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Why HTC U11 is the most exciting HTC smartphone in years


HTC has just unveiled its 'true flagship' smartphone of 2017 - the HTC U11. The 'U' in the U11 moniker reflects HTC's new design language and series for 2017 and the '11' denotes the fact that the smartphone is the successor to the HTC 10 - the company's 2016 flagship.
Once the pioneer of the smartphone world, HTC has been having a tough time as of late - profits have plummeted, market share has gone down drastically and the HTC brand name no longer carries the prestige it once did.
There are several reasons for the same. HTC has had a very scattered and confused smartphone line-up the last few years. The company has had a penchant of releasing iterative smartphones left right and center without any cohesive thread tying them together.
When it comes to their flagships as well, HTC has been all over the place. In 2012, they launched the HTC One, which got rave reviews and was marked as the smartphone that would catapult HTC back into the major league. It's successors however failed to sustain the momentum.
The One M8 did not move the goalpost ahead in any substantial way and the HTC One M9 arguably took things back a few notches. The HTC 10 seemed to turn things around - it was received very well critically and was a solid smartphone overall. However thanks to poor marketing, the smartphone failed to set the market on fire.
HTC followed this up with the HTC U Ultra, with which the company drastically changed their design language and abandoned the metal industrial look for an all new design. Dubbed 'liquid design', the U Ultra was made from glass and metal that boasts of an all-around symmetrical bending that reflects light differently when viewed at different angles. While many appreciated the new design, the poor space management, lack of basic flagship level features and outdated hardware let the U Ultra down.
With the U11, HTC has gone back to its roots and made a smartphone that comes with all of HTC's strong points - a unique and refreshing design, strong focus on audio quality, a light and sleek UI and  solid hardware.


A major point of criticism for past HTC smartphones has been their pricing. HTC has solved the same to with the U11. The smartphone is priced a whopping 100 dollars cheaper than the U Ultra and is close to 200 dollars cheaper than the Samsung Galaxy S8. At $649, HTC has finally managed to ace the pricing of their flagship smartphone. Poor pricing has been a bane of contention for HTC smartphones for a long time and it is good to see HTC price their 2017 flagship realistically right off the bat.
On the specifications front, the smartphone does not disappoint in the slightest. It comes with Qualcomm's latest flagship processor - the Snapdragon 835 paired with 4/6GB of RAM, a 5.5-inch QuadHD display, a 3,000mAh battery, 64/128GB of internal storage and the Adreno 540 GPU. While I am yet to test the device, the specifications look mighty impressive on paper.
The HTC U11 comes with a myriad of features that make it well worth the price tag. It comes with IP67 waterproofing, HTC's new Edge technology, HTC's USonic audio tech and much more. The distinguishing attribute of the smartphone is HTC's Edge sense feature, which allows you to 'squeeze' the edges of the smartphone to initiate different functions.
Pressure sensors on the side edges on the phone are triggered whenever you 'squeeze' the handset like a ketchup bottle. HTC claims that the squeeze effect works even when you are wearing gloves or the smartphone is underwater. Currently, you can 'squeeze' the phone to take photos, evoke Google Assistant and turn on the flashlight. You can also use this feature to launch the microphone while texting to dictate words.
While it may sound gimmicky, it introduces a whole new method to interact with your phone and might be game changing once HTC introduces its 'Edge Sense' app which will allow third-party applications to use this new feature.
There are other neat features on offer too. The U11 might be one of the best smartphones for audiophiles. It comes with HTC's U Sonic Audio technology, which is a  sonar-based audio system that claims to deliver true sound that is capable of adapting to the user. It uses microhphones to hear the noises inside your ear, after which it optimised the audio by making sounds that compensate for the same.

The smartphone comes without a 3.5mm audio jack and has a single USB Type-C port for charging, data syncing and high-res audio.The U11 is also the first smartphone to come with noise-cancelling headphones out of the box. The U11 also supports HTC's BoomSound sound technology. HTC says the BoomSound is much more enhanced on the U11 with new stereo speakers. It revealed a recorded audio boost by 4db.
In addition to all that, a rather unique aspect of the U11 is the fact that the USB-C to 3.55mm adapter that HTC bundles with the device comes with an-built DAC which makes sure you get good quality sound even with earphones that use the 2.5mm jack. This is quite an amazing move by HTC and points towards their commitment to audio quality. This is also a good way to compensate users for the lack of a 3.5mm jack.
On the imaging front, the U11 is also a major upgrade over the HTC 10. The smartphone comes with a 12MP rear camera with dual-pixel auto-focus, 5-axis optical image stabilisation and a large aperture of f/1.7. On the front, there is a 16MP shooter which comes with an aperture of f/2.0 and a 150 degree wide-angle lens. The smartphone's camera has recorded a DxO Mark score of 90 points, which is the highest score ever posted by a smartphone's camera.
Here as well, HTC's commitment to audio shines through. The smartphone comes with 24-bit audio recording and an array of 4 microphones which help the device capture 360-degree sound. HTC U11 also comes with a feature called 'Acoustic Focus' wherein if you zoom in on a particular subject video recording, only the mic which is closest to the subject will record with a boost in levels.
Another unique feature of the smartphone is the fact that it comes with three assistants on board - Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa and HTC's own Sense Companion. Alexa, which works with Echo and would probably enable free calling with Echo and Echo Show owners, will be available in US, UK and Germany only.

Sense Companion works in the background to provide user-related suggestions and updates like weather in the destination city or calendar reminders. In addition, it now adds few more things like commuting advice, step count, phone performance, power-up reminders and more. To make the phone more AI-friendly, HTC has incorporated four always-on low-power microphones inside it, so it can respond to every command.
All in all, with the HTC U11, HTC has finally made a smartphone that is not only priced very aggressively, but does enough to stand out from the crowd.It comes with top of the line specifications, a strong focus on audio, promising updates to the camera and unique new features. We just hope HTC prices the smartphone competitively in India as well.
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