As much as HTC wants to position itself as a premium brand with a flagship worth paying attention to, OnePlus might’ve stolen its thunder. The base model HTC U12 Plus will retail in the U.S. for $799, while the equivalent OnePlus 6 goes for $529. That’s a frightening $270 difference — half the OnePlus cost.
Our own Andrew Grush even made favorable comparisons between the OnePlus 6 and the iPhone X, which starts at $999. Now, while that’s just one opinion, Apple’s value proposition is undeniable. HTC on the other hand? HTC isn’t the one explaining what you get for all that extra money, so it’s up to us. Let’s see how the HTC U12 Plus compares with the OnePlus 6.
There’s something to it, but enough?
I was fortunate enough to sit in media briefings for both the OnePlus 6 and the HTC U12 Plus. One of the notes I made during the U12 Plus discussions was that clearly the HTC device is a feature-rich phone, packed with good ideas.
Here’s a table of key differences and comparisons between the U12 Plus and the OnePlus 6:
The HTC U12 Plus offers close to a stock Android experience, with some nice additional touches. Flip to mute, quiet ring on pick up, and Edge Sense 2 navigation are all genuinely useful. Always-on voice commands could be useful, depending on the battery hit you take, and the IP certification is much better for peace of mind compared to the OnePlus claim of being “weather resistant.”
We don’t have a direct comparison in our reviews of the OnePlus 6 and the HTC U12 Plus, and we don’t yet have final scores for each area as we wait for our deeper dive of tests. Reading both reviews we can start with benchmarks – our benchmarks compared the OnePlus 6 with the highest-spec 8GB of RAM versus the U12 Plus with 6GB of RAM, both running the Snapdragon 845 SoC:
There’s not much between these — so little that it’d be amazing if there was any noticeable real-world difference.
So what about real-world things that matter, like the display, software, and camera? It seems clear the U12 Plus does a better job overall with one of 2018’s best cameras, coming as close as possible to beating the Pixel 2. OnePlus has always been average, but the OP6 does improve on the OP 5T. More comparisons on that front later.
On the software front, the OnePlus OxygenOS experience trounces HTC Sense, which is getting stale and still isn’t even on Android Oreo 8.1.
In regards to displays, this one is tricky. The OP6 uses AMOLED but at a fairly low 1,080 x 2,280 resolution on a 6.28-inch device. The U12 Plus is sticking with LCD, on a 6.0-inch Super LCD 6 screen of 1440 x 2880 resolution — and doesn’t have a notch, on the plus side. We should be testing both in more detail soon, but neither display was a disappointment.
So what does that mean overall? Our reviews are based on the quality of each device in terms of the full package, include price, so it’s hard not to lean towards the OnePlus 6 here. Our OnePlus 6 review says: “If you want a ton of bang for buck, a premium experience, and don’t mind losing out on a few extra features, buy this phone.”
Our HTC U12 Plus review says: “At its core, this is a solid high-end smartphone. It’s fast and powerful, has a great screen, an impressive camera, and HTC is actually trying to innovate with Edge Sense. It’s also one of the only high-end phones without a notch, if you care about that sort of thing. If you’re an HTC fan, you’ll love the U12 Plus.”
The U12 Plus review also noted downsides: a lackluster Android skin, below-average battery life, and the high price tag.
Overall, the U12 Plus doesn’t decisively win in the big comparisons, with a few more bells and whistles such as an IP rating, and a better camera. But the battery life looks worse, and both are fully glass. Neither are bad phones, neither are absolutely amazing.
The HTC dilemma
The issue for HTC isn’t the quality of its devices, and hasn’t really ever been. The company has made strong flagships for years. Just about anyone who’s used a flagship HTC phone in the past — a huge percentage of Android users over the years — holds it in a special place. It might’ve been the more recent HTC U11, the HTC 10, the older HTC One series, or many of the older HTC devices from the early days of Android.
In spite of nostalgia, HTC’s brand value has eroded. Due to a lack of cohesive marketing, customers don’t consider HTC as a truly premium manufacturer like Samsung and Apple. While our reviewers often show that HTC devices are solid options, the phones are almost always too expensive, and HTC isn’t top-of-mind for consumers.
Consider this: if the U12 Plus was branded as a Samsung Galaxy Note 9, would it sell? Probably, just because of the power of the Samsung brand. HTC does not seem aware of this. If it were aware, it wouldn’t be releasing an expensive flagship that can’t do the digging the company needs to get out of the hole it is in. The pricing problem is a serious issue. Even if the phone is worth the price, HTC can’t effectively communicate that to the wider audience.
HTC can't manage to find a fanbase: not great value, no great unique selling point
HTC has had a pricing problem for a long time, and the obvious comparison with the OnePlus 6 doesn’t help. With neither phone available from carriers in the U.S., which we know is 90 percent of the market, both brands need to appeal to the U.S. customers who don’t buy from carriers. OnePlus has managed to engage Android enthusiasts. Enthusiasts will find the absence of a headphone jack and an all-glass design that still doesn’t have wireless charging annoying, so who is HTC targeting?
The company might get support from discerning shoppers who understand the price point and premium features, but that’s a small market. HTC needs support on a wider scale. Despite the brand’s gradual price increases, the OnePlus 6’s $520+ price is incredibly attractive compared to the HTC ‘s $799 price tag.
The U12 Plus looks good, but it just doesn’t have a killer standout feature that creates excitement, interest, and reach. It doesn’t have a price that will interest the value market. That leaves it competing against iPhone, Galaxy S, and Note phones, and the brands and ecosystems around those devices.