HTC U12+

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Price: £699 inc VAT from fave.co/2x2FiJu

HTC is hav­ing a funny old time of it since Google nicked a load of its em­ploy­ees. Hav­ing made the Google Pixel, Pixel XL and Pixel 2 (but not the LG made 2 XL), you’d be for­given for think­ing there wouldn’t be an­other HTC flag­ship.

But the HTC U12+ is its high-end phone for 2018 – and the com­pany is so con­vinced it’s a win­ner, there’s no reg­u­lar model. It’s Plus or bust.

The phone looks quite a bit like the chunky U11 Plus, but with some de­cent up­grades, par­tic­u­larly in the cam­era. HTC has been tread­ing wa­ter for a

few years now and needs a hit, de­spite the strength of the U11 line. But the U12+ is a buggy mess. It has bad bat­tery life, un­nec­es­sary pres­sure-sen­si­tive but­tons and bugs that make it in­fu­ri­at­ing to use. It might be the fi­nal nail in the cof­fin for HTC.

De­sign

It’s al­ways a good start when a phone is eye-catch­ing, and the HTC U12+ is that. Not quite in the same way re­cent Sam­sung Galaxy phones are, but the new colours had us swoon­ing.

Con­tin­u­ing the glass de­sign of the U11, there’s black (which isn’t re­ally black), red (which turns gold in dif­fer­ent light and an­gles) and a translu­cent blue that shows off some of the in­ter­nals through the sturdy Go­rilla Glass 5. All three colours shim­mer and while they at­tract some fin­ger­prints they are cer­tainly lust wor­thy.

Speak­ing of fin­ger­prints, the sen­sor is on the rear, but the dual front cam­eras also al­low for face un­lock.

The de­sign is a lit­tle straight-laced though, and the phone is a mono­lithic slab of heavy tech at 188g. While shiny on the back it’s great to see an oleo­pho­bic coat­ing on it, which keeps fin­ger­prints down com­pared to Sam­sung Galaxy phones, but does make it slippy. There’s a snap-on plas­tic case in the box.

The phone is quite large and hard to hold with one hand, much like the S9 Plus, but as the U12+ is no­tice­ably thicker, you’re go­ing to have to use two hands most of the time.

It helps to have a slightly pro­trud­ing metal rim be­tween the two glass halves as it helps you grip and

hold onto the thing. In­creas­ingly bezel-free phones can lack this, so it’s nice to see here.

The dis­play is an 18:9 6in LCD and though a flat panel has one glass piece that im­pres­sively bends into the frame of the phone. Like LG with its G7 ThinQ, HTC is sticking to LCD. Above that screen is the sur­pris­ing ad­di­tion of two front-fac­ing cam­eras – match­ing the two on the back. All four cam­eras are flush to the cas­ing (save for a mil­lime­tre rim on the rear) and their in­clu­sion means you can take por­trait pho­tos or self­ies.

Even more unique to the U12+ is that none of the but­tons phys­i­cally move. The power and vol­ume keys are pres­sure-sen­si­tive and give you vi­bra­tion feed­back rather than ac­tu­ally mov­ing, which sup­pos­edly helps with the wa­ter­proof­ing and means they can’t break like a me­chan­i­cal but­ton might.

It’s a step closer to phones be­ing com­pletely sealed units, though not quite – you still need the USB-C port for fast charg­ing, but no wire­less charg­ing, de­spite the glass. As we will ex­plain later in this re­view – the gam­ble has not paid off.

We are taken by the Flame Red that tran­si­tions from red to gold in the light. Ce­ramic Black shifts from black to sil­ver, and the Translu­cent Blue is less jazzy and shows fewer fin­ger­prints.

It’s a de­sir­able phone, but it may prove too util­i­tar­ian for some, even in the red.

Dis­play

The tall 6in dis­play is 18:9 Quad HD LCD with a res­o­lu­tion of 2,880x1,440. It’s a fine screen with

ex­cel­lent touch re­sponse and colour re­pro­duc­tion, but it suf­fers in bright di­rect sun­light as LCDs tend to do. It’s nigh on im­pos­si­ble to read any­thing on the dis­play without boost­ing the bright­ness to 100 per­cent in these in­stances, and it gets an­noy­ing.

It’s a flat panel un­like the curved sur­faces and rounded screen cor­ners we’ve seen on other flag­ships this year. If you want a stan­dard, rec­tan­gu­lar dis­play on a high-end phone, then the U12+ is ap­peal­ing.

It’s good to see an al­ways on dis­play op­tion, but be wary – be­cause it’s an LCD panel, hav­ing this on all the time will drain the bat­tery con­sid­er­ably. There’s an LED in­di­ca­tor light too, if that’s your thing.

Pro­ces­sor, mem­ory and stor­age

The spec­i­fi­ca­tions on show here are mouth-wa­ter­ing. The U12+ flies thanks to a Snap­dragon 845, 6GB

RAM and 64GB of ex­pand­able stor­age. It’s also dual-SIM, but the SIM 2 space is taken up if you opt for a mi­croSD card.

Per­for­mance is hard to fault. The phone is ex­tremely fast and only feels ‘slower’ than the Pixel 2 and OnePlus 6 – and this is nit-pick­ing. The fingerprint sen­sor is re­li­able and fast, but you can also use the front fac­ing cam­eras for face un­lock, which is also de­cent here.

When benchmarked against com­pet­i­tive de­vices, the U12+ per­forms as ex­pected (see our charts). While the Pixel 2 XL comes in lower thanks to its now pre­vi­ous-gen­er­a­tion Snap­dragon 835, the per­for­mance on all these phones is very sim­i­lar. You’ll no­tice a jump be­tween last year’s U11 and the U12+, but it will be min­i­mal.

Edge Sense

Oddly, the phone’s most in­ter­est­ing in­ter­ac­tion comes not from the touch­screen but the sides of the de­vice. Like the U11’s Edge Sense and the Pixel 2, HTC has put pres­sure-sen­si­tive sides into the U12+, call­ing it Edge Sense 2.

You can short- or long-squeeze to ac­tion any­thing you want (open the cam­era, start Google As­sis­tant, and so on), or dou­ble-tap with your thumb on ei­ther side to do some­thing else, like go back, shrink the screen to one handed mode or open a wheel-style menu.

It’s good when it works, but Edge Sense 2 is not as re­li­able as the ver­sion on the U11. It’s buggy, and half the times we trig­gered ei­ther func­tion was by

ac­ci­dent. And dou­ble-tap­ping the side of a huge phone with one thumb in one hand is a pre­car­i­ous ac­tion. It’s eas­ier to triple-tap the home but­ton – An­droid’s de­fault op­tion for one handed mode.

When you be­gin to squeeze the phone, blue graph­ics il­lus­trat­ing the squeeze and dot graph­ics ap­pear on the screen. Un­for­tu­nately, it’s far too sen­si­tive and even sim­ply hold­ing the phone can trig­ger it, cov­er­ing your dis­play in blue when you aren’t about to use Edge Sense. It was enough for us to turn it off.

Com­pared to the U11, it’s harder to ac­tu­ally lo­cate the right pres­sure points when you want to, as well as trig­ger­ing it when you don’t want it. The pres­sure sen­sor on the left is longer and dif­fer­ently po­si­tioned to the one on the right. You def­i­nitely have to squeeze the phone harder than be­fore, even when you can change the level of pres­sure needed.

The best fea­ture here is in fact the least ob­vi­ous. There’s a smart ro­tate op­tion that senses you’re hold­ing the phone in a cer­tain way and doesn’t au­toro­tate the screen. It’s ba­si­cally for if you are ly­ing in bed with your phone – but it works well be­cause it is a sub­tle fea­ture that im­proves the user ex­pe­ri­ence. It’s the only time here that Edge Sense is suc­cess­ful.

As well as Edge Sense, there are no phys­i­cal but­tons on the phone. The vol­ume and power key are pres­sure-sen­si­tive – but buggy as hell. They work maybe 60 per­cent of the time, but that is far from good enough when they are the only op­tion, and when HTC clearly thinks they are bet­ter than nor­mal but­tons (you can’t ad­just the level of sen­si­tiv­ity, ei­ther).

Some­times, merely ac­ci­den­tally brush­ing the power but­ton reg­is­tered a lock when other times press­ing it as hard as pos­si­ble does noth­ing. These but­tons are not nec­es­sary as wa­ter­proof­ing is pos­si­ble without them – HTC claims it’s to stop phys­i­cal but­tons break­ing. Fine, but when they these ones are ba­si­cally bro­ken out of the box, this as­ser­tion is DOA.

It’s worth not­ing that these prob­lems oc­curred on two sep­a­rate loan de­vices – the sec­ond given to try and rec­tify the prob­lems of the first.

Edge Sense on the U12+ man­aged, in our twoweek test­ing of the phone, to drive us in­sane to the point of not want­ing to use the phone. Turn­ing off Edge Sense goes some way to solv­ing the mad­den­ing prob­lem, but who wants to turn off the head­line fea­ture of their brand-new £700 phone?

Au­dio

The vol­ume up but­ton proved trou­ble­some, and weirdly fre­quently did not work when it was in our pocket. The in­line con­trol on the head­phones doesn’t have vol­ume con­trols, only play/pause which it­self worked in­ter­mit­tently – and, a real kicker, there’s no 3.5mm head­phone jack don­gle in the box. It’s an­noy­ing that HTC doesn’t in­clude one with its £700 phone – Ap­ple, Google and Huawei all do.

Luck­ily, the bun­dled in-ear USonic head­phones are quite good and have noise can­cel­la­tion. But if you want to use your own head­phones, you’ll have to buy an HTC adap­tor or use Blue­tooth head­phones. In our tests, the USonic buds also don’t work with any other USB-C de­vice we tried them with.

The dual speak­ers are de­cent, con­tin­u­ing HTC’s good track record. You can switch be­tween mu­sic mode and the boom­ing theatre mode. These are some of the best smart­phone speak­ers out there.

Cam­eras

Us­ing the U12+ annoyed us to the point of dis­trac­tion, but is saved from the brink by its cam­eras. It’s one of the only parts of the phone that con­tin­ues the good work on the U11 and im­proves it.

The dual cam­eras are the first on an HTC for ages, and they are very good. We are talk­ing nearly-Pixel 2 lev­els of ex­cel­lence here, which is no mean feat. The U12+ is slightly worse off in low light though, par­tic­u­larly to the Pixel and the Huawei P20 Pro.

The U12+ hav­ing dual cam­eras is very 2018, and the rear cam­eras are 12Mp (with OIS) and 16Mp

(tele­photo) with an im­pres­sive zoom that takes full ad­van­tage of the hard­ware. HTC is keen to high­light the video ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the U12+ and like on the LG V30 there are some de­cent fea­tures like zoom track­ing that will zoom in or out au­to­mat­i­cally on a sub­ject, and even hone in on the au­dio of a se­lected sub­ject.

In day­light, dusk, zoom and por­trait modes in par­tic­u­lar, the re­sults are awe­some. The U12+ does not overly sat­u­rate in post pro­cess­ing, in fact even less so than Google does, and HDR does a good job of keep­ing colours nat­u­ral­is­tic. They all look great on the dis­play, too. But de­spite the main sen­sor’s f/1.75 aper­ture, low light pho­tos in­doors are grainy in places and are overly bright­ened by the pro­cess­ing. The lenses fare bet­ter in out­door low light.

You’ll can record in 4K with OIS (im­por­tant plus) at 30 and 60fps, and sta­bi­liza­tion is ex­cel­lent. There’s also the op­tion for slo-mo at 240fps with no length limit, so you can muck about with that to your heart’s con­tent.

The cam­era app is clean and easy to nav­i­gate around de­spite the tons of op­tions avail­able to you. But it is a lit­tle laggy and slow to re­act at times, which is frus­trat­ing.

Bat­tery life

Round­ing up the U12+ pack­age is IP68 wa­ter re­sis­tance, a 3,500mAh Quick Charge 4 com­pat­i­ble bat­tery (but only a QC3 charger in the box), and no wire­less charg­ing.

But bat­tery life is woe­fully un­der par on both the re­view units we tested. Apart from bat­tery life be­ing usu­ally bad (some­times less than two hours screen-on time), it was also wildly in­con­sis­tent.

Some days we would get home at 8pm on 15 per­cent, other it was nearer to 35 per­cent. On hol­i­day in Bu­dapest, we did not have any con­fi­dence what­so­ever that the U12+ would last a day.

Even with 12 hours off charge and us­ing the stan­dard bat­tery saver mode, the phone died. With the

sup­posed im­proved ef­fi­cien­cies of the Snap­dragon 845 and 3,500mAh on board, this is very dis­ap­point­ing.

For con­text, we haven’t ex­pe­ri­enced such bat­tery con­cerns with any other flag­ship in 2018. Bat­tery life, Edge Sense and the but­tons ruin the U12+, while only the gen­eral per­for­mance and cam­eras shine.

Soft­ware

HTC’s Sense soft­ware has been its strength for years given it doesn’t change stock An­droid too much, but it’s now a mixed bag. There are vis­ual dif­fer­ences in menus and fonts are dif­fer­ent through­out the OS. It’s pleas­ingly cus­tom­iz­a­ble, and the ad­di­tions you’ll find on the U12+ are mainly as­so­ci­ated with Edge Sense func­tions or au­dio setup.

HTC lets you be as plain as you want with its soft­ware, or you can cus­tom­ize it to within an inch of its life. The com­pany ex­pects you to do the lat­ter, and the U12+ still feels like an en­thu­si­asts’ de­vice more than a mass mar­ket op­tion like the Galaxy S9.

It’s also only on An­droid 8.0, and so you lose handy fea­tures such as bet­ter in­line no­ti­fi­ca­tion ac­tions seen in 8.1. HTC Sense in 2018 is blocky and, ba­si­cally, very un­changed from even the HTC One M8 from 2014 – imag­ine if Sam­sung still used sim­i­lar soft­ware de­sign from 2014’s Galaxy S5. The di­aller, con­tacts and clock apps are all flu­o­res­cent and old, and it’s crazy that HTC hasn’t done any­thing to up­date them.

The U12+’ soft­ware does not feel very 2018, and it’s vis­ually lag­ging be­hind ba­si­cally every ma­jor com­peti­tor – it’s a big deal, and it makes us want to use the phone less when it doesn’t feel new or of

flag­ship ex­pense. Swip­ing right on the home screen takes you to Blink­feed, not Google, and that’s a bad thing. Blink­feed is a stodgy mess of ir­rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion that’s hard to take in, even if you link your so­cial ac­counts. It even served us ads to buy the U12+, the phone we were hold­ing, and even the ‘brand new U11’ – last year’s flag­ship. It’s ter­ri­ble.

There’s also HTC’s largely an­noy­ing Sense Com­pan­ion (mer­ci­fully op­tional) that pops up oc­ca­sion­ally to tell you there’s a Turk­ish restau­rant nearby or that you’ve just walked three miles. Like Edge Sense, we turned it off.

Ver­dict

The U12+ sim­ply isn’t good enough – even for HTC diehards, we fear. Cam­eras and hard­ware de­sign aside,

we are so dis­ap­pointed in this phone. Er­ratic bat­tery life, aging soft­ware de­sign and ter­ri­ble pres­sure­sen­si­tive but­tons mar the ex­pe­ri­ence from the mo­ment you turn it on.

Add to that the fact Edge Sense is worse than it was on the U11 and you are faced with a phone that we strug­gle to rec­om­mend. Yet the cam­eras are up there with the best smart­phones have to of­fer in 2018, mak­ing this a supremely frus­trat­ing phone.

If you love the de­sign and the soft­ware quirks, and want a smart­phone cam­era that ex­cels while cost­ing less than the Pixel 2 XL and Huawei P20 Pro, then this could be a phone to con­sider. But ul­ti­mately there are sim­ply bet­ter – and cheaper – high-end phones to choose from. Henry Bur­rell

Spec­i­fi­ca­tions

• 6in (2,880x1,440; 537ppi) Su­per LCD6 ca­pac­i­tive touch­screen • An­droid 8.0 Oreo • Qual­comm SDM845 Snap­dragon 845 pro­ces­sor • Octa-core (4x 2.8GHz Kryo 385 Gold, 4x 1.7GHz

Kryo 385 Sil­ver) CPU • Adreno 630 GPU • 6GB RAM • 64/128GB stor­age (mi­croSD up to 512GB) • Dual rear-fac­ing cam­eras: 12Mp (f/1.8, 1.4μm, dual pixel PDAF); 16Mp (12Mp ef­fec­tive, f/2.6, 1μm), PDAF and laser AF, OIS, gyro-EIS, 2x op­ti­cal zoom, du­alLED dual-tone flash • Dual front-fac­ing cam­eras: 8Mp (f/2.0, 1.12μm),

1080p, HDR, panorama • 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi • Blue­tooth 5.0 • A-GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO, BDS • NFC • Fingerprint sen­sor (rear mounted) • USB 3.1, Type-C 1.0 • 3,500mAh non-re­mov­able bat­tery lithium-ion

bat­tery • 56.6x73.9x8.7mm • 188g

The 6in dis­play im­pres­sively bends into the frame of the phone

Geek­bench 4

JetStream

When you be­gin to squeeze the phone, blue graph­ics il­lus­trat­ing the squeeze and dot graph­ics ap­pear on the screen

Dusk shot

Por­trait

You can cus­tom­ize HTC’s soft­ware as much, or as lit­tle, as you want

The rear of the 12+ shim­mers at­trac­tively in the light

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