HTC’s flagship phone for 2018 is a worthy contender to rivals from Samsung and Apple
- Amazing cameras
- Fantastic screen resolution
- Solid CPU performance
- UI should be faster
- Pressure sensitive buttons are annoying
- Poor placement of fingerprint scanner
The HTC U12+ is not getting anywhere near the hype or attention that it deserves. Much like the previous editions from HTC, the U11 and U11+, the U12+ is a high-quality, high-performance phone that rivals the flagship handsets of much bigger brands.
Stylish design and formidable specifications make it ideal for those seeking a premium smartphone, but don’t have the disposable income for an iPhone X or Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus.
You might be asking yourself: “U12+? But I don’t even remember a U12 coming out! Have I somehow completely missed the launch?”. No, you haven’t, because there was no such launch. The U12+ is the only flagship release from HTC in 2018.
The Taiwanese company stated that, to avoid people waiting for a more premium handset, they’d jump straight in with their best effort – and then leave it at that. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but there will be no U12+Plus or U12+Pro, or anything of the sort.
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HTC U12+ review: Price and competition
The £699 price is identical to that of the HTC U11+ at launch, which seems like a fair deal. Better design, better specs, and better software for the same price? We’ll buy that for a dollar! Or a pound. Or six hundred and ninety nine of them.
But what else could you get for the same price? Well, there’s the Huawei Mate 10 Pro, a fantastic phablet smartphone with top-notch cameras and a stunning design for exactly the same price. For £40 more, you could buy the Samsung Galaxy S9, the fastest Android smartphone in 2018 (or ever, in fact), which has improved on almost every aspect of the Galaxy S8. Yes, it’s a tad pricier than the U12+, but it’s pretty close to smartphone perfection.
Also in the mix – and about £70 cheaper – is the Google Pixel 2, a wonderful handset with competitive performance, which is kitted out with some of the best cameras we’ve seen on a smartphone yet.
HTC U12+ review: Design features
The screen of the U12+ has finally caught up with the times. Whereas the u11’s 16:9 ratio quickly made it appear outdated, this latest model has a gorgeous 18:9 slender 6in quadruple HD resolution screen with 1,440 x 2,880 pixels. This is framed by a miniscule bezel to the left and right, so that the screen stretches almost to the edge, while the slim upper ridge is notch-free (hoorah!) and packs dual 8MP cameras for world-class selfie-taking.
The back of the phone is less accomplished. The awkward placement of the fingerprint reader appears totally random as if no thought was given to the ergonomics – it will drive you mad if used dozens of times a day. Likewise for the positioning of the rear camera. The rear panel is made of shimmery glass, as are many of its main competitors. Though pretty, a hardy protective case may be necessary to save this phone from cracking like the surface of a frozen lake.
Delicacy aside, the colour and design of the materials is luxuriant, with two styles available: Ceramic Black and Flame Red. Both are nothing short of beautiful, with an attractive layered sheen that changes with the light. A third colour, a translucent blue, will be released slightly later on; it reveals the complex circuitry normally hidden below the case, which is an unusual yet eye-catching feature.
The glossy material on the U12+ picks up fewer greasy fingerprints than the U11, which was absolutely pockmarked with them. When the U12+ does hold onto a grimy dab, a quick wipe on the shirt is enough to clean it right off.
Then there’s the IP68 water and dust-proof rating, which puts the U12+ on the same level as the majority of 2018’s premium smartphones. We must also mention the impressive ‘BoomSound’ speakers, which have been improved from the 2017 models, and the boosted 4G download speeds of up to 1.2Gbits/per second – just edging out rivals such as the OnePlus 6, which has 1Gbits/per second.
On the downside, HTC has yet again omitted the 3.5mm headphone jack, which is a real shame. We hope you own a nice pair of Bluetooth headphones if you’re set on buying the UC12+.
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HTC U12+ review: Edge Sense 2 and “squeezy” frame
HTC has further developed its Edge Sense technology for the U12+ and whacked a 2 on the end of its name. Edge Sense 2 consists of a squeezy frame with buttons that are pressure sensitive, rather than the mechanical buttons found on most smartphones. This has the benefit of cutting manufacturing costs and allows the phone to be sealed inside its case all the way around, supposedly protecting it from the elements.
Alas, these pressure-sensitive volume and power buttons don’t make the phone easier to use. They feel odd and unsatisfying, as there’s nothing to actually push or press. The required amount of pressure also seems to vary – sometimes you have to press firmly to achieve the desired effect.
Some of these features were present with the U11’s Edge Sense, but HTC has expanded the feature set for Edge Sense 2. One new option is the ‘double tap’, which you can enact with two gentle taps of a thumb. Third-party apps can also be ‘taught’ the full range of Edge Sense 2 shortcuts – squeezes, taps, and so on.
HTC U12+ review: Battery life and performance
The UC12+ has a 3,500mAh battery, which is slightly larger than its predecessor, as well as some similarly equipped smartphones, such as the OnePlus 6 and Sony Xperia XZ2. Sadly, even that bigger battery will barely see you through the day.
In our video playback test, with the screen brightness set to a maximum of 170cd/m2, we recorded just under 12 hours from the battery. That’s way behind the competition and that’s with the display dialled down to the phone’s power-saving FHD+ mode. The main culprit here appears to be HTC’s Super LCD technology, which seems far less efficient than the AMOLED panels used in rival handsets such as the Samsung Galaxy S9.
The processing hardware in the U12+ is formidable, however. Packed into the case of the HTC U12+ is Qualcomm’s top-of-the-line Snapdragon 845 smartphone processor. The 845 is an octa-core chip with a clock speed of 2.6GHz, backed by 6GB of RAM and either 64GB or 128GB of UFS 2.1 storage, depending on which model you buy. Should you require more than the 128GB capacity you can expand storage via the microSD slots. It comes with a handy second SIM slot, too.
Owing to the super-high screen resolution of the HTC 12+, its graphics performance isn’t a match for rivals such as the OnePlus 6 or Sony Xperia XZ2; you can knock the display settings down a peg to FHD+ if you want to up the FPS. More concerning is the sluggish response time of the U12+ when moving around the UI – it definitely lags behind the aforementioned competitors in this regard.
HTC U12+ review: Cameras
The HTC U12+ boasts two front-mounted 8MP cameras that are designed to enhance the quality of selfies. One of the cameras is used to blur the background in your self-portrait snaps, thus raising your Instagram posts to the level of high art. Maybe. The results are impressive, though, and it’s encouraging to see HTC include a feature that none of the other smartphone companies has thought to. We’re sure others will follow suit.
What about the rear cameras? That’s what everybody cares about, after all, including the major phone companies, who all seem to be competing this year to fit their handsets with the most high-performing cameras possible. In this respect, the HTC U12+ is definitely staying abreast of the competition.
Like on the front of the phone, HTC has built in a dual-camera setup: the main “UltraPixel” camera offers 12 megapixels of resolution, a wide aperture of f/1.75, and a pixel size of 1.4um, while the auxiliary camera packs a hefty 16 megapixels, an aperture of f/2.6 and a pixel size of 1um. This enables a convincing single shot bokeh (blurred background) effect, as well as the full range of dual camera capabilities, including a 2x optical zoom – a feature the OnePlus 6 is sorely lacking.
As for video quality, it’s a guerrilla filmmaker’s dream: 4K, 60fps footage capture and a quad-microphone setup for crystal clear audio recording.
HTC U12+ review: Verdict
Though its arrival comes an awfully long time after the big hitters of 2018, the U12+’s Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor and top-of-the-line cameras mean that it’s only fashionably late, rather than missing the party entirely.
The problem is it’s squeezed by the vastly cheaper OnePlus 6 on one side, and the superior but only slightly more expensive Samsung Galaxy S9 on the other. Had it arrived six months ago, it might have been a showstopper. As it is, the HTC U12+ is good but not quite good enough.