HTC U12 Plus review: Hands on with HTC’s 2018 flagship

The HTC U12+ might just be the least-hyped smartphone of the year. It arrives at the end of a long splurge of flagship announcements and without the fanfare, the glitz, or the glamour of many of its rivals. But the HTC U12+ is not to be trifled with; it’s a smartphone of surprising style and significance and, like the HTC U11 and HTC U11+ from last year, looks set to be a bit of an unsung hero.

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HTC U12+ review: Specifications, price and release date

6in, 18:9 Quad HD (2,880 x 1,440) super LCD 6 display

6GB of RAM

64/128GB UFS 2.1 storage with microSD card expansion

Dual rear cameras: 12MP, f/1.75; 16MP, f/2.6, 2x telephoto; OIS and EIS; laser and PDAF autofocus

Dual front cameras: 8MP x 2, f/2, portrait mode

IP68 dust and water resistance

Android 8 Oreo

3,500mAh battery

Price: £699

Release date: Pre-orders from from 22nd May

HTC U12+ review: Design and key features

So what happened to the HTC U12? No, you haven’t missed it. In fact, HTC is skipping its non-plus model entirely this year, instead focussing on releasing a single flagship. It says it doesn’t want people hanging on in the hope that a superior HTC phone is released later in the year.

Hence, the HTC U12+. And, no, there definitely isn’t going to be an HTC U12++ (or a U12.5 or a U12 Play or whatever). This is your HTC lot for 2018.

That dealt with, let’s move onto what makes this new smartphone tick, and the good news is that there’s no significant area where HTC falls behind this year. Last year’s U11 was a great phone, but its 16:9 screen meant it quickly looked out of date.

The HTC U12+, on the other hand, is everything a modern smartphone should be. It has a tall-narrow 6in, 18:9 quad-HD (1,440 x 2,880) screen that fills most of the body of the phone with barely any bezels to the left and right of the screen. There’s no notch, which will please the haters out there, and the phone has two front-facing cameras as well.

These 8-megapixel f/2 aperture cameras are used, like the rear cameras on the OnePlus 6, to add blurred backgrounds to selfies more accurately than would otherwise be possible with a single camera. It’s an interesting feature and one that HTC’s other flagship rivals have yet to add to their handsets.

Flip the phone over and things become slightly less interesting. The arrangement of the rear camera flash and fingerprint reader is a little ugly and awkward in my view – they’re spread across the back of phone and look a little thrown on – and there’s nothing, features wise, out of the ordinary. The rear panel is glass, just like pretty much every major range-topping smartphone today.

HTC rescues things, however, by ensuring the phone comes in some unusual and rather swanky-looking colours.

HTC’s “Ceramic Black” colour looks great, with a layered, silvery sheen. This adds an extra lustre missing from, for example, the Samsung Galaxy S9’s black variant. In an echo of last year’s stunning Solar Red, there’s now Flame Red, which veers attractively between purple and gold depending on how it catches the light.

And there’s also a translucent version in blue with a part of the rear panel revealing the circuit boards, ribbon cables and surface-mount components usually hidden beneath the surface. This model and ceramic black will available at launch; the flame red version will arrive later.

The phone also doesn’t pick up fingerprints as badly as the original U11 did last year. And, when it does, you can give it a quick wipe on your shirt to clean it up.

Finally, there’s IP68 dust- and water-resistance, bringing it level with most of its modern rivals. HTC’s famous “BoomSound” speakers are also improved and the firm has boosted 4G top speeds with support for up to 1.2Gbits/sec downloads – a notch faster than the OnePlus 6’ top speed of 1Gbits/sec. There’s still no 3.5mm headphones jack, though, which is a disappointment.

HTC U12+ review: Edge Sense 2

Perhaps the most controversial element of the HTC U12+’s design is its new pressure-sensitive volume and power buttons – an extension of the U11’s “squeezy” frame.

This could have some benefits. It’s easier for HTC to seal the phone against the elements and there are no moving parts to break, so the phone should be more reliable. But it could well be a big misstep on the usability front. Only time will tell if people are going to love or hate this new approach.

Edge Sense itself has also been given a boost in this generation. Dubbed Edge Sense 2, it now supports an extra gesture: the double tap, which you can enact with a firm tap of the thumb. It’s also now possible to “train” apps to work with the full range of Edge Sense squeeze shortcuts (long, short, double squeeze) so there’s no need to rely on developers to put in extra effort to build in support.

HTC U12+ review: Performance and battery life

Just like the LG G7 ThinQ, Sony Xperia XZ2 and OnePlus 6, the HTC U12+ comes with Qualcomm’s top of the range mobile processor, the Snapdragon 845. This is an octa-core chip that runs at a clock speed of 2.6GHz and it’s backed up here by 6GB of RAM and either 64GB or 128GB of UFS 2.1 storage. If this isn’t enough, you can expand via microSD card and the phone also has dual-SIM capability.

As this is not a full review we can’t discuss benchmark figures but you’ll get a good idea of performance if you take a close look at the other Snapdragon 845 phones we’ve reviewed so far this year. The HTC U12+ won’t be dramatically different.

As for battery life, that’s a little trickier to guess, since the HTC U12+ uses different screen technology to the OnePlus and Sony Phones and its software employs different battery efficiency algorithms. The good news, though, is that it does have a higher capacity battery than either the OnePlus 6 or the Sony Xperia XZ2 at 3,500mAh compared with 3,300mAh and 3,180mAh respectively.

Also worth noting is that the phone supports both Qualcomm’s QuickCharge 3 and USB PD (power delivery) charging protocols.

HTC U12+ review: Cameras

The camera is the area where most of the big phone manufacturers are attempting to outdo each other this year and, while the HTC U12+ doesn’t do anything particularly different (on the rear), it does at least look like it’s keeping up with the Joneses.

So, you have a dual-camera setup, with the main “UltraPixel” camera offering up 12-megapixels of resolution, a wide aperture of f/1.75 and a pixel size of 1.4um, while the other delivers 16-megapixels, an aperture of f/2.6 and a pixel size of 1um.

Unlike the OnePlus 6, these enable the full gamut of dual-camera capabilities. So, while they can be used to add a blurred “bokeh” background to portrait images with the second camera adding depth data, you also get 2x optical zoom.

Video capabilities look pretty darned impressive as well with OIS available while shooting 4K video at 60fps, so your footage should look as smooth as Teflon-coated silk. HTC is keen that you don’t forget about audio in all the fuss around image quality, either, including a quad-microphone array with the ability to focus in on a particular part of a scene.  

HTC U12+ review: Early verdict

It does feel, at this stage of the year, that the flagship smartphone space is getting a little oversaturated but, in fact, there still isn’t a huge number of phones with the very latest Qualcomm chips inside them. So perhaps the HTC U12+, late as it is to the party, can make a contribution.

It certainly has the specifications to rival the very best around and, in its Flare Red and translucent blue colours, it has a unique look, too. The problem for HTC is that it follows hot on the heels of the OnePlus 6, which undercuts the HTC’s price by a not-inconsiderable £230 and offers a jaw-dropping combination of power and value. That’s something the HTC U12+, indeed the rest of the smartphone world, is going to struggle to come to terms with for the rest of the year.

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