Where8217;s the HTC U12 you might ask? There isn8217;t one, it8217;s coming straight out of its corner with a plus size model. HTC tells us this is about clarity: The Plus is the 2018 flagship and there won8217;t be another later in the year like there was (confusingly) in 2017.
As such, the big-scale HTC flagship asserts itself as a clear rival to the Samsung Galaxy S9+ – it8217;s big, fully featured, and loaded with cameras – but without being quite as expensive. So, how does it all pan out?
- Glass finish in multiple colours: Ceramic Black, Flame Red, Translucent Blue
- IP68 rating water and dust sealed
- 156.6 x 73.9 x 8.7-9.7mm; 188g
Say what you will about HTC, you can8217;t accuse it of lacking in design exuberance. While Samsung was producing plastic phones, HTC was working with materials that defined the modern smartphone landscape. Look at the proliferation of metal that followed the HTC One M7 and look at 20188217;s sudden passion for exotic glass finishes.
HTC8217;s Liquid Surface was on phones before Huawei, Honor or OnePlus came to the glass party. In the HTC U12+ there are three colour options straight off the bat: Ceramic Black, Flame Red and Translucent Blue. Of these, the black (as reviewed here) is a bit on the safe side, especially compared to phones like the Honor 10 or Huawei P20.
The Flame Red is the most risqué – and you can see more of that phone in our separate gallery – while the black will be the volume seller. However, it8217;s the translucency that has geek appeal, showing some of the phone8217;s innards for a more unique look, with a hint of G3 iMac about it. Certainly, if you8217;re buying this phone, look for the colours to get something a little more interesting.
The U12+ has adopted an 18:9 aspect ratio on its 6-inch display, which makes it easier to handle this rather big phone, while bezel size to the sides has been shrunk compared to previous devices.
Despite these points, however, the U12+ design really leaves you with a feeling of hench; compared to its rivals it8217;s undeniably large and weighty, lacking the curves and narrower bezels of the Samsung S9. Slap on the free case that8217;s in the HTC8217;s box and the bulk is only further exaggerated.
There8217;s also no notch to the design – the blacked-out 8216;dip8217; to the top of some phones – so HTC hasn8217;t followed Apple8217;s and other brands8217; lead here. This clearly points to the proliferation of notch design. But having used a number of notched phones in 2018, reverting to this more conventional design from HTC only adds to the bulky sense, especially up top.
HTC8217;s unique selling point on the U series was Edge Sense, the ability to squeeze the phone to trigger an action. Google obviously loved it so it appeared in the Pixel 2 as well, but in the HTC U12+ Edge Sense 2.0 is an expanded offering with more functions, while also moving the buttons away from being mechanical and making them pressure-sensitive instead.
In this very Apple-like move, HTC has removed moving parts, which means there8217;s potentially less that can go wrong. But it also means that the action of the buttons is governed by software and that8217; has caused HTC some problems, with early users suggesting that the buttons didn8217;t really work.
Initially we liked the feel and the haptic feedback. But what we8217;ve found over use is that some basic features don8217;t work as well as they should. The reliable double-press to launch the camera only gives us a 50 per cent success rate. And the usual volume down and power button screenshot action isn8217;t there, so you have to enable it from the navigation bar or use the power button and the on-screen home button (which has never worked for us). In short, added interaction has hampered some habitual behaviour.
Moving on from buttons to Edge Sense – where you can squeeze, long squeeze and double tap the sides of the phone – what HTC has done in the U12+ is given pressure sensitivity to far more of the phone8217;s edge. The trio of action types can also be used to launch anything you like – camera, Google Assistant, PUBG Mobile, Wi-Fi hotspot – as it8217;s a fully customisable setup.
Useful as Edge Sense could be for some users, our biggest take-away is that it8217;s not a function we8217;ve ever missed when we8217;re using a different phone. And because we8217;ve found ourselves triggering actions accidentally (you8217;ll see those squeeze indicators creeping in and then realise you8217;ve launched an app) we eventually switched the feature off. It8217;s just not important enough a feature to be significant in daily use.
- 6-inch LCD display, 18:9 aspect ratio, 2880 x 1440 resolution
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 845, 6GB RAM, 64GB + microSD
- 3500mAh battery with Quick Charge 3.0
- USB Type-C, no 3.5mm headphones
- Rear fingerprint scanner
If you look at recent phone launches you8217;ll see a range of hardware being offered. There8217;s Kirin for Huawei, Exynos for Samsung (in the UK, anyway), while HTC is using Qualcomm8217;s Snapdragon 845 globally for a true flagship setup. It8217;s also backed by 6GB RAM and comes with 64GB of storage and support for microSD cards (which some of the cheaper rivals, like the OnePlus 6, don8217;t have).
The power in this HTC is evident, as it runs slick and fast, just as we8217;ve found in any number of Snapdragon 845 handsets we8217;ve seen this year. You8217;ll be able to play intensive games on higher settings, like PUBG Mobile, and everything is simply blissful.
What doesn8217;t rank so highly, however, is the resulting battery life. The 3500mAh cell under the U12+8217;s hood doesn8217;t last as long as some rivals; that said, it will get you through the day in normal use. The phone8217;s battery saving mode is pretty effective though, just watch out for the screen dimming that comes with it, as the phone isn8217;t overly aggressive with screen brightness anyway.
There8217;s a USB Type-C on the bottom for charging and music (there8217;s no 3.5mm headphone socket), meaning you8217;ll have to use HTC8217;s bundled USonic headphones, or Bluetooth wireless instead. Those bundled headphones are great though, offering personalisation and active noise-cancellation.
On the display front, the U12+ has a 6-inch LCD display, which delivers a Quad HD+ resolution (2880 x 1440 pixels). This kind of resolution is basically a high-end badge of honour. You see, a lot of phones aren8217;t stepping up in resolution – Sony, Huawei, OnePlus are all sticking to full HD+ instead, while Samsung defaults to a lower resolution despite having as many pixels as the HTC – due to the battery drain associated with such a high resolution.
- 12-megapixel, 1.4µm pixels, f/1.75 UltraPixel 4 main camera
- 16-megapixel, f/2.6 50mm 2x zoom camera
- Twin 8-megapixel f/2.0 front camera
HTC pretty much invented the dual camera back in 2014 with the HTC One M8. It was a breakthrough phone, able to do things with depth mapping in the camera that others were nowhere near. If anything, it was too early to the game. We8217;re a little surprised it8217;s taken HTC so long to return to dual cameras, but the HTC U12+ isn8217;t just an evolution of the M8, it8217;s something new.
There are two cameras on the back: the main 12-megapixel lens has large pixels, an f/1.75 aperture lens, and HTC is calling it UltraPixel 4. It offers laser and phase-detection (or dual pixel technology) for autofocus.
The second camera on the back is a 16-megapixel camera, with a focal length that8217;s effectively a 2x zoom. This second lens isn8217;t used for zoom in low-light conditions, instead the U12+ gives you digital zoom from the main camera instead in such situations (just as Samsung does on the S9).
Zoom is a useful feature, getting you closer to the action, and it happens on this HTC with a simple tap. However, there8217;s a noticeable colour variation between the two cameras, with a yellow cast to those zoomed photos that doesn8217;t look great.
That second lens also offers depth information so that it can take those blurred background (bokeh) portrait photos. There8217;s a bokeh option permanently in the camera viewfinder which, when tapped, switches to the zoom lens for that photo – so you might need to step back to get your subject in, and you might get some of that colour difference.
Bokeh effects can be edited post-shooting and the depth mapping and separation is pretty good – there8217;s the occasional mishap with some edges or background confusion, but it8217;s among the better faux-bokeh shooters.
The U12+ has a fully featured camera app, with lots of functions, including a Pro mode. This will churn out raw files too, which may be useful, as you can see the processing that HTC is doing, especially in low light conditions. The image below shows a Pro mode JPEG (left) alongside the corresponding raw file (right) and you can see how much noise HTC is smoothing out.
Ultimately, the HTC U12+ is a pretty good performer for everyday photos. Take it on holiday and you8217;ll get great beach snaps from it, good colours (if you avoid the zoom) and great video. But it8217;s not a low-light competitor to the best flagships out there. Indeed, with the main camera being generally good, we sort of wish the distraction of the second camera wasn8217;t there.
- HTC Sense Companion
- Amazon Alexa support
- Google Assistant
HTC8217;s software remains a familiar place after the HTC U11+. Apart from the addition of a few extra Sense Edge options, it8217;s much the same, meaning a pretty close setup to Google8217;s Android Oreo operating system (Android P is confirmed for the future). That makes for a cleaner solution, removing the HTC associated mass of bulk from the past few years.
There is still some bloat bubbling up on this HTC though. Although HTC is no longer duplicating all apps and services like it once did, it does come with a few additions, like Facebook and Instagram pre-installed. There8217;s also some HTC Vive apps installed, HTC Zoe and UA Record.
Then there8217;s the pre-installation of TouchPal keyboard, which, no matter how hard we try to get on with it, just isn8217;t as slick and easy-to-use as Android8217;s stock Gboard (which is an easy substitution to make). HTC also uses its own Messages app, but again, with Google8217;s app getting wider functions (like desktop access), there8217;s little compelling reason to use this.
In terms of AI services, there8217;s Google Assistant, which will offer to take care of everything Google related and is very much the same as other services elsewhere. HTC is also one of the few systems allowing always-listening Amazon Alexa, giving another dimension if you8217;re an Alexa fan.