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Hands On with the HTC U12+

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May 23, 2018, 3:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

HTC's 2018 flagship is the U12+, a phone that aims directly at competing devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S9+, LG G7, and iPhone X. The U12+ sees HTC adopting the 2:1 screen aspect ratio, dialing back the bezels, and carrying over the luscious liquid design from last year's phone. With top specs under the hood, the U12+ is a compelling Android phone. We spent some time with it in person.

HTC's U12+ is the superphone the company needs to fend off the iPhone, Galaxy S9+, and LG G7. It's a high-end piece of hardware that adopts the latest in design trends while topping out the specs with the best components around. HTC says the U12+ is more than the sum of its parts. At first blush, we'd agree.

The U12+ is gorgeous. HTC took the liquid glass design of last year's U11 and improved it. The result is a metal-and-glass phone that looks and feels luxurious. The paint job on the three color variants is stunning. The hero shade, what HTC calls Translucent Blue, is semi-see-through so you can spy the components under the glass. The "Flame Red" variant changes color depending on the light and can appear red, gold, or even purple. It's awesome. The two glass panels sandwich a metal frame that wraps around the outer edge.

HTC U12  

The phone is big. At 6.14 inches tall and 2.9 inches wide, it's about the same size/shape as the Galaxy S9+. Clearly it may be too much phone for some people. I'm most disappointed with the thickness. At 9mm, it's about 1mm thicker than many competing phones. It's pretty hefty at 6.64 ounces. HTC has never seemed to care about crafting super-slim phones and the U12 proves that point once again.

The materials and manufacture are top-notch. Anyone who puts their hands on this phone will be impressed with the quality of the glass, the strength of the metal frame, and the manner in which the parts are affixed to one another. The pre-production units we saw had clean, tight seams all the way around. I'm happy to report that the phone is rated IP68 for protection against water and dust. This means it'll be okay if you drop it in the bath or the pool, or get caught in a heavy downpour while out for a walk. It's not rugged. The phone may be made of Gorilla Glass, but the phone is still susceptible to damage when dropped.

The U12+ marks the first time HTC has adopted the ~2:1 aspect ratio for the screen, at least in a phone for western markets. There's no notch, and the bezels are slim while still being thicker than I prefer. The phone still has a bit of a forehead and a bit of a chin framing the top and bottom of the screen. The earpiece is above the screen, though there are no buttons or controls below the screen. The phone doesn't quite have the all-screen look that other 2:1 phones do.

The screen (which is a "Super LCD 6" panel) looks really good. It measures 6 inches from corner to corner and packs quad HD+ (2,880 by 1,440) pixels. The resolution pushes the pixel density to a ridiculous 537ppi. The screen is capable of playing HDR+ content from providers such as Netflix and boasts customizable color profiles. It's a fine screen, though we didn't get an opportunity to test it outdoors.

HTC put in a lot of effort to improve its Edge Sense system along the metal sides of the U12+, and the results are pleasing. Pressure sensors are buried under the metal frame at/below the phone's waist. Like the U11, squeezing these sides calls up different actions. The new Edge Sense 2 can do much more, though. For example, a double-tap on one side will shrink the screen to one-handed mode. As long as you hold it in a normal one-handed grip, the screen will maintain portrait orientation even when sideways, a helpful feature for those who like to browse in bed. As before, users can customize a quick squeeze to open Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, fire off a picture, and more. Edge Sense continues to work even when the phone is in a case, and a clear case is included.

Oh yes, Amazon Alexa is onboard, and Dual Wake Words means you can speak to either Alexa or Google Assistant as you please.

Edge Sense  

The buttons on the side are no longer standard, physical buttons. Instead, they are electronic buttons that are activated by the same pressure sensors as Edge Sense. The phone's haptic motor buzzes to let you know you've pressed the screen lock button or volume toggle. The feedback isn't perfect, and will likely take some time to get use to. Still, neat! HTC says it did this to help achieve the watertight chassis.

You'll find the USB-C port and speaker port on the bottom. The phone does not have a 3.5mm headphone jack, which will surely grate some users. To offset that aggravation, HTC says it will include its capable U-Sonic headphones with active noise cancellation in the box. These are actually decent headphones. A fast charger is also included, but wireless charging is one of the few flagship features you won't find on the U12+.

HTC improved BoomSound. Not only is the amplifier able to generate 30% louder music, the two speakers deliver more balance between highs and lows. The result is a more genuine stereo experience when holding the phone in landscape orientation. It sounded pretty good in the demo we heard.

The rear panel of the phone strongly resembles that of the LG V30. It features a nice piece of curved glass that tucks into the metal frame seamlessly. Near the top you'll spot the dual-camera array, arranged side-by-side. The fingerprint reader is just below that. The arrangement of these components makes sense. Most importantly, the fingerprint reader, which is indented just a bit, is easy to find and use. HTC told us the fingerprint reader does not support gestures, such as scrolling or opening the notification shade.

The cameras offer some pretty advanced features. The main camera has a 12-megapixel, wide-angle sensor at f/1.75 and a secondary 16-megapixel telephoto sensor at f/2.6. The camera includes a hybrid of phase detection and laser autofocus. The phone supports optical zoom up to 2x and digital zoom up to 10x via the dual cameras. Other features include improved HDR capture, bokeh portraits, face detection, and pro mode with RAW support.

The front has two 8-megapixel cameras at f/2.0 with support for bokeh portraits, HDR, face unlock, live makeup, AR stickers, and panorama selfies. The video camera includes a feature called Sonic Zoom, which will tweak the microphones to focus more narrowly when users zoom in on a subject. It can capture 4K video and includes OIS, 360-degree 3D audio capture, slow-motion, and time-lapse. We played with the camera UI, which looks clean and powerful, but can't say much yet about the results of these sensors and lenses.


HTC says the phone can capture high-definition audio and it supports Bluetooth 5.0 with aptX HD, a bonus for people who prefer wireless headphones.

HTC includes extensive support for wireless media streaming, including Miracast, DLNA, and even Apple AirPlay.

The phone has decent support for U.S. wireless networks. It includes support for LTE band 66 for T-Mobile, but not 71, and no LTE 29/30 for AT&T. Crucially, it's certified for use on Verizon's network.

On the software front, the U12+ runs Android 8 Oreo with the latest rendition of HTC's UI skin. It doesn't look or function all that different from what we've seen on other recent HTC devices. It includes an always-on display with app shortcuts; a standard app drawer, Quick Settings shade, and settings menu; support for themes; as well as HTC's Sense Companion and BlinkFeed for personalizing recommendations and social network feeds. HTC says the phone will be upgradable to Android P later this year.

In all, the U12+ is a very good device from HTC. My biggest initial complaint is the thickness. Pretty much everything else impressed me and gives me hope that HTC can sell more than a few of these devices.

About the author, Eric M. Zeman:

Eric has been covering the mobile telecommunications industry for 17 years at various print and online publications. He studied at Rutgers Newark and University of Kentucky, and has a degree in writing. He likes playing guitar, attending concerts, listening to music, and driving sports cars.

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May 23, 2018, 7:53 AM


I really like what I'm seeing. Don't think it'll replace my Pixel 2 XL, but definitely will be added to my selection
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