Update: According to reliable leakster Evan Blass, the device in question won't, in fact, be named HTC U, but rather HTC U 11, though it's up for debate whether this is an improvement. The article below has been edited to reflect the new information.
Most of you may have gathered as much, but the U Ultra wasn't HTC's real 2017 flagship. While we gave it a "good" 7.2 rating in our review, most people weren't exactly happy with it, due to a few questionable decisions such as omitting the headphone jack, putting an inadequate battery inside, and pricing it way too high. And this isn't just your everyday tech enthusiast complaining – these problems seem to have affected sales as well, judging from the drastic price cuts we've been seeing recently.
But nevermind that, let's take a look into the future instead: there is, in fact, a new HTC flagship coming out soon. According to leaks, it goes by HTC U 11, which unfortunately means we'll probably be seeing more of the obnoxious U Ultra / U Play-style marketing ("It Reflects U", "Puts U on Top", etc.) We've known about its existence since September, back when it was known by the code name "Ocean", but we've learned a fair bit of information about it since then, which we've compiled here for your convenience. So let's dive in:
Designer 1: "Hey, most of our competitors are doing the whole bezel-less display thing now, should we try it out in our next flagship as well?"
Designer 2: "Nah."
This is probably how HTC's internal design committee chose the U 11's looks – though this isn't necessarily a bad thing. When looked at the front, the device is almost identical to last year's HTC 10, down to the off-center capacitive buttons below the screen. Both the front camera and the earpiece have been reduced in size, however, giving the phone an even more inoffensive look.
Our only real look at the device so far, courtesy of Evan Blass
In other words, we aren't getting the flashy front of, say, the LG G6 or the Galaxy S8. The reason for that is probably the inclusion of pressure sensors on the sides of the phone, but we'll get to that in a second. In any case, the HTC 10 wasn't a bad-looking device by any account, so HTC imitating it with its latest flagship is a wise move. Plus, we've seen a fair bit of backlash against minimized bezels – some are concerned that this makes a phone more prone to breakage, while others simply don't like the look – so these people should be satisfied with the company's decision.
The HTC 10 (pictured) and HTC U 11 share quite a few design beats
The back side, too, isn't particularly unique-looking as well, heavily borrowing from the HTC U Play's design. There's a single-sensor camera with dual flash in the top center, with the HTC logo sitting a bit lower. The back plate looks to be made out of glass, just like the other two devices in the U series – which is a love-it-or-hate-it situation. Like its siblings, the U 11 will come in several color options: white, black, blue, red, and silver.
The device's screen, which will make use of a Super LCD panel, is said to be a 5.5-incher, which is a tad bigger that the 5.2-inch HTC 10's, though the two devices' resolutions will be identical at Quad HD (1440 x 2560 pixels). That means that there's another trend that HTC is refusing to follow – putting a taller aspect ratio in its flagship.
Here's the bad news, however: the company seems to be doubling down on its decision to remove the 3.5 mm headphone jack from its smartphones, as all rumors so far point in the direction of this being the case with the HTC U 11 as well. We won't go into specifics as to why this is a user-hostile decision – you all know the drill already. But let's at least hope that this time around HTC will have the courtesy of including an adapter into the box.
Finally, we also know that the phone will carry an IP57 certification, which means it has the same waterproofing as, say, the iPhone 7 (up to 3.3 feet for 30 minutes), but worse dust resistance. It will also apparently be released in a single- or dual-SIM variants, depending on region.
But let's get into the exciting part: with the HTC U 11, the company wants to disprove claims that it isn't innovating any more with a cool new trick, dubbed Edge Sense. In short, this is a set of sensors on the device's sides which can detect grip, touch, and pressure, and apply that data to various use cases. This was actually the first thing we ever heard of regarding the device, as the feature was first demonstrated in a concept video all the way back in September of last year:
Later, prolific leakster Evan Blass also shared another video demonstrating possible uses for the feature:
Do note, however, that neither of these videos shows what the U 11 really looks like, but instead simply demonstrate what Edge Sense can do. And there's a lot of ideas there: contextual in-app gestures, like changing the volume when listening to music or pressing a specific point on the device's edge to take a picture when inside the camera app. Squeezing the device may also bring up a tool similar to Samsung's Edge UX, which would let you easily open apps or perform simple tasks from anywhere in the phone's interface.
But the videos are most surely not indicative of all the functionality the HTC U 11's Edge Sense will offer, as neither seems to account for the device's pressure sensitivity. That is, squeezing the device may bring up a completely different set of features, and, knowing HTC, there's more than a fair chance its Sense Companion will have a lot to do with this functionality.
Diving deeper into the device's internals reveals that it will be powered by the Snapdragon 835, Qualcomm's latest and finest, which also happens to be available inside the US version of the Samsung Galaxy S8, the Xiaomi Mi 6, and the Sony Xperia XZ Premium, so we expect the benchmark wars to be in full force here. The device will also come with 4 GB RAM and 64 GB internal storage, along with an SD card slot and support for Bluetooth 5.0.
The great news here is that the phone will apparently be equipped with a 4,000 mAh battery. Compared to other flagships, such as the Galaxy S8+ and its 3,500 mAh, this is big, though it remains to be seen whether the added sensors will negate that. Still, the Snapdragon 835 features a smaller, 10 nm production process, which promises better power efficiency, so we choose to remain optimistic. What's unfortunate is that, due to the device's waterproofing, its battery will almost surely be non-replaceable, as was the case with the U Ultra and U Play as well.
The U 11 will have the same camera configuration as the HTC U Ultra
The cameras on the HTC U 11 are almost the exact same configuration as on the U Ultra – there's a 12-megapixel shooter on the back, and a 16-megapixel one on the front. At least one of the U Ultra's sensors will be swapped out, however, as the U 11 is said to feature Sony's IMX362 on the back and the IMX351 on the front. This means that the back camera will get the same Dual Pixel technology as several of Samsung's flagships, which would translate to near-instantaneous autofocus when speaking in terms of real-life performance.
As is probably apparent, none of the currently popular dual-camera gimmicks are in play here, which can be either a good or a bad thing, depending on who you ask. In any case, if HTC nails the camera (as it did with the U Ultra), then everything should be fine, as image quality is much more important than the number of sensors a device is equipped with.
Software and functionality
The HTC Sense Companion is all but guaranteed to make an appearance
The HTC U 11 is said to come with the next version of the company's own take on Android, the Nougat-based Sense 9. Apart from that, however, not much is known regarding the specifics of the new software experience, though a few things are all but guaranteed. We expect to see the Sense Companion, HTC's own machine-learning AI assistant, bundled inside, just as it was on the U Ultra and U Play. It remains to be seen, however, to what extent will HTC make use of Edge Sense in its software, though we imagine at least the basic features, as demonstrated in the concept videos, will make a real-life appearance.
Price & release date
Unfortunately, we haven't yet heard anything regarding the HTC U 11's launch date. However, we do know its unveiling date, which will be May 16. Judging from past flagship releases for HTC, the time difference between announcement and availability is two to four weeks. So we expect the phone to be available some time in early to mid-June.
The biggest potential problem for the device is definitely its price. This was the U Ultra's biggest issue at launch, as its $750 price tag didn't exactly match its feature set. Last year's HTC 10 was initially sold for $700, so we expect the HTC U 11 to be somewhere in this bracket as well. In other words, we expect a price bracket of $700 - $800, which would put it in the same space as its main competitors, the Galaxy S8 and LG G6.