Hands on HTC U11 review: a colour changing phone you'll want to squeeze

HTC has gone back to its innovative roots with the HTC U11, but is it a success?

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For

  • Slim, colourful design
  • Squeeze edges
  • Great audio

Against

  • No standout display
  • Expensive
  • No headphone jack

HTC has finally unveiled it's flagship smartphone for 2017 - meet the HTC U11.

Usually we'd expect to see the phone announced at MWC, but HTC has taken a bit longer to polish this important device. It features a completely new design language, improved specs, two (yes, two!) AI assistants, and most interestingly, a new way to interact with the device.

We had a quick look at the U11, and these are our first impressions.

The most noticeable difference is that the HTC U11 adopts a completely new design language. While the company originally pioneered the aluminium unibody design, it's now been dropped for a more fluid glass and aluminium construction.

Although we weren't so sure about the U Ultra's 'liquid surface' design, we actually really like the HTC U11. It's thin, sleek, and mirror-like.

Unfortunately, there's nothing special here when it comes to the display. The bezels aren't massive, but they're not invisible either (like the Samsung Galaxy S8).

The HTC U11 packs a 5.5-inch screen, and measures 153.9 x 75.9 x 7.9mm. So that's larger than the S8, but with a smaller screen.

The display itself looks great. You've got a Quad HD (2560 x 1440) resolution and Super LCD 5 display tech. It's very bright and, sharp, colourful. Impressive from what we've seen so far.

The phone will come a verity of colourways, including Black, White, Blue, Amazing Silver, and Solar Red. These final two are the most interesting, as they're capable of completely changing colour. 

Below is a gallery of the same phone viewed from different angles:

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Our personal favourite is the Amazing Silver, or Black.

It’s water resistant, with an ingress protection of IP 67.

When it comes to camera tech, the HTC U11 packs a 12MP sensor branded 'HTC UltraPixel 3'. It features large 1.4μm pixels, a wide f/1.7 aperture, optical image stabilisation, and improvements to make the camera quicker and easier to use, such as 'UltraSpeed Autofocus' and 'HDR Boost'.

On the front you have a 16MP selfie snapper.

Powering everything is Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835 chip, 4GB RAM, and 64GB storage (expandable). It felt super speedy from our initial play, indistinguishable from other flagship phones. 

It packs a 3000mAh battery, which isn’t the highest capacity out there, so we'll have to see how this performs when it comes to our full review.

There are two really exciting features packaged into the HTC U11, first is an interesting squeezable edge, second is that fact it supports more than one AI virtual assisant.

First, lets talk about what HTC are calling 'Edge Sense'. This is a new way to interact with the device, and it works by simply squeezing the edge of the phone. It acts as virtual button and will perform tasks such as opening the camera, taking a picture, opening Google Assistant, and starting message dictation.

The pressure sensitive can be adjusted depending on your grip, and it works with other sensors to ensure your skinny jeans don't squeeze it by mistake. A imminent software update will also allow you to program whatever task you want.

It's an interesting feature, but will take a while to get used to. It reminds us of Apple's Force Touch - as there's no onscreen prompts, you're not really sure what a squeeze will do. It would have also been nice to get some haptic feedback, hopefully that will come in an update.

The second interesting feature is that HTC U11 will be the first ever device to feature more than one AI assistant. Soon after launch the device will feature for Google Assistant and Amazon's Alexa.

This is good news, because while Assistant is great for services like Mapping and Search, Alexa is better for buying things and Home Automation.

U11 will have four always listen mics, so just like Google Home and Amazon Alexa, it'll pick up the trigger words without you needing to touch the device.

It'll be interesting to see how multiple assistants can live on one device when we fully review the U11.

Finally, HTC has reworked BoomSound. It's now much louder, and sounds great from our initial testing. 

Unfortunately, for die-hard music fans, HTC has decided to drop the headphone jack. Instead you'll get a pair of noise cancelling USB-C earbuds, and a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter with built in DAC in the box. We think that makes up for the lack of a traditional port.

Initial verdict

The HTC U11 is a glorious return to innovation for the Taiwanese company. The headline features, such as Edge Sense and multiple AI assistants are smart inclusions. It’s fast, has a great screen, and looks great as well. What remains to be seen is whether it'll be enough to tempt customers away from the Samsung Galaxy S8, Google Pixel, or LG G6.

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