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HTC U12 Plus hands-on: Literally more sensitive than ever
The HTCU12 Plus gives a great first impression, at least when it comes to design. Almost every modern flagship is made of glass panels held together by a metal frame, but HTC’s design feels sturdy with an almost brick-like heft to it. HTCmay have changed designs over the years, but the build quality continues to be excellent. The new phone still manages to retain some of HTC’s signature style, so you won’t mistake it for anything other than an HTC.
The HTCU12 Plus will be available in ceramic black, translucent blue, and flame red.
The ceramic black (known as titanium black in some markets) is probably the least exciting of the three options, but that’s not to say it looks bad. It’s a shiny, reflective, and polished glass option that is actually more gray than black.
The translucent blue model is partially see-through, allowing you to see some of the internals. It isn’t quite on the level of a clear case, but it is still pleasantly unique.
Finally there’s the flame red variant. This model has an eye-catching sheen that seems more pink than red. Unfortunately, the flame red won’t be available immediately at launch.
Be sure to check out our HTC U12 Plus color comparison for more details.
One immediately recognizable change from the HTC U11 is the lack of any buttons on the front. Gone are the front facing home buttons, fingerprint readers, and capacitive keys that used to add more bezel below the screen. Long gone are the days of the black HTCbar, and in comes the full screen 18:9 display experience. Very minimal bezels on the side give the phone a taller profile, with just enough on the top and bottom for the front facing camera, the phone speaker, and the USB-C port and speaker unit on the bottom. Granted this design isn’t completely alien, as the HTC U11 Plus made made of these changes late last year.
No, there isn’t a headphone jack, but adapters are available from HTC’s website. The phone will also include USonic USB-C earphones in the box, just like last year.
The rest of the phone looks fairly conventional, but don’t let this fool year. Just like last year, one of the U12 Plus’ biggest design features isn’t actually a cosmetic element.
You can actually squeeze the HTCU12 Plus in order to trigger a few special functions. All you have to do is quickly squeeze the phone or squeeze and hold until the haptic feedback shows the phone has registered the pressure. This functionality is officially dubbed Edge Sense. The HTCU12 Plus kicks things up a notch by adding pressure sensitivity onto the area where you would normally see the power button and the volume rockers.
In other words, what looks like buttons are actually just bumps on the side. Despite not being conventional buttons, they still function the same, they just provide vibrations to signal their usage instead of physically clicking. This kind of button design not only feels cool, but it also helps eliminate even more areas where dust and water might seep in. Speaking of which, the HTCU12 Plus is IP68 certified.
The change to pseudo-buttons made us wonder what would happen if you needed to use the buttons in certain specific ways, like going into recovery or fastboot. According to HTC, the U12 Plus gives that pressure sensitive panel its own power source that is outside of the 3,500mAh unit. Think of it like the reserves tank in your car – it will power the buttons for a while after the rest of the phone loses juice, but eventually even that energy has to be replenished via a little extra charging time.
You can squeeze, hold, and tap the sides - but an entirely separate pressure sensitive panel now replaces the buttons you know
The areas below the buttons, where squeezes are registered, have also been tweaked to allow one more shortcut – a double tap of one’s thumb.
Depending on grip, the phone knows when it is being held in either hand and will then recognize a user’s thumb tap which can trigger yet another shortcut. By default, this is programmed to enable the one-handed mode where the entire interface is shrunken down for easier reach. One handed mode has been around for some time, but making it this easy to trigger makes using the phone much easier for those that prefer a one-handed experience.
HTC’s grip recognition also helps eliminate screen rotation issues. Pretty much everyone has run into the issue where they are laying down and the interface keeps going into landscape at inopportune moments. With Smart Rotate on, the U12 Plus understands that the phone is being gripped vertically and will keep in portrait mode. It is a slight annoyance that now has a solution we didn’t realize we needed.
Sick of rotation problems when lying down? A firm grip keeps portrait mode from changing
Finally, we can get into more general specifications and that starts with the 18:9 display. There is no notch here, which is probably a welcome development for some users. There is still plenty of room for work and play on this 6 inch Super LCD 6 panel that comes in a Quad HD resolution and supports HDR 10. It also sports an always on function called Smart Display. This feature lets you keep the display on at all times or you can set it to turn on whenever the phone is picked up, a la HTCMotion Gestures. The latter is probably the better idea when it comes to conserving battery life.
HTC’s Sense looks mostly the same as last year and comes with Blinkfeed as the secondary homescreen. Personally I am a fan of Blinkfeed because it doesn’t try to do too much – it is literally a news feed that sprinkles in some social media. Otherwise, the software is clean and should be familiar to anyone who has used an HTCdevice in recent years.
Every phone in this lineup will be getting 6GB of RAM, though the storage options can differ. The most premium version will have 128GB of onboard storage, while the base model sports 64GB. Regardless of your storage choice, there is still a microSD card slot available for memory expansion. The 3,500mAh battery is a pretty sizeable unit that can be charged via Quick Charge 3.0 or 4.0 if you have a compatible adapter. Unfortunately, there is no wireless charging capability.
The U12 Plus supports every carrier even though it won't be sold on any
All connectivity options are available including support for Verizon’s network. This is great news, especially considering the phone will only be sold on Amazon and through HTC’s website, as opposed to carreir stores.
Sound is still a high consideration for HTCand Boomsound returns with its dual speaker setup. One speaker doubles as the call speaker up top alongside the bottom firing unit. The stereo sound is quite good in our quick testing and should be on par with previous offerings. Again, HTCis bundling the phone with USB-C earphones that we have used and enjoyed last year, but an adapter is available as a separate purchase.
If you prefer staying wireless, the U12 supports every high quality codec including Apt-X HD and LDAC. All of these different ways of experiencing audio have different tweaks and settings that users can play with for personalized sound.
You may have already noticed that there are two lenses for the front facing camera. Together, these lenses allow the HTCU12 Plus to capture proper 84-degree selfie portraits. The two lenses are identical at 8MP and f/2.0 aperture, but one takes the photo while the other senses for depth. The result is not only a bokeh effect, but editable focal points. You can go into the gallery app and change which focus point you want in your selfie, then use a slider to change the strength of the blur.
We are always happy to see a portrait mode on the front facing camera because let’s face it – it’s all the rage these days.
Two cameras on the front AND back means portrait mode no matter what side you're using
The same bokeh tweaks can be done on pictures captured by the rear shooter, which is a combination of a normal and a telephoto lens. The normal lens is a 12MP f/1.75 aperture while the zoom lens bumps up to 16MP and f/2.6 aperture. As expected, the main draw for this combo is the 2X optical zoom and the tighter portraiture. Phase detection and a laser are both used on the rear shooter to ensure fast focusing, and both OIS and EIS are used to make sure that especially videos are as stable as possible.
Speaking of video, HTCalso made slow motion a priority, as 1080p video capture can get up to 240fps while 4K video recording can get up to 60. With the four microphone setup, audio should also be pretty great in the footage, with directional capabilities from last year’s U11 returning. Overall, this phone is bringing a lot to the table fundamentally and should be more than a worthy flagship contender. We’re excited to put the camera through its paces and see where it stands against the competition, as HTChas also touted a 103 DxOMark score that puts it just below the current top contender.
And so, there you have it for our quick look at the HTCU12 Plus.
It seems HTCis putting just as much effort into the basics as they are in the extras, and there is plenty outside of the core experience that makes the U12 Plus exciting. Squeeze features might not seem essential, but they add an extra layer of unique personalization that could prove practical to many users. An extra lens on the front facing camera might seem superfluous, until the portrait mode results prove otherwise. They also come in a package that is very unique, especially when it comes to the translucent blue color.
The HTCU12 Plus will be available on their official website and via Amazon for $799, while the 128GB Translucent Blue model will go for $849. For more pricing details head here. In the meantime, stay tuned for our full review a bit later.