Want to launch the camera on the HTC U11? Just squeeze.

When the phone's pressure-sensitive sides register your tightened grip, it'll open the app you've programmed in.

Say you've squeezed the camera app open. You can squeeze again to take a picture. A long squeeze might open and close the flashlight, or toggle Wi-Fi or a voice recording. Or another app of your choice.

What's going on is an entirely new way to interact with a phone. Called Edge Sense, this feature marks the first time any phonemaker has used touch like this. For HTC, a company that has itself felt the squeeze from larger rivals such as Samsung, Apple and LG, the U11's grippy new feature presents an opportunity to step out of others' shadows with an industry first.

Giving a phone pressure-sensitive sides is an incredibly interesting innovation, and one that raises a lot of questions: is this a natural way to open shortcuts, or is it better suited to some other task? Will it be accurate or will mispresses abound? Is it a useless gimmick, or the start of exciting things to come?

I don't have an answer to that yet, but after my brief time with the phone, I did try out many of the launch options, and I like that an animation of squeezed-in sides lets you know the feature's working. I found the motion easy to execute, but I did sometimes long-squeeze when I meant to short-squeeze.

I think muscle memory will take care of that down the road. I also think this method of app-launching would only be useful for the apps I open all the time (which takes that voice recorder out of the running).

The bigger question for HTC is if the U11's fresh look and feel, and high end specs are enough to make a dent in Samsung and Apple's overwhelming lead -- squeeze feature or no. From what I've seen of the U11 so far, its premium hardware stands the best chance of any HTC phone in quite awhile.

The rest will come down to performance, and how well HTC can gets its phone in front of buyers.

Price and release date

In the US, the HTC U11 sells for $649 -- you'll be able to pick it up in sapphire blue, amazing silver and brilliant black. Buy the unlocked version from htc.com, and AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon carrier versions from Amazon. The phone will arrive on your doorstep in June.

You'll also be able to buy the blue and black HTC U11 from Sprint. The phone goes on sale June 9, but early preorders will also get you two Amazon Echo Dot speakers. It'll cost $0 down and$29 per month for 24 months, for a grand total of $696.

It's too soon to say how the U11 performs compares to the Galaxy S8 ($375 at Amazon) and LG G6, and if buyers connect with its glass design and squeeze effects.

Gorgeous glass design, advanced processor and everything else

The Big Squeeze sure is attention-grabbing, but it's really one small feature in what's shaping up to be a pretty good package.

The blue half-moons show it's working.

Josh Miller/CNET

You get a 5.5-inch display with a QHD, or 2,560x1,440-pixel resolution (same as the Samsung Galaxy S8 and LG G6), so there's plenty of screen to interact with.

Then there's the body itself. The U11 refines the gorgeous "melted" glass design of the U Ultra ($294 at Amazon). It really does look like pools of liquid. It's striking.

It's also highly reflective and smudges up quickly. The phone meets a water-resistant rating of IP67, which helps keep water away for up to 30 minutes and 3 feet (1 meter).

I like that the 12-megapixel rear camera sits flush on the design; it's good that the lens doesn't poke out. If you follow camera specs, the U11 uses dual-pixel autofocus technology rather than laser autofocus (this should help it focus faster), and has an aperture of f1.7 (versus f1.8 on the HTC 10 ($190 at Amazon)).

Your front-facing camera is a 16-megapixel wide-angle lens (150 degrees). Camera images seemed completely usable in my quick tests, but I didn't have the time to really dig deep into setting or image quality.

Other things to know going in:

  • There's no headset jack, so you'll need to plug the included earbuds into the USB-C port.
  • HTC includes an adapter if you prefer to use your own headphones.
  • Google Assistant is on board.
  • Amazon Alexa assistant will launch with a wake word. (HTC will add this about a month after the U11 goes on sale.)
  • Audio quality so far seems loud, clear and rich.
  • The Edge Sense squeeze feature is pressure sensitive and will work underwater and through some cases.
  • HTC will also make a model in solar red (expect it to sell in select regions).

HTC U11 specs versus Galaxy S8, iPhone 7 Plus, LG G6

HTC U11 Samsung Galaxy S8 LG G6 Apple iPhone 7 Plus
Display size, resolution 5.5-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels 5.8-inch; 2,960x1,440 pixels 5.7-inch, 2,880x1,440 pixels 5.5-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels
Pixel density 534ppi 570ppi 565ppi 401 ppi
Dimensions (inches) 6.1x3x0.31 in. 5.86 x 2.68 x 0.32 in. 5.9x2.8x0.31 in. 6.2x 3.1x0.29-in.
Dimensions (millimeters) 154x76x7.9mm 148.9x68.1x8mm 148.9x71.97.x7.9mm 158.2x77.9x7.3mm
Weight (ounces, grams) 6 oz.; 169g 5.5 oz.; 155g 5.7 oz.; 162g 6.63 oz.; 188g
Mobile software Android 7.1.1 Nougat Android 7.0 Nougat Android 7.0 Nougat Apple iOS 10
Camera 12-megapixel 12-megapixel 13-megapixel (standard), 13-megapixel (wide) 12-megapixel (telephoto), 12-megapixel (wide)
Front-facing camera 16-megapixel 8-megapixel 5-megapixel 7-megapixel
Video capture 1080p 4K 4K 4K
Processor Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 (2.4GHz+1.9GHz) Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 (2.35GHz+1.9GHz) or Octa-core Samsung Exynos 8895 (2.35GHz+1.7GHz) 2.35GHz Snapdragon 821 with Adreno 530 GPU Apple A10 chip (64-bit)
Storage 64GB, 128GB (varies by region) 64GB 32GB 32GB, 128GB, 256GB
RAM 4GB, 6GB (varies by region) 4GB 4GB N/A
Expandable storage Up to 2TB Up to 2TB Up to 2TB None
Battery 3,000mAh 3,000mAh 3,300mAh 21 hours talk time on 3G, 16 days standby, 13 hours internet use LTE
Fingerprint sensor Home Button Back Back cover Home button
Connector USB-C USB-C USB-C Lightning
Special features IP67, dual SIM (some regions) Water-resistant (IP68), wireless charging, Gigabit LTE-ready 18:9 aspect ratio; wireless charging (US-only); water-resistant Water and dust-resistant, portrait mode mode
Price off-contract (USD) $649 AT&T: $750; Verizon: $720; T-Mobile: $750; Sprint: $750; US Cellular: $675 AT&T: $720, Verizon: $672 T-Mobile: $650, Sprint: $708, US Cellular: $597.60 $769 (32GB); $869 (128GB); $969 (256GB)
Price (GBP) £649 £689 £649 £719 (32GB); £819 (128GB); £919 (256GB)
Price (AU$) US price converts to AU$875 TBA AU$1,008 AU$1,269 (32GB); AU$1,419 (128GB); AU$1,569 (256GB)