HTC U12 Plus first look – Can HTC make you care again?
In amongst the flashy launches from Samsung, OnePlus, LG and Motorola, it’s easy to forget that we haven’t yet seen a 2018 flagship from HTC. Until now, that is.
The HTC U12 Plus will be the brand’s high-end device for 2018 and, rather oddly, it won’t be joined by a regular HTC U12. I like this – often, non-plus models are lacking high-end features – but then why not simply call it the HTC U12? The ‘Plus’ moniker implies there’s another version.
Naming aside, the HTC U12 Plus feels like a safe bet from HTC. In many ways it’s similar to the HTC U11 Plus, but with an updated Edge Sense system for interacting with the phone through a series of squeezes, alongside the usual array of improved internal components we’ve come to expect from a 2018 phone.
HTC U12 Plus design – There’s no notch
The big news regarding the HTC U12 Plus’ design is that there’s no notch. Unlike the majority of 2018 flagships, the 6-inch display here isn’t interrupted by an unwelcome cut-out.
The rest of the design is fairly standard. I could say it’s ‘boring’, but then don’t all phones look kind of boring these days?
It’s a glass-clad device that feels far thicker than it should, but it still has that high-end finish for which HTC is known. It’s rated IP68 for water-resistance, lacks a headphone jack and still a fairly noticeable bezel at the top and bottom of the display. At least it comes in a pretty cool translucent colour-way.
One design decision that does stand out is the removal of all hardware buttons. Instead of mechanical switches, the standby button and volume rocker here are just for show; you’ll get a bit of haptic response when you tap then.
It’s an odd sensation; there’s something quite reassuring about having a proper standby switch that’s missing here. Obviously, Apple has done something similar in the past with Touch ID, but a real button also featured for backup if something went wrong.
Main 12-megapixel f/1.7 and secondary 16-megapixel for 2x zoom
3500mAh, USB-C, Quick Charge 3/4+
Android Oreo 8.1
IP68, Boom Sound HiFi edition, Edge Sense 2
The real standout feature – unique to the HTC U12 Plus – is Edge Sense 2. First introduced on the HTC U11, Edge Sense lets enables interaction with the phone through squeezing its sides. The second iteration of the technology isn’t only more sensitive, but it lets you evoke other function simply by tapping the sides.
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For instance, you can map a tap to bring up a quick app launcher, with a squeeze opening the camera. On paper it sounds like a gimmick, but having used the U11 for a fair time, the feature is surprisingly useful.
The squeeze functionality works in apps, too, and this doesn’t require the developer to update anything – you just do it through the Edge Sense settings panel. A squeeze to zoom in on Maps or skip a track in Spotify becomes natural almost instantly.
Alongside the Pixel 2 and iPhone X, the U11 and U11 Plus had one of the best phone cameras of 2017. What sets HTC’s photos apart is their realism: where other phones focus on hyping up the colours and saturation, snaps from the U11 looked natural and detailed.
In the U12 Plus, HTC has added a secondary 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 to see what it looks like after-the-fact. Other camera improvements include a new HDR Boost mode and improved focusing – we’ll have to spend more time with the phone to judge the difference these make to images.
There are dual cameras on the front, too. Again, these 8-megapixel sensors work together for the bokeh mode. Video can be recorded up to 4K 60fps, while there’s a slow-motion mode that will shoot 240fps.
HTC phones have also been renowned for there fantastic audio. The U12 Plus features the same BoomSound Hi-Fi Edition used in the U11 Plus, and there are a pair of ANC USB-C headphones in the box. I had only a short time to listen to the audio, but it appeared immediately better than the OnePlus 6 I was also carrying.
HTC is still sticking to LCD rather than the now more common, and often better, OLED tech for the 6-inch display. In some models this can be a disappointment, but here it doesn’t really bother me. The display is great: bright, colourful and it covers the DCI-P3 gamut. It’s missing those lovely deep blacks you get on OLED, though.
There’s a 3500mAh battery inside, support for both Quick Charge 3 and 4+ (although you’ll only have a plug capable of the former in the box) – but not wireless charging. Considering this is a glass phone, it’s a shame that Qi charging isn’t included here.
The camera is key here: if it’s great, I can forgive the lack of design innovation and other standout features. But if it misses the mark, there’s really little here to entice.