It's no secret that HTC has had problems in recent years. While they worked with Google to create the great Pixel and Pixel XL, these phones didn't have HTC branding, and HTC's own offerings were little inspiring in comparison. But the company still has to give up and this year they did their best for the HTC U11.
As you have probably already read, the "big" new function of the U11 is the "squeezable" pages with which you can start apps and perform functions without touching the display. The phone also includes the latest hardware: a Snapdragon 835 SoC, a 5.5-inch 1440p display, and a 12-megapixel 1: 1.7 camera, which is said to be the best on the market.
Software was also a strong focus for HTC. They cleaned up more junk in their Sense user interface and integrated Amazon's Alexa into phones sold in the U.S. My test device is Australian, so Google Assistant is the place to go. However, it is interesting to see an HTC partner with a third party for the assistant experience on North American devices.
I will open this test by first talking about the pushable sides of the U11 that HTC has called "Edge Sense". To be clear, the edges are not physically squeezable. In fact, the metal here is as solid as any other flagship phone. However, HTC has integrated force sensors into the sides so that the U11 can detect a "squeeze" that is similar to how the Force Touch trackpad and touchscreen technology from Apple works.
Edge Sense can recognize different pressure levels. During setup, you can use HTC to press the handset to the desired force to set the trigger level for the Edge Sense functions. The setup process is easy, and I'm glad HTC asked you to do so the first time you set up your device, otherwise Edge Sense may have been lost in a variety of other functions.
However, the basic requirement for Edge Sense is that it works like an additional programmable button on the edge of your handset.
In other words, when you press the U11, a certain action is performed, which you can change in the settings. By default, Edge Sense is set up to start the camera and take a photo. However, you can change this to launch an app, take a screenshot, launch the voice assistant, and more.
This may sound a bit of a gimmick, but Edge Sense has some aspects that are really useful. Edge Sense works when the screen is off, so you can quickly and easily take actions like starting the camera right out of your pocket. It is practically impossible to accidentally activate Edge Sense in your pocket. Unlike some other gesture launch features, you can't take pocket photos or launch apps unless you want to.
Edge Sense is also extremely easy to activate while holding the phone naturally. You don't have to mix your fingers to access a physical button. You only have to press the handset. This is practically the fastest way to perform an action without placing an icon on the display itself. If you set up Edge Sense to do something useful, you will find that you are using it well.
That doesn't mean Edge Sense is perfect or as good as it could be. There is an advanced mode in which you can perform two actions either after a press or after a press and hold. However, this is the limit. It would be fantastic (or maybe too complicated) if HTC took full advantage of the pressure sensor to perform different actions with different strength levels and increased the number of actions that could be performed beyond two. Or better yet, implement more pressure sensors in a future iteration of Edge Sense so you can start different actions depending on where you press along the edge of the handset.
The general design of the HTC U11 is… okay. HTC hasn't been afraid to use quality materials, so the U11 stays with multicolored glass on the back, standard glass on the front, and metal on the sides.
When you receive the "Solar Red" model, the back shimmers and changes the colors between red and orange, depending on the angle at which you hold the device. This is a pretty cool effect. Unfortunately, I was sent a black model for review, which is definitely more boring in terms of design.
The U11 is a very convenient device thanks to the glass panes that bend well into the metal edges. I was also surprised to see that the U11 does not attract nearly as many fingerprints compared to other smartphones with a glass back, and fingerprints are exceptionally easy to remove thanks to the strong oleophobic coating. On the other hand, glass smartphones are rather slippery, and the U11 certainly falls into this category.
One of the problems I constantly have with HTC smartphones is the massive frame. Even before cell phones like the Galaxy S8 and LG G6 came on the market, HTC didn't bother to reduce the space requirements of their phones, making them too big and cumbersome for the screen size. The U11 continues this trend with huge bezels above and below the display and makes the handset about the size of another phone with a large bezel: the Pixel XL. The side bezels are also large, so I think HTC's design team may need to diet for their future mobile phones.
HTC U11 does not have a headphone jack. This is still a bad move in my opinion, but at least HTC has a USB-C to 3.5mm audio dongle in the box. Note that the phone does not appear to support a number of third-party dongles that I have tried.
The HTC U11 has pretty much everything else you'd expect. There is USB-C, a fingerprint reader flanked by capacitive navigation buttons, a notification LED and a microSD card slot. The U11 is also waterproof to IP67 and certified for 30 minutes of immersion in up to 1 m fresh water. However, the HTC manual explicitly warns you against using the phone or other buttons when immersing.