HTC’s U11 is one of our favorite phones of the year, owing to its fine balance of performance, battery life, design, and camera capabilities. The one truly unique thing that HTC added to it, though — the Edge Sense function that lets you do things with the phone by squeezing its sides — has never risen to be anything more than a gimmicky way to activate the camera. HTC is now hoping to rectify that by rolling out a beta update to Edge Sense, which will be distributed to users on Thursday night via the Play Store, and which I’ve been able to test in advance.
The primary thing that the expanded Edge Sense controls allow is for you to set up your own per-app squeeze actions. You go into the Edge Sense controls, select the option to add a new app, and then you get an overlay that lets you set up a tap or double-tap anywhere on the screen. My first attempt at this was a glorious success: I set up a tap on the BBC iPlayer Radio app’s play/pause button, which worked great. A new preset offered by HTC allows me to squeeze to zoom in and out of pictures in Google Photos, and that works great too. Ditto zooming in and out of Google Maps.
But this is beta software, after all, and I ended up having more misses than hits. One cool thing I’d have liked to do would have been to use the squeeze to hit “Enter” to input text in Slack and Telegram, my two most-used communication apps. The Edge Sense interface allowed me to create those actions, however — maybe owing to an incompatibility with Google’s Gboard, which is the only consistent thing between the two messaging apps — squeezing did nothing when I was trying to input text. Frustratingly, the squeeze did work when I didn’t want it to, when the keyboard was pulled down.
Another issue I’ve come to find with this feature is that many apps won’t have their icons in a fixed place all the time. I set up a squeeze for the Mentions tab in the Twitter Android app, but as it turns out, that isn’t always in the same place, with Twitter’s UI elements shifting in size and place as I scroll down lower into my feed. So even that wasn’t the smooth and effortless shortcut that the squeeze is supposed to provide.
In spite of finding more problems than delights with this new software, I’m actually feeling very positive about it. I’ve only scratched the surface on what can be done with the new Edge Sense, and I think HTC’s overlay interface for setting up squeeze-based taps and actions within apps is very well executed. It’s just going to take a bit more work on HTC’s part to iron out the bugs and a bit of imagination from users to come up with smarter uses for it.
Before this update, I was convinced that Edge Sense was more a gimmick than a help, and I wasn’t exactly enthusiastic to see it in the next Google Pixel phones (as has been rumored), but now, with this expanded set of user customizations, I can see it becoming useful.