With the HTC U12+, we’re reviewing the first smartphone without any buttons at all. Our first reaction was: HTC is crazy! Or has HTC just ignored all other kinds of innovation? Find out in our review whether HTC has managed to build upon last year’s success!
- ✓Stylish design
- ✓Good display with no notch
- ✓No-frills performance
- ✓Lean software
- ✕New buttons aren't impressive
- ✕Edge Sense without added value
- ✕Battery life is just average
Expensive and somehow cheap for a flagship
HTC has introduced the U12+ with a recommended retail price of 799 dollars. In view of recent smartphone prices, high-end devices have already broken the barrier of 1,000 dollars several times, which at this point is almost the norm.
A transparent design
The HTC U12+ does little experimentation in terms of design, and that’s a good thing. The glass on the front is only slightly rounded at the edges and is much thicker in the back. Together with the smooth transition into the aluminum frame, this ensures that the HTC U12+ fits comfortably in your hand. The 9.7-millimeter thickness isn’t especially noticeable on the HTC U12+. The weight of 188 grams is reasonable for a large smartphone.
The translucent blue color variant is particularly exciting . It is semi-transparent, so you can seen the interior of the HTC U12+. HTC already did this last year, much to the enthusiasm of fans, and now the look has been refined once again.
The craftsmanship on the HTC U12+ is flawless and there’s little reason to criticize it. The new buttons on the side also add to it, because they can no longer actually be pressed, they’re just small protrusions on the frame. Nothing wobbles and no dirt can seep into the cracks. To prevent the sensitive smartphone from being damaged so quickly, HTC ships the device with a transparent plastic case.
A classical design without the notch
Smartphones without the notch are the exception to the rule for upper range smartphones in 2018. HTC doesn’t follow the trend and relies on a classic 6-inch display in 2:1 format. The resolution is a proud 2,880 x 1,440 pixels, and the screen supports HDR10.
Using our measuring device, the HTC U12+ was able to impress with its color fidelity (Delta E of 3.4) and grayscales (Delta E of 7.5). The contrasts of the LCD panel are also pleasantly high at 1,848:1, even if an OLED panel offers even more. The measured brightness of 365 cd/m² is too low, and you can even look at the display in a bright environment. However, since there’s no OLED, the U12+ doesn’t offer an always-on display.
All in all, the HTC U12+’s screen performs well in the test, but it does not quite match the best current models - above all from Samsung. It’s good, but not great .
The new buttons aren't the answer
To reduce the number of moving components, HTC has replaced the classic buttons with pressure-sensitive protrusions. The short haptic feedback made by the keys is clearly noticeable, but isn’t as intense as on the iPhone’s home button. This is due to the fact that the vibration motor responsible isn’t directly behind the buttons.
At first, I was convinced of the idea of a button-less design, and it still fascinates me. But in everyday life, the non-pressable buttons bother me more than I thought. The commands aren’t always implemented directly, especially with the volume keys, and sometimes you’ll accidentally press them by accident. It’s annoying, but probably happens because it's the first generation of this technology.
Edge Sense 2 gets more sensitive
HTC is convinced that the pressure-sensitive frame makes the everyday use of our smartphones easier. With the HTC U12+, the Taiwanese brand uses improved hardware, which now also reacts more sensitively to inputs. Instead of simply pressing the frame, the ultrasonic-based Edge Sense 2 technology can now also detect a slight double tap on both sides.
I still can’t really see the added value of Edge Sense, especially since it’s not always completely reliable. You can switch the display to one-handed mode, but it doesn’t make the whole mechanism any better. Again and again, the HTC U12+ does things that you don’t want it to do. The logical, if somewhat frustrating solution is to just turn off Edge Sense .
HTC remaining true to itself
HTC remains true to its software and sends the U12+ off to the races with its own Sense UI. It’s slim and comes without any extra baggage. HTC got rid of the duplication of its own apps and Google apps years ago. Third-party apps aren’t automatically pre-installed, but you’ll have the chance to choose which apps you want when you first set up the device. That’s ideal.
The HTC U12+ has Android 8 Oreo on board. HTC has been doing quite well with updates for a long time, but in the end it had to give up. The U11+ is still months behind the latest security patches and hasn’t received any updates since February. Hopefully HTC will treat its flagship better, but this isn’t certain.
HTC U12+ performance
HTC packs good and expensive components into its top smartphone for the coming months and has reduced the number of variants. Our version came with 6 GB of RAM and 64 GB of internal memory. If you need more memory, you can insert a MicroSD card with up to 2 terabytes into the hybrid slot. Alternatively, you can use a second SIM card. The HTC U12+ still has HTC Boom Sound and IP68 certification for dust and water resistance.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 powers the device. All the questions about performance have already been answered. The HTC U12+ moves at lightning speed in all situations and gives the impression of still having more than enough power to handle several apps in parallel, with even more stylish 3D animations. The smartphone more than proved itself in our detailed performance test.
HTC takes audio seriously and the U12+ is no exception. The boom-sound loudspeakers produce enormously loud and full sound that is unparalleled - for a smartphone. The USB C headphones that come with the device have Active Noise Cancelling and can be adapted to your liking. This is done via the ultrasonic feature in the settings within a few seconds and noticeably improves music enjoyment. It’s just a pity that you can only use the headphones on the U12+ and not on other smartphones.
The camera is good, but not the best
HTC is making a small comeback with its U12+ main camera, because for the first time since the One M8 in 2014, a top Taiwanese smartphone again has a dual camera. The HTC U12+ consists of a wide-angle 12-megapixel unit with an aperture of f/1.75 and a focal length of about 25mm (equivalent to a 35mm camera). The second camera, with a focal length of about 49mm, takes photos with a maximum of 16 megapixels and its mainly used to provide a double optical zoom as well as help create the bokeh effect in portrait mode.
On the video side, the HTC U12+ offers the classic features of its predecessors. We already know from the HTC U11 and U11+ how to focus on the subject with the support of four microphones or how to record a 3D audio track. One new addition is that the U12+ can now also record videos in 4K at 60 fps, and thanks to optical image stabilization, the videos should appear smooth. The HTC U12+ records in slow motion at 240 frames per second in Full HD.
The HTC U12+ uses the space above the display for two wide-angle 8-megapixel cameras. With the dual-front camera, the HTC U12+ can take selfie portraits, and according to HTC, the face recognition is meant to be safer with a second camera than the single-camera solutions from Huawei, Honor and OnePlus.
Overall, the HTC U12+ takes good photos , especially when the light is good. HTC has mastered the bokeh effects with two rear cameras and with two front cameras. It looks pleasantly natural and makes hardly any mistakes. Other smartphone cameras, however, will prover more richness in the detail and will perform better in low-lighting. In our Smartphone World Cup, the HTC U12+ lost duels against the Pixel 2 and the Galaxy S9. That doesn’t mean the camera catastrophically bad, but that’s also not good enough to be the best.
Unfortunately no surprises from the battery
The HTC U11+ was quite durable in terms of battery life. You can’t say that about the U12+. The 3,500 mAh battery usually keeps the smartphone alive all day long, but that’s not all there is to it. If you use your smartphone intensively, you’ll have to reach for the charging cable much earlier in the day. This is somewhat disappointing , and so is the lack of Qi-Charging, even though the device has a glass black. The HTC U12+ does support QuickCharge 3.0 and 4.0, and the included power supply is still 3.0
The HTC U12+ could have been a real hit: it offers a classic and chic design, no notch, no more buttons and two dual cameras. In the end, however, it’s still a few small points away from being a completely impressive device. The new buttons still aren’t fully developed, and Edge Sense isn’t either. The display and camera are both lagging behind the competition and the battery is just average. The good performance, the slim software and the successful processing can no longer compensate for this. If you’re interested in the device, you should wait until the device becomes a little cheaper and little better with some updates.
What do you think of the HTC U12+? Let us know in the comments!