HTC U11 hands-on review

Squeeze-able sides shows HTC likes to live life on the Edge

16 May 2017
by Stuff Staff

2017, you’re just full of surprises.

The phone world has seen plenty of barely-there bezels and dual camera cleverness this year, but the HTC U11 is a world’s first – a handset with hug-friendly haptics.

It’s got squeeze-sensitive touch panels at the sides, which give you a new way to interact without tapping on a touchscreen. It’s more intimate, apparently.

There’s more to it than that, of course. This flagship phone picks up where last year’s HTC 10 left off, with top-end specs, a laser focus on sound quality, and a set of of AI assistants designed to streamline your life.

Oh, and it’s utterly gorgeous. Let’s not forget about that.

After spending some time with a pre-release handset ahead of launch, here’s what we think so far.


The squeezable sides are what makes the U11 unique. HTC calls it Edge Sense, with touch-sensitive panels built into the sides of the phone. Give ’em a squeeze and you can do all kinds of actions, like launch an app, turn on the torch, or even snap a selfie.

You can choose what short and long squeezes do, and can use them to launch Google Assistant – it’s a neat throwback to 80’s walkie-talkies. We’re fans. This works when the screen is off, too, so you can jump straight in rather than waking the phone first.

Out of the box, you have to sqeeze pretty hard to get it to work, but a quick dive into the menus and you can adjust the sensitivity. Even better, it’ll work when you’re wearing gloves, so you can take photos on the ski slopes without risking frostbite.

The sensors only cover the bottom half of the phone, though: depending on how you grip it, you might need to shimmy your hands down a bit to properly register your sqeezes.

HTC apps will support squeeze gestures at launch, doing different things depending on which app you have open. Developers can add their own, and eventually, you’ll be able to download an app from the Play Store and add your personalised squeezy shortcuts to third party apps that haven’t been updated yet.

It’s a neat concept, and we can’t wait to give it a proper test to see if it’ll transform our handset habits.


Look beyond EdgeSense and you’ll see a phone that has more in common with HTC’s style-focused U range than the all-metal HTC 10. Instead of aluminium, you get glass – and lots of it.

The reflective, mirror-like Liquid Surface finish catches the light brilliantly at almost any angle, like a pool of water. Sure, it’s more brittle than metal, so you’ll have to be more careful with the U11 than you did with the HTC 10, and you’ll need to keep a cloth handy to avoid it becoming a mess of fingerprint smudges and smears, but the colours are outstanding.

Sapphire blue, brilliant black and ice white return, after first appearing on the HTC U Ultra, and two more shades join the line-up: Amazing silver and Solar Red. Only Amazing silver, a mix of blue, purple and silver shades, will be available at launch. Solar Red, easily our favourite, will come later – it appears bright crimson when you look at it face-on, but turns into a stunning gold at more extreme angles.

If you’ve ever seen one of TVR’s crazy colourful sports cars, you’ll know what we’re talking about. The photos just can’t do it justice.

The 3D glass curves towards the metal frame, on both the front and the back, so the phone sits comfortably in your hand. The 5.5in screen sticks to the familiar 16:9 aspect ratio, rather than going for something skinnier like the LG G6 or Samsung Galaxy S8, so it feels a little more sizeable when you pick it up, but not so large you won’t be able to tap out texts with one hand.

There’s still room at the bottom for a fingerprint sensing home button, as well as capacitive Back and Recents keys – no onscreen keys taking up precious screen space here. It’s not as radical as the competition, but it’ll feel familiar to existing HTC owners.

The whole thing is IP67 waterproof, too, so a little rain won’t spoil your fun.


Up front, the 5.5in LCD display uses an IPS panel, with a QHD resolution. That’s pretty much par for the course for a flagship in 2017, and while it gives a good first impression, with bright whites, vibrant colours and high brightness, we’ll have to spend more time with the phone before we can judge it on picture quality.

Audio has been a big deal for HTC for a few years, and that hasn’t changed for the U11. It can handle 24-bit Hi-res audio files, and Boomsound speakers make a welcome return. This latest Hi-Fi edition of the tech turns the whole phone into a resonating chamber, which makes a huge difference to sound quality. Music tracks have real bass now, and when you crank the volume up to the max, you can feel the vibration. For listening around the house, you won’t need to connect a Bluetooth speaker – the phone is powerful enough by itself.

There is something missing, though Look around the edges all you want – you won’t spot a 3.5mm audio socket. It’s USB-C or Bluetooth only. At least HTC bundles a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter in the box, so you’ll be able to use your own earbuds if you like. It even has a built-in amplifier for driving more powerful headphones – something you won’t find on other adapters.

The bundled USB-C buds also return from the U Ultra, so you might not need to supply your own pair. They’ve got one-touch calibration, which bounces sonic waves around your ears to get the best possible audio. They include active noise cancellation now, too, which should help you listen at lower volumes but still drown out the sounds of everything around you. We haven’t had a chance to properly test these out yet, but it’ll be one of the first things we do once we get hold of a handset.

The U11 has its fair share of microphones – four, placed at different points on the phone so you can record 3D audio. HTC reckons it’s the best sound recording you’ll get on a smartphone, but again, this is something we’ll need to test out before passing judgment.

Those microphones are always on, with a 1.5m range, so you can wake the two voice assistants. That’s right: there’s not just Google Assistant on board, but  Amazon’s Alexa too. Or rather she will be in the US, UK and Germany, once an app update arrives in July. There’s no word of a Middle East date yet as Amazon has no presence in the region as of now.

Alexa has her own wake word, separately from Google Assistant, and can do everything an Amazon Echo can. It’ll be the first time Alexa has properly appeared like this on a phone, and could be a major reason to pick up a U11 once she arrives if you are already part of that echo system. Although that would mean picking up the phone outside of the Middle East.


Flip the U11 over and you’ll spot a single camera lens – there’s no twin sensor setup here, just one 12MP snapper paired with an f/1.8 lens. It does use the latest version of HTC’s Ultrapixel tech, though, which uses the entire sensor to focus.

Add in dual-pixel AF, combined optical and electronic image stabilisation, and always-on auto HDR for brighter images with less noise, better colours and more details, and the U11 should be a welcome step up from the HTC 10. The camera is constantly focusing, so you can shoot as soon as you tap the shutter button.

You can use the EdgeSense panels to squeeze the shutter, too – it even waits a bit before taking the picture, to avoid camera shake.

Without seeing sample photos from the phone it’s impossible to know how well it will stack up to the competition, but seeing how HTC put together the hardware for the Google Pixel, easily one of the best smartphones for camera quality in the business, we’ve got our fingers crossed the results will be equally good.

Video should be on par with stills, with 4K recording at 30fps and slow-motion 1080p video at 120fps. Clips will apparently use the four microphones to automatically focus on the subject, for more natural footage, and you’ll be able to record 3D audio too.


What’s this? Another 2017 flagship phone powered by Qualcomm’s lightning-fast Snapdragon 835? The HTC U11 doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to performance, matching the likes of Sony’s Xperia XZ Premium and the US Galaxy S8 with its super-quick silicon. And unlike Samsung, the whole world gets one model, instead of two different ones.

There’s easily enough power here to run everything in the Google Play Store smoothly, animate Android without any stutters, and generally keep everything feeling instantly responsive. 6GB of RAM should handle all your multitasking needs, too.

The Middle East version of the phone will come with a whopping 128GB storage as standard. You’re also getting a microSD card slot for slamming in extra space should you ever run out.

On paper, the one shortcoming is the battery. HTC has stuck with a 3000mAh cell, rather than try to squeeze something larger inside. That’s the same as the HTC 10, so we’ll have to wait and see whether the more power-efficient Snapdragon CPU can make a difference to battery life. Qualcomm QuickCharge 3.0 is on board, though, so you can top up in next to no time over USB-C.


It might not look like a massive design departure from HTC’s other recent efforts, but the U11 shows a lot of promise.

Edge Sense might sound like a niche gimmick right now, but we thought the same thing about Apple’s pressure-sensitive Force Touch screens. If developers support it, and HTC gets the customisable app ready for everyone to download, it could be really useful. The accessibility potential for people that struggle with standard smartphones is huge, too.

It’s the same deal with the U11’s abundance of AI. Google Assistant and Alexa in the same phone could be major, but we sadly won’t be getting full access in the Middle East any time soon.

Camera quality and battery life are still big unknowns, but otherwise the U11 ticks all the boxes we’d expect from a flagship phone. And how can you not love those incredible colours.

We’ll have to wait until closer to launch, and a full review, to see if that beauty goes more than skin-deep.







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