HTC U12+ Review

HTC U12+

HTC U12+

HTC

May, 2018
6.0" display, Snapdragon 845 chipset, 3500 mAh battery, 128 GB storage, 6 GB RAM, Corning Gorilla Glass 3.
EUR:€450 | USD:$545 | PKR:87,588 | INR:39,771

Rate It:User Rating: (Excellent)


HTC U12+ Review

HTC U12+ Review


Introduction

HTC U12+ might just be least-hyped smartphone of the year. It arrives at end of a long spree of flagship announcements and without any fanfare, hype, or glamour of many of its rivals. Yet again, HTC's flagship for 2018 follows HTC U11's footsteps by having a superb camera experience and snappy software. Stylish design and formidable specifications make it ideal for those seeking a premium smartphone, but don't have disposable income for an Apple iPhone X or Samsung Galaxy S9+. Question now remains, can HTC make you care about it again? Does HTC U12+ provide enough reasons for users to opt for an HTC device in this highly competitive smartphone market? Let's find out.

Design

First thing I noticed on HTC's latest flagship for 2018 is that there's no notch, unlike most flagship phones in 2018. However, this is year of iterations and HTC U12+ follows suit with most smartphone in that area, as you won't see any major design overhaul from last year's HTC U11 but rather a refined take on the Liquid Surface design introduced last year. Like its predecessors, HTC U12+ features an all-glass design and an aluminum frame. It's heavy, weighing in at 188 grams, and feels like a really high-quality piece of tech. HTC has a history of making some very beautiful smartphones and HTC U12+ is nothing different.

HTC has enabled phone's design to exhibit brilliant effect here, using a layered 3D glass process with 'cold polishing' to create a phone that has a two-tone look and almost zero bezel either side of screen. It's a really stunning handset to look at, tilting it back and forth shows off a lovely two-tone effect, and it's something not many other brands have gone for. A similar effect has been achieved on Huawei Honor 10, but you'd have to say that HTC is still front-runner in great-looking smartphones.

At front of device, there's a large display with minimal bezels on top and bottom. You'll find two selfie cameras on this phone placed on left side of top bezels with an earpiece in middle. Phone has no physical buttons so bottom chin is kept clean. At back of this beautiful device, you'll find a dual camera setup, placed vertically on top middle with an LED flash right below. Fingerprint scanner rests below LED flash light and there is HTC branding underneath. Rest of device is kept clean and glossy, with minimal manufacturing information at bottom.

There's no 3.5 mm headphone jack on this phone which is a bummer, and you'll only find a USB Type-C port and a speaker on bottom of this device. At right side, there's a power button with volume keys on top of it, and this time around, they don't function like normal buttons. They are pressure sensitive and doesn't click, instead they provide a haptic feedback every time you try to press them. Talking about pressure, HTC U12+ is another of HTC's squeezable phones. You can squeeze it from sides to trigger a certain function which you can set. An extra touch here is that you can program a function to left side of device, which doesn't hold any buttons, but is pressure sensitive so a tap or press on left side can activate a useful feature, such as taking screenshots.

Phone is protected by Gorilla Glass 5 and IP68 water and dust-proof rating, which puts it on same level as majority of 2018's premium smartphones. I personally enjoyed squeezable sides a lot on this phone, as compared to older HTC smartphones. It seems like HTC has hit the right spot when it comes to design and little innovations. In my opinion, this is one of the best-looking smartphones of 2018.

Display

Despite most smartphone manufacturers shifting to OLED technology, HTC still opts for LCD as HTC U12+ sports a big 6 inch Quad HD Super LCD6 display with a resolution of 1440 x 2880p, aspect ratio of 18:9 and pixel density of 537 ppi.

Display is bright, crisp, and offers great viewing angles. Plus, it gets dim enough for nighttime use and bright enough for outdoor use, so it looks like HTC really improved its display tech this time around. Default DCI-P3 color profile is a bit too saturated for my liking, but it's easy enough to tweak in the settings menu. While big, tall display is nice, HTC doesn't allow you to swipe down on the fingerprint sensor to pull down the notification shade. This is a feature people use constantly on Google Pixel 2 XL, and I really wish it was on HTC U12+. You can swipe down from anywhere on the home screen to see your notification shade, but it's not as convenient as using fingerprint sensor.

HTC included an always-on display this time around as well, named, Smart Display. You can set this ambient screen to appear only when you wake your phone, or have it on at all times. Since this phone has an LCD display, this feature might use up a little extra battery if you keep it on.

Display also supports HDR10 but being an LCD panel, contrasts aren't as deep as you'd find on Samsung Galaxy S9+ or Apple iPhone X. That said, color reproduction is strong, and you can turn it up or down depending on your preference. With richer setting enabled, effect when watching movies is impressive, you will feel full range of cinematic colors as a result.

Overall, it's a decent display with sharp colors and high resolutions. There are many smartphones in market with better displays, however, and that could be a huge hassle in HTC U12+'s way.

Hardware

HTC U12+ comes packing some powerful hardware and interesting features. Phone is powered by top of the line, Snapdragon 845 processor with Adreno 630 GPU coupled with 6 GB of RAM and either 64 GB or 128 GB of on-board storage. There's also micro SD card slot available in case you want expandable storage, No matter what you throw at this phone, multitasking, heavy gameplay, or just scrolling around UI, HTC U12+ will handle it with ease. During my test, phone froze up on me once and it was good to know that power button still works in such conditions.

During my performance test, Geekbench 4 gave HTC U12+ a single-core score of 2,362. In comparison, OnePlus 6 scored 2,454, while Samsung Galaxy S9 scored 2,144. HTC U12+ achieved a multi-core score of 8,910, while OnePlus 6 scored 8,967, and Samsung Galaxy S9 scored 8,116. Finally, HTC U12+ scored 4,537 in 3D Mark, while OnePlus 6 and Samsung Galaxy S9 scored 4,680 and 4,672, respectively. This was a little shocker to me, as OnePlus 6 is comparatively cheaper than this phone, yet still scored higher on benchmarks.

HTC was one of first manufactures to ditch headphone jack, so it's no surprise that HTC U12+ doesn't come with one either. This time around, HTC's not providing a USB Type-C to headphone jack adapter in the box and you'll have to buy one from company's website if you want to use your wired headphones. They do, however, include a free pair of HTC's wonderful USonic earbuds, just like last year. These are actually really nice earphones, and they can analyze and tune audio specifically for your ear, and they feature active noise cancellation.

Despite lack of headphone jack. HTC U12+ is a great phone for audio lovers. BoomSound speakers make their return and they're great. They get super loud, almost too loud sometimes, and sound quality is pretty clear. If you're into listening via wireless audio, phone supports Qualcomm aptX HD and Sony LDAC codecs for high-res 24-bit audio.

HTC went back to its root with this device as they have made a solid device with one of the best hardware experience, especially if you're into music.

Battery

HTC U12+ has a 3,500mAh battery, which is slightly larger than its predecessor, as well as some similarly equipped smartphones, such as OnePlus 6 and Sony Xperia XZ2. Sadly, even that bigger battery will barely see you through the day. In my video playback test, with screen brightness set to max, I recorded a time just under 12 hours from a full battery. That's way behind its competition and main culprit here appears to be HTC's Super LCD technology, which seems far less efficient than AMOLED panels used in rival smartphones such as Samsung Galaxy S9+.

To make it a little better, HTC U12+ supports fast charging up to Quick Charge 4, however you get Quick Charge 3 charging brick inside box. With 30 minutes of charge, you can juice up your phone to around 58 % so that's impressive. Another downside to this phone is no wireless charging support, even though it is a glass back phone.

It's safe to say, if you're a heavy user, it would be better to carry a charger around just to be on a safer side.

Camera

HTC had been a pioneer in camera technology on smartphones and with HTC U12+, things remain same. This time around, there are four cameras on phone, two on front and two at rear of device. At rear, phone has a dual camera setup with 12 MP + 16 MP sensors with an f/1.8 and f/2.6 aperture respectively. Both cameras have both Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) and Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS). Camera also has auto-focus and 2x optical zoom found on most flagship devices of 2018.

Cameras on this phone can take amazing shots in well-lit areas, and very good shots in low-light settings. Low-light performance isn't as good as Huawei P20 Pro, but it is a step up from HTC U11. And that's saying something. Rear cameras on phone provide rich colors and tons of detail in most shots.

During my camera test, pictures I took from HTC U12+ lack a bit of saturation as compared to images from Google Pixel 2. Also, Samsung Galaxy S9's camera took brighter images but overall, HTC U12+ did not lack behind both of these devices from a huge margin. HTC is slowly but surely adding more features to its camera app. There's still a pro mode if you want more control over your photos, as well as panorama, hyperlapse, and slow motion video modes. Camera app itself is a bit laggier than Samsung Galaxy S9 and Google Pixel 2, but only by milliseconds, it's barely worth mentioning here.

Dual-camera setup allows HTC U12+ to take portrait shots with a bokeh effect, just like most other phones. There are two different ways to take bokeh shots: automatically or manually. Automatic bokeh shots snap a photo and have HTC's camera app decide how much to blur the background, while manual bokeh mode lets you adjust a slider before you take photo. You can also edit amount of blur after photo has been taken, too. Bokeh shots turn out okay for most part, but only if there's plenty of light surrounding your subject. Phone has edge detection issues just like most other devices, but I haven't run into as many problems as I would have expected. Photos taken with portrait mode also lack color accuracy, more so than any other phone I've used.

HTC U12+ can shoot videos up to 4K at 60fps, and shoot slow motion video in 1080p at 240fps. Phone doesn't offer higher frame rates in slow motion like Samsung Galaxy S9, but 1080p at 240fps should be fine for most people. Also, making its return is Sonic Zoom (formerly known as Acoustic Focus), which lets you zoom in on a subject while shooting video to amplify subject's sound. It works really well, and HTC says it's 60 percent louder and 33 percent more focused this time around.

On front, there are two 8MP camera sensors, each with an aperture of f/2.0 and an 84-degree field of view. There's no OIS with front cameras though, so you'll experience some shaky videos if you tend to vlog with your phone. Selfies taken with HTC U12+ are generally good, though it can be hard to capture a clear photo if you're not completely still. There's also a beauty mode built into camera app that lets you adjust your face for smoothness, brightness, eye size, and face structure. This mode overpowers way too much at times, even at lowest settings and I personally think that you're better off just turning this off altogether.

There were some issues with HTC U12+'s camera as well. I ran into a few inconsistencies with portrait mode on front-facing camera. Phone struggles to tell hair and background apart much more often than with rear-facing camera. You'll just have to make sure you're in a well-lit area if you want portrait mode to look good. There are new AR stickers built into camera app, which can be used with front or rear cameras. There are some fun ones like dogs, pandas, or cats, but also some questionable ones. I also ran into a weird performance issue quite frequently where HTC U12+ drastically changes exposure level when focusing on a subject. If sensors pick up too much light, camera app will flicker and crush all blacks almost immediately. There's no smooth transition between a well-lit setting and a low-light setting. I'm hoping this issue can be fixed with a software update, because it can get extremely annoying.

Overall, I would like to say that if you're looking for a phone with a good camera, HTC U12+ won't disappoint you.

Software

HTC U12+ launches with Android 8.0 Oreo fresh out of the box and HTC confirmed it will be upgraded to Android P shortly after this next version of Android is released. It is likely HTC will skip 8.1 since team is focused on getting Android P update ready to roll. If you've used HTC Sense in past few years, you'll already be familiar with HTC U12+'s software experience as it also comes with HTC's own skin on top.

HTC's Sense UI is one of the lightest skins on flagship phones, without all of that terrible carrier bloatware. There are just a few HTC apps, such as Mail, and most of these add value to overall experience rather than bog it down as some other heavier skins have been doing. HTC still supports themes so you can customize your device to your preference. Theming includes freestyle layouts where you can have custom icons and placement on home screen panels. This is still something that is unique to HTC phones.

You can swipe three Android buttons from right to left to access some quick settings and it turns out this is one of the best ways to capture screenshots. Traditional method on Android of using a volume and power button dual button press does not work due to use of haptic buttons. You can try an awkward power and virtual home button press, but swiping to use quick screenshot control is likely a better move. Face unlock is included as a convenient way to quickly unlock phone and that has worked reliably for me. Rear fingerprint scanner is used for a secure unlock method, but when you pick up phone it is nice to have face unlock available too. A downer to software side of HTC U12+ is HTC's Blinkfeed. It used to be pretty useful and very customizable to content you wanted to see on left home screen panel. It has now devolved into ads, trashy content I don't care to see, and a hot mess of junk.

A brand-new addition to HTC smartphones is Edge Sense 2. This big new software feature on HTC U12+ is an updated version of "squeeze thing" that launched on HTC U11. This is one of the best parts of this phone. There are three new additions to Edge Sense this time around: smart rotate, smart dim, and a new double-tap gesture. Smart rotate will come in handy when you're lying in bed looking at your phone. When this phone senses you're holding it in portrait mode, a slight tip of device will no longer accidentally trigger auto-rotate. This actually comes in handy quite often. Smart dim is one of those set-it-and-forget-it features as when you're holding your phone, screen won't dim even if screen timeout is up. Finally, you can now double-tap either side of phone to perform a specific action. By default, a double-tap will trigger one-handed mode, which shrinks screen to a much more manageable size. You can set double-tap gesture to pretty much anything, though as it can launch your favorite apps, go back, launch a floating navigation bar, or trigger your default voice assistant. I personally don't think that a lot of people will be using this feature as most people will be having a case on phone because of its slippery nature.

Of course, all other wonderful squeezy features have returned. A short or long-squeeze can launch any app of your choice, control music playback, launch Edge Launcher, expand or collapse your notification shade, and more. I set my short squeeze to launch Google Assistant and a long-squeeze launches camera app. Amazon Alexa integration is available here too, for those who aren't fans of Google Assistant.

HTC Sense isn't perfect, especially with that irrelevant Blink Feed but it is still one of the nicest Android UI's you will get on any smartphone in 2018.

Conclusion

HTC U12+ will be available in market on June 18 for around 800 Euros. It comes in three different colors: Translucent Blue, Ceramic Black, Flame Red. Translucent Blue is my favorite as it shows a bit of what's inside this beautiful device. Though its arrival comes an awfully long time after big hitters of 2018, HTC U12+'s Snapdragon 845 processor and top-of-the-line cameras mean that it's only fashionably late, rather than missing the party entirely.

Problem is it's squeezed by vastly cheaper OnePlus 6 on one side, and superior but only slightly more expensive Samsung Galaxy S9+ on other hand. Had it arrived six months ago, it might have been a showstopper. As it is, HTC U12+ is good but not quite good enough. However, this is a tremendously pretty, well-crafted and capable phone, offering nearly all top features we like in high-end smartphones (wireless charging aside). Audio quality is incredible, camera performs decently and screen is good enough.

Problem is, this phone doesn't surpass its competition in any area. What HTC U12+ gets right, its competition also gets right. There's just no standout reason to buy this phone over Google Pixel 2 XL, Samsung Galaxy S9+, or even LG G7 ThinQ.

Overall, this is a good phone coupled with a lackluster software experience, problematic buttons, below average battery life, and a price tag that's too high. If you can get past those things, buy it. For most people who have been a fan of HTC in past, it is also safe to say that this phone won't disappoint them.