In 2017 HTC launched the HTC U11. I reviewed it and on the whole felt it was one of the best smartphones HTC had produced in a very long time.
It was powerful, the battery life was well above average, it had HTC’s usual flair for audio, and it had one of the best cameras I saw in that year; a single-sensor setup which ever-so-slightly edged out ahead of the Samsung Galaxy S8+ in low-light shooting.
I did, however, have one or two gripes with it. One was a personal taste thing, which was that I couldn’t get onboard with HTC’s mirror-shine “Liquid Surface” finish. The other was the quality of the IPS LCD display, which was looking a little anemic now that many more phones were switching to OLED.
Regardless of the pros and cons as I saw them, ultimately it was not a great performer when it came to consumer sales.
Shortly after release it was followed by the HTC U11+ with a tweaked spec sheet.
This year, HTC is cutting straight to the HTC U12+.
If you’re wondering where the standard HTC U12 is; there is none.
In what feels like a nod to OnePlus’ product cycle (OnePlus 5 followed by the OnePlus 5T) HTC wanted to communicate that this is the highest-tier phone it will launch this year, with the firm’s reps telling us there will be no “director’s cut” version with better specs and features rolled out later.
So this is HTC’s big play for 2018, its lead flagship model, and the showcase for all its best technology, features, gizmos, and capabilities. Does the HTC U12+ have the chops to revive HTC’s market presence and take the company forward?
Latest HTC U12+ contract and SIM-free deals
HTC U12+ First Look: Design & Display
The HTC U12+ builds on the “Liquid Surface” design of last year’s HTC U11 series with an all-glass bodyshell featuring a mirror-like gloss finish.
As with the HTC U11, I am not really a fan of this and was rather hoping for at least one matte option, but sadly no dice. Still, shiny gloss does seem to be on-trend in the phone space at the moment, so it will probably find a receptive audience.
HTC has expanded the selection of colours, which all feature colour-shifting iridescent qualities, your options are now Ceramic Black, Flame Red, and Translucent Blue, which, as with the previous-gen Translucent finish, partially shows some of the internal components through the back panel.
While the overall shape and aesthetic remains similar to the last-gen, there are a few notable tweaks HTC has made. In particular there seems to be a push towards making a smooth, clean, sci-fi inspired visual language.
For example, as well as the Translucent Blue colour scheme looking rather sci-fi, HTC has ditched mechanical physical keys in favour of digital, pressure-sensitive buttons with force feedback for power and volume on the handset’s side.
If you look where the keys normally are, you’ll just see a slight ridged texture in the side of the phone to show where the button functions are activated with a press, and doing so gives a little haptic vibration to register the pressure.
The front fascia is largely dominated by the 18:9 IPS LCD display with an ultra-thin bezel on either side.
This is a 6in screen with a 2K QHD resolution. HTC wanted to make the bezel as thin as possible so has employed a new type of “cold polished 3D glass” construction to shave a bit more material off the bodywork while still keeping a solid, comfortable build.
As with previous models, the forehead and chin have not been removed as these house some fairly vital hardware; a front-facing dual-sensor camera and a set of stereo BoomSound speakers, amongst other components. More on these later.
Lastly on the subject of design; the HTC U12+’s waterproofing has been upgraded to IP68.
HTC U12+ First Look: Hardware & Specs
The HTC U12+ runs on Qualcomm’s Snapragon 845 chipset and packs UFS 2.1 memory hardware. It has dual-4G SIM (Standby) and a 3,500mAh battery with support fr Quick Charge 3.0 and Quick Charge 4.0 (though the phone comes with a Quick Charge 3.0 charger).
There’s no 3.5mm headphone jack as the handset comes with HTC’s proprietary headphones which use the Type-C USB port for hardware-driven audio (more on this later).
The phone also supports biometrics via the rear-mounted fingerprint reader, as well as voice unlock and 3D face unlock.
HTC U12+ First Look: Camera
HTC is going big on the camera this time, finally returning to the dual-sensor hardware configuration after many years. The HTC U11’s camera was a single-sensor setup which, in my view, was absolutely superb, easily one of the best phone cameras of 2017.
The HTC U12+ actually has four camera sensors, with both front and rear cameras being dual-sensor setups.
The primary rear-facing camera uses larger sensors than on the HTC U11, with a larger pixel size and both f/1.75 and f/2.6 apertures working in tandem – HTC says it has 15% higher light sensitivity than the previous flagship. Meanwhile, the front-facing dual-cam uses two f/2.0 apertures.
The rear-camera has 2x lossless optical zoom capability as well as some very impressive 10x digital enhanced zoom.
The zoom feature has a smoothed pinch-to-zoom but also a tap staged zoom and an automatic zoom which gradually goes in or out (from 1x to 4x) – HTC designed these zoom features to prevent camera wobble from awkward input when zooming.
Both front and rear cameras capture depth and spatial data and offer real-time bokeh effect capture – this can be dialled in with a selector. Post-processing and focal point selection are also featured.
Other primary camera features include HTC’s UltraSpeed Autofocus which combines Dual-Pixel Phase-Detection Autofocus (PDAF) and Laser Autofocus for some lightning fast focus and capture capabilities with maximum detail and minimum noise.
There’s also HDR Boost 2, which although it’s an optional feature, HTC reps said it’s really best when left on.
It enhances both standard and low-light capture and uses a technology called multi-frame noise reduction, which essentially captures multiple frames of the image and almost instantaneously compares them – if there are any extra pixels that are not present in all frames, it simply removes them, thus reducing noise with virtually no additional calculation and capture time.
There’s also a Pro mode where users can dial-in custom settings.
HTC considers that, with the amount of video now captured and distributed on social media, video is “as important as photo, at least”, so a lot of work has been put into video capture on the HTC U12+.
It features 4K video capture with OIS and EIS at 30fps or 60fps, FHD capture with OIS and EIS and 30fps, 60fps, or endless slo-mo at 240fps – yes, there’s no limit on how long you can film slo-mo for. Front-facing video is 1080p.
However, HTC’s love affair with audio doesn’t end with BoomSound, as the firm wanted to ensure that lovingly captured video footage wasn’t let down by shoddy sound.
The enhanced zoom features also crossover with the audio capture, as HTC has developed a system with four microphones – audio is said to be 60% louder and the focus has been improved by 33%; whatever subject you focus on, it will preserve the audio from that and phase out surrounding audio, such as people chatting in the background.
The further in you zoom, the more focused the audio will be on that subject – this is dubbed Sonic Zoom.
The capture also supports 3D Surround Sound and an AudioBoost mode.
HTC U12+ First Look: Software
The HTC U12+ will ship with Android 8.0 Oreo onboard, but will have full Project Treble support to facilitate fast updates.
HTC said it will even allow you to pre-load and Flash updates for smoother transition between builds, and assured us that Android P is coming as soon as possible.
HTC U12+ First Look: Special Features
HTC has added or enhanced a number of special features for the HTC U12+, including a return of the Edge Sense pressure-sensitive surround and BoomSound audio.
HTC’s slogan for this release is “Live on the Edge” so of course the Edge Sense feature is front and centre.
As with the predecessor, approximately the lower third of the handset’s bezel is pressure sensitive and responds to squeeze inputs for various functions. However, this has been expanded upon even further with the HTC U12+, which now also responds to a gentle double tap on the bezel as well.
The Edge Sense 2 UI is now much more customisable, allowing you to tailor what software function you wish the squeezes and taps to trigger; there’s a pre-set list for things like Google Assistant and opening the camera app.
However, new additions include the Edge Launcher, which is a kind of app carousel optimised for one-handed operation with your thumb, allowing you to open the carousel by tapping the bezel, slide through some apps and tap one to launch.
This has been developed with ambidextrous use in mind, so whichever edge you tap the Launcher will open on that side. Another similar function allows you to launch a scaled down version of the Homescreen so you can more easily navigate it.
Other Edge Sense 2 features allow you to customised how the phone reacts to being held. Edge Sense is always detecting that you’re holding the phone as well as how you’re holding it.
For example, you can toggle on a setting that will prevent the screen from dimming as long as you’re holding the handset.
Another option locks the screen rotation when it knows you’re lying on your side while looking at the screen in portrait mode (so it doesn’t rotate to landscape).
A major feature allows you to customise the squeeze input to in-app functions on third-party apps.
Rather than necessitate app developers to re-write their apps for Edge Sense compatibility, Edge Sense will simply allow you to choose what function it performs inside of a launched app by letting you slide a selector over a UI element of that app.
From then on, if you’re in that screen of that app and squeeze, it’ll activate whatever you selected.
HTC’s BoomSound speaker setup remains pretty much the undefeated champion of the smartphone built-in audio space, and HTC isn’t resting on its laurels with the U12+.
The stereo speakers are allegedly 50% louder than those of the HTC U11 seres, but also have been enhanced to give clearer and richer sound with no distortion. The dual front facing speaker setup uses both a woofer and a tweeter with a dedicated amp for each driver.
The bundled-in headphones are the same HTC USonic ones we saw on the HTC U11, which means they’re USB Type-C based and this allows a number of cooperating hardware and software functions which wouldn’t be possible via a 3.5mm headphone jack.
Notably, the headphones scan your inner ear canal to custom-tailor the audio experience to you.
In addition, the headset incorporates Active Noise Cancellation; microphones embedded in the headphones read ambient noise around you and send that information to the phone, which then uses software to block out the noise; this achieve noise cancellation without the need for bulky and expensive noise cancellation hardware in the headset itself.
HTC U12+ First Look: Price
The HTC U12+ will launch with an RRP of £699 in the UK and €799 in Europe.