HTC U11 packs an arsenal of assistants and a big spec sheet


— 11:37 AM on May 16, 2017

Apple and Samsung get the lion's share of attention in the high-end smartphone space, but competitors like HTC keep plugging away, trying to unseat the incumbent handsets by any means possible. HTC is seemingly throwing every idea it can come up with into its U11 flagship smartphone in the hopes of catching buyers' eyes with an long spec sheet, novel features, and an attractive glass-enrobed water-resistant body.

This is The Tech Report, so hardware specifications come first. Top-shelf Android smartphones tend to be built around the latest we're-not-supposed-to-call-it-an-SoC from Qualcomm, and today that means the 10-nm Snapdragon 835. Samsung uses that same chip in Galaxy S8 smartphones destined for China, Japan, and the US. The SoC gets its marching orders from the contents of 4 GB of RAM, which in turn is filled by programs and data stored on 64 GB of flash memory. Pack rats will appreciate the inclusion of a microSD card slot.

The main camera is a 12 MP unit, and narcissists will be delighted to find out the "selfie" camera snaps even-higher-resolution 16 MP images. The battery is a 3000 mAh unit with support for Qualcomm's proprietary QuickCharge 3.0 technology. The phone uses a USB 3.1 port for charging and data connections. LTE connectivity has a theoretical maximum downstream throughput of "almost 1 Gbps" thanks to a 4x4 MIMO antenna setup, and local wireless connectivity is available through NFC, Bluetooth 4.2, and 802.11ac Wi-Fi. Music lovers will need that Bluetooth operation, because a headphone jack is sadly not included.

HTC took a "kitchen sink" approach to special features on the phone's cameras. Both include an HDR Boost feature that HTC claims offers "all the benefits of HDR without the lag." HTC says the U11 packs "the same full sensor auto-focus technology that's found in top SLR cameras" in order to offer faster focus speeds. The rear camera also sports optical and electrical image stabilization features to deliver better-focused images in shaky situations. The manufacturer claims the self-facing camera has higher-than-normal light sensitivity and improved noise reduction to take better pictures in all types of lighting conditions.

The U11 has some unique audio tricks up its sleeve. The phone packs an array of four microphones and HTC's special software sauce to record 3D audio. HTC claims that users can click an element in a video and hear the sound generated from that location. As for playback, the U11 sports HTC's active noise-cancellation tech USonic. The company claims its BoomSound speakers have 100% "more loudness," a tweeter with an acoustic chamber design that offers richer sound, and a redesigned woofer with better bass response.

As for software, the U11 uses Android 7.1 and comes with Google's Assistant and Amazon's Alexa on top of HTC's own proprietary Sense Companion. If a user installs Microsoft's Cortana Android app, the only major AI assistants not living inside the U11's glass shell would be Apple's Siri and Samsung's Bixby. HTC's Edge Sense is a software package that works with the pressure sensors in the phone's sides, allowing users to open the camera or other apps with nothing more than a squeeze.

HTC prices the U11 at $650, whether buyers choose the unlocked GSM version that works with AT&T or T-Mobile, the locked Sprint CDMA variant, or the locked CDMA Verizon model. Sprint buyers are limited to the deeper blue color, while GSM and Verizon shoppers can pick from black, light blue, and dark blue. HTC's marketing materials, including the picture above, suggest that additional colors could be offered in the future. The U11 pre-order page says the phone is "in stock" now, but other outlets report that U11 handsets will not ship until June 9.

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