HTC U12 Plus – Am­bi­tious In­tel­li­gence

SmartHouse - - REVIEW // HTC - Writ­ten by ROMA CHRIS­TIAN

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’.

DE­SIGN

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 harder. 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 Blue­tooth 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 an 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.

DIS­PLAY

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’.

CAM­ERA

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 du­al­lens 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’ setup fea­tures dual 8MP lenses.

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.

Us­abil­ity 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.

MES­SAG­ING

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.

PER­FOR­MANCE

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 mul­ti­task­ing many apps for work, video stream­ing or gam­ing, there were few oc­ca­sions when the de­vice lagged/froze.

Like its pre­de­ces­sor, 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 sen­si­tiv­ity, 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.

SE­CU­RITY

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.

SOUND

HTC claims the U12+ has one of its bold­est, loud­est sound sys­tems to date.

With the com­pany’s “Boom­sound” stereo speak­ers, au­dio is largely crispy, 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 popup no­ti­fi­ca­tions. Sound is just one of those ex­am­ples.

BAT­TERY

Sim­i­lar to other flag­ship phones, the HTC U12+ packs a notable 3500mAh bat­tery.

Over­all life is stan­dard, and not mind­blow­ing, with a recharge needed once a day (de­pen­dent on us­age).

It’s im­por­tant to note, the de­vice is not wire­less charg­ing ca­pa­ble.

OVER­ALL

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?

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