A POTENTIALLY GREAT FLAGSHIP PHONE THAT’S HAMSTRUNG BY MISGUIDED USABILITY “ENHANCEMENTS”
We love innovation and showing off new technology. But some things probably shouldn’t make it to market and instead remain as concepts until they’re fully baked. HTC can make great phones but, in its quest to be different, it’s contrived a new way of interacting with them. In solving a problem that didn’t exist, it’s created new problems that are so significant that we can’t help but start by focussing on them over the positive points.
The roots of the issue go back to the HTC’s last generation of phones. We were told that in order to overcome the problems involved with taking phone-based selfies [no, we didn’t know there were any either], HTC had invented a new ‘squeeze’ system which made it easier to take the picture. In reality, squeezing the phone introduced a camera shake which compromised pictures, but at least you could easily ignore the feature. Now, on the U12+, HTC has folded the squeeze technology around the entire phone.
The volume and power buttons are now baked into the side-squeezing system rather than acting as independent mechanical switches. But squeezing is haphazard to the point where volume regularly rises and fall with ghost touches.
The primary squeeze feature can activate various functions, such as camera, voice assistant, taking screenshots plus you can calibrate it to work at various pressures. We recommend dialling the pressure requirement right up to maximum otherwise you’ll frequently engage your chosen feature simply by grabbing the phone. We’re told that if you hold the phone near it’s base and double tap one side or another, you’ll ‘easily’ get into one-handed mode. How, such a half-baked feature ever made it to release is beyond us, it’s horribly uncomfortable to operate and it frequently activates when you don’t want it to.
However, if we look beyond the trivial issue of the phone being a nightmare to operate on a day-today basis, there’s actually much to like.
The 6-inch UHD LCD screen is bright and colours are vibrant. It sounds impressive thanks to HTC’s BoomSound technology which uses separate “woofer” and “tweeter” speakers to produce relatively wellrounded, punchy audio that’s also particularly good for conference calls. While there’s no 3.5mm headphone jack, the bundled USB earbuds provide higher-than-usual fidelity.
A face unlock feature is acceptably accurate. It’s IP68 certified meaning it’s both dust and waterproof to an impressive degree. However, while the aluminium chassis and glass back are very robust their appearance will split the field: the latter is now translucent so you can see the circuitry inside but we feel this is a retrograde step compared with the previous, colourful, opaque variant.
Under the bonnet resides Qualcomm’s latest 2.8GHz SnapDragon CPU plus 6GB RAM which helps everything fly along. When used in tandem with the Adreno 630 GPU, it easily handled the most power-intensive games.
But a downside to this beefiness is the battery life. The 3,500mAh unit routinely struggled to make it through a full day and regularly needed a top-up charge in the evening. Fast charging will see it gain 50% charge in 35 minutes but there’s no wireless charging.
If there is a saving grace, it’s the camera(s). Both front and rear have dual-mounted units. The primary cameras are responsive and took fast-focusing, sharp, colourful pictures in all kinds of challenging lighting conditions, including harsh rear-lighting and very-low light. There’s also an easy-to-access Bokeh (background-blur) mode which can be automatic or adjusted manually. In conjunction with the sharp, dual lenses it took some great portraits (both front and rear facing). Video is sharp (although it can be a bit flickery in dark, artificially-lit scenes) and captured sound is impressively distinct too. Despite strong competition in this space, the HTC U12+ is one of the very best cameraphones on the market.
So should you buy it? No. Even if it was much cheaper, you’d be driven mad by the basic usability flaws.
6in, 1440 x 2880 OLED screen, 128GB/6GB RAM • 2.8GHz Octa-core Snapdragon 845 CPU • Adreno 630 GPU • dual 12MP rear cameras, dual 8MP front cameras • microSD (dual SIM slot) • USB-C • IP68 dust/waterproof • no headphone jack • Android 8.0 • 3,500mAh battery • 157 x 74 x 9mm, 188g. $1,199 • www.htc.om/au