Early 2017's HTC U11 is an impressive phone, receiving 4.5 stars in our review, but the company seems to be aiming for that final half a star with its newly launched bigger and better version.
The HTC U11 Plus features a larger screen - without increasing the handset size much - with improved specs compared to the best previous phone from HTC this year. We've put together this guide to tell you everything you need to know about the new device previously known as Ocean Master.
Cut to the chase
What is it? A larger and more powerful version of the HTC U11
When is it out? Some time in January 2018
What will it cost? AED 2,699 for 6GB/128GB
HTC U11 Plus release date and price
The HTC U11 Plus was announced in Dubai today but the actual release date for it is a few weeks away with the phone to land in stores some time in January.
Pricing wise we know the phone will cost AED 2,699 which sounds a bit on the higher side but you are getting a flagship product with dual SIM slots, 6GB RAM and 128GB of internal storage.
HTC U11 Plus design and screen
The HTC U11 Plus will be launched in three colours in the region which are Ceramic Black, Silver and our favourite- Translucent Black. It may sound like the U11 Plus is just a larger version of the phone we saw earlier this year, but there are some big changes to the spec and look of the phone too.
The screen on the U11 Plus has an aspect ratio of 18:9, which means it fills more of the phone and the company has been able to cut down the bezels to make it almost all screen on the front. That means HTC has been able to include a 6-inch screen without increasing the body size too much.
The phone is 158.5 x 74.9 x 8.5mm, when the U11 was 153.9 x 75.9 x 7.9mm, so the phone isn't much bigger. It's a bit weighty but in a good way, and will be able to survive a dunk in the bath or a quick rainshower as it's IP68 water and dust resistant.
There's glass on the rear of the phone and the fingerprint sensor sits on the back too. On the right hand edge you'll find the power/unlock key as well as the volume rocker, and there's a USB-C port on the bottom edge.
The display itself is a QHD+ offering from the company with a resolution of 2880 x 1440. It has opted for Super LCD 6 technology with protection on the front coming from Corning's Gorilla Glass 5 tech.
HTC U11 Plus camera and battery
HTC is using similar camera tech to the U11 for the U11 Plus with a 12MP rear shooter that includes HTC's UltraPixel 3 technology with big 1.4µm pixels that should allow for lots of light. The camera also has an aperture of f/1.7.
There's optical image stabilization as well as electronic image stabilization (EIS), and there's also HDR Boost and a Pro mode that should allow you to take some great photos with the rear camera.
For video there is a slow-mo feature that films 1080p footage at 120fps, which is a bit disappointing compared to most flagship phones now. You can record in 4K though with hi-res audio too.
An 8MP camera sits on the front of the phone, with an 85 degree field of view as well as HDR Boost and Selfie panorama, so you should be able to fit all of your mates into your selfie shots.
This is all being powered by a 3,930mAh cell inside the phone that HTC hopes will last you the whole day from a single charge.
It also comes with Quick Charge 3.0 tech and an extreme power saving mode, so you can ensure you won't fully run out of battery when away from the charging socket.
HTC U11 Plus OS and power
Android Oreo 8.0 is all ready here and waiting on the HTC U11 Plus which is great. Unfortunately, you won't find support for Project Treble which means future updates will not be handled by Google but by HTC and there is no clear date on when we can expect Oreo 8.1.
The HTC U11 Plus comes with both Google Assistant pre-installed, plus HTC's Sense Companion is here to use if you want to get recommendations based on the things you do with your phone.
The U11 Plus is powered by the top of the range Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chipset that we saw included in the U11 and that has done well in a lot of top-end phones already this year.
That's backed up by 6GB of RAM with 128GB to play with. If you need more storage than that you'll be able to up it with microSD support of 2TB.
HTC U11 Plus other features
The U11 Plus comes with the squeezy feature we saw debut on the U11 and also featured on the Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. That means you can squeeze the edges of the phone to launch features.
There's also a new feature called Edge Sense Launcher, which allows you to quickly access some of your apps, such as your torch or the calendar.
HTC's U11 BoomSound speakers are back for the U11 Plus but are now 30% stronger than they were on the original phone, and it also comes with Active Noise Cancellation, so we're expecting some great audio from the phone.
Smartphone sound design is a funny thing. For most of us, we hear the sounds of our phone’s notifications, alarms and ringtones every day, but rarely do we really actively listen to the noises and melodies they're comprised of. One person who does – and spends a lot of time thinking about them besides – is Samsung Mobile’s Senior Sound Designer, Myoung Woo Nam. On a recent trip to South Korea, we got the chance to speak with Nam to get an understanding of just how much work goes into finding the perfect tone or melody for different devices functions – and straddling the fine line between being informative, but not so attention-demanding that a sound becomes annoying.
Myoung Woo Nam kicked off an explanation of his department’s role with a scene from 2013 space-thriller Gravity, where the film’s protagonist gets stranded on a Russian segment of the International Space Station and has to try to navigate using the foreign labels on the flight system’s controls. Eventually, she manages to narrow down the command she was looking for by using a series of feedback beeps and alarm noises.
Nam said that they have very much the same design ethos for smartphones, with every interface noise intended to give feedback or provide some 'universal' audio alert that (hopefully) transcends the various languages the phone's available in. Nam explained, “This is a good example of how the Audio User Interface is important. Once the person hears the sound they should be able to understand what it means, regardless of what language they use. Like music. Everyone can understand.”
Samsung's sound engineering team is responsible for creating the Audio User Interfaces for all of the technology company's devices – not just smartphones. That includes everything from air conditioners to smartwatches and, says Nam, each category throws up its own novel challenges and opportunities. For example, according to Nam, “Samsung’s air conditioner takes time to start. About 10 seconds.
“And during this time, we want to give an appropriate message to the user that it’s going to be very cold soon, but it will take a little while, so please be patient.”
When talking with Nam, it’s clear just how much thought goes into creating the sounds on the company's various devices. The sound team challenge themselves to create on and off sounds that you can understand without knowing which action was taken. “A higher-pitched tone is temperature up, the low-pitched tone means a lower temperature, but we also wanted to give the exact meaning for the power on and the power off,” Nam continued. “You should be able to guess which is which. That’s a human instinct, it’s a musical language that’s embedded in the sound design.”
For a refrigerator like Samsung’s Family Hub it’s handy to have an alert for when you accidentally leave the door open, but Nam stresses just how difficult it is to find something that will notify you without being annoying or unnecessarily loud.
Taking a different tack altogether with the sound design of Samsung’s Gear S smartwatch, Nam talks about how it is important for the sound engineering team to come up with a unifying theme for the product they’re looking at. “One of the concepts of the Gear series was the tick-tock of time,” said Nam. “The tick is at 60bpm so we double it to 120bpm. Every sound [on the Gear S watch] is at 120bpm, that’s the moderato.”
The Sound of the Galaxy
While there are plenty of sounds to be created across the wide range of devices that Samsung sell, nothing keeps the sound team quite as busy as the company’s Galaxy Smartphones. Nam said there’s over 100 unique noises, melodies and pieces of music that need to be generated, in addition to keeping up the longstanding tradition of creating a unique version of Samsung Mobile’s audio branding tune Over the Horizon, each year. If you’ve ever heard the cacophony of notification noises that ring out when a plane lands these days, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with the Over the Horizon tune. Samsung has made a point of updating this melody each year, to keep the audio signature front of mind, without it becoming repetitive. “Over the Horizon has changed each year since 2011.” Explained Nam, “The first version was a rock version that was supposed to represent ‘beyond the smart experience’ and the second one in the Galaxy S3 was ‘Designed for Humans’, so we made it a softer tune that’s a little bit New Wavey, but you still have the same melody.”
Fast forward to 2015, when the sound design team partnered up with the Nashville String Machine and renowned audio engineer Al Schmitt to mix a version of the melody around the theme of ‘Fresh Impression’. This transformed into a jazz-fusion rendition by the Dirty Loops for 2016’s ‘Consideration’ iteration and was updated again this year for the Galaxy S8. The 6th Over the Horizon iteration, ‘Millennials’, came to fruition through an original composition from the young English Musical prodigy Jacob Collier. “We had to find the most Millennial artist possible, someone who is expected to become very famous,” said Nam. “After we worked with him, he received Grammy Awards, so we were right.” Taking a little pride in uncovering this talent early, Nam added, “If we are trying to work [with Collier] right now we might have to pay twice or triple what we did at the time.”
Samsung's new beats for the Note 8
The distinguishing factor of Samsung’s Galaxy Note series is the additional stylus, and Nam said the sound team really wanted to do something to highlight this unique feature on the popular phablet. Attempting to marry the S Pen and ‘Millennial’ themes, the sound team stumbled across a YouTube-based music scene, where pens tapping on objects forms the driving beat of the rhythms. 'Pen beat', as the genre is called, has a reasonable following in South Korea and the sound team managed to find a local pen-beat artist to work with. “One particular young musician from the pen beat videos caught our eye and we contacted him and brought him in to record the ringtones alongside a well-known beatboxer.” Said Nam, “We gathered the pen beat and the beatboxer together to make something interesting for the sound of the Galaxy Note 8.”
The team also sourced a local producer that was well-versed in mixing beatboxing to oversee the creation of three new ringtones and a series of notification and alert noises for the flagship phablet. The collaboration resulted in a couple of these songs being recorded in full and made available for free to Note 8 owners in a high-resolution DSD-audio-format.
If you aren’t lucky enough to have upgraded to the Note 8 yet, however, you can still check out the new beats on Samsung's newsroom page.
Joel Burgess flew to South Korea courtesy of Samsung Australia.
With 2017 almost finished, thoughts are turning to the flagship phones we might be seeing over the next 12 months, and the Huawei P11 is likely to be one of the first to break cover - its predecessor the Huawei P10 was announced at Mobile World Congress back in February, and it looks like the P11 will follow suit.
Reporting from a Huawei Christmas event in Germany, WinFuture's Roland Quandt says that Huawei representatives have been hinting that we'll see the new P11 flagship during the first quarter of 2018, which makes the end of February a very good bet.
This year's MWC event in Barcelona kicks off on February 26, with press events running a day or two before, so chances are that Huawei has pencilled in the show as the place to show off the P11 to the world. Sticking to a consistent release schedule is good news for suppliers and users alike.
And what of Samsung?
We're also expecting to see the Samsung Galaxy S9 to show up at MWC 2018, something that Huawei has no doubt taken into its calculations - or at least that's what the leaked reports are saying. Last year's Galaxy S8 phones were launched at a separate event in March rather than at Mobile World Congress.
Quandt also says the focus of the upcoming Huawei P11 is going to be on cameras and AI, which is unsurprising - Huawei made much of both the photography tricks and integrated artificial features available on its most recent handset, the Huawei Mate 10 Pro, and we'd expect that trend to continue.
MWC 2018 is shaping up to be quite a show this year, and as usual we'll be on the ground in Barcelona shuffling around the exhibition. As soon as any launch dates are made official, or we catch a confirmed sighting of any of these phones, we'll let you know.
And that's a wrap - Google has officially pulled the shutters down on its Project Tango program, the initiative launched in 2014 for giving phones a better idea of their location in 3D space and providing augmented reality (AR) overlays through a smartphone's scanner.
In many ways Tango was ahead of its time but now that Google has ARCore and Apple has ARKit, these same AR features - where you can take a video of your living room and see a dinosaur crash through the wall, for example - are potentially coming to every phone, rather than a select few.
The modern day smartphone is fitted with enough sensors and processing power to figure out all the necessary AR calculations without any specialist hardware, which makes Project Tango rather dead in the water.
Continuing the journey
"We're turning down support for Tango on March 1, 2018," said Google in a tweet. "Thank you to our incredible community of developers who made such progress with Tango over the last three years. We look forward to continuing the journey with you on ARCore."
The move makes a lot of sense considering ARCore is now up and running to give developers access to all the augmented reality magic they need - it works with the Pixel 2 and the Galaxy S8 and will be coming to more and more phones further down the line.
Tango only ever made its way into a couple of consumer devices but the work that Google's engineers put in will live on in ARCore, so the enterprise hasn't been completely in vain. With Google and Apple now pushing AR tricks on their phones, you're likely to hear a lot more about AR in the future.