- Takes great day and night photos
- Strong audio
- Good for those who hate the notch
- Terrible ‘buttons’ that make the phone unusable at times
- Big and heavy without having exceptional battery life
- Screen not as good as competing OLEDs
- Edge Sense has issues
- Review Price: £699/$937
- 6-inch quad-HD+ LCD panel
- 3500mAh battery
- BoomSound audio
- Snapdragon 845
- 6GB RAM, 64GB storage
What is the HTC U12 Plus?
HTC’s latest flagship is a confusing device. And this begins with the name itself – the ‘Plus’ suggests that regular U12 came before it, but this isn’t the case. This isn’t like the iPhone 8 Plus to the iPhone 8, or the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus to the Samsung Galaxy S9.
In addition, a few decisions regarding the design make this a difficult phone to recommend.
Nevertheless, I have to give HTC credit for attempting to include some interesting features to differentiate it from the competition.
HTC U12 Plus – Design
It’s hard to talk about the design of the HTC U12 Plus without addressing arguably its biggest flaw – its truly terrible haptic buttons. Basically, instead of opting for regular mechanical buttons, HTC has used faux-buttons that vibrate when pushed. There’s no physical movement when the buttons are pushed; it’s just meant to feel like they do.
This idea isn’t new – Apple does something similar with the iPhone’s home button – but it feels completely off here. The buttons are hard to press: they’re not sensitive enough sometimes and way too sensitive at other times. There’s also no way to alter the feedback levels – something that works very well on the iPhone 8.
At my initial briefing I was told that the sensation would become natural after usage, but this hasn’t been the case. Following more than two weeks with the phone I’m still finding it difficult to adapt, and locking the phone or quickly altering the volume remains a pain. In fact, in certain situations – or when holding the phone in a certain way – the buttons don’t respond at all.
The fact that the functionality is particularly poor is a shame, because the removal of mechanical buttons comes with plenty of benefits. For example, it’s easier to waterproof the device – the U12 Plus is IP68 rated – and there’s less chance the buttons will become stuck or fall off. While I haven’t ever experienced the latter, it’s always a possibility.
Another area where HTC has decided to go against the norm is with Edge Sense. First introduced with the HTC U11, Edge Sense lets you interact with the phone by squeezing the device’s sides.
For example, a long squeeze could launch the camera while a short squeeze might wake the Google Assistant. With the HTC U12 Plus we’re now on to Edge Sense 2, and the biggest upgrade from the last iteration is that tapping the sides of the phone engages further actions. A tap on side can shrink the screen to make it more manageable for one-handed use, while a tap on the opposite side can bring up a handy app-launcher.
All these options can be customised, with the outcome of taps and squeezes changed. It’s a nice feature, but one that still has issues. In my experience there were occasions where the tapping action just wouldn’t work, and sometimes a much harder tap was required to engage an action.Launching the camera with a squeeze is still the best use of Edge Sense, and is made more vital now that double-tapping the power key is virtually impossible.
As usual, HTC has crafted a phone that feels every bit as good as the £699 price suggests. Unlike the LG G7, the U12 Plus feels solid and weighty. It’s supremely well put together and is finished to a quality I’d normally only associate with Apple.
What is less interesting is the overall design of the device. It’s cumbersome, without offering much in return. I’m more than happy for a phone to be thicker if the battery is fantastic, but this isn’t the case here.
The glass back might look interesting in either the glossy red hue or the pretty cool translucent version, but my black review unit is rather dull. It’s a fingerprint magnet, too, even more so than other glass-backed phones.
HTC U12 Plus – Display
The ‘notch’ has become commonplace on Android phones since the iPhone X and Essential Phone, but HTC has refrained from adding such a feature.
Whether this is a result of the design of the U12 Plus already being finalised before notches became a ‘thing’, or whether HTC simply isn’t a fan, only time will tell.
HTC has used a wide 18:9 panel in the U12 Plus and it ticks most of the boxes I look for in a flagship screen. It benefits from a quad-HD resolution, full coverage of the DCI-P3 colour gamut and offers support for HDR. Viewing angles are decent and the panel hits a competent level of brightness – although it’s nowhere near the degree seen on the Samsung Galaxy S9 or LG G7.The issue with the display is that it’s simply ‘okay’. The Super LCD 5 panel just can’t compete with the OLEDs that feature in rival devices. It lacks the perfect blacks and rich colours, plus there’s very limited customisation.
HTC U12 Plus – Performance
|Screen||6-inch, quad-HD+, LCD|
|Storage||64GB and microSD|
|Rear camera||Main 12-megapixel f/1.7 and secondary 16-megapixel for 2x zoom|
|Front camera||Dual 8-megapixel|
|Battery||3500mAh, USB-C, Quick Charge 3/4+|
|OS||Android Oreo 8.0|
|Features||IP68, BoomSound Hi-Fi edition, Edge Sense 2|
Like pretty much every single flagship phone in 2018, the HTC U12 Plus packs a Snapdragon 845 along with 6GB of RAM and 64GB of expandable storage.
It’s a fast phone that doesn’t have any trouble playing the latest, graphically intensive games – but then I wouldn’t expect anything else from a high-end phone such as this. HTC has optimised well, too, and the phone displays barely any judder or lag as you navigate.
For a deeper look at how the HTC U12 Plus performs in Geekbench 4 and AnTuTu 7, check out the table below.
|Huawei P20 Pro||1921||6837||209,658|
|HTC U12 Plus||2406||7554||239,691|
|Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus||3720||8890||251,205|
|Apple iPhone X||4257||10,364||235,607|
|Google Pixel 2||1917||6312||184,336|
The biggest performance downside as far as the U12 Plus is concerned is with the camera. It’s only this part of the software that feels laggy and unfinished, with frequent pauses. Seemingly every time I tap the shutter button there’s a noticeable moment where nothing happens. Turn off the auto-HDR mode and this disappears, but in order to achieve the best photos, this mode really needs to be on.
HTC has prided itself on offering up an excellent audio system in previous devices, and it does so once again. BoomSound Hi-Fi Edition as featured in the U11 Plus returns, with one front-firing speaker and a second downward-firing unit. Audio from these speakers is excellent, and while it isn’t quite as loud as the Razer Phone, it’s clear and distortion-free – even at high volumes.
There’s no headphone jack on the HTC U12 Plus but you do get a decent pair of earphones with a USB-C connection in the box. Unlike most pack-in earphones, these feature active noise-cancellation (ANC) to drown out irritating outside noise. The earphones sound good and do a decent job of blocking sound.
While there wasn’t a regular USB-C to 3.5mm dongle inside my review box, apparently European models will come with one. You’re out of luck in the US, though; you’ll need to buy one separately. For a device costing £700, that’s a bit of a shame.
HTC U12 Plus – Software
The software experience on the U12 Plus is a mixed bag. The majority of the stuff that’s good comes directly from Google; the aspects designed by HTC feel tacked on and in need of modernisation.
HTC’s Sense UI is running atop Android 8.0, which is slightly disappointing since this isn’t the latest version. This doesn’t necessarily bode well for the the timeliness of future Android updates, either.
Pretty much all of Google’s headline Android features work as intended: split-screen multitasking, picture-in-picture for video and the improved notifications that arrived in Oreo.
Where things take a turn for the worse is with the additions that HTC includes on top. The whole HTC Sense launcher feels like it hasn’t received a meaningful update in a few years and as such it’s rife with annoying features such as BlinkFeed. There’s even a bunch of clock widgets that look like they haven’t been altered since the original HTC Desire.
HTC has added facial recognition, so it can be used in tandem with the fingerprint sensor to unlock the device but not do things like open banking apps and authenticating Google Play purchases. The facial unlocking works well in daylight, but not so much from tough angles or at night. Still, it remains nice to have and – importantly – it’s fast.
HTC U12 Plus – Camera
Alongside the Pixel 2 and iPhone X, the U11 had one of the best phone cameras of 2017. And it seems that the HTC U12 will once again be up there with the best in 2018.
What sets HTC’s photos apart is in their realism. Where other phones focus on hyping up the colours and saturation, snaps from the U12 Plus are natural and detailed, without heaps of post-processing.
Daylight photos are some of the most detailed I’ve seen, even though the main camera remains at 12 megapixels with an f/1.75 aperture, with mostly fantastic colours. Take a look at the pictures below of the fried chicken and you’ll be able to distinguish the tiny flecks of seaweed on the top.
HTC has added a new HDR Boost mode and while it adds some slowdown to the app, it does kick into action when it needs to. In some situations – see the photos of the golfing below – it does struggle, with particularly dark and light clashes in the environment, but on the whole it’s very good.
Landscape shots pack serious depth and even colours across different environments, while low-light photos are excellent too.
Unlike pictures I took with both the Pixel 2 and iPhone X, the U12 Plus doesn’t try too hard to boost light when there isn’t much around. Night shots taken with those other two devices display a strong hint of yellow, but the snaps from the HTC are more natural and whiter.
In the U12 Plus, HTC has also added a secondary 12-megapixel f/2.6 camera for 2x zooming and to help with the new live bokeh modes. This shows the bokeh effect in real-time, so you don’t need to chance a shot and have to see what it looks like after-the-fact. Considering there’s a whole separate camera here, I’ve been quite disappointed by the bokeh modes, which really struggle with fine details such as hair.
There are dual cameras on the front, too. Again, these 8-megapixel sensors work together for the bokeh mode. A heavy-handed beauty mode does ruin selfies, so I’d advise that you turn this off.
Video can be recorded up to 4K 60fps, while there’s a slow-motion mode that will shoot 240fps. Having OIS (optical image stabilisation) onboard helps keep the video steady, and there are plenty of options for capturing sound. If you’re recording a gig, for example, you can capture the audio from a specific point – the singer – and avoid getting too much crowd noise.
HTC U12 Plus – Battery life
The HTC U12 Plus is far from the slimmest phone around, which for me isn’t an issue if the battery life were to impress. Sadly, it isn’t quite as good as expected.
It was hard to make it through the whole day without the phone requiring a top-up at some point, even though the 3500mAh cell should have proved more than adequate. Intensive tasks such as using GPS in Google Maps absolutely tore through the battery, and throughout the review period I often found myself reaching for the charging cable once I’d returned home from work.
Some form of wireless charging would have offset this issue somewhat, as I’ve become accustomed to just dropping my phone on a Qi pad whenever I’m in the office. This isn’t an option with the U12 Plus, however, even though the rear of the device is glass, which is a bit of a wasted opportunity.
Fast-charging is available, and it covers both the Qualcomm Quick Charge 3 and 4+ standards. There isn’t much different in terms of charging speeds between the two standards, so HTC has only included a QC 3.0 plug in the box.
Why buy the HTC U12 Plus?
I applaud HTC for attempting to do something different with the HTC U12 Plus. The squeeze functionality is genuinely appealing and interesting, while the switch to non-mechanical buttons is sure to become more common in the coming years.
It’s a shame then that HTC falls down when it comes to execution. The haptic buttons, for example, are really a pain to use and Edge Sense doesn’t work as you’d expect 100% of the time.Add to this the disappointing battery life, a version of Android that lacks the polish of the competition, and no wireless charging.
At least the camera is great and audio experience exceptional.
A great camera – but, sadly, not much else to get excited about.