The HTC U12+ was unveiled on May 23rd 2018 and was initially built for the High-end market. At publishing time, the HTC U12+ was priced at $799 USD. As such, it will compete with the best handsets available today, regardless of their prices (most likely on the subsidized market). We will update this article when we get the retail unit which will be suitable for benchmarks and final photo tests. For now, here a detailed first-impressions review of this new HTC 2018 flagship phone.
We picked a selection of competing smartphones which will serve as reference points to assess how the HTC U12+ fits in its immediate smartphone landscape: Samsung Galaxy S9+ (~720 USD), Google Pixel 2 XL (~849 USD), LG G7 ThinQ (~750 USD), Huawei P20 Pro (~920 USD). Note: at the moment, we had access to a pre-release unit. More tests will be done with the final hardware.
- 6” IPS LCD Display (2880×1440)
- Dual rear camera: 12 Megapixel Camera, f/1.75 aperture, and 16 Megapixel 2X optical zoom with f2.6 aperture.
- Dual front camera: dual 8 Megapixel cameras with Bokeh support
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 platform 6 GB of RAM, 64-128 GB of Storage + MicroSD (400 GB max)
- 3500 mAh battery capacity
- Android 8.0
This smartphone feels comfortable in hand because it has a width of 73.9mm for a thickness of about (0.38 inches. For reference, this is based on a medium size hand (US M gloves). You can try extrapolating from here. The weight of 188 grams (6.63 oz) makes it a fairly heavy smartphone
This chassis design has great performance in relation to its size. From a battery viewpoint, the amount of battery capacity the buyer gets is very good for a handset of this size. The screen display-to-body ratio of 80.3% is also quite good in absolute terms, although it is not the best you canget.
The HTC 12+ pushes the design language of the HTC U11 further and looks absolutely stunning! It is a dual-glass sandwich design, and the back cover has an elaborate multi-layer glass with an iridescent effect, particularly visible on the Flame Red version, which is our favorite. There is a Blue color which we would almost call HTC Blue and a Ceramic Black version for users who want a more classic and low-key design, without sacrificing the Premium build quality."LOOKS ABSOLUTELY STUNNING!"
This year, the HTC U12+ does not use physical Power and Volume buttons but have capacitive ones with force-feedback. The buttons are visible and stick out, but they do not move. Less moving parts will reduce the risk of mechanical failure and increase the waterproof reliability, especially after a drop. The buttons felt really good and even when the battery is depleted, there’s a little reserve left for those buttons to work.
The HTC U12+ is a little bigger than every single of the phones we selected above, with the P20 Pro having a ~15% smaller volume. This handset has a wedge design, so it may feel bigger than it is. With a weight of 188g, it is on-par with the S9+ (189g), but the LG G7 is ~14% lighter at 162g, despite having a 6.1” display. It is not clear to me if you can feel it upon holding it, but if you will use a case, extra bulk may add up quickly.
A thin glass surface (usually on top of a metal layer) can look amazing and is often used on premium devices. It does look great, but its weak point is that it is more prone to breaking upon a drop onto pavement.
Despite this fact, glass has been a trendy surface treatment for smartphones, and people can protect their phone with a case. Nearly all high-end smartphones use glass or ceramic extensively now.
The glass does not creep onto the edges of the phone, but the metal frame and corners are rounded to provide a nice feel when holding the phone.
Analyzing how the smartphone was designed, we estimate that the odds of cracking during a landing on a hard surface to be probable. You can refer to our detailed article about how phones could be constructed to avoid cracks on impact.
The U12+ smartphone has an IP68 IP rating, which means that it is protected to some degree from dust and/or water. Here’s what the IP68 rating means:
- Dust tight, no dust can penetrate.
- Up to 3-meter immersion waterproofing.
- In some cases, waterproofing means that “some” water can penetrate, but without harming the device
This phone has not received a U.S Military MIL-STD 810G rating. You can open the link we added to learn more, but this standard is a series of test by the U.S military to ensure that military gears can survive a certain level of shocks and vibrations.
The HTC 12+ has a powerful dual-speaker setup that we tested along the LG G7 ThinQ and the Sony XPERIA XZ2, and the Galaxy S9+. All four offer have powerful sound, but we found the LG G7 to be the best overall, followed by the HTC 12+ and the Galaxy S9+. The XPERIA XZ2 is not very far away, but people can probably notice the difference, and all these phones are selling for top dollars.
With four microphones, this handset can not only record sounds with great noise-cancelling but it can also record in 3D surround.
Finally, we mentioned the USB-C powered active noice-cancelling earbuds. What we did not mention earlier, is the ability for the HTC U12+ and the earbuds to create a custom audio profile for the user. It is a one-time setup that should yield better sound, just for you.
The HTC U12+ features a Super LCD 6 display (2880×1440, 18:9 ratio). In many ways, the performance is similar to an IPS LCD display. However, there are small differences. Super LCD is supposed to reduce the air gap in-between layers, making the actual LCD panel seem closer to the protective glass.
The screen has relatively thin bezels on the sides, but the top and bottom ones are still pretty thick for 2018. That said it has an 18:9 aspect ratio which is quite popular in the Premium and high-end segments.
This smartphone is also one of the few handsets with LCD display that supports always-on notifications on the primary display. The LG G5 and more recent models introduced this with LCD screen by being able to reduce the back-lighting necessary for such a feature. It was always dimmer than the OLED equivalent but got the job done. The same is true for the HTC U12+.
The display brightness of is 437 NITs is quite good, but there are much brighter displays on the market, like the 1000-Nit LG G7 ThinQ LCD display. In general, a brighter display is needed to see the screen content on a sunny day (or bright environment). Higher brightness is responsible for better image quality (color + sharpness) in very common situations.
Strangely, this screen is also HDR-certified (High Dynamic Range). HDR-certified handsets can replay HDR media. often, a brightness of at least 600-800 NITs is required, but apparently ~437 seems to be enough in this case. There is much more to HDR image quality than simply a bright screen, but it’s the basic requirement for it.
Display technical analysis
The U12+ display uses the Super-LCD 6 technology which is proprietary to HTC. It looks and feels like an IPS LCD panel. IPS/PLS LCD technology made LCD displays so good, first on mobile, then everywhere else. IPS/PLS can reproduce more colors than regular LCD, with higher color saturation and wider view angles.
Within the swath of IPS LCD displays there are still some differences, but in general IPS/PLS are much superior to basic LCD displays. However, LCD an IPS/PLS LCD displays as a group are not as technologically edgy as OLED panels which have even better contrast ratio and color saturation.
The Super-LCD 6 screen doesn’t produce perfect blacks but stays within striking distance of other LCD screens in the same high-end category. If you really want true black, just go OLED.
While it is feasible to design excellent LCD displays that perform at a near-equal level to OLED, these LCD screens should be seen as the exceptions, and they may not have any of the natural advantages associated with LCD (vs. OLED). You can read our complete LCD vs. OLED article to learn more.
The resolution of 2880×1440 would be considered to be very high in absolute terms and compared to the competition it would be the norm for this price-range.
HTC U12+ Camera
In broad daylight, the HTC U12+ camera performs very well. This time we have taken the Huawei P20 Pro on a photo safari to give you an idea of how the HTC phone fares against one of the highest rated mobile camera on the market. For full-size photo samples, head to our U12+ Flickr album.
The HTC U12+ camera did really well in the first daylight photo test. It has a slight detail advantage because of the slightly higher megapixel count, but more importantly, the color and exposure settings came out well. On the same picture, the Huawei P20 did really well too, but some detail is lost, and the photo is a bit noisier.
In our HDR test, the HTC U12+ shows great details in the leaves. However, this comes at the expense of the colors in the background which are a bit washed out. The whole point of HDR is to preserve both. The P20 Pro did better with the car color, but the image quality is clearly not as good in the upper-left foliage.
In low-light, thew HTC U12+ does very well, and most people will be happy with the results. We’ll push things a little bit to detect differences with competitors. In general, the HTC U12+ is tuned to slightly over-expose in low light. It might be because it makes the photos look better on the phone’s screen or perhaps it is an artistic decision at HTC.
When we took similar photos with the LG G7 ThinQ (Retail firmware), we noticed that the LG G7 offers a more natural exposure, but was sometime slightly off with the color balance. The HTC U12+ images are sharper than LG’s G7 because the G7 uses a binning system that boosts the brightness bu reduced the resolution by 4X.
A close comparison with the Galaxy S9+ shows that the S9 comes out with a better low-light photo quality. The details are better preserved and the noise is lower, but without excessive filtering. In short, the HTC U12+ lands somewhere in between these two.
Technical analysis of the main HTC U12+ Camera (Rear)
With four cameras, HTC is jumping hard in the world of Portrait photography, known for the background blur effect called Bokeh.
In the HTC U12+, the camera aperture of f/1.75 is good, although recent phones have pushed the edge with f/1.6 (LG V30, LG G7) and f/1.5 apertures (Galaxy S9). The weak point of the LG G7 is the small sensor, which will affect noise and details in low-light. In broad day light, it’s much less of an issue. In this case, the brute-force method of Samsung with an extremely large aperture pays off.
The primary camera’s 12 Megapixel number should never be used as a default indicator of photo quality. In dim lighting situations, the high Megapixel count (>12) does not sway the outcome. Keep in mind that the physical size of each sensor pixel is critical.
With higher megapixel counts, sensing pixels (sensels) may have to be smaller. The primary camera of the U12+ has 1.4 micron sensels, which is on the larger side of things. The HTC U12+ primary sensor size is comparable to the Galaxy S9’s (~23 mm²) and both are in the upper-range of the market. Only the Huawei P20 Pro has a freakishly large 40.15 mm² sensor.
It is better for the overall photo quality to gather more light with fewer (but bigger) sensels than the opposite. It is a balance that needs to be found. Today, 12 Megapixel seem to be the best sensor trade-off between sharpness, low-light and autofocus performance.
On a sunny day or in very bright light situations, Megapixel could be a useful metric for photographic detail and sharpness. For example, on a sunny day, a cityscape photo with a higher megapixel count could lead to finer details. Between 12 MP, 16 MP and 21 MP differences in small details can be quite noticeable, if printed or viewed on a large and/or high-PPI display.
OIS helps to improve image clarity and higher low-light performance by offsetting minute hand-shaking motion. OIS makes it practical to leave the shutter open longer to gather more light (longer exposure). Optical and digital stabilization are entirely different, with digital stabilization suitable to improve video recording smoothness
For video recording, the HTC U12+ has Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS), which is designed to make the video less jerky by filming with a narrower field of view and using software to shift the image around to stabilize it. EIS in itself does not help still photography or low-light photography, but the same kind of technology could be applied to photo post-processing.
The autofocus of the U12+ camera is based on Phase Detection technology. Phase-detection AF that started in discrete AF sensor chips in the DSLR days. Then it got integrated into the camera image sensor. It works by adding specialized AF pixels sensors that would tell if specific points in the image were in-focus.
This method is very advanced, and the AF capabilities work well in most cases. AF performance is more or less proportional to the number of hardware AF sensels. Typically, this number can go from dozens to hundreds of Phase-Detection AF points. Phase detection AF is an excellent system, which is only inferior to Dual-Pixel AF, the current most powerful AF technology with thousands of active AF points.
The HTC U12+ is as also Laser-assisted. This is built upon the principle that a lot of photos subjects are either away (infinity) from the camera, or are very nearby (macro). By projecting an infrared pattern (structured light) and looking at how it bounced back to the camera, it is possible to very quickly determine if we need to focus far or close. When in between, Phase-Detection takes over. Laser-AF is an optimization for two standard cases.
With Laser, unneeded forward/backward focus-motor motion is avoided, thus making AF faster. The system can also handle some in-between situations, but not all. It is possible to fall back to other AF techniques.
Selfie Camera (front)
The front camera delivers very decent selfies with Bokeh in good lighting. I took a Galaxy S9+ to compare the front cameras. I wanted to see how the dual-camera setup of the HTC U12 compares to the single camera of the S9+. The verdict is clear: as expected, the dual-camera system produces bokeh which has much fewer artifacts.
Having two lenses allow the camera app to better determine what is the background and what is the subject. Both cameras produce a good photo, but a closer inspection on the S9 photos reveals more blurring artifacts than the HTC U12+ where the Bokeh is just better.
Bokeh Aside, I found the S9+ Selfie camera to produce better, more detailed, details and texture. Even after disabling the beauty mode of the HTC U12+, a close inspection of the skin details clearly show finer details on the Samsung phone.
Some people use “Beauty” Apps to blur the face even more, so it’s up to you to decide what you want. From a photographic point of view, I think that the Galaxy S9+ is a bit ahead in the details department.
Selfie Camera Technical Analysis
The difference in texture/details can be partly explained by the technical differences between both selfie cameras. Although the U12+ has two identical cameras in the front, the secondary one is used only as a sensor for bokeh depth calculation.
The primary module that takes photos has an f/2.0 aperture vs. f/1.7 on the S9+. It also has a ~20% smaller sensor as the Galaxy S9+. Combined, those two factors contribute significantly to the difference in photo quality.
That said, the HTC U12+ selfie camera has video stabilization while the S9+ front camera does not. If you plan on recording yourself often, or want less shaky video, that can be important. The XPERIA XZ2 had a similar capability.
The battery capacity of HTC U12+ is 3500 mAh, which is excellent both in general and in its own category. In our selection above, only the Huawei P20 Pro has a large battery with an impressive 4000 mAh capacity.
Battery life is one of the most essential features of a smartphone. A key metric is, of course, the battery capacity — especially within the same ecosystem (Android, iOS or other). Battery life can be affected by a bunch of factors, but the main ones are the main processor aka SoC, display and wireless radios (LTE broadband, WiFi, the cell towers location and more).
It is impossible to accurately estimate through benchmarks how much energy drain YOUR unique needs will generate. However, two things are surly always good:
- A greater battery capacity
- Very fast charging
The HTC U12+ has a very good battery charging speed of 50 mAh/mn, which is consistent with what Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 phones are capable off. The handset actually supports Quick Charge 4.0 but, like other OEMs, HTC did not include a 4.0 wall charger in the box, because 3.0 is deemed to provide the best value for the price. The fastest charging phones top ~75 mAh/mn.
It is generally not possible to predict real-world battery life by running synthetic benchmarks. Things such as display brightness, (LTE/WiFi) radio usage and distance to access points will vary too much. Also, how many apps installed and their activity is unpredictable. Battery capacity is the best battery-life indicator for YOUR usage.
The HTC U12+ does not have wireless charging integrated into the chassis. While this is the norm for recent high-end smartphones, many users will find it tolerable.
This product does not have a swappable battery, which is the norm for smartphones nowadays. Closed batteries cannot be taken out or easily exchanged, but they do allow for smaller designs and slightly bigger battery capacity inside the same product design.
Since the U12+ has a very large display, keep in mind that larger displays tend to utilize more power to accommodate the greater surface area to illuminate. It depends on the brightness levels displays are being setup at, but the potential for higher energy is there, so a greater battery capacity is preferable.
This device has an extremely sharp display (2880×1440). This is great to look at extremely crisp images, but handling 2.07M pixels more than a 1080p/FHD (2M pixels) screen will consume a bit more power from the battery. The good news is that you can reduce the rendering resolution to FHD/1080p so save some processor resources and therefore battery power.
HTC has always worked hard to make its products different. This phone has an HTC Sense layer on top of Android, and although it is not extremely different, there are minor visual differences and extra functionalities. We’ll go over the most important ones for this particular phone.
HTC Edge Sense 2
This second version makes its debut with this handset. Edge Sense lets you squeeze the handset to trigger pre-programmed functions. Thanks to the pressure sensors along the left/right edges of the phone, you can also thumb-tap to have the UI reduced for an optimal one-hand experience. It can detect if you are tapping with the right or left hand (based on grip assumptions).
The actions triggered by Edge Sense 2 are programmable, and although you can’t do “everything” you want, most people can do many things they need.
Edge sense is a great idea, but the implementation sometimes don’t trigger, or triggers when you don’t want it to. It is really hard to “sense” things this way, so it’s not clear how much can be improved with a software update, and how much won’t change.
Electronic Power and Volume buttons
As we mentioned earlier in the Design chapter, the Power and Volume buttons are soft-buttons. They are protruding, but don’t click or move. A sensor registers the action and a vibration sends some tactile feedback. The vibration doesn’t really replace the tactile feel, but at least, you know that the press was registered.
The whole system suffers slightly from a small, but perceptible lag. The same lag seems to prevent the proper registration of quick actions such as a double-press on the volume rocker, which is a very frequent action when you quickly want to lower the sound. Instead, you have to single-press slowly and wait for the system to react.
That’s why it is better to launch the camera with a Squeeze, because a double-press on Power wouldn’t cut it. It bothers me somewhat, and although I appreciate that someone explored this possibility, I would rather have no lag and real buttons.
This is a great feature that prevents an auto-rotate at the wrong time. Sometimes, you want to lay down on your side, and keep the phone in portrait mode. Unfortunately the gyroscope often tells Android to switch to landscape at that moment.
With Smart Rotate, the HTC 12+ knows how you are holding the phone and can infer if you would want a rotation or not. Changing the grip of the phone will trigger a rotation. In general, this works very well and makes sense. Google has been working on an Android 9 feature to address the same issue. You won’t have to wait for Android 9 to avoid the auto-rotate false positive annoyances.
This handset central processor is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 (8 Cores, 2.8 GHz) which has access to 6 GB of memory (RAM). We have covered this chip extensively, and you can follow the link above if you want to know all the juicy details. Snapdragon 845 is the best hardware platform on Android at the moment.
The amount of RAM is essential for power-users, or for having many apps/services on the device. When the memory is tight, the phone may become less responsive if the system has to read/write from the slower Flash storage instead. This used to be one of the significant differences between low and high tiers of phones, but this line is blurry now."SNAPDRAGON 845 IS THE BEST HARDWARE PLATFORM ON ANDROID"
We will run benchmarks later when the final firmware arrives, but so far, all Snapdragon 845 phones exhibit a comparable level of performance. That makes complete sense, and you can look at our Snapdragon 845 performance review if you want.
It is critical to understand that most benchmarks are only loose pointers, usually for CPU or graphics performance. It is possible to perceive sharp performance gaps among different classes of handsets (entry-level, mid-range vs. high-end), but it is less obvious to do so within phones of the same class. Benchmarks alone should NOT lead to a smartphone purchase decision. To learn more, read our Are Benchmarks Important? article.
Gaming performance tests apply mainly to complex games using 3D graphics. Casual games like puzzles and 2D games do not need this kind of power and can run virtually on any recent smartphone.
Wireless Broadband Performance
Wireless networks (3G/4G) performance is often thought as peak download/upload speeds, but it is the average speed that counts. These days 4G/LTE is the primary network of interest, but 5G is coming. The higher the paper LTE performance and the better the average real-world performance. Also, cellular carriers have better and more efficient LTE networks to lower their own costs.
The U12+ has a CAT18 LTE modem (1200 Mbps download / 150 Mbps upload). This level of performance is excellent in its category and also excellent in general. Just hope that your wireless carrier supports it, but if not, it makes things a bit more future proof. Don’t forget that 5G is based on a strong 4G LTE coverage.
The HTC U12+ is definitely in high-end territory, but addresses a specific crowd because it has difficulties to compete on many fronts. While being a very good phone in general, it doesn’t have the best display, is not a feat of industrial design, nor has the best camera. It is therefore difficult, but not impossible,to compete in any combination of these niches."EDGE SENSE 2 AND ITS FLEXIBILITY CAN BE ADDICTIVE"
That said, users who like the Squeeze feature, or heavily use Portrait Bokeh mode will find a great deal of quality and value here. The industrial design could be of particular interest as well, but you can decide for yourself, we often try to focus on the technical side of design, like how much tech is packed in a small volume, what manufacturing process is required to build a part.
Finally, the HTC U12+ (Official page) has a powerful loudspeaker system, and if you like to use your phone that way, there are only a handful of choices on the market.