Business Technology

Tuesday 24 October 2017

Is the new HTC squeeze-controlled smartphone a gimmick or something that's worth getting a hold of?

HTC U11 landscape
HTC U11 landscape

HTC's latest competition to the iPhone 7 and Samsung S8 is a 5.5-inch phone that comes with a 'squeeze' feature. This lets you control certain functions by applying pressure on each side of the lower bit of the phone. By default, a short squeeze takes a photo while a long squeeze turns on the torch. You can program the squeezes to apply to other functions, however, such as a screen shot or some other app.

Is this a gimmick or a useful feature?

On first impressions, it has potential. Because it's a physical action, this feature also works with gloves, in the rain, or even underwater (the phone is waterproof). So it makes your phone's camera a lot more versatile. It also addresses the problem of speed. One problem with phone cameras is always the amount of time they take to launch. It's usually at least two taps or swipes with the feature often activated too late to get the shot you took your phone out for.

That said, some phone systems (especially Sony) often put a camera button on the side that immediately activates the camera.

My initial impression is that the camera quality on the U11 is excellent. HTC appears to have put most of its camera effort into the front-facing selfie camera. In what might be a sign of the times, the selfie camera is a whopping 16-megapixels that can change its approach (to 'ultra pixel' focus that is better in low light) according to the level of light available around your face.

By comparison, the rear camera stays at 12 megapixels, the same resolution level as Apple's iPhone 7.

The U11 has a fairly innovative audio system. It uses the entire front panel as a speaker in a similar way to Sony's high-end new televisions. Its 'uSonic' earphones also claim some smart features, taking a reading of your ear's inner canal and adjusting the audio direction accordingly. The earphones also include a degree of active noise cancellation by using signals recorded by the earphones' microphone.

If you want to record video, the phone's microphone has a neat trick that helps far-away people. The microphone effectively zooms its audio focus as you zoom the camera in. It does this with some help from the phone's four omni-directional microphones. (HTC calls this "3D audio".)

HTC has invested in its microphones because it seems to believe we're set to use voice commands more for everyday features. In this regard, the U11 is the first phone to include support for both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. (The first is of use in Ireland, while the second is very limited.)

Under the hood it comes with 64 gigabytes of storage, which is a decent amount.

It has a pretty large battery (3,000mAh) that will last most people a full day. And its power quotient is ample, with 4GB of Ram and the latest Snapdragon (835) processor.

It connects to a charger via the newer USB-C standard, but a converter to the older miniUSB connection comes in the box.

The U11 is about the same size as the iPhone 7 Plus, which is to say that it is physically quite large. The reason this is worth noting is that the main phone it competes with - Samsung's newly released Galaxy S8 - has a bigger screen on a smaller phone. Given the natural limits of the human hand, this makes the U11 slightly less ergonomic than its main competitor. The U11 is only available in blue or black in the Irish market, with a red version coming later.

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