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The HTC U11 might not be making as big a splash as its main competitor, the Samsung Galaxy S8, but it stands out as the first phone to let users invoke Amazon’s Alexa smart assistant voice assistant without the need to manually open an Alexa app. People can just say “Alexa” at any time.

On this episode of the Geared Up podcast, we go hands-on with the U11 to see just how smooth the Alexa integration is. We also try out the phone’s squeezable Edge Sense technology.

Geared Up hosts Andru Edwards and Todd Bishop agreed that the deep Alexa integration on the phone was a cool idea. In practice, it wasn’t so smooth. Alexa refused to be summoned several times while we were trying the device out, although she responded more consistently after we had stopped recording.

Bottom line, the mic isn’t nearly as sensitive as on the Echo speakers, which may be an adjustment for some users. No calling out to Alexa from across the room — you’ll need to keep HTC U11 close by to use it.

In another difference from the Echo speakers, Alexa isn’t able to simultaneously speak and listen on the U11, so a user can’t cut her off or make a correction while she’s giving them information.

Alexa on the HTC U11. (GeekWire Photo)

On the other hand, the phone’s squeeze technology worked like a charm. The idea here is that the U11 can sense pressure when a user squeezes it, and take actions specified in advance, such as opening a certain feature or app. Todd programmed the phone so that one squeeze brought up Alexa.

The Alexa feature is integrated into the phone via a new “HTC Alexa” app for the device.

For the record, there are not one, not two but THREE smart assistants now integrated into the HTC U11 phone. Alexa is joined by the Google Assistant and HTC’s own Sense Companion.

In other smartphone news, analysts reported this week that the much-anticipated new iPhone 8, or whatever Apple calls it, might be coming months after expected. Apple normally releases the new models in September, but reports say the next iPhone might not come out until November or even December.

Andru says that kind of delay would be a blow to the company, given the importance of the holiday buying season for electronics. But it might also play the company’s favor if it’s working on a high-end device that’s hard to manufacture in the mass quantities Apple normally turns out.

The reported price tag for the new phone — upwards of $1,000 — would also likely keep buyers away, possibly leading many to opt for the as-yet-unannounced iPhone 7S.

And finally, some news from a galaxy far, far away: Disney’s planned Star Wars amusement park areas, Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge. The company announced it is building two Galaxy’s Edge complexes in its existing parks in Orlando and Los Angeles, and Andru is pretty excited about how the experience will be set up.

The idea is that each guest has a unique identity that carries over into everything they do. Say on one ride, a visitor is flying the Millennium Falcon and does a stand-out job. When that person buys lunch at a cantina later in the day, their server might “recognize” them and congratulate them on their flying skills.

It all sounds very cool, although it’s not clear what kind of tech Disney will use to keep track of everyone. Regardless, Todd says he’s already planning a family trip when the park opens in 2019.

Listen to the show above, watch the behind the scenes video at the top of this post, or download the episode as an MP3. Follow Geared Up via AppleRSSYouTubeFacebook or Google Play Music.

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