch a specific app. Think of the squeeze as an additional physical shortcut key. At the launch of the HTC U11, there are a few apps that have been preconfigured to work with this functionality. After release, HTC plans on releasing a software package for the U11 that will allow users to customise their desired squeeze actions. The squeeze function will also work with gloves, allowing those in the colder climes to use the shortcut without getting their hands out of their gloves. Of course, that doesn’t help much if they need to do something on the screen.
Outside of the squeeze function, the HTC U11 packs the latest and greatest of hardware. It sports a 5.5 inch WQHD screen. Internally, it’s driven by the Snapdragon 835, which is an upgrade over the slightly older U Play and U Ultra phones, which sport a Snapdragon 820. It’s water resistant, with an IP67 rating, and you get a choice of 64GB or 128GB or internal storage. If you get the 64GB option, your phone will have 4GB of RAM, while the 128GB version will include 6GB of RAM. In a somewhat interesting engineering choice, the rear camera is a 12 megapixel unit, featuring “UltraPixel 3” technology, Optical Image Stabilisation and an f/1.7 aperture. On the other hand, the front facing camera is a 16 megapixel unit, though it doesn’t come with all the bells and whistles of the main unit.
The HTC U11 is quite an interesting addition to the 2017 flagship options. Alongside the Samsung Galaxy S8/S8 Plus and the Xiaomi Mi 6, this will be the third device to launch with the Snapdragon 835. It also comes with the funky finger magnet that is HTC’s new Liquid Metal finish. Shiny. Expect the HTC U11 to launch at about US$800, though by the time it arrives in Australia and the authorities slap the Antipodean GST on it, the phones will probably cost somewhere close to the Samsung Galaxy S8’s retail price of over AU$1,100. That part’s not so shiny. Hopefully the big mobile networks get some good deals going.