HTC U11 review: A fragile, squeezable flagship

 

HTC introduced the “U” smartphone line back in January with the U Ultra and U Play handsets, and those were just a taste of what the company had coming. The U11 is HTC’s newest flagship and follow-up to last year’s HTC 10, and it looks significantly different from last year’s device. With an all-glass back and no headphone jack, the U11 chooses which of the typical flagship design choices it wanted to keep and forgoes others. It supports Google Assistant as well as HTC’s own Sense Companion AI, with Amazon Alexa support coming soon after it ships in the US on June 9. The HTC 10 was one of our favorite flagship smartphones last year, and the U11 is a thoughtful upgrade from that, even if its design is polarizing.

Design

The U11 smartphone looks and feels flashier than the HTC 10, but that doesn’t mean it’s better. Ars’ Ron Amadeo appreciated the simple yet solid metal design of HTC’s 2016 flagship, but the company certainly deviated from that blueprint with this device. The U11 has an all-glass back that makes it strikingly shiny but also a wild collector of fingerprints. That shine complements the bold colors it comes in (red, sapphire, silver, and black), but every time it catches your eye, you’ll be compelled to wipe down the phone.

SPECS AT A GLANCE: HTC U11
SCREEN 5.5″ 2560×1440 LCD
OS Android 7.1.1 with HTC Sense
CPU Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, up to 2.45GHz
RAM 4GB
GPU Adreno 540
STORAGE 64GB (expandable up to 2TB with microSD card)
NETWORKING 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS, GLONASS, NFC
BANDS GSM: 850/900/1800/1900 MHz
CDMA2000: 800/1900
3G UMTS: 850/AWS/900/1900/2100 MHz
LTE (FDD): 1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/13/17/20/25/26/28/66
PORTS 1 USB 3.1 Type-C
CAMERA Rear: 12MP HTC UltraPixel 3, UltraSpeed AF, OIS, f/1.7, 4K video recording
Front: 16MP front camera
SIZE 153.9 x 75.9 x 7.9mm (6.05 x 2.98 x .31 inches)
WEIGHT 169 g (5.96 ounces)
BATTERY 3000 mAh, Quick Charge 3.0
STARTING PRICE $650
OTHER PERKS Edge Sensor, fingerprint sensor, ambient light sensor, G-sensor, gyro-sensor, voice commands with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, Motion Launch

Samsung’s Galaxy S8 has an all-glass design, and while glass is pretty, it’s not as durable as metal, especially for devices that you use and abuse every day. The U11’s back is the main glass part of the handset, and technically the device still has a unibody design—you just can’t tell by the placement of the glass as it sits atop the aluminum underneath. The bold back colors aren’t built into the glass, but rather they slide underneath the glass, so they won’t fade as some metal finishes can with time and use. They can’t be scratched off either.

The handset’s aluminum body peeks through on its sides where the few buttons and connectivity options live: on the right are the power button and volume rocker, on the top lies the SIM/microSD card slot, and on the bottom is the single USB Type-C port. You can’t see them, but eight tiny pressure sensors are hidden in the device’s lower sides—those are the sensors you “squeeze” to activate Edge Sense features and apps, which we’ll discuss more in a later section. The handset is IP67 water-resistant, and Edge Sense can even be used when the device is wet.Image result for HTC U11 review: A fragile, squeezable flagship

The screen and front panel are where the U11 looks a bit dated. Hugging the 5.5-inch, 2560×1440 display are chunky top and bottom bezels and a set of hardware navigation buttons. This is a stark contrast from recent flagship designs that favor paper-thin bezels to allow maximum screen space. The typical Android back and app-drawer capacitive buttons are on either side of the physical home button/fingerprint sensor. This is another contrast, as both new Android smartphones and iPhones have started to move away from physical home buttons.

One similarity the U11 has with the iPhone 7 is the lack of headphone jack. Included in the box is a USB Type-C-to-3.5mm audio jack, so you can connect your wired headphones to the device with the adaptor. HTC also includes its own headphones in the box that have active noise cancelling; thanks to power over USB Type-C, the headphones don’t need their own battery to provide active noise cancelling.

Edge Sense

The U11’s most interesting feature is Edge Sense, or the squeezable nature of the handset. When holding the device naturally with one hand, you can squeeze both sides to initiate an action. Edge Sense has two customizable pressure points—a short squeeze or a long squeeze. Upon setting up the feature, you’re asked to adjust the pressure level for your own hand. For example, the natural amount of pressure I put on the device’s edges is different from what my boyfriend would, so you can set up Edge Sense to recognize a base level of pressure that feels natural for you. After setting it up on my review unit, Edge Sense worked well in that my squeezes were always recognized and software never mistook grabbing and handling of the smartphone for a squeeze.

At any time, you can use the Edge Sense settings to customize short- and long-squeeze actions. These are your current options: bring up the camera app, take a screenshot (my personal favorite), launch HTC Sense Companion, launch an app of your choosing, start an instant voice recording, turn on your Wi-Fi hotspot, or turn on the flashlight. Those are all practical uses for Edge Sense, and the ability to set it to bring up any app you want is convenient.

HTC told Ars that convenience is the main idea behind Edge Sense. The company wanted to address the ergonomic issues plaguing large smartphones (not being able to reach all your apps with one hand, etc.) without compromising the seamlessness of the device. HTC didn’t want to add another button to the edge of the U11, like Samsung did on the Galaxy S8 with its dedicated Bixby button. So the company found a different solution that would allow more functionality without cluttering the device’s sides.

As mentioned above, Edge Sense works even when the U11 is wet, since it’s all based on the pressure of your hand. Since it doesn’t recognize the presence of skin either, Edge Sense will also work when you’re wearing gloves. Even if you put a case over the U11, you can go back into the Edge Sense settings and adjust the pressure sensitivity so the feature works even while the case is on.

Overall, I enjoyed using Edge Sense more than I thought I would. I appreciate this design choice over adding another button or two to the sides of the U11, and I appreciate even more that it’s fully customizable. Unlike Samsung’s Bixby button that really only has one use, HTC’s Edge Sense can be what you want it to be. If you’re not a huge fan of Edge Sense, you can turn it off as well—and since there are no extra physical buttons, you won’t even know Edge Sense exists if you disable it entirely.

Cameras

The solid 12MP rear camera and 16MP front-facing camera from the HTC 10 have carried over to the U11. Most of the pictures I took outside in natural light are bright and full of color. With photos taken in sunlight on the HTC 10, colors sometimes appeared gray and washed-out, but that didn’t happen as much on the U11. There were a few times when the camera brightened the sunlight a bit too much, producing colors that weren’t as rich as those produced by the Galaxy S7 Edge—but instances of that issue were few and far between. Low-light photos continue to be noticeably brighter than those taken with the S7 Edge.

Software

The app drawer is pretty cluttered when you boot up the U11 for the first time. Many of the pre-installed apps are Google products, but a number of HTC apps are squeezed in as well: Boost+ for optimizing power and managing apps, HTC Help for troubleshooting, Themes for decorating your phone’s UI, and the like. Having so many apps already installed on the device before you even get to customize it is annoying, but the good news is that most of them can be uninstalled easily.

The biggest piece of HTC software on the U11 is the Sense Companion AI, which learns about you, your interests, and your phone habits to provide all kinds of suggestions, like where to go to dinner, with whom to share a photo, and which apps to delete.

As you use the U11, the AI learns how you use your phone, and a small blue orb will float into the display when it has a suggestion for you. You can also go into the HTC Sense Companion app to see a full list of the most recent suggestions if you tend to ignore the orb. Those tips are presented much like Google Now info cards are, with little doodles and text with information like traffic updates, weather changes, and more.

Where HTC’s AI comes in handy is for device optimization: HTC told Ars that Sense Companion may tell you that you have 20 apps on your U11 that you haven’t used in a month and suggest deleting them so you have more space. Over time, Sense Companion will also be smart enough to remind you to charge your smartphone during free times of the day when you have a busy schedule. Allowing Sense Companion access to your calendar will help it understand your schedule and suggest times to charge up on days when you have back-to-back meetings.

A note about Amazon’s Alexa: our review unit didn’t have Alexa yet. According to HTC, U11 devices will receive Alexa through an update to the Alexa Android app. Unlike Huawei’s integration with Alexa, you won’t need to open an app to access Amazon’s virtual assistant—the wake word “Alexa” will be enough to trigger a response. But the Alexa app will be necessary to configure and personalize the virtual assistant. Our review unit had Google Assistant only, which you can access by saying “OK Google” or long-pressing the home button.

A great feature that HTC brought over from the HTC 10 is adoptable storage. Introduced in Android 6.0, this feature lets the device “merge” internal and microSD card storage. The U11 comes with 64GB of onboard storage, but with the help of a microSD card, it could mimic a handset with up to 2TB of internal storage. After inserting a microSD card, you just have to go into the device settings and format the card’s storage as internal. Then the system will move apps and programs around as needed automatically, rather than making you manually choose where everything needs to be.

Software and security updates

The U11 has the April 1, 2017 security patch and will receive Android O, but HTC didn’t say when. The company also told Ars that smaller updates will depend on “carrier lab approval, scale, and urgency of the update.” Our review unit is a U11 on Sprint, and HTC says that model will get its first update at the end of this month or early July.

The U11 ships with the latest version of Android, which is great, especially since Samsung’s and LG’s flagships don’t (the S8 and the G6 ship with Android 7.0). But in the past, HTC’s major Android updates have been quite carrier-dependent. The unlocked HTC 10 received Nougat three months after the software’s initial launch, while the T-Mobile model waited five months for it. Updates only got worse from there, with the Sprint model waiting six months and the Verizon model waiting seven months for Nougat.

If you want the fastest update to Android O in the future, you should probably go with the unlocked version of the U11. Otherwise, it’s hard to say when your model will get the latest version of Android.

Even worse for HTC is the uncertainty of its security updates. There’s no guarantee that all U11 models will receive every security update in a timely fashion. Not only is that terrible in comparison to Samsung, LG, and Google, which all provide monthly security updates to their flagships, but HTC has also had legal troubles in the past surrounding this issue. In 2013, the FTC reached a settlement with HTC that required the company to patch notable security holes in millions of its Android smartphones and tablets. HTC is subject to a security review for 20 years after that settlement as well.

Listing image by Valentina Palladino

Meizu M5 Review

 

HIGHLIGHTS

  • The phone runs on a MediaTek MT6750 SoC and has 2GB of RAM
  • The bright display and good ergonomics aside, the rest isn’t too exciting
  • The 16GB version of the M5 is priced at around Rs. 7,000

As flagship smartphone technology trickles down to the lower rungs of the market, entry-level phones aren’t as basic as they used to be. Fingerprint sensors and speedy processors are now pretty easy to find in phones under the Rs. 10,000 mark.

Meizu is back with a new budget smartphone called the Meizu M5. This device is available in two versions with different amounts of RAM and storage, both priced under Rs. 10,000. In today’s test, we have the version with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, which is priced at roughly Rs. 7,000. At this price, it competes with the 2GB version of Xiaomi’s recently launched Redmi 4 (Review), which also retails at Rs. 6,999.

Let’s see how the Meizu M5 fares in comparison and whether it offers good enough value to be recommended.

Meizu M5 design and build

The Meizu M5 doesn’t have a very striking design but it still offers a comfortable grip thanks to its rounded edges and 2.5D curved-edge glass. The screen borders aren’t too thick, lending the phone a pleasing look from the front. There’s a notification LED near the front camera and the earpiece, which for some reason is placed a bit asymmetrically above the display.

The Meizu M5 has a physical home button below the screen with a fingerprint sensor built in. There aren’t any navigation buttons here, as Meizu has its own navigation scheme. A single touch of the home button takes you a step back, and the app switcher is accessed with a swipe up gesture from the bottom of the display. There’s no option to enable onscreen buttons. With no tutorial in place to show you how to actually use this navigation method, it takes some figuring it out when you first set the phone up.

Meizu M5 front ndtv meizu m5

The volume and power buttons are placed on the right, and they’re easy to use. The hybrid dual-SIM tray is placed on the left. The second SIM slot can accommodate a microSD card of up to 128GB if needed. Meizu claims that the M5 has an anodised metal frame inside but it isn’t visible, as the sides and back are covered by plastic. Build quality of the Meizu M5 is decent, and we didn’t encounter much flex when using this phone, though a metal build would have been nice.

The rear camera sits flush with the rest of the body. At the bottom, we have a Micro-USB port, speaker grille and headphones socket. The 5.2-inch display of the Meizu M5 has an HD resolution that doesn’t look too bad on a screen this size, but the colours are a bit dull. Touch response and viewing angles are decent, and the phone has a high maximum brightness level which makes it easy to use even under direct sunlight. In the box, you get a standard Micro-USB cable and charger.

Meizu M5 back ndtv meizu m5

The fingerprint sensor works but it’s not the most accurate one we’ve used. Besides unlocking the phone, you can use it for locking apps, accessing a secure folder for private files called ‘Vault’, and activating a guest mode. Overall, the Meizu M5 has a good feel to it even though it doesn’t look particularly striking. The fit and finish of the plastics is decent and ergonomics are nice.

Meizu M5 specifications and features

Under the plastic shell is an octa-core MediaTek MT6750 SoC, 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of storage. Meizu also sells a version of this phone with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage at Rs. 9,499. Benchmark performance is pretty average, and we got 40,042 points in AnTuTu and 20fps in GFXbench. Other specifications include dual-band Wi-Fi a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.1, USB-OTG, and GPS. There’s no FM radio, which might be sore point for some. The phone also lacks a gyroscope sensor. The Meizu M5 supports 4G networks but according to Meizu, the phone does not support VoLTE. On the Jio network, we had to manually enter the APN for cellular data to work, but calls still didn’t go through.

meizu m5 apps ndtv Meizu M5

The Meizu M5 runs on Meizu’s Flyme OS 5, which is based on Android 6.0 Marshmallow. However, the phone doesn’t seem to have received any recent security patches from Google as the last update is from October 2016. We tried reaching out to Meizu for clarity on this and for any commitment to future Android updates, but didn’t get any conclusive response.

The custom navigation method takes some getting used to since there’s no way to enable onscreen navigation buttons. There are a bunch of customisable gestures to choose from and a feature called SmartTouch, which is like AssistiveTouch on the iPhone. Our unit didn’t have the Google Play Store preinstalled so we had to add it manually using the Hot Apps app.

The single-layered interface on the Meizu M5 runs smoothly for the most part. The Themes app lets you change the look of the phone, although we didn’t find anything of real interest here. The Security app has tools for cleaning up junk files, monitoring data usage and blocking contacts, and even a virus scanner, all in one place. The Toolbox app has features like a flashlight, mirror, compass, level, ruler and magnifier. The Meizu M5 also has its own app store, which is a bit redundant if you have the Play Store.

Meizu M5 side button ndtv meizu m5

Meizu M5 performance, camera, and battery life

The Meizu M5 performs smoothly when you first set it up but after a few days of normal usage, we noticed slight lag when scrolling through webpages and switching between apps. It isn’t consistent but it’s definitely noticeable with daily usage. Apps don’t load very quickly. Another peculiar thing we came across was that when we signed in with our Gmail account, the standard security alert told us that we’ve signed in from a Leagoo 2.5D Arc. Leagoo is another Chinese smartphone manufacturer, but once again, we couldn’t get any satisfying explanation for this from Meizu.

We found that the Meizu M5 gets a bit warm when watching videos, including those streamed from YouTube. Video playback is restricted to 1080p although we had no trouble playing our high-bitrate video files. FLAC audio is also supported with the stock music player, which is nicely designed. However, the built-in speaker is weak, which makes it hard to hear your media files clearly. Things are better with headphones but there isn’t any audio enhancement or equaliser app to tweak the audio.

Tap to see full-sized Meizu M5 camera samples

The cameras on the Meizu M5 are what you’d expect from a smartphone in this segment. They capture acceptable photos during the day but really struggle in low light. The rear camera has a 13-megapixel sensor, with a f/2.2 aperture and PDAF. Thanks to the latter, focusing is fairly quick under adequate lighting. The sensor isn’t able to capture good details in landscapes or macro shots, no matter how steady your hands are. Light metering isn’t the best either, as whites tend to bloom easily.

In low-light, there’s lots of compression artifacting and colour reproduction is poor. The front 5-megapixel camera on the Meizu M5 also does a passable job under good lighting but suffers in low-light. The camera app on the other hand is well designed, with toggle switches for the timer and flash, effects on the left and shooting modes and the shutter button on the right. Shooting modes include panorama, GIF and manual. Once again, the back of the phone ran pretty warm when we used the camera app.

The 3070mAh battery on the Meizu M5 delivered 10 hours and 17 minutes of runtime in our HD video loop test, which isn’t bad. However, during actual usage, we noticed big dips in battery life when using the camera or gaming for a bit. There’s also no fast charging support, so charging it fully is a long wait. The bundled 10W power adapter is compact and easy to carry.

Meizu M5 box ndtv meizu m5

Verdict

The Meizu M5 starts at roughly Rs. 7,000, for the 16GB model we tested, but the price varies a bit across online stores. The 32GB version is priced at Rs. 9,499 after receiving a recent price cut shortly after it was launched. While Rs. 7,000 is generally considered a good price for a smartphone with this feature set, its overall performance still puts it behind the Xiaomi Redmi 4.

The Meizu M5 could have been a good budget contender but it has too many shortcomings, like the lack of FM radio and VoLTE, average camera and system performance, and the fact that the back of the phone runs warm very often. We’re also uncertain that this phone will receive necessary software and security updates. With better options available, we recommend giving this one a miss.

Meizu M5

Meizu M5

Rs. 8,599
Buy
  • REVIEW
  • KEY SPECS
  • NEWS
  • Design
  • Display
  • Software
  • Performance
  • Battery life
  • Camera
  • Value for money
  • Good
  • Comfortable to hold
  • Fingerprint sensor
  • Bright display
  • Bad
  • No FM radio or VoLTE support
  • Average camera performance
  • Intermittent lag in UI and apps
  • Heats up quickly
BUY AT
  • Meizu M5 (Champage Gold, 32GB)
    Rs. 8,599
  • Meizu M5 (Blue, 32GB)
    Rs. 8,599

Google Trusted Contacts Review

 

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Trusted Contacts lets you share location
  • It lets people you trust track your location
  • It’s useful when, say, you are returning home late

Safety isn’t something anyone should take for granted, no matter where they live. Whether you’re returning home after a late night with friends, or simply returning late from work during rush hour, there’s a good chance you might have received calls from loved ones asking where you are. Annoying as these calls or texts might be, they only show that someone cares about you.

There’s no shortage of ways to let people know where you are. You can share your location via practically any messaging app, or just let your loved ones know where you are via calls or texts. If you are in a crowded bus or train and can’t use your phone, you can simply use an app such as Google’s Trusted Contacts to do this for you.

Trusted Contacts lets you create a list of, well, trusted contacts, who can access your location anytime, anywhere. Instead of calling or texting you, they simply click a button and find out where you are. This is a very useful feature from a safety standpoint. You’ll be asked if you want to share your location, so you know who is looking for you, but if you don’t respond, the details will be shared to the trusted contact anyway, as a safety feature.

We installed the app on an Android phone (the iOS version is still in the works) and added a couple of trusted contacts. But before you can add any contacts, the app reminds you that you need to enable location history and location sharing. Now most people already have this turned on if they use any kind of location-based apps on Android, but if you are worried about sharing your location with Google, with might be a problem.Google Trusted Contacts Review

Once you decide to give Google to access your location at all times, you can add trusted contacts. Trusted contacts can see your location via the app, but they don’t need to install it just to see your whereabouts. You can instead invite them to check your location via email. They can simply click a link and access your location via the Web.

Make sure that you don’t share this address with anyone else as it’s a publicly visible URL, which is a privacy concern. You can stop sharing your location at any point, after which no one will be able to see it. But at the time you are sharing it, the URL should still ideally be viewable only by people you’ve invited.

Sharing your location is easy enough. You just need to tap a button, and it starts happening until you stop sharing it the same way. That’s different from apps such as Find My Friends, available on Apple’s iOS, which share your location whenever your trusted friend seeks this information. When sharing is on, the app also lets people see where you are while you’re commuting, which is a nice addition. They can also request your location via the app or Web, and you get a notification for it. If you don’t respond within five minutes, your location gets shared automatically.

We tested this app in Delhi and it worked as expected. You could just as easily share your location via WhatsApp if you don’t mind having to manually send your location – and of course, you would lose out on live tracking too. Overall, we can recommend this app but be aware that sharing your location will decrease your smartphone’s battery life. If the privacy concerns don’t bother you and you are on Android, Trusted Contacts is a good app you to share your location with your loved ones.

 

Samsung Galaxy Book review: An excellent 2-in-1 for a good price

Samsung’s Galaxy Book is a 2-in-1 tablet with a detachable keyboard that gets pretty much everything you care about right. Its price, performance, and battery life are all among the best we’ve tested.

While it lacks the razzle-dazzle of flagships like the new Surface Pro, it’s still the sort of all-around performer that will attract a buyer looking for good value. Samsung’s only real swing and miss is a somewhat gimmicky integration with its Galaxy smartphones, which replaces the Windows Hello features that are becoming more common.

Samsung Galaxy Book side

Adam Patrick Murray

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • Price: Galaxy Book’s value proposition
  • Features: A mobile pedigree, for better and for worse
  • Keyboard: the Book’s foldable keyboard doesn’t suck
  • Performance: Galaxy Book is among the best
  • Bundled apps: Samsung’s apps are hit-and-miss
SHOW MORE

Price: Galaxy Book’s value proposition

While some competing 2-in-1 products we’ve reviewed cost upwards of $1,400, the version of the Samsung Galaxy Book we tested ships for $1,300. The price includes 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, plus optional LTE connectivity via Verizon. A more full-featured version starts with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. There’s also a microSD card slot that accepts cards up to 256GB. Inside you’ll find 2×2 802.11ac Wi-Fi plus Bluetooth 4.1 BLE.

The Galaxy Book family also offers a smaller 10.6-inch tablet, with a 7th-generation Core m3 inside, starting at $630. For both sizes, the associated keyboard and pen ship for free, a trend we’d like to see become more common.

Samsung Galaxy Book

Adam Patrick Murray

The Galaxy Book’s beautiful Super AMOLED display is definitely a selling point.

Samsung rightfully earns praise for its bright, vibrant displays, and the Galaxy Book is no different. The 12-inch, 2,160×1,440 Super AMOLED touchscreen shines 355 nits’ worth of light into your eyeballs, and displays rich colors—though without the advanced options Microsoft built into its Surface Pro. Part of that has to do with the Galaxy Book’s integrated high-dynamic range (HDR) capability, which allows the screen to render brighter brights and deeper blacks. This is a feature typically found on high-end televisions, so the Galaxy Book is unusual, and perhaps unique, among Windows tablets in having it.

I expected the Galaxy Book to lean a bit more upon Samsung’s legacy of quality Android tablets, however. It’s no crime to exclude a physical Windows button, as the Galaxy Book does. I was a bit surprised, though, to discover that the screen bezel was a bit on the chunky side. The Galaxy Book’s dimensions are fine: 11.47 x 7.87 x 0.29 inches, and just over 2.5 pounds with the keyboard attached, or about 2.78 pounds if you add the small, cellular-style USB-C power charger. Still, the tablet felt somewhat awkward to hold in the hand.

Samsung Galaxy Book vs Surface Pro 4

Adam Patrick Murray

Though the Surface Pro 4 (bottom) is thicker than the Galaxy Book, it weighs slightly less when you attach both keyboards.

Features: A mobile pedigree, for better and for worse

Unfortunately, buying a Galaxy Book brings up a new consideration for many: what USB standard your peripherals use. Samsung has committed wholeheartedly to USB-C, with a pair of ports than can be used for charging or for peripherals. That’s fine for phones like the Samsung Galaxy S8, which use USB-C for charging but rarely connect to a wired USB device. The PC ecosystem encompasses a vast number of legacy devices, however, and you undoubtedly own some pre-USB-C device that you’ll want to connect to the Galaxy Book. At least Samsung was somewhat merciful: There’s a traditional headphone jack.

Samsung Galaxy Book USB-C

Adam Patrick Murray

One of these things is not like the other.

Because the two USB-C connections are the only I/O ports available, you’ll either need to invest in USB-C dongles or think about buying new gear.  A $20 USB-C hub, with three USB-A connections and an ethernet jack, is one option. Even better, Samsung is currently offering a free multi-port USB-C adapter if you order the Galaxy Book directly from the company.

Samsung clearly tapped its mobile team in other aspects of the design. Some people simply love taking photos with a tablet’s rear camera, and Samsung’s high-quality 13MP part should serve you well. Photos were sharp and bright, although the tablet can take seconds to focus. A more mundane 5MP camera sits up front.

Samsung Galaxy Book S-Pen

Adam Patrick Murray

The S-Pen may be a bit less ergonomic than other styluses, but you don’t have to charge it, either.

The Samsung Galaxy Book also ships with an S-Pen, the Samsung stylus that its Note phones made famous. Though I’ve begged other 2-in-1 vendors to secure the pen internally, as the Samsung Galaxy Note does, the Galaxy Book ignored my pleas.

Fiio EX1 (2nd Gen) Review

 

Fiio, best known for its high-resolution media players and portable headphone amplifiers, recently launched the second generation of its premium EX1 earphones. The successor to the EX1 promises improved audio quality and better craftsmanship.

At Rs. 4,299, this pair is a bit on the expensive side for earphones with dynamic drivers. However, let’s see if the new EX1 manages to win us over.

Fiio EX1 (2nd Gen) design and features
The EX1 (2nd Gen) ships with fairly good packaging. You get six pairs of silicone ear tips (we only had one pair with our review unit), a clip, a carry case, a quick start guide, and a warranty card. The carry case is a bit too shallow, which means you need to take extra care when putting the headphones in and taking them out.

The enclosures are made from both stainless steel and aluminium alloy which makes them light, but they should still be able to withstand the wear and tear of daily use better than most plastic enclosures. The glossy finish makes the Fiio EX1 (2nd Gen) look really good and there are blue and pink rings around the left and right earbuds respectively, which makes it easy to identify which is which. There are also clear markers for the left and right earbuds printed on the inside.

4M9A6526 094117 194110 5135 fiio

The Fiio EX1 (2nd Gen) features a tilted in-ear design, which makes it a lot easier to wear these earphones. You get a 1.2m polyurethane cable, which is durable and doesn’t tangle too easily. However, it’s sometimes tough to get it to uncurl after being rolled up for a long time. The cable terminates into a gold-plated L-type 3.5mm headphone jack. There’s a cable tie attached to the bottom of the cable, which is handy for wrapping it up when you don’t have the case with you.

The cable has an in-line control pod with the microphone and media controls. The pod itself is built well but the buttons are fiddly and feel cheap. There aren’t any proper markings on the buttons to help you identify them.

One of the reasons for the high price of the Fiio EX1 (2nd Gen), we think, is the material used for the driver’s diaphragm, which is titanium. This material is light and can vibrate efficiently, which should result in overall better audio performance.

In terms of specifications, the Fiio EX1 (2nd Gen) has a frequency range of 20Hz – 40kHz, and impedance of 13Ohms. The drivers are 13mm each, and the whole unit weighs 18 grams.Fiio EX1 (2nd Gen) Review

4M9A6541 094117 194110 6383 fiio

Fiio EX1 (2nd Gen) performance
The tilted design of the earphones makes them incredibly comfortable to wear with nearly no fatigue after an hour of continuous listening. They’re also incredibly light so you’ll barely feel them in your ears. The cable is long enough for most use cases and we didn’t face any issues with durability during our two weeks of testing. We also found the microphone to be very good for phone calls.

The media buttons don’t have a very reassuring feel to them and volume control isn’t supported for iOS devices. Other than that, they functioned well across Android devices.

Straight out of the box, the earphones sound great with a nice wide soundstage and balanced tone. Our unit wasn’t sealed and may have passed through other hands, so your out-of-the-box experience might vary. The EX1 (2nd Gen) is also ‘Hi-Res Audio’ certified and it shows, as it reproduces FLAC files very well. We tested it on an HTC 10, a OnePlus 3T, and an iPad and it performed equally well in all the devices. The earphones do leak sound a bit but not too much.

4M9A6539 094117 194110 6695 fiio

The EX1 (2nd Gen) excels with upper- and mid-range frequencies. Vocals sound detailed and crisp which is evident in tracks like Anywhere by Passenger. The high notes can sound a bit shrill at times but we didn’t find this to be the case across all tracks. The low impedance also allowed us to easily drive these earphones with our test smartphones without having to raise the volume very high. These earphones do well with bass-heavy songs too, without getting boomy. In tracks like Believer by Imagine Dragons, the tight bass is handled surprisingly well without any distortion even at high volumes. Acoustic separation is also very good.

Verdict
The Fiio EX1 (2nd Gen) is a very good pair of earphones, and even though it costs a slight premium at Rs. 4,299, you won’t be disappointed. A similar amount could also fetch you a pair of balanced armature earphones like the Brainwavz B100, which sound a bit cleaner due to the low emphasis on bass response. If you want that extra oomph in the low end, the EX1 (2nd Gen) fills that role nicely. These earphones have excellent build quality (barring the buttons on the remote), look great, and have a nice balanced sonic signature.

 

Sony Xperia XZ Premium Review: A Tough Flagship Choice For Rs 59,990

Sony has entered the flagship smartphone race with a bang with its Xperia XZ Premium. The latest flagship Sony smartphone comes loaded with Sony’s in-house technology and is a step-up effort by the company to challenge the current market-ruling flagships by other companies, be it the Samsung Galaxy S8 or the Apple iPhone 7Plus.

Now it is not easy to stand-up to the market champions and call them out for a duel. So naturally, Sony could not leave anything to chance. The technology features that come with the smartphone are not to be taken lightly but how well do they contribute to an overall flagship smartphone experience? Let’s find out in this review.

What’s Cool?

Sony has focussed on three core segments to make the Xperia XZ Premium stand out from the competitors – its display, camera and processor.

To begin with, the Xperia XZ Premium comes with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor. This is the first smartphone in India to offer the latest Qualcomm flagship processor, beating others (the OnePlus 5 that made claims to take this spot). Now as soon as this processor’s name pops up, you can be assured that the smartphone will not be under-par in performance.

Coupled with 4GB of RAM and 64GB internal storage and a support for Android 7.0 Nougat, the phone is extremely smooth to operate and till date, we have not found it lagging in any task. The storage is optimum to store as much data as you want and if you find it not up to your liking, there is always an option to expand it to 256GB using external micro SD card.

With the processor power and the sharp display, the Xperia XZ Premium is a treat to watch videos and play games on. Speaking of the display, Sony has introduced its 4K HDR proprietary technology in the 5.5-inch display of the XZ Premium, which it claims to have brought down from its Bravia range of televisions. The display is sharp, crisp and at a pixel density of 807 PPI, delivers a great experience.

The smartphone is IP 65/68 certified dust and water resistance and we put it to test by taking the phone on a river rafting spree. Make no mistake, the Xperia XZ Premium will surprise you by its ability to work in water. There is also a ‘Glove mode’ on the phone that allows you to have a better touch-screen experience while wearing gloves.

A commendable feature is the placement of the fingerprint sensor of the Xperia XZ Premium on its power button. This comes as a refreshing change from the standard home button integrated fingerprint sensor and is not at all as irritating as the ones placed at the back, like the one on the Samsung Galaxy S8.

Sony Xperia XZ Premium Review, Sony Xperia XZ Premium, Snapdragon 835 Processor, Xperia XZ Premium, Sony Flagship Smartphone, Android Smartphone, Smartphone ReviewSony Xperia XZ Premium – Fingerprint Scanner. (Photo: Siddhartha Safaya/ News18.com)

The Xperia XZ Premium is powered by a 3,230 mAh battery. Now, this is nothing that a smartphone can boast about but it easily gets you through a day of heavy usage and so we would rate it on the good side. Plus point, the battery performance is enhanced by Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 and Sony’s own Qnovo Adaptive Charging, both of which aid in quick charging of the smartphone’s battery. The Xperia XZ Premium supports USB Type-C connectivity.

Also read: Samsung Galaxy S8: Top 10 Features You Will Absolutely Love

Sony has repeatedly mentioned the camera capabilities of the smartphone, which, are not something to be missed. Though we would only comment upon limited features of the Xperia XZ Premium camera in this section, these features will certainly up your photography game. Sony has included its Exmor RS Sensor in its 19-megapixel primary and 13-megapixel front cameras. The interesting features that these cameras carry are Super-Slow Motion recording at 960 fps, Predictive Capture and Augmented Reality capabilities. There is also a dedicated camera key at the bottom-right of the phone for easier photo-capturing.

Sony Xperia XZ Premium Review, Sony Xperia XZ Premium, Snapdragon 835 Processor, Xperia XZ Premium, Sony Flagship Smartphone, Android Smartphone, Smartphone ReviewSony Xperia XZ Premium – Primary Camera. (Photo: Siddhartha Safaya/ News18.com)

You can have a gist of what Sony Xperia XZ Premium’s Super-Slow Motion recording can do by having a look at the Video review of the phone. It is one thing to look at an edited Slow-motion and another to shoot it yourself. The Super-Slow Motion recording will certainly expand the ‘what to shoot’ options for anyone and comes as something that you’d really look forward to in this smartphone.

Predictive Capturing, on the other hand, takes multiple shots of the image that you just clicked. This happens seconds before and seconds after you capture the image. It works just like Apple’s ‘Live Images’ and lets you select the best image for your click.

Sony Xperia XZ Premium Review, Sony Xperia XZ Premium, Snapdragon 835 Processor, Xperia XZ Premium, Sony Flagship Smartphone, Android Smartphone, Smartphone ReviewSony Xperia XZ Premium – Camera Key. (Photo: Siddhartha Safaya/ News18.com)

Also read: HTC U11 Review: It Squeezes Into the iPhone 7 & Samsung Galaxy S8 Territory

What’s not so Cool?

One thing that nobody would like about the Sony Xperia XZ Premium is that the phone is practically a fingerprint magnet. Touch it once and your fingerprint is visible enough for it to hold its credibility in a court case.

Sony Xperia XZ Premium Review, Sony Xperia XZ Premium, Snapdragon 835 Processor, Xperia XZ Premium, Sony Flagship Smartphone, Android Smartphone, Smartphone ReviewSony Xperia XZ Premium – Fingerprints. (Photo: Siddhartha Safaya/ News18.com)

Also, Sony has used its standard design mantra for this flagship phone. The ‘loop surface’ are not something unique and apart from the extremely glossy and reflective finish, the design will only excite a long-time Sony aficionado. A good and easy way for Sony to go off the signature design would have been to reduce the bezel size on the Xperia XZ Premium.

Now coming back to the camera of the Xperia XZ Premium, well, a subtle way of mentioning its performance is that the camera is not as good as Sony claims it to be. Apart from the features mentioned in the above section, the Xperia XZ Premium does not score very well on the camera front. Simply put, at the price at which the smartphone is available, you would expect a lot more than what you get. One mentionable downside for professional photographers, the camera’s shutter speed cannot be increased to more than 1 on Manual mode.

Sony Xperia XZ Premium Review, Sony Xperia XZ Premium, Snapdragon 835 Processor, Xperia XZ Premium, Sony Flagship Smartphone, Android Smartphone, Smartphone ReviewSony Xperia XZ Premium – Selfie Camera. (Photo: Siddhartha Safaya/ News18.com)

Verdict

The Sony Xperia XZ Premium is undoubtedly a very good smartphone to have, especially if you are done with the regular Samsung and Apple flagship offerings. It is a loaded device, looks elegant and overall promises a good smartphone experience.

Yet the price tag on the Sony flagship is a bit too top-notch. There are some major chunks of refinement missing from the smartphone for it to have touched the Rs 59,990 price list. Considering the competitors are Samsung’s revolutionary flagship with the Bezel-less design and Apple’s trustworthy flagship offering, the USP of the Sony Xperia XZ Premium can only be its inbuilt Technology features.

Yu Yureka Black Review

HIGHLIGHTS

  • The Yu Yureka Black is priced at Rs. 8,999
  • The smartphone is on sale exclusively via Flipkart
  • Gadgets 360 rates the phone 8 out of 10

Yu Televentures, a subsidiary of Micromax, made its debut in the Indian smartphone market at the beginning of 2015 and can be credited with kicking off a price war in the sub-Rs. 10,000 segment. The first few phones from the online-exclusive brand were the original Yu Yureka, Yu Yuphoria, and Yu Yureka Plus, which showed just how much a buyer could get for relatively little money. The brand claims to have sold over 3 million phones so far in India.

International Data Corporation (IDC) data shows that until March last year Micromax was the second-highest selling smartphone vendor in India, with a strong offline as well as online presence. However, there were no major Micromax or Yu launches for a long time, and Chinese brands seem to have since taken over.

Now, the Yu Yureka is back in an all-new avatar, called the Yu Yureka Black. It’s the mobile brand’s first launch in almost nine months. The new Yu Yureka Black, as before, is an online-exclusive product and promises a whole lot of features. The Yureka Black has a lot to live up to especially because the original Yureka (Review) and Yureka Plus (Review) set high standards and impressed reviewers.

However, with more competition than ever before, is it too little too late for the company? We go into the details in our review.

Yu Yureka Black design

The new Yureka Black might be marketed as a “reincarnation” of the original Yureka smartphone but there’s no similarity between the two when it comes to design. The Yureka, launched in 2015, featured a sandpaper finish at the back which became its signature. The new Yureka Black, on the other hand, sports an all-metal unibody with a glossy finish, which definitely feels premium at this price level.

The Yureka Black has been launched in two versions: Chrome Black, which we received for our review, and Matte Black. The front is covered by 2.5D glass, which gives it visual appeal. There’s a physical Home button with an integrated finterprint sensor at the front, which has a chrome accent around it.

yu yureka black back gadgets360 yu

The Chrome Black version of the Yu Yureka Black has a mirror-like finish on the rear and sides, and it was hard for us to photograph it without reflections. It was also slippery, and we had to be extra cautious while picking up this phone, as it tended to slip out of our hands. Fortunately, Yu ships a transparent case with the handset, which we recommend using at all times. The rear panel of the Yu Yureka Black has two chrome lines running across the top and bottom mimicking the antenna lines seen on several phones. The primary camera protrudes slightly, though the lens is protected by a metal ring.

We really like the fact that the Yureka Black lives up to its name, as the colour is its main theme. There’s almost no branding on the handset except for a Yu logo on the rear. The bottom of the phone features a standard Micro-USB port and dual grilles, though only one is actually a speaker. The 3.5mm audio jack is at the top, while the hybrid dual-SIM (Micro + Nano) tray is at the left.

At 8.7mm thick, the Yu Yureka Black is marginally thicker than the Xiaomi Redmi 4, which measures 8.65mm. The 5-inch display is easy enough to use with just one hand, and we ended up using it that way through most of our review. At 150g, the phone felt light enough.

Overall, the Yu Yureka Black doesn’t offer anything new in terms of design, but it doesn’t disappoint us either with its looks and aesthetics. The construction quality is a fair bit better than most competitors in this price segment.

Yu Yureka Black specifications and software

The Yureka Black features a 5-inch full-HD (1080×1920 pixels) IPS display with 2.5D curved-edge Corning Gorilla Glass 3, which is a nice bonus at this price. The 4G-enabled smartphone is powered by an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 processor clocked at 1.4GHz, coupled with 4GB of RAM. This SoC has become a popular choice for low-cost phones across brands, and we have seen multiple recent examples of this, including the Xiaomi Redmi 3S Prime (and Redmi 3S), Lenovo K6 Power, Panasonic Eluga Ray Max, and Motorola Moto G5.

The Yu Yureka Black has 32GB of storage and supports expansion via a microSD card (up to 64GB). The phone comes has a hybrid dual-SIM design, which means that you have to choose between using a second SIM or a microSD card.

yu yureka black android gadgets360 yu

The Yu Yureka Black sports a 13-megapixel rear camera with a Sony IMX258 sensor, PDAF, and a dual-LED flash. There’s also an 8-megapixel front camera with its own LED flash. Connectivity options include Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth, GPS, and 4G with VoLTE. The phone is powered by a 3000mAh battery, which the company claims can deliver up to 168 hours of standby time and up to 21 hours of 3G talk time.

Micromax’s Yu brand has ditched Cyanogen OS and this phone ships with Android 6.0 Marshmallow, plus some visual tweaks for the app icons, animations, and more. We were surprised to see that Micromax gave its Steroids interface, which was present on previous Yu phones, a miss for the Yureka Black. There are on-screen buttons despite the phone having a physical Home button with unused space on the sides.

There’s no app drawer, and all icons are spread out across three home screens. The icons are all squared off, which we don’t really like, and there’s no way to change this. You can of course download a third-party launcher from the Google Play store. The original Yu Yureka had far more options for customisation. Yu has tried to limit bloatware on the Yureka Black, and there are literally no apps other than the ones from Google. We really like this approach, as it keeps the phone’s storage space free for the user to utilise.

yu yureka black branding gadgets360 yu

The Yureka Black also offers Smart Action shortcuts, which we’ve seen on some other Android phones. You can use three fingers to take a screenshot, lock the screen with a double-tap, and flip the phone over to mute it or snooze an alarm. You can also enable Smart Gestures, which let you do things like launch the camera by tracing an “O” on the screen. This feature worked flawlessly when we tried it. We also really liked the implementation of one-handed mode, which shrinks the display area to one corner of the screen, with a swipe gesture in either direction on the navigation bar.

During our review period, Yu provided us with a beta version of an Android 7.1.2 Nougat update which the company promises will be released to Yureka Black buyers in a few weeks. Considering that this was a beta build, we faced some snags. It is available to users who want to try it out – it will have to be installed manually rather than as an over-the-air update – though we recommend you wait for the update to be officially rolled out to all users.

Yu Yureka Black performance

The Yu Yureka Black was a pleasure to use, and we didn’t face any hiccups when it comes to app or UI performance. The Snapdragon 430 processor has been a popular SoC choice for phones in this segment, and it doesn’t disappoint on the Yureka Black. Games like Asphalt 8, Need for Speed: No Limits, and Marvel: Contest of Champions ran smoothly, and we didn’t encounter any frame drops. Long gaming sessions made the phone warm but not too uncomfortable.

yu yureka black sides gadgets360 yu

4GB RAM on the Yu Yureka Black was enough for most tasks, and we never felt the need for more. The phone also did well in our benchmark tests, scoring 44,164 in AnTuTu, which is better than the Xiaomi Redmi 4’s score of 43,677 even though that phone features a Snapdragon 435 SoC. The Yureka Black also scored 22,572 in Quadrant, 5,598 in 3D Mark Ice Storm Extreme, and 17fps in GFXbench – all of which were better than average.

The 5-inch display on the Yu Yureka Black has a resolution of 1080×1920 pixels resulting in a density of approximately 441ppi. The screen is bright, and both text and images appear crisp. Sunlight legibility and viewing angles were pretty decent too. However, we felt that the display is weak in terms of colour saturation and contrast. It definitely isn’t the best display we have seen in this category.

The 13-megapixel rear camera on the Yu Yureka Black managed to take some good shots with well saturated colours. In good lighting, colours popped nicely. Focusing and exposure detection were quick, thanks to phase detection autofocus. We noticed that in shots with too much light, details and textures were slightly muddled and noisy when seen at full size.

Overall, the detail level in sample shots was good enough, and daytime sample shots were better than what we have seen from other phones such as the Xiaomi Redmi 3S Prime. However, low-light shots came out dull and dark, and there was no way to improve that. We noticed missing details and focusing issues in low light as well. Selfies were passable but we found that shots were often blurry. The phone is capable of recording 1080p videos at 30fps, and the video quality of the Yureka Black is good enough.

Tap to see full-sized Yu Yureka Black camera samples

We found that the speaker was loud enough to fill a small room, but don’t expect great sound. The phone ships with a pair of earphones, and the quality was decent. We had no complaints about call quality on the Yu Yureka Black. The device supports 4G with VoLTE (voice over LTE) which means that we were able to make calls using a Jio SIM. Both SIMs support 4G, though only one at a time, while the other has to make do with 2G.

The Yu Yureka Black’s non-removable 3000mAh battery lasted for roughly a day of heavy usage. We noticed that the battery dipped to almost 60 percent from a full charge with less than an hour of heavy gaming. In our video loop test, the Yureka Black lasted for 10 hours and 55 minutes, which is decent for a battery of this size. Yu does not claim that this phone supports fast charging, but we found that it can charge fully in roughly 90 minutes, which isn’t bad.

Verdict
The Yureka Black marks a comeback for the online-exclusive Yu brand, and it has the right specifications, features, and price to appeal to a wide audience. While it may not manage to garner as much interest as the original Yureka did back in 2015, it certainly is a good option in its price category. Its design, performance, and battery life are some of its highlights, but camera performance in low light is an issue.

At a price of Rs. 8,999, the Yureka Black is a solid all-round performer. The Xiaomi Redmi 3S Prime (Review), Lenovo K6 Power (Review), Panasonic Eluga Ray Max, Motorola Moto G5 (Review), and Xiaomi Redmi 4 (Review) are its most obvious competitors.

Yu Yureka Black

Yu Yureka Black

Rs. 8,999
Buy
  • REVIEW
  • KEY SPECS
  • NEWS
  • Design
  • Display
  • Software
  • Performance
  • Battery life
  • Camera
  • Value for money
  • Good
  • Looks good
  • Solid battery life
  • Decent overall performance
  • Bad
  • Low-light camera performance could be better
  • Screen quality isn’t quite up to the mark
  • Hybrid dual-SIM slot
BUY AT
  • Yu Yureka Black (Matte Black, 32GB) – OFFER
    Rs. 8,999
  • Yu Yureka Black (Chrome Black, 32GB) – OFFER
    Rs. 8,999

 

HTC U11 Review

 

HIGHLIGHTS

  • The HTC U11 competes with the Samsung Galaxy S8 and OnePlus 5
  • You can squeeze the phone to launch the camera and quickly take a photo
  • Gadgets 360 rates the HTC U11 9 out of 10

When we reviewed the HTC U Ultra just over three months ago, we said that it felt like a stopgap device, used to fill space before a true 2017 flagship could be launched and grab at least a little bit of the attention its competitors were getting. It seemed obvious that HTC was waiting for a supply of Qualcomm’s hot new Snapdragon 835 processor, and so we advised anyone interested in the HTC U Ultra for its looks to hang on for a little while before spending Rs. 60,000. As it turns out, we were exactly right. The HTC U11is already here and not only is it a lot more powerful than the U Ultra, but it also costs less.

With a launch price of Rs. 51,990, the HTC U11 is significantly more appealing than the U Ultra was at Rs. 59,990. It’s also got HTC’s brand new “squeezable” Edge Sense feature to set it apart. One big thing that the U11 lacks compared to the U Ultra is its secondary screen. However, this makes it slightly smaller, which a lot of people would, in fact, consider a good thing. With all of this to consider, we spent some time with the brand new U11 to figure out whether HTC has managed to get it right in round two.

HTC U11 design

Even if we didn’t totally love the colour of the U Ultra unit we got, we liked the fact that HTC had done something completely new and different with its design. Our U11 review unit has exactly the same ultra-glossy rear, but in an even lighter and brighter shade of blue (which for some reason is called Amazing Silver). HTC says that it has developed a new way to bond layers of glass with “highly refractive precious minerals”, which gives the material its metallic liquid look. It can also look very different under different types of light. The metal band around the sides is a slightly duller shade of blue, which makes the rear really pop. There’s also a Brilliant Black version, but this is the one you’ll want if you like showing off.

The finish of the rear is extraordinarily shiny and reflective, which means that every little smudge and fingerprint will be on display. The U11 might look great in a showroom, but there is literally no way to handle it without smudging the rear. Even if you wipe it all the time, you cannot avoid messing it up again, so it’s never really going to look as good as it does when you first lay eyes on it. HTC does throw a clear plastic case in with the retail package, but having it on makes the phone feel cheaper.

The front of the HTC U11 is a lot more conventional, with just a black face and the now-obligatory 2.5D curved-edge glass. Unlike its competitors, HTC hasn’t gotten rid of side borders for its flagship and, in fact, says that this is a good thing because otherwise screen content would be cropped or distorted at the edges – which is true. You can see the front camera and earpiece above the screen, but it would be easy to miss the narrow fingerprint sensor below it. The sensor doubles as a capacitive Home button, and you have the Back and Overview buttons on either side which light up when they’re touched.

The power and volume buttons are within easy reach on the right, and the left side is completely bare. What you can’t see are the “squeezable” Edge Sense zones which are on either side of the lower half of the phone. There’s a hybrid dual-SIM tray at the top and a Type-C port at the bottom. Also at the bottom is a single open slot instead of the usual speaker grille. Rather than having two stereo speakers, HTC has decided to go with the earpiece doubling as a tweeter with a separate woofer at the bottom. We’re going to test the efficacy of this design for ourselves, but we’re concerned about dust and lint collecting over time. Oh, and you won’t find a 3.5mm audio socket anywhere.

htc u11 front3 ndtv htc u11

There’s only a single camera at the back, which sets the U11 apart from the majority of its competitors this generation. The camera protrudes just a tiny bit, but we didn’t mind that as much as the extremely prominent regulatory text lower down. We noticed the lack of a laser autofocus sensor, which the U Ultra does have. On the other hand, the U11 boasts an IP67 rating for water and dust resistance, while the U Ultra has no rating at all.

We criticised the U Ultra for being so slippery that we were constantly anxious about it falling out of our hands and pockets, and we’re quite relieved to find that HTC seems to have fixed this problem completely with the U11. The newer model is also a much more comfortable size and has curves in all the right places, making it very easy to hold and use even with one hand. Construction quality seems absolutely top-notch too.

HTC U11 specifications and software

Qualcomm’s flagship Snapdragon 835 processor is one of the main reasons for the U11’s existence. This is an octa-core CPU running at up to 2.45GHz, with an integrated Adreno 540 GPU and several hardware-level improvements targeted at everything from camera image processing to machine learning and sensors. You get 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, both of which are healthy amounts. A version with 4GB and 64GB respectively is available in some countries but hasn’t been launched in India, for now at least.

The 5.5-inch screen on the U11 is what HTC calls “Super LCD 5”, and has a resolution of 1440×2560. There’s a 3000mAh battery and pretty much every connectivity option you can think of, including dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC, GPS with GLONASS, and of course 4G with VoLTE support. The USB Type-C port supports 5Gbps transfer speeds and DisplayPort video output. The HTC U11 can take two Nano-SIMs, with the second space doubling as a microSD card slot.

Despite a higher version number, the HTC Sense skin running on top of Android 7.1 feels exactly the same as what we saw on the U Ultra. It’s still fairly versatile, but not the best looking. HTC had announced its Sense Companion AI assistant with much fanfare when the U Ultra launched, and it wasn’t even close to fully baked at the time of the U Ultra’s launch. We found its functions largely pointless, and the promised voice response features were simply missing. Evidently, it still isn’t ready for primetime, and we didn’t find any of its barebones features helpful all during our review period. Perhaps it takes longer than a week to learn a user’s routine, but even then, it’s hard to get excited about weather updates, step counts, and lists of nearby restaurants.

The Blinkfeed screen, to the left of the main home screen, is supposed to show news updates but only has ads for HTC’s themes and third-party apps. You have to dig into the settings and enable News Republic and your assorted social media accounts as sources, which seems totally unnecessary. There are also loads of preinstalled apps. You can’t get rid of most of them including TouchPal keyboard, Facebook Messenger, and News Republic – though oddly you can uninstall HTC’s own Viveport and Zoe apps.

htc u11 upperrear ndtv htc u11

HTC sends popup notifications for “offers, contests and news by HTC and its partners”, but there’s a checkbox you can clear in the launcher settings menu. The app drawer scrolls vertically and page by page, which can be annoying. The default keyboard is called Sangam IME and while it looks a little crude, it offers local-language suggestions and spellcheck which might be useful to people in India. The default language is Indian English, and so you won’t be able to use Google Assistant unless you change to US English.

HTC U11 Edge Sense

There are a few gestures you can use navigate around Android and unlock the phone, but of course the real innovation here is Edge Sense. It’s off by default to prevent confusion, but you’ll see hints urging you to set it up and learn how it works. All you have to do is squeeze gently while the phone is in your hands, and you can trigger an action such as launching the camera or voice recorder, triggering the flashlight, or beginning voice-to-text transcription. If you enable “advanced mode”, you can set different triggers for short, regular and long squeezes. If you choose either the camera or voice recorder triggers, a second squeeze will begin recording.

You’ll see blue arcs appear on either side of the screen when you are pressing inwards, and a short vibration tells you that the squeeze has been registered – you can turn the visual feedback off once you’re comfortable with Edge Sense. At setup time, you’ll be able to calibrate the sensors to your grip strength.

While it might sound gimmicky, we actually found ourselves squeezing to launch the camera all the time – it’s surprisingly easy to get used to and it just makes a lot of sense. It also helps that this works when the camera is in standby, which means that you can take photos really quickly. Squeezing is a lot more fluid than double-tapping or hitting a button to wake the phone and then swiping. The only downside is that you can’t specify that you want to capture a photo or a video; the app will trigger whichever mode you were in last.

Of course your choices of hard cases will be limited if you want to use HTC U11’s Edge Sense feature, but we forsee plenty of options with flexible sides becoming available for the U11 and future models. This is a feature that could really become popular, and we hope HTC takes this idea and runs with it.

htc u11 bottom ndtv htc u11

HTC U11 cameras

While most flagships (and for that matter, plenty of non-flagships) now have dual rear cameras, HTC seems content to stick to one. This is surprising considering that HTC was one of the early pioneers of dual cameras with the HTC One (M8). You don’t get an extra zoom or wide-angle lens, depth sensing, or detail enhancement, but HTC is claiming that this is the best ever smartphone camera even without extra hardware, and this is backed up by DxOMark, a highly regarded camera test firm.

There’s a lot going on to make that happen. The main camera has only a 12-megapixel sensor, but can go down to f/1.7. The U11 uses every pixel on its sensor to detect focus quickly, and can also deliver rapid HDR shots with an increased range between shadows and highlights. HTC says that this also comes into play with video – a technique called temporal noise reduction uses information from each frame’s preceding and following frames to clear up noise and improve detail. Low-light sensitivity is a particular strength, and there’s both optical and electronic image stabilisation.

HTC’s camera app looks relatively bare-bones, with only a few buttons and no sheets of options that pop up when you swipe in any direction. There’s a single menu with a row of icons for various modes, and depending on which one you’re in, you’ll see options right below that. It’s only if you switch to Pro mode that you’ll see more controls, including the option to save RAW data, and sliders for white balance, ISO, shutter speed, and focus. There are even presets – Night, Action, and Macro – which give you optimal combinations of those variables to suit each situation. There aren’t any filters, stickers or fun effects, but third-party apps almost always do that kind of thing better anyway.

When it comes to photo quality, we have to agree with HTC – this is one of the best smartphone cameras we’ve ever used. It delivers truly surprising quality in all kinds of situations, especially low light. The sample shots we took were universally excellent, with crisp focus and great details. We didn’t have any trouble with over- or under- exposure, compression, or colour accuracy. Macros are stunning, but the thing that really blew us away was low-light performance.

The HTC U11 managed to take bright, colour-rich shots in conditions that seemed impossible – most other phones would only produce greyish blurs. These shots were not entirely without noise or blur thanks to longer exposures, but even the slightest amount of incidental light on a small part of the framed subject was enough to result in a usable shot.

The 16-megapixel front camera benefits from many of the same features, and delivers excellent shots as well. The video recording resolution goes up to 4K in regular mode and 1080p at 120fps in Slow Motion mode. “Acoustic focus” uses the phone’s four microphones to isolate subjects from background noise. Motion is smooth, and videos were just as impressive as stills overall.

If there’s anything negative to be said about the U11’s camera, it’s that there isn’t as much creative control as there is with some dual-lens implementations – optical zoom would have been the perfect addition. The app was also sometimes too eager to take bursts when we didn’t necessarily want them – but this worked out to our advantage in some cases, such as trying to get a steady shot of a moving subject at night.

Tap to see full-sized HTC U11 sample photos

HTC U11 performance and battery life

We had a lot of fun using the U11, especially because of its screen, cameras and speakers. HTC must have realised it was pointless to try and deliver stereo sound with asymmetrical speakers, and so having an independent woofer instead works much better. Sound is surprisingly loud, rich, and clear. It works brilliantly for games and movies, and various types of music are also handled quite nicely. The U11 comes with the same noise cancelling Type-C Usonic headset that we first encountered with the U Ultra.

The display is sharp and bright, and perfectly usable in all conditions and at all angles. HTC is correct about videos not being compromised by curved display edges, but the 2.5D glass front is still highly reflective. We did notice that the mid-rear of the phone got warm after even short amounts of casual use, but not enough to be uncomfortable.

Benchmark tests showed excellent results. We saw 181,626 points in AnTuTu; 1,908 and 6,581 in Geekbench’s single- and multi-core tests; 142.97 in Basemark Web; 39,962 points in 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited; and 19fps in GFXBench’s Manhattan test at the native QHD resolution. Benchmark performance in most cases was equal to or better than that of the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+, and at par with the OnePlus 5.

Battery life is pretty good, and we were happy with the amount of usage we were able to get out of a full charge. You should be able to get through a full day with some audio/ video streaming, photography, and gaming thrown in. Our HD video loop test ran for 10 hours, 7 minutes which is just about the bare minimum we now expect from phones of this calibre.

Verdict
If we had paid the full launch price for an HTC U Ultra less than four months before the HTC U11, we’d be extremely put off with the company right now. The U Ultra is utterly and completely outclassed by the U11. We don’t miss the secondary screen at all, and almost all of our concerns and complaints about it have been addressed with this new model. This is the phone that HTC needed to launch in February or March, and we don’t see the point in alienating customers this way.

That said, even on its own, the U11 is a top-notch smartphone. It doesn’t have dual cameras or other tricks, and it doesn’t have the taller screens that its main competitors are now offering, but it’s gorgeous and powerful, with a camera that can deliver miracles in low light. Edge Sense quickly becomes second nature, and the Snapdragon 835 has plenty of headroom for demanding apps over the next few years. The chief disappointments are the non-starter Sense Companion UI and pedestrian battery life.

This phone is a serious contender, and it’s nice to see HTC at the top of its game again. The U11 goes up against the Samsung Galaxy S8 series and OnePlus 5, all of which have at least one standout USP. Your choice comes down to whether your top priority is taking incredible photos, looking great, or saving some money.

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HTC U11

HTC U11

Rs. 51,990
Buy
  • REVIEW
  • KEY SPECS
  • NEWS
  • Design
  • Display
  • Software
  • Performance
  • Battery life
  • Camera
  • Value for money
  • Good
  • Stunning low-light camera performance
  • Looks great
  • Water and dust resistant
  • Useful “Edge Sense” squeeze gesture
  • Top-tier specifications
  • Bad
  • Average battery life
  • Sense Companion not ready yet
BUY AT
  • HTC U11 (Amazing Silver, 128GB, 6GB RAM) – 
    Rs. 51,990
  • HTC U11 (Brilliant Black, 128GB, 6GB RAM) – 
    Rs. 51,990

 

Tivoli Audio Model One Digital review: Big sound from a small footprint

 

If you looked at Como Audio’s Duetto tabletop radio and couldn’t swallow its $399 price tag, Tivoli Audio’s Model One Digital sounds about as good and costs $100 less. The Tivoli lacks a number of features compared to its competitor, but you might not miss them.

Like the Duetto, the Model One Digital is equipped with an FM radio, but it’s primarily designed for streaming digital music. There’s Bluetooth support, of course (although aptX support is conspicuous in its absence), or you can connect it to your Wi-Fi network and play the music you own via a DLNA server.

There’s also support for most of the major streaming services, including Spotify Connect, Tidal, Deezer, and the lesser-known (in the U.S., at least) QQ Music. There’s TuneIn support for Internet radio stations, but Apple Music is not supported, and neither is Apple’s AirPlay technology.

Tivoli Model One Digital

Michael Brown/TechHive

Kudos to whoever designed Tivoli Audio’s app.

You control the radio mostly from Tivoli’s app, which is available on Android and iOS devices. You can also perform basic functions with the volume/power knob and the aluminum ring encircling the radio’s 3-inch display. Turning the ring changes stations and presets on terrestrial radio, and scrolls through playlists on streaming media. Pushing the ring in pauses and resumes a stream.

I expected to encounter a bit of play in the larger ring, but the way the volume control knob wiggles under your fingertips feels disappointingly sloppy. The rest of the radio feels so precise in comparison. The circular display shows basic information, such as the track and artist name, the current source, the status of your network connection, and the time. But the only way to view album art is on your device, via the app.

Michael Brown/TechHive
The Tivoli Model One Digital has elegantly retro styling, but its largeish display is underutilized—no album art.

As does Como, Tivoli has its own multi-room audio ecosystem, with several other speakers that can be networked and controlled from the app. The Model One Digital has a “party mode” button on its back that can instantly stream the same music to all the compatible speakers at once. It’s on this point that Tivoli offers a significant benefit over Como: Buy Tivoli’s $60 ConX, and you can transform any speakers into a Tivoli network node. Or you can use the same device to stream music from any audio device—a turntable, for example. That’s pretty cool.

Michael Brown/TechHive
The 3.5-inch slot port helps the Tivoli Model One Digital deliver impressive bass response. But the paucity of inputs and outputs is disappointing.

Features Como offers that Tivoli doesn’t

This is a good time to sum up the features that Como Audio includes in the Duetto that you won’t find on Tivoli’s radio: I’ve already mentioned two of them: aptX codec support and the ability to display album art on the radio itself. The Model One Digital also lacks NFC support, for quick-and-easy Bluetooth pairing; a headphone output; an optical digital audio input, a line-level output (there is an analog Auxiliary input); a USB port for playing music from USB storage, which can also be used to power a Chromecast dongle or an Amazon Echo Dot; and hardware radio preset buttons.

Tivoli Model One Digital top

Michael Brown/TechHive

The cabinet is made from furniture quality wood, with a tweed-like cloth grill. The ring around the display has multiple function.

You’ll need to decide for yourself, but that’s a lot of features to give up to save a hundred bucks. Fortunately for Tivoli, it doesn’t sacrifice audio quality. The diminutive Model One Digital sounds fabulous, reproducing music in high fidelity at volume levels that are entirely disproportionate to its size: Crisp highs, a well-defined midrange, and surprisingly robust bass response, thanks to a 3.5-inch slot port in back. I no longer have the Duetto to make an A/B comparison, but going by memory, I’d say audio quality is a tossup at worst. Having said that, however, I think the Duetto earns its price premium.

 

Amazon Dash Wand review: A home shopping device made for a not-too-distant future

 

Amazon will sell you groceries, one way or another. Case in point: The day before it announced plans to buy Whole Foods for a cool $13.7 billion, it released Amazon Dash Wand, a small Alexa-powered gadget that will likely be just as integral to the company’s produce push.amazon dash wand button

Amazon’s new scanning stick is Jeff Bezos’s latest attempt to link the virtual world with the physical one. But even though it’s not Amazon’s first shot at a home shopping assistant, it’s definitely the first fully formed one. Combining the ease of a Dash button with the versatility of the relatively unknown Dash scanner and the smarts of an Echo, Dash Wand could be the thing that finally streamlines the way we buy groceries, and eliminates checkout lines, empty refrigerators, and even trips to the store. But that’s going to take a while.

For today, Dash Wand has too many quirks and shortcomings to be considered a threat to your local supermarket. While it’s cheap enough to be an impulse buy, it probably won’t do much to enhance your existing Amazon-Alexa experience, at least not yet.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • Dash drawbacks
  • Simple scanning
  • Alexa lite
  • A marathon, not a Dash

Dash drawbacks

Amazon’s wand is basically Dash 2.0. Like the company’s first bar-code scanner, which was limited to Amazon Fresh customers, the 6-inch stick has a rubberized loop at the top for hanging purposes, but this time around it’s also magnetic. Unlike the Echo, the Dash Wand needs to be within reach—keeping it in a drawer will severely cut down on its use and usefulness—and its refrigerator-friendly design is definitely one of its best qualities.

amazon dash wand batteriesChristopher Hebert/IDG
Dash Wand’s releiance on AA batteries cuts down on Alexa’s usefulness.

Even with Alexa built in, Dash Wand is very much an active device, in that it doesn’t respond to a wake word. Like the Echo Tap and the Alexa Voice Remote for Fire TV, you need to press the button to activate it, a consequence of Dash Wand being powered by a pair of AA batteries. Amazon kindly includes a set in the box, but with Wi-Fi, a bar-code scanner, and an AI assistant, I have to assume it will burn through them pretty quickly.

While your Dash Wand will likely live on your refrigerator, for most customers, what’s inside the icebox is off-limits. Unless you live in one of the areas served by Amazon Fresh—currently limited to the Seattle, Northern California, Southern California, New York, and Philadelphia areas—produce and other perishables won’t be added to your Amazon cart when you scan them.

amazon dash wand scannerChristopher Hebert/IDG
The bottom of Dash Wand contains a laser bar-code scanner.

That’s a deficiency that’s likely to be corrected within a year or two, once the fruits of Amazon’s Whole Foods purchase begin to be realized. It might have been a coincidence that Dash Wand was released the day before the announcement of Amazon’s Whole Foods purchase, but the Dash Wand is clearly built for a grocery store. It’s not hard to imagine a day when you can scan some items and have them show up within an hour, or even take your wand to your local Whole Foods store to do your own scanning.

Simple scanning

As far as the other items in your house, Dash Wand will work pretty well, eventually. My wand struggled to read bar codes the first time around, but after a reset it performed much better. Thankfully, the setup process is a snap, requiring little more than signing into your account and typing in your Wi-Fi password, both of which are done via the iOS or Android app. (Note that the Dash Wand works with 2.4GHz networks only.)

amazon dash wand scanChristopher Hebert/IDG
Scanning items with your Dash Wand is as easy as it as at a grocery store.

To use it, you need only press its button and the bottom bar-code scanner springs to life, ready to read whatever’s placed in front of it. It struggled occasionally with bar codes that were curved and some itemsds didn’t show up at all, but for the most part it worked as well as a department store price checker kiosk. I tested a variety of items, from salad dressing to soda to a Sonos Play:1 speaker, and the wand dutifully added them to my cart, though when head over to the app or site to check out, make sure to pay attention to what’s inside it.

If Amazon doesn’t sell the exact item in question (which happens more than you think), it will offer an alternative. For example, when I scanned a can of Goya Red Kidney Beans, it offered an 8-pack or a bag of dry beans instead. This is fine, but you’ll need to pay close attention to the cost. Amazon often suggested items that were priced outrageously high. In the case of the red beans, the price for a case of eight cans was $19.59, a surcharge of 150 percent over the average supermarket price of $0.99 a can.