Pros / The HTC U12+ has an amazing four-camera photography setup for color-accurate shots and great selfies.
Cons / The odd pressure-sensitive buttons make it difficult to use.
Verdict / The HTC U12+ is a beautifully-designed phone with a great camera, but its odd buttons and so-so battery life make it inconvenient.
The HTC U12+ could have been an amazing smartphone as it has several top-tier components, like its highly-rated camera, Hi-Fi speakers and customizable Edge Sense functionality. However, the pressure-sensitive buttons are a fatal flaw that limits its usability.
The camera is the biggest selling point of the U12+. DxOMark gave the HTC smartphone a score of 103 overall, which is higher than both the Google Pixel 2 and the iPhone X. The HTC U12+ employs dual front cameras as well as dual rear cameras. The twin 8 MP front shooters assist with realistic bokeh effects for blurred-background selfies and more accurate facial recognition for Face Unlock. The back of the device features a 12 MP wide angle main shooter and a 16 MP telephoto that allows up to 2x optical zoom. The U12+’s best camera features are its color accuracy, white balance, speedy autofocus and bokeh. It’s image quality stays strong in natural, bright and dim lighting conditions, and the native camera app includes controls for adjusting settings like depth effect and HDR. Unfortunately, the application can be a bit sluggish, which isn’t ideal for trying to quickly catch a shot.
The U12+ is a big phone. Unlike other smartphones with “plus” in the name, this smartphone doesn’t have a smaller counterpart, so those who favor more petite devices are out of luck. Except for the stunning Translucent Blue and Flame Red finishes, the HTC U12+ looks like any other large smartphone on the market. The U12+ has an all-glass body and uses Liquid Surface technology to create its two standout finishes. We reviewed the device in Translucent Blue, which gives you a peek of the internal components through the back of the device. It is also available in Ceramic Black and Flame Red, which shifts in color from a bright raspberry red to a sunset gold, depending on the lighting. The left side of the device houses the volume and power buttons, which are the biggest disappointment of the device. The HTC flagship features an IP68 rating, which ensures protection against dust and submersion in up to two meters of water for an hour. It has one USB-C port, a fingerprint scanner, expandable storage and dual SIM capabilities.
Display and Audio
The HTC U12+ has an 18:9 aspect ratio and 6-inch LCD display, and it completely eschews the notch trend in favor of thin bezels at the top and bottom of the screen. The screen has good color payoff but doesn’t get quite as bright as an OLED screen, so it’s harder to view in the sunlight. It does not have a headphone jack, but the bundled HTC USonic USB-C headphones feature active noise cancellation. The device’s BoomSound Hi-Fi speakers are very good for a smartphone as well.
Pressure-Sensitive Buttons and Edge Sense
The problem with this phone is that the buttons are not actually buttons. They’re pressure sensitive, button-shaped sculpts that give haptic feedback when you press them, like the home button on the iPhone 8. The concept isn’t new or inherently bad, but the execution is idiosyncratic at best. The power button is dead center of the right side of the phone, and testers found it too easy to accidentally push while adjusting grip or simply holding the device. The frequent accidental screen locks are very annoying, and there’s no way to adjust the pressure-sensitivity of the buttons to mitigate the inconvenience. This may not be a problem however, if you learn to only grip the bottom half of your phone or elsewise adapt to effectively using the device.
Only gripping the bottom half of the HTC U12+ is also useful for the device’s Edge Sense functionality. The bottom half of the phone has pressure-sensitive panels that react to squeezes and taps, like the Google Pixel 2, which allows you to summon Google Assistant with a squeeze. The U12+, however, takes this further by giving a degree of customization to the gestures. Double-tapping a side of the device, by default, triggers one-handed mode, which is useful for such a large phone. A short squeeze summons the camera app, though you can set it to open pretty much any app, including Google Assistant or Alexa. We enjoyed the idea and novelty of the Edge Sense controls more in theory than in application. You can set your preferred squeezing pressure, but we still triggered some of the functions by accident, and it feels more gimmicky than a natural way to use your phone. It has potential, though, and we liked that the Edge Sense controls work within apps like Google Maps.
The HTC U12+ uses Android Oreo 8.0. It’ isn’t the latest version of the operating system, but it’s a familiar UI and isn’t difficult to use. The most inconvenient aspects of the software are the pressure-sensitive sides and buttons. The device uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chipset, the same that runs the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 and most current Android Flagships. It comes with 6 GB of RAM and either 64 or 128 GB of built-in storage, though you can expand upon this by inserting a micro SD card using the SIM2 tray.
Battery and Charging
Another area that didn’t fare particularly well was battery life. Even though the HTC U12+ has the largest capacity battery of the smartphones we tested when it comes to mAh, it had the second shortest lifespan in our web-browsing test. Its 3,500 mAh power source lasted only 9 hours and 13 minutes while continuously browsing over LTE at 150 nits brightness. For reference, the Pixel 2, with its 2,700 mAh battery, lasted over 11 hours on the same test. The HTC does not support wireless charging, but it is compatible with Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 using the included USB Type-C charging accessories.
The HTC U12+ is a good Android flagship with a great camera and awkward buttons. It isn’t available through wireless carriers, just HTC itself and Amazon, and it doesn’t support the Sprint network at all. Though the phone has a lot of good components, they don’t come together to form a cohesive whole, thanks to some design quirks. But if you can overlook the weird buttons, the U12+ offers a lot of perks.