REVIEW: HTC U12 Plus – Ambitious Intelligence
Taiwanese-based HTC has sought to defy market critics, with the release of its “biggest, boldest” smartphone yet – the U12 Plus (A$1,199).
It’s been a tough time for this ‘brand of old’, with revenues slumping 46% year-on-year, and over half its smartphone R&D team moving to Google in a US$1.1 billion deal.
Confirmed to be its only flagship phone to release this year, HTC states the U12+ competes with the likes of Huawei’s P20 Pro and Samsung’s Galaxy S9/S9+.
In many respects, the U12+ is HTC’s way of proving it’s ‘still in the game’.
From the onset it’s clear the U12+ draws many parallels to the predecessing U11. The phone remains a glossy fingerprint magnet, and is incredibly easy to drop courtesy of an ultra smooth design.
Whilst internationally available in three colours, for Aussies the U12+ appears in the ‘hero’ Translucent Blue hue.
As the name suggests, users can literally see through the device, and view internal components. That being said, it’s not super transparent as from a distance it essentially looks blue.
Initially, this was a fascinating feature – but personally it’s not too much of a pull, especially knowing you’ll have to purchase a robust case for this slippery phone.
Compared to the U11, the U12 Plus is more angled, less curved, and thinner. Like other premium smartphones, bezels have also been minimised.
One of the device’s most ‘modern’ features is its lack of physical mechanical buttons.
There are pronounced buttons on the side of the device, however, unlike other phones, do not press down, nor offer a satisfying ‘click’. HTC claims mechanical buttons have an expiration date before they stop working, whilst such pressure sensitive buttons do not.
Personally, the U12+’s side buttons offer more grief than good. I longed for mechanical buttons, especially when trying to increase ringtone volume/silent your phone, adjust music levels, or volume whilst watching a video.
When turning off the phone’s display screen, it’s usually much more reliable to touch the designated ‘display off’ button on the home screen, than the usual side button.
Putting your phone to charge with zero battery and trying to turn it on at 1%, is immeasurably harder with the pressure sensitive buttons. You’re frequently left with plenty of button shaped imprints on your thumb, which wouldn’t be the case with a ‘clicky’ mechanical button.
More importantly, taking a screenshot – unlike the standard volume down with power method – is considerably more hard. This is a major con for someone like me, and her penchant for capturing screenshots.
Whilst initially bearable, after extended use the pressure keys became annoying. Perhaps they offer long term benefit, but I found the short-term annoyance to outweigh it.
You’ll also note the U12+ does not have a headphone jack, so this is a phone limited to Bluetooth headphone wearers. HTC has kindly included a pair of Blutooth headphones in the box, however, usability is always going to be restricted by battery life.
Like many other modern flagships, the U12+ is now more water resistant than its predecessor, bumping from a IP67 on the HTC U11 to IP68. It’s probably a good thing because as said, this is a slippery phone prone to dropping.
Lastly, as pretty much today’s norm, the U12+ incorporates USB-C.
Despite opting for Super LCD than AMOLED, the 6-inch 18:9 U12+ offers great screen resolution (2880 x 1440) – movie or video streaming is a joy, as is gaming and pretty much any other multimedia. Images are crisp and clear.
Watching content on YouTube/Netflix is detailed and vivid.
Lastly, kudos to HTC for defying trends, and not integrating an iPhone-esque ‘notch’.
Like many other flagship phones, HTC claims its U12+ has the best camera on the market.
This time, however, it has the support of DxOMark, who has awarded the U12+ a 103, and therefore one of its best dual-lens smartphone cameras. It’s an impressive feat, given formidable rivals like Samsung’s Galaxy S9+.
The U12 Plus features a dual 12MP f/1.75 and 16MP telephoto rear lens. The front ‘selfie’ set-up features dual 8MP lenses.
[As recognised by now, I don’t post image examples because websites often distort image quality, for better or worse].
I’ll say this, the HTC U12+ does have a stellar camera. I mean a really, really good one. I’ll keep it short and sweet, because DxOMark has already done its job concerning camera quality.
Usabilty of the camera is easy, and you can easily swap between telephoto and standard lenses.
Light-low performance is also great, and one to rival the Galaxy S9+.
Selfies are truly brilliant, with crispness and clarity rarely found. However, I did not appreciate that by default (on my model at least) the selfie camera automatically applies a ‘beautify’ selfie filter. You have to manually turn it off.
Video recording is great, and supports 4K capture.
The U12+ has nifty dual sim functionality, allowing users to either text or phone from either one of their sim cards/phone numbers.
For those of us who have a separate work and personal phone number, the feature allows you to quickly select which one you want to call or text from.
This is great in theory, and is awesome when calling, but has a major flaw when texting.
When opening your messaging app, there’s a large ‘1’ displayed beside most conversations.
Unlike the majority of phones, it doesn’t mean you have ‘1’ unread message, it means you had text that person from SIM Card 1.
It’s a learning curve to get past, and in truth is fairly frustrating. It’s a real shame HTC didn’t adapt better customisation.
The U12+ claims to feature robust processing power, catering even to a wide selection of games.
The device runs on Snapdragon 845 with 6GB of RAM, and is a snappy and speedy machine, both for business and pleasure. Storage is either 64GB or 128GB.
Whether multasking many apps for work, video streaming or gaming, there were few occassions when the device lagged/froze.
Like its predeccessor, the U12 features ‘Edge Sense’ – HTC’s technology which activates app/features by squeezing both edges of the device.
On the U12+, Edge Sense activates more functions than before, however, truthfully it’s an element I just couldn’t get in the habit of using frequently.
Straight from the box, the amount of pressure needed to trigger Edge Sense is personally more than expected.
Context: I’m a petite female with comparatively lesser arm strength.
Coupled with feedback from similar women, the device requires more squeezing than preferred.
You’re then left with the task of changing sensitivty, which I found was restricted to either end of the spectrum (too much or too little). The hassle probably explains why I used it so infrequently.
On the U12+, Edge Sense can trigger ‘One handed mode’ (for left or right handed folks) plus a plethora more. I’ll be honest, it’s just not for me. I much prefer double tapping a mechanical button (like on the Galaxy S9) rather than squeezing a 6-inch device in my tiny hands.
The U12+ uses the standard stockpile of device unlocking methods including a rear fingerprint scanner and facial recognition.
I stuck with the fingerprint scanner, as facial recognition was sometimes hit or miss.
HTC claims the U12+ has one of its most boldest, loudest sound systems to date.
With the company’s “Boomsound” stereo speakers, audio is largely cripsy, clear and loud. It rivals the performance of similar flagship phones.
That being said, there is one annoyance. Audio can be played in either ‘music’ or ‘theatre’ mode, and a notification will pop up, allowing you to swap amongst them, whenever sound is played (e.g. just surfing the internet).
The U12+ is one of those phones that without customisation, does provide a ridiculous amount of pop-up notifications. Sound is just one of those examples.
Similar to other flagship phones, the HTC U12+ packs a notable 3500mAh battery.
Overall life is standard, and not mind-blowing, with a recharge needed once a day (dependent on usage).
It’s important to note, the device is not wireless charging capable.
Today’s smartphone market is a tough competitive landscape.
HTC’s U12 Plus sells for A$1,199 which makes it more expensive than Huawei’s P20 Pro.
For that price, some may even be tempted to spend a touch more for a Samsung Galaxy S9/S9 Plus.
Price competition is even more pronounced by HTC selling straight from its online store, and no Australian carrier options.
HTC’s famous mantra was “quietly brilliant”, however, I feel the U12 Plus is more a case of “ambitiously intelligent”.
There’s plenty of smarts packed into this device (e.g. Edge Sense, pressure sensitive buttons), however, many are personally annoying to use, don’t get used, and/or leave your phone riddled with notifications.
In a market which admires the simplicity of Apple, I feel as though HTC has swung the other way.
It’s as though they’ve released a phone which undoubtedly has flagship features – their only flagship phone to release this year – however is at risk of losing the average mass consumer.
The U12 Plus is stylish phone with plenty of smarts, but seems more suited to the tech savvy or HTC loyalist – especially at that price.
The question is whether that’s a sufficient market to keep HTC’s smartphone division afloat?
Overall – 6.9/10
Design – 6.9
Performance – 7.5
Value – 6.5
The HTC U12+ is available to purchase from the company’s website for A$1,199 here.