HTC U12 Plus (U12+ review)
The HTC U12 Plus (U12+) is the latest in a long line of great flagship phones made by Taiwanese HTC. Its pedigree goes way back to 1997. It has been there since the beginnings of smartphones.
I say that because I expect a lot from HTC having owned devices with marvellous names like Dream, Desire, Marvel, Mozart and more. It was willing to take a gamble on Windows Mobile as far back as 2002. It is fair to say every HTC I have had has met or exceeded my expectations.
Thomas Dexmier, HTC’s Country Head for Australia and New Zealand, says there will only be one U12 Plus (U12+) sold worldwide (with local variants for LTE bands etc.). Sure, we believe him – but didn’t the U11 have Life, Eyes, and Plus as well.
I would not be surprised if we see more U12 models. For the most part, this is driven by an almost fickle Chinese audience that wants new phones now on six-month cycles.
HTC has had its ups and down, down, downs
Last year Google paid US$1.1 billion for 2,000 members of HTC’s research and design team (leaving 2,000 others at HTC behind). It also got non-exclusive licences to smartphone-related intellectual property. Google seems intent to gain a swag of mobile patents and IP as evidenced by its purchase of Motorola in 2011 and its later sale to Lenovo minus the IP.
But then HTC further cut its workforce. The rumour is that in Q1, 2018 it sold fewer than 30% of the volume at the same time last year. It has reported losses for eleven consecutive quarters. Revenues are down 46% year-on-year.
The facts are that the flagship mobile phone market is mature, the leaders are very established, and there may not be room for too many flagship makers.
The action is in the volume driven upper/mid-market
HTC says its 2017 U11/Life will reposition there. That is good as it is a flagship phone at a great price. There is nothing wrong with buying last year’s models – the U11 (GadgetGuy review here) is particularly awesome. The G11 Life (GadgetGuy article here) is very good too.
The U/Ultra/Play will reposition to the mid-market and pre-paid. That is similar to what LG and others are doing as it saves extraordinary costs of gaining Australian certification and network testing.
I don’t want to speculate further and sincerely wish HTC a speedy recovery using Google’s cash wisely.
Specifications – HTC U12 Plus
If you want to skip the specifications, let’s just say it has everything the other flagships have. On the Plus side is Edge Sense 2.0, Hi-res audio, and a fabulous camera. On the minus is no 3.5mm audio jack, Qi charging and it uses an IPS screen instead of an AMOLED.
|HTC U12 Plus||GadgetGuy comment|
|Screen||6”, 2880 x 1440, 537ppi, 18:9, Super LCD6 IPS
DCI-P3 wide colour gamut or approx. 70% sRGB, colour switch
HDR 10, 80.3% S-T-B-R, Gorilla Glass 3 all around
|Great screen but poor daylight readability. Accurate DCI-P3 colours|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 845, 4×2.8 GHz Kryo 385 Gold & 4×1.7 GHz Kryo 385 Silver||Flagship processor for a flagship phone. HTC has tuned it for performance|
|GPU||Adreno 630||Good for mobile games|
|RAM||6GB LPDDR4X (4GB free)
128GB UFS 2.1 (113GB free)
MicroSD sim slot 2 to 400GB
OTG to 2TB
|Great flexibility with OTG and microSD can be formatted as internal storage.
As much as I love the Google Pixel 2, its lack of microSD would lead me to the HTC.
|12MP, 1.4μm, f/1.75
Phase detection + Laser autofocus
Optical Image Stabilization (OIS)
Electronic Image Stabilisation (EIS)
Dual LED Flash
[email protected] and 24-bit/96kHz sound– no OIS or EIS
Sonic Zoom, Audio Boost, and 3D Audio recording with four microphones
[email protected]/60/240fps – both OIS and EIS
RAW file in Pro mode
|Superb camera specifications.
Lots of buggy issues in initial firmware.
Pro: OIS and EIS
Con: Auto-HDR slows down shutter response
|16MP, 1.0μm, f/2.6 (12MP effective)
2X optical zoom up to 10x digital zoom
|Optical zoom is effective. Digital zoom above 6X is too noisy.|
|Front Camera 1||8MP, 1.12μm, f/2.0, 84° FOV
No OIS, fixed focus, AR stickers
|Dual cameras are for bokeh and low-light. Poor selfies until we turned off beautify mode. Works best in good light.|
|Front Camera 2||As above|
|Comms||Wi-Fi AC, 2×2 MU-MIMO
Chromecast, DLNA, AirPlay, Miracast
DisplayPort over USB-C 3.1, Gen 1
|Speed test gained 867/520 Mb/s at up to 3/6 metres from a D-Link AC5300 router.
Great to support Chromecast, Airplay and Miracast
Display port allows screen mirror over USB-C cable/dock.
|Sound||HTC USonic earphones with ANC
HTC BoomSound Hi-Fi dual speakers – music/theatre mode
32-bit/384kHz audio Hi-Res Audio certified
Bluetooth aptX HD, LDAC high-resolution wireless audio
|USonic is one of the better buds.
BoomSound gets a great result from two tiny speakers.
Hi-Res audio gave my Sony WH-1000XM2 LDAC headphones amazing fidelity.
|IP Rating||IP68 (1.5m for 30 minutes)||Great|
|Other||Edge Sense 2
Squeeze to access apps or control the phone
Customizable gestures to launch the camera, voice assistant, turn on the flashlight, and more
Gestures for pocket mode, flip to mute, quite ring and more
Double tap to reduce screen size
Pressure Sensitive haptic feedback button
HTC Sense AI companion (use OK Google)
Face (front) and Fingerprint (on the back) unlock
|It can be useful if you persevere.
In my tests, I found it a nuisance with lots of false starts.
Pressure sensitivity haptic feedback buttons are not as useful as older click style ones.
Qualcomm Fast Charge 3.0 – 50% in 35 minutes
|It is a one-day phone. Quick Charger 3.0 provided but its 4.0 compatible.|
|LTE||Cat 18, 1.2GBps/150Mbps, 5CA, 4 x 4 MIMO
Voice over Wi-Fi (needed for Telstra small cells)
Australian Bands: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8 12, 13, 17, 20, 28, 32, 39, 40, 38, 41, 66
Dual sims both support 4G and dual VoLTE
|I achieved over 1Gb/s standing outside Telstra in George Street, Sydney. Otherwise, on 4 bars signal, it achieved a respectable 400/50Mbps.|
|Dimensions||156.6 x 73.9 x 8.7/9.7mm x 188g, slightly curved back||A little heavier and chunkier than expected after using the Huawei P20 Pro and LG V7 ThinQ|
|OS||Android 8.0 overlaid with HTC Sense UI
Upgrade to Android 9 promised
Sense Companion is preloaded on the device.
|HTC Sense takes a little getting used to. Out-of-date security patches are a consequence.
I wonder why it simply does not do Pure Android?
Sense Companion is Artificial Intelligence to analyse user behavior to offer tips or automatically apply settings.
|Colours||Translucent Blue, Ceramic Black, Flame Red
Called Liquid surface.
|Gorilla Glass 3 is used to reduce scratching but it also reduces drop ability. You must use a case!|
|Missing||3.5mm audio jack
|Not deal breakers but Qi is so handy|
|Price||A$1,199 unlocked||We don’t comment on value but if you see it under $1,000 it would be a bargain|
In the box – HTC U12 Plus
The review unit is a pre-release, so it has a few firmware issues. The part number is 99HANY000-00. We can only assume this is the Australian model.
The U.S. unlocked models include 99HAPC00400 (64GB), 99HAPC00200 (64GB) and 99HAPC02100 (128GB). There will be at least several other variants.
Warning do not buy anything other than the Australian model if shopping online.
- HTC U12+
- USonic USB-C ANC earbuds
- Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 (will also support 4.0)
- USB-A to USB-C cable
I understand the retail model will come with a clear poly bumper case. That is good because all-glass can be slippery. It has a full metal chassis separating front and back glass.
The first impression is yet another glass slab. Slightly chunky is the best word. It’s thicker and heavier than I expected. Top and bottom bezels are larger than the competitors. The camera just protrudes a tad from the rear glass.
The review unit was translucent blue. It is a nice colour. On the back, you can see some of the componentry underneath. I did not warm to this, but other journalists have raved about it. Perhaps it is because I always buy a protective case. I don’t trust glass phones – they break if you drop them.
The Black model is more Grayish from some angles, but deep Black from others. The Flame Red model looks Golden from a specific angle. Nice.
The power/volume buttons are not push button but simply haptic feedback sensors. What that means is if you touch them they are activated. The slightest brush turns it off or adjusts the volume. Add to that a sometimes-erratic Edge Sense 2.0. It is not bad, but you need to get used to this.
Edge Sense 2 – a different way to interact
Edge Sense is not a gimmick, but neither is it such an outstanding must-have feature. The U12+ has dual Edge Sense (both sides) which I prefer to think of as an accessibility feature.
HTC says it works in millions of apps. During the test, we used defaults like a squeeze to launch the camera, double tap for one-handed mode (screen shrink) and played with Google Maps for squeeze in and out zoom. My advice is that you don’t buy this because it has Edge Sense 2. It is an added feature you may or may not use.
After a couple of days, I turned it off. To me, it is not a compelling enough feature to relearn how to interact with apps or a phone. But to others, it may be innovative and indispensable.
Screen – 6-inch QHD
HTC uses a Super LCD 6 screen. It is a marketing term for its variety of an IPS LCD screen. This is QHD, 2880 x 1440, 537ppi, in the newly popular 18:9 style. It also supports HDR10 content for playback and photo viewing.
It is colourful and sharp but poor in daylight use. We found we had to ‘step-inside’ to see the screen. It has 366 nits in comparison to a Samsung Galaxy S9+ at 631. Sony’s Xperia XZ2 uses an IPS screen and manages 618 nits.
It defaults to DCI-P3 wide colour gamut. Or select sRGB that mutes colours a little. Like most QHD screens it will fall back to FHD to conserve power.
It has an earpiece and down-firing speakers. At this point, I usually say that the use of disparate speaker types cannot ever produce great, separated, stereo sound.
But this was not half bad. The BoomSonic amplified the earpiece and bottom-firing speakers. They were nearly identical regarding loudness and clarity and very well balanced.
Frequency response was 200Hz to 12,000kHz. It has a native mid signature (400Hz to 2,000kHz) which is best for clear voice. It has two EQ modes – Music, and my preference, Theatre. The first boosts bass and the latter mids/treble.
Ringer volume exceeded 90dB and voice and music around 75 to occassionally 80dB.
USonic USB-C earbuds create a personal audio profile via a frequency sent into each ear. The result is clearer music or voice (depends on presets) and decent music from ‘buds’. These buds feature a form of ANC – noise cancellation. I don’t like any buds so at best I can say is these were not bad.
While it has a Hi-Res audio this is only used for Bluetooth output. Here our reference Sony WH-1000XM2 Bluetooth headphones performed flawlessly. In part because the HTC supports Sony’s LDAC and it also has aptX HD. Very nice.
We could not try an external amplifier as all our USB-C to 3.5mm adaptors seemed incompatible (incompatible DAC). We ran out of time and possibly could have used a USB-C to HDMI adapter where I expect it would have been a good, flat, 20Hz-20kHZ signal.
We sometimes forget that a smartphone needs to be a good phone too. Call quality was superb. Hands-free use was crystal clear from both parties perspectives. It obtained as good, sometimes better signal strenghts than the Telstra Blue Tick certified Samsung Galaxy S9+.
Importantly it supports voice over Wi-Fi that is necessary to make calls in so-called Telstra small-cell areas. It also has Voice over LTE on both sims if your carrier supports it.
Performance – everything you expect from a Qualcomm flagship
The Qualcomm 845 is one of the most powerful and fully featured systems-on-a-chip (SoC). Any phone using this will have similar performance.
Wi-Fi AC, 2 x 2 MU-MIMO was excellent for both distance and throughput.
The Qualcomm LTE modem achieved 1Gbps in perfect conditions and averages 400/50Mbps in everyday use.
The storage is the latest and fastes UFS 2.1 standard.
In all no lag (apart from the camera which we will come to later) under a full load of background apps.
Battery – 3,500mAh gives a full day
A standard HD video loop at 75% brightness, no Wi-Fi or Bluetooth lasted 8 hours. This is reasonable although many of the flagships exceed this.
On our first day of tests (hundreds of photos, video, GPS etc.) the battery was completely exhausted by 6 pm, 10 hours after we started.
In subsequent days of normal use, the battery could go up to 36 hours between charges.
HTC supply a Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0. But it supports a 4.0 adaptor. We did achieve 50% in 35 minutes and 100% in just under two hours.
Android 8.0 and HTC Sense UI
HTC overlays its Sense UI on Android. It is not a particularly heavy overlay, but it changes pure Android – some say for the better. For example, it supports a notification LED and it has the recent apps ‘clear all’ button at the bottom where it should be etc.
In other ways, it has moved ‘things’, so you need to learn where various system settings are.
All this means is that Google cannot update it. Android Security patches were 11 March when most recent phones tested have May or June.
HTC Boost+ has extensive troubleshooting with full hardware tests, power usage etc. These are good.
But it is loaded with bloatware like Under Armour Record, TouchPal, Viveport, News Republic, Zoe Video Editor and HTC’s versions of Google apps – many of which you cannot delete.
These days many users (except where Google Services are not available) simply use Google apps.
Camera – exceptional pictures, slow response time
Perhaps it is the pre-release firmware, but I don’t like waiting for the shutter to activate once you push the button. The delay may only be a fraction of a second, but it feels slow often requiring a second push of the shutter button.
After exploration, I found that auto-HRD setting causes this. This means the camera is ‘hunting’ for the best combination of HRD or flash or whatever. It should not happen. Fortunately, software updates should correct this.
HTC has made some amazing cameras. This is one. The main camera that does most of the work is a 12MP, 1.4μm, f/1.75. It captures great detail and colour.
The second lens is 16MP (effectively 12MP), 1.0μm, f/2.6 for bokeh and telephoto. It has 2x optical zoom, and the pair can get up to 10X digital zoom. I strongly advise no more than 6x.
DXOMARK have given it a rating of 103 – 106 for still and 95 for video (website here). I cannot argue with that. In comparison with a Samsung S9+, it is slightly ahead and slightly behind the Huawei P20 Pro. In reviewing similar reference shots, I prefer the HTC colours over the Huawei.
It has a fast laser and phase detection autofocus. If they fix the slow shutter response, its focus could be class leading.
Camera modes include photo (full auto), Pro (manual), panorama, hyperlapse, slow motion and three selfie modes. But we test on full auto as that is what you will use.
Outdoors – early afternoon and good light.
The shot here is ISO88, 1/2213 second exposure and 12.2MP (4032 x 3024).
Colours are accurate; the details are sharp; there is no evidence of noise or any issues. 10-out-of-10.
Indoors – office light
ISO78, 1/169 second exposure, 2.4MB.
Colours are very slightly muted (the red Sudoku book is slightly pink), and there is some flare on the left side of the toy dogs fur. Still, a quality shot.
Indoors – low light
ISO164, 1/40 second exposure, 2.5MB, flash
Interestingly this shot used a flash – 99% of other smartphones prefer to use HDR. It had the effect of washing out the red sofa but gave better brightness. But all that was at the expense of too much noise. I suspect that firmware updates will move the preference from flash to HDR.
Video [email protected] was very good with OIS making for a shudder free experience. Colours and fast autofocus are exceptional. But 4K recordings are limited to six minutes (either because of heat issues or file sizes). After six minutes the heat around the camera was 35° and ambient heat was 17°. That is fine.
Lower rates at [email protected] give both OIS and EIS and have no such limits.
The phone has Sonic Zoom (acoustic sound focus) that uses four microphones to suppress surrounding noise. It also has 3D audio and Hi-Res recording.
Good but not the best in class. We found them a little softer and colours more muted than they needed to be. Then we discovered that the default selfie mode is Beautify. Turn it off, and shots are quite good. Again, this is a software issue.
It is easy enough to blur the background. Why do we need help? HTC uses post-processing to merge the images from the two front or rear lenses. In doing so, it can focus the foreground and blur the background. It worked well, but at times I expected more subject definition. Again, this is a software issue.
As expected these were excellent producing 3038 pixels height.
Facial lock and recognition
I suspect this is work in progress. It is fast but not as reliable as other flagships in low light or off-angle. It automatically brightens the display to see your face in low light.
Apart from the slower shutter button and a few software quirks (fixable), this produces shots that are as good as, if not better than the top flagships. And that is on full auto, idiot-proof mode.
GadgetGuy’s take – By George, HTC U12 Plus has done it
First, congratulations to HTC. It has produced a phone worthy of its pedigree. My only quibble is lack of Qi charging, but hey, that is me.
But not to rain on its parade there are a lot of excellent phones around this price. Like the Huawei P20 Pro, Samsung Galaxy S9+, Sony XZ2, and LG’s V7 ThinQ. Hell, let’s even include the nearly end-of-life Pixel 2 XL (well as it does not have a microSD slot maybe not).
Let’s assume these phones do similar things and you would be happy with any of them. So, why buy the HTC?
HTC fans (and I am one) will automatically buy the phone if they have a lazy $1,199 to spend. The U12 Plus is a good looking phone, packed with tech.
- You will not be disappointed (unless you want Qi)
- Arguably the second-best camera, but possibly a tad better in full auto mode, than the Huawei P20 Pro
- Taiwanese made
- Great audio credentials
- And if the firmware updates fix everything especially the haptic buttons, it is a class act
- Qualcomm 845 performance
- Good looks but buy a protective case
- Dual 4G sims work together
- Good but not great battery life
- Fast charge 3.0 is good, but 4.0 is better (5 minutes for 5 hours battery life)
- Strong camera
- USonic ANC buds are good
- Not sure about Edge Sense 2.0
- Sensitive digital buttons – haptic feedback is not a substitute for a push
- Poor daylight readability – not nearly enough brightness for outdoors
- Sense UI has lots of bloatware and means less frequent updates and patches than Pure Android
- No Qi Wireless charge
- No Qucik Charger 4.0 supplied
- Heavier than I expected and you will need a protective case
- Available only from HTC – no Telco carrier pick up yet
Rating HTC U12 Plus
Rated as a flagship to compete with other Android flagships
- Overall: 4.1 out of 5
- Features: 4 out of 5 – no Qi, 3.5mm jack
- Value for Money: 4 out of 5 – at $1199 it may be a little more expensive than others – look for deals
- Performance: 4.5 out of 5 – The Qualcomm 845 is a powerhouse. All other specs are top-drawer
- Ease of Use: 4 out of 5 – I know HTC Sense UI adds value, but I suspect it needs to go Pure Android
- Design: 4 out of 5 – Still a glass slab, fingerprint magnet, must have a case
The HTC U12 Plus is exclusively available from HTC at $1,199 https://www.htc.com/au/smartphones/htc-u12-plus/
The flagship is available in Translucent Blue only with 6/128GB and Dual SIM.
Every pre-order of the HTC U12 Plus will come with a free Harman Kardon Wireless speaker (valued at $179!) – while stocks last.
Shipping of pre-sale orders will start at the end of July.