This week HTC announced its new flagship handset for 2017, the HTC U11, and for reasons we may never truly understand, it’s the world’s first squeezable smartphone.
While all phones are technically squeezable, the 5.5” HTC U11 is the first handset to actually do something when you grip your hot hand meat around it. A feature called ‘Edge Sense’ is touted by the Taiwanese manufacturer as the next frontier in human-computer interaction.
The lower half of the phone’s frame is rigid but pressure-sensitive, so by gently squeezing it you can do things like activate the camera from the lock screen. In camera mode, squeezing will trigger the shutter to snap a picture or a selfie. Squeeze and hold and you’ll activate Google Assistant without having to utter the "okay Google" wake-up phrase, something somebody at HTC presumably found exhausting.
You can adjust the sensitivity required before the phone registers a squeeze (useful if you want to avoid accidental pocket-squeezes), and you can remap the squeeze to perform pretty much any action on the phone. So, functionally at least, the squeeze-sensing part of the frame behaves like an extra button.
Except it’s not as good as a button, because it doesn’t click, it has no give (the phone isn’t actually flexible) and is incompatible with any case that comes between your hand and the frame. Regular buttons – the established and foolproof method of detecting a squeeze – also adorn the frame of the phone. So, you might well wonder, what’s the point?
It’s a shame too, as the spectacular redundancy of this squeeze-sensor distracts from what is otherwise a great new Android phone.
The HTC U11 is the first device to incorporate both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa (just shout the wake-up phrase of the virtual assistant you prefer), and it follows the dazzling, candy-coated, hyper-glossy design principles set out by the recent HTC U Ultra.
The phone is waterproof and works while wet, and although it’s missing a 3.5mm headphone jack, the supplied USB Type-C adapter sports a built-in DAC that continues HTC’s practice of coupling its phones with top-spec audio hardware.
Audiophiles will be similarly pleased with HTC’s new USonic headphones too, which are now included in the box and feature active noise cancellation and personalised audio profiles.
HTC innovates as though it’s trapped in a dark room, groping around for the first thing that might differentiate its black rectangle from the crowd before boldy declaring that we should all hold on tight because we’re entering a new dimension of phone technology whether we like it or not.
Squeezing definitely isn’t the way forward for the form – I would bet my cat on it never appearing in another phone again – but the HTC U11 is a phone worthy of your attention all the same.
The HTC U11 launches in the UK in June, at a price of £649. It will be available in four incredibly shiny colours.