HTC U12+ review: HTC hits back with its best phone ever

Alex Kidman 4 June 2018 NEWS

The HTC U12+ has some silly gimmicks, but if you can look past them, it's a top-quality handset with a great camera.

Quick Verdict
The HTC U12+ is an excellent premium smartphone and well worth your consideration, even if some of its gimmicks are less than compelling.

The good

  • Delightful physical design
  • Good audio quality
  • Premium performance
  • Excellent dual lens cameras

The bad

  • No headphone jack
  • Upgraded Edge Sense is tricky to get working
  • Higher price than some competitors


Updated 22/06/2018: HTC has announced local pricing and availability for the HTC U12+, so we've adjusted the review accordingly.

HTC sits in a unique position in the mobile phone space. It can rightly claim to have ushered in the Android smartphone era, and it's also something of a favoured partner of Google, having sold considerable IP and staff assets to the search giant back in 2017.

That doesn't mean that it has enjoyed considerable success with its recent handsets, however. The HTC U11 was an excellent handset that was largely overlooked by consumers despite offering features that would then appear later in the year in the very popular Google Pixel 2. HTC's taken the core concepts behind the HTC U11 and iterated them in a number of interesting ways with the HTC U12+.

If you were wondering, there's no such thing as the HTC U12, so quite why it's a "plus" model is a matter for the marketing folk rather than a defining characteristic of the handset.


HTC U12+ review

HTC U12+: Design

The HTC U12+ uses the same basic design ideas as the HTC U11 in a frame that's marginally slimmer than the HTC U11 was. That means you get the same glossy finishes as last year's phone and the same issues with fingerprinting.

The HTC U12+ is a 6-inch phone that measures in at 156.6x73.9x9.7mm at its thickest. The model tested was the rather natty looking Translucent Blue design, although it's also available in Ceramic Black and Flame Red.

The Translucent Blue is lovely and unlike anything else in the market at the moment. It reveals parts of the HTC U12+'s interior while also giving the look of a premium finish. Depending on the angle you're looking at, you also get mirror effects. While you spend less time looking at the back of the phone than you do the front, the HTC U12+ is still a standout example of smartphone design. I'm a big proponent of putting phones into cases as soon as possible because they're so easily damaged. For the HTC U12+, a transparent case is highly recommended.

The HTC U12+ also has the unique distinction of having no physical buttons at all. Instead, it uses tiny motors behind where the buttons would be, a trick that Apple has used for its iPhone lines and even for its Mac trackpads for a while. There's a definite learning curve here. The smaller strike zones of the side power and volume buttons don't quite "feel" like a click when you tap them, but they do work appreciably well.

One added side effect of no buttons is that HTC's been able to bump up the water resistance from IP67 on the HTC U11 to IP68 on the HTC U12. There are simply fewer points of water ingress.

Sadly, that also means that the HTC U12+ makes do without a headphone jack. This isn't entirely a surprise, given HTC omitted it on its 2017 flagships as well, but it still feels like a missed opportunity, unless you particularly like Bluetooth headsets. HTC does provide a set of USB-C headphones in the box with good audio quality, but the reality is that the handset is likely to last longer than they do, at which point you've got to go hunting for an adaptor.

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HTC U12+ review

HTC U12+: Camera

As with so many premium handsets, the story that HTC wants to tell with the HTC U12+ revolves largely around its camera. It's a familiar story out the back, with dual 12MP f/1.75 + 16MP telephoto lenses to provide both options when shooting for zoom modes and the now-familiar bokeh smoothing for portrait shots. Around the front, you'll also find dual 8MP lenses, although here you're limited to bokeh selfie work only. Then again, zoom lenses on a selfie would be weird, unless nosies become a thing.

Don't even think about it.

HTC made a lot of noise at launch about the HTC U12+ garnering a DxOMark score of 103, currently making it the best dual-lens camera in the market by their metric, just below the Huawei P20 Pro with its triple lens array. That gives it a lot to live up to, given the impressive cameras on phones like the Samsung Galaxy S9+ or Apple iPhone X.

HTC's camera app is relatively simple, with a focus on automatic photo taking. One nice touch with the rear cameras is that you can choose to either switch between the regular telephoto and standard lenses by tapping the magnification icon, or select a zoom range by sliding it. Anything above 2x zoom will be using digital zoom, which is less desirable in the main, but could be handy if you're only shooting for online purposes and don't have time to crop or edit a full photo.

The HTC U12+ camera largely lives up to the hype, with pleasant results in portrait, landscape and low light modes. Its professional settings are a little more hidden than some premium 2018 models, but if you're after a simple experience that in most cases will deliver quality results, it's right up there with the P20 Pro, Galaxy S9+ and other high-end handsets.

In low light modes, it delivers a good automatic balance between capturing light and detail:

And it's equally adept in solid light at delivering pleasing results:

The zoom handles shots well, although predictably there's some shudder to deal with if you push it hard.

Here's a shot at regular zoom:

Here's the same shot using the 2x zoom lens:

And the rather shakier 10x zoom:

Here are some more sample shots from the HTC U12+:

HTC U12+ Sample Photos
Back to topHTC U12+ review

HTC U12+: Performance

HTC has taken the recipe for a 2018 premium phone, and essentially followed it to the letter. This means that you get a Snapdragon 845 running the whole show, along with 6GB of RAM. This gives the HTC U12+ plenty of processing grunt, and that's reflected in its benchmark results:

The HTC U12+ is currently our best-performing Snapdragon 845-based handset, albeit by the slimmest of margins. Realistically speaking, it's performing exactly as well as we'd expect from a premium Android handset, and the same is true in the 3D space as well:

HTC first debuted its "Edge Sense" squeezable sides feature in the HTC U11, and it was later picked up in a reduced way for the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. In its original form, it allowed you to map actions to either a short or long squeeze on the sides of the HTC U11. It's back in an expanded form for the HTC U12+, although its implementation is a little hit and miss.

I was one of the few reviewers who appreciated Edge Sense originally because HTC kept it fairly simple. In the HTC U12+, you've still got long and short squeezes, but you can also set a double tap motion, which by default shrinks the screen for one-handed mode.

The problem here is one of sensitivity. Set it low, and it'll fire off all the time. Set it high, and you're left angrily tapping the side of the phone waiting for it to respond. HTC might fine-tune this in the future, but in my tests with adjustments to the squeeze sensitivity, I never found a setting that felt comfortable and automatic enough to use naturally. Which meant that I didn't bother with it, and that means as a feature, it may as well not be there.

The HTC U12+ features HTC's signature "Boomsound" stereo speakers, which you can set into either music or theatre mode, depending on your preferences. Boomsound has long delivered some of the best straight stereo out of a handset. That's always a limited field because there's only so much true separation you can get in a device this size, but as an emergency ad-hoc streaming radio or to quickly share a podcast snippet, it'll do the trick.

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HTC U12+ review

HTC U12+: Battery life

HTC packs a 3500mAh battery into the HTC U12+, which again is very much a matter of sticking to the current premium battery formula. The Snapdragon 845 has shown itself to be reasonably moderate when it comes to sipping at battery power, but it is using a Super LCD display rather than an AMOLED, which raises concerns about battery longevity.

Here the HTC U12+ performs acceptably rather than exceptionally, sitting largely in the middle of the pack using Geekbench 4's battery test:

However, Geekbench 4's test is terribly linear, and most of us don't sit on our phones for hours at a time running the same loop of apps over and over again. In real-world usage, I could get an easy day out of the HTC U12+, and if you're a light user, it's feasible to crawl into a second day, although you'd be scrambling for the power supply at some point.

The HTC U12+ supports both fast charging from the supplied charger as well as wireless charging using the Qi standard. As always, you'll get a slower charge over Qi, but it's super-handy for overnight charging if you hate having cables all over the place.

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HTC U12+: Verdict

HTC has struggled to gain market attention in recent years, and it's certainly not through producing sub-par handsets. The HTC U12+ is a gem of a phone that responds almost exactly as you'd want a premium 2018 handset to do, with good performance, decent battery life and a camera that's an essential joy to use. It seems pretty likely that we're also looking at the essential DNA of the Pixel 3/Pixel 3 XL here as well.

There are some misfires in the mix, like the lack of a headphone jack and the less-than-workable double-tap Edge Sense feature, but they're very much a matter of personal taste. This is easily HTC's best phone to date, and as long as it doesn't overcharge for it, an easy recommendation.

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HTC U12+ review

HTC U12+: Pricing and availability

In the US, the HTC U12+ will retail for $799, which would equate out to around $1055 or thereabouts. We'll pay $1,199 locally, which isn't as bad as it might seem when you consider that US prices almost never includes sales taxes. Add GST into that figure, and we're actually getting it slightly cheaper than in America.

That being said, that price point is a tad challenging for HTC U12+ buyers. It's cheaper than, say a Pixel 2 XL or Galaxy S9+, but $100 more than the Huawei P20 Pro, Xperia XZ2 or LG G7 ThinQ, and quite a bit more than the OnePlus 6. It's a very good phone with fine design and a good camera, but its pricing could perhaps be a little sharper.

HTC's decision to sell the HTC U12+ exclusively through its own local web site also means that there's no prospect for getting one on contract through a carrier.

HTC U12+ review

HTC U12+: Alternatives

Your alternatives to the HTC U12+ mostly revolve around what you want out of a handset.

If it's just the allure of the Snapdragon 845 and you're happy to buy outright, the OnePlus 6 is a lower-cost alternative that we've recently reviewed that could be worth considering.

If what you want is a great camera experience, the Huawei P20 Pro is an easy recommendation.

If you want a more complete package that includes a regular headphone jack and a great camera, consider the Samsung Galaxy S9+.

HTC U12+ review

HTC U12+: What the other reviewers say

Site Comment Score
Wired "The new flagship phone from HTC gets all the fundamentals right but has other features that will either delight you or leave you cold." 8/10
Back to topHTC U12+ review

Specifications

HTC U12+ Specifications

Product Name
HTC U12+
Display Size
6 inches
Resolution
2880 x 1440
PPI
537
Processor
Snapdragon 845
RAM
6GB
Storage
128GB
Operating System
Android 8.0
Front camera
Dual 8MP
Rear camera
Dual 12MP f/1.75 + 16MP telephoto
Battery
3500mAh
Dimensions
TBC
Weight
TBC
Price
TBC, expected around $1250
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