HTC has finally taken the wraps off of the U12 Plus smartphone, its one and only flagship for 2018. It actually retains quite a few features from the U11 that the company announced in 2017, but improves on them all. First of all, it does have a slightly larger display, coming in at 6-inches (though, it is technically 5.99-inches). HTC has upgraded the internals as well, so it has all of the usual specs you’d find in 2018. Like a Snapdragon 845 chipset, 6GB of RAM and either 64GB or 128GB of storage on board. On paper, it’s a smartphone that really should sell well, but as always, the specs aren’t the entire story.
The display on the U12 Plus has been upgraded, it’s now SuperLCD6. Not a huge surprise to see HTC continuing to go with SuperLCD, as that has been the company’s desired screen technology for quite a few years now. Obviously, it’s not as good as an OLED display, but for an LCD panel, it actually works pretty well. The colors are nice and vibrant – though the blacks aren’t quite as dark as on an OLED display but that is always a given when talking about LCD panels. Now in direct sunlight is where the SuperLCD6 tends to suffer. It is okay with plenty of sunlight, but once you go outside and get the sun hitting the display, that’s when it becomes tough to see. Otherwise, the panel seems to be pretty decent on the U12 Plus.
HTC has always been known for its designs, and that continues with the U12 Plus. The company has decided to stick with that liquid design it debuted on the U11 last year and has iterated on it a bit. While it looks the same on the outside, the U12 Plus has given the aluminum frame more of a matte finish, on all three colors of the U12 Plus, which does make it look rather nice. Speaking of colors, HTC is launching the U12 Plus in Translucent Blue, Ceramic Black, and Flame Red. HTC said that it had a lot of positive feedback on the translucent U11 Plus that it put out last year, so it decided to bring it back this year, and do it in Blue. The Translucent Blue is what HTC calls its “hero” color, meaning it’s going to be the one that will be most readily available in every market – including the US. With the Translucent Blue color, you are able to see part of the internals of the HTC U12 Plus, but not too much. It does look different than the U11 Plus in its translucent color, and that’s mainly because the parts inside the U12 Plus are rearranged.
Something new on the U12 Plus that many may not realize at first, is that the power and volume buttons are not mechanical like every other smartphone on the planet. Instead, these are digital. Which means you are actually touching the buttons, and not really pressing them. It’s pretty similar to what Apple did with the home button on its iPhone in 2016 and 2017 with the iPhone 7 and iPhone 8. It’s not a huge change, but it is going to take some getting used too. HTC did mention that if you let the U12 Plus die overnight, and go to turn it on, the buttons won’t work. This is because the buttons now need power. So you’ll need to plug in the U12 Plus and get it charging for about five minutes before you can turn it on.
HTC has kept BoomSound on the U12 Plus, which is the one feature that everyone wishes that every smartphone had. Like with the U11, it is using a bottom-firing speaker and the earpiece for BoomSound. The company says that the audio here is 30% louder than the U11, and it definitely sounds like it. We did check out the audio quality here, and it does seem to be on-pace with what you would get out of a good Bluetooth speaker, but built into the phone. Which is always nice. And that’s thanks to HTC refining the woofers and tweeters throughout the device.
Besides the camera, another aspect that HTC is really pushing again this year is Edge Sense. It’s still customizable like it was with the U11 last year. But now you have different things you can do when you squeeze the phone. So you can tap the side and get into one-handed mode. You can do a short squeeze that can open an app or the camera, and then a long squeeze that can do something else as well. HTC believes that most people will use these to open the camera and Google Assistant (like with the Pixel 2/Pixel 2 XL), but they are customizable, so you can opt to use it for opening Facebook, Twitter, or even Google Chrome.
Finally the camera. HTC has had a relatively interesting past five years when it comes to its camera. It was actually first to do a lot of things that are now popular in the mobile camera industry, like larger pixels and doing dual-cameras. But with the U12 Plus, the company is hoping to have one of the best cameras out there. The company has two cameras on the back – a 12-megapixel UltraPixel sensor with an f/1.75 lens, and a 16-megapixel camera with a telephoto lens boasting an f/2.6 aperture. There are also two front-facing cameras, which are identical, and are two 8-megapixel sensors with a f/2.0 aperture. HTC has changed quite a few things on the cameras here, but with the front-facing camera, the reason for using two identical sensors is so that it can get Portrait Mode done without needing to use software to blur the background, like most other smartphones. In our first impressions, it was pretty solid, but mind you we were in a room with great lighting (tons of natural light) and it was also on not-final software. So take everything with a grain of salt here. But so far, the cameras on the U12 Plus do look pretty promising.
The HTC U12 Plus may not be the best smartphone out there on the market, but it is definitely one of the best-looking smartphones out there. Especially if you opt for the Flame Red or Translucent Blue, but all three colors really look stunning here. HTC will be selling it unlocked, and pre-orders begin on HTC.com today. It’ll work on AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon in the US – all on one SKU. It is definitely a contender for your next smartphone, but only time will tell whether it actually becomes your next smartphone.