'

HTC U12 Plus announcement and first impressions: No notch, big sound, and elegant HTC design

HTC continues to release Android smartphones and the new U12 Plus skips the notch to focus on what HTC does right. It's a phone that can compete with the best and launches at a price a bit less than the Galaxy S9 Plus.

htc-u12-plus-briefing-shots-3.jpg

Last year I purchased a Solar Red HTC U11, see my full review, and it's a device I still wish I had not sold on Swappa. Today, HTC announced its successor as the HTC U12 Plus.

The most obvious feature people will notice at first is that the U12 Plus is one new Android smartphone that does not incorporate the top notch made popular by the Apple iPhone X. (Yes, I know Essential had something there first, but that was just a camera notch.) The HTC U12 Plus does significantly improve on its traditional display with minimal top and bottom bezels and nearly non-existent side bezels.

Improvements in the HTC U12 Plus over the U11 include:

  • No side bezels, minimized top and bottom bezels
  • Dual rear cameras, one with telephoto capability
  • Dual front-facing cameras
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor
  • Next generation of HTC Edge Sense with more options for control
  • Larger LCD 6 display
  • More RAM
  • Increased level of dust and water resistance
  • Increased battery capacity

Some of these improvements were seen in the U11 Plus, but that had a very limited release and never launched in the US. The U12 Plus is a very nice improvement over last year's HTC U11 and I look forward to testing it thoroughly.

HTC U12 Plus specifications

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 2.6 GHz octa-core
  • Display: 6.0 inch, 2880 x 1440 pixels resolution Super LCD 6 18:9 format (537 ppi)
  • Operating system: Android 8.0 Oreo
  • RAM: 6GB DDR4x
  • Storage: 64GB or 128GB internal (UFS 2.1) with microSD expansion card slot
  • Cameras: 12 megapixel f/1.75 UltraPixel 4 and 16 megapixel f/2.6 telephoto 2x optical zoom rear cameras. Dual 8 megapixel f/2.0 front-facing cameras with wide-angle field of view and Bokeh mode.
  • Water and dust resistance: IP68 rating
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4/5GHz), MU-MIMO, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, BeiDou, NFC
  • Sensors: Accelerometer, Fingerprint Sensor, Gyro Sensor, Magnetic Sensor, Proximity Sensor, Ambient Light Sensor, Edge Sensor
  • Battery: 3,500 mAh non-removable with Quick Charge 3.0
  • Dimensions: 156.6 x 73.9 x 9.7mm and 188 grams
  • Colors: Translucent Blue and Ceramic Black. A red one like the Solar Red U11 will be coming to select markets later in 2018.

The HTC U12 Plus has almost the same exact dimensions as the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus, along with the same 3,500 mAh battery.

Hardware first thoughts

My first Pocket PC was an iPaq made by HTC and I've long been a fan of its designs and innovation. As soon as I saw the three gorgeous Liquid Surface HTC U12 Plus devices on the table at the briefing, I knew it was the elegant phone I've been looking for in 2018 and plan to place my order for a Translucent Blue one at Amazon today.

The HTC U11 was a gorgeous phone that was underrated and the HTC U12 Plus takes things to the next level with the larger display with minimal bezels, rear fingerprint scanner, gorgeous glass back, superb fit and finish, and in hand feel that is tough to beat. I cannot wait to see what the dual cameras are capable of and compare them to other phones with two or three rear cameras.

HTC is the first company I know of that made the three right side buttons (volume up, volume down, and power) haptic buttons rather than mechanical buttons. This minor design element was made to help achieve the highest IP68 rating HTC has had on a phone. It's also a sign that HTC focused on even the small things that make products great.

Edge Sense 2 improves upon the squeezeable side experience with a double tap option. The double tap is even smart enough to work whether you hold the phone in your right or left hand.

HTC's edge sensitivity also addresses another pain point for those who rotate their phones for different viewing situations. Don't you hate it when your phone will not rotate to landscape when you rotate it and then are forced to go into the settings to toggle auto-rotate? You can now keep auto-rotate enabled and if you are holding your phone in portrait orientation, the edges will sense you are holding it in hand in this position and not rotate it until you change the position of your hands on the phone. I appreciate this kind of attention to detail.

Software first thoughts

The HTC U12 Plus will launch with Oreo and HTC confirmed it will be upgraed to Android P shortly after this next version of Android is released to the public. It is likely HTC will skip 8.1 since the team is focused on getting the Android P update ready to roll.

HTC's Sense UI is the lightest of the flagships, Moto has an even lighter skin, and by selling the U12 Plus without a US carrier customers will get a phone without all of that terrible carrier bloatware. There are just a few HTC apps, such as Mail, and most of these add value to the overall experience rather than bog it down as some other heavier skins have been shown to do.

We didn't get the HTC U11 Plus in the US, so it was the first time I've seen an HTC device with a rear fingerprint scanner and Android navigation buttons that were not capacitive buttons. You can swipe the three Android buttons from right to left to access some quick settings and I cannot wait to try this out since these are more convenient than accessing quick controls from the top notification bar.

My first glance of the camera app showed that there is a bokeh editor that looks similar to what Huawei provides where you can adjust the focused subject after the fact. I believe HTC also had this capability on some of its earlier dual camera devices like the One M8.

Price and availability

The Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus starts at $840 so launching the comparable 64GB model HTC U12 Plus at $799 is reasonable. For $50 more you get 128GB internal storage with a microSD card slot. Given HTC's track record and long history, it may be more compelling than the OnePlus 6 ($529 to $629) and LG G7 ThinQ ($749) despite their lower prices.

You can pre-order the HTC U12 Plus now from Amazon and HTC. HTC has a financing option of $34/month for 24 months at 0 percent APR for the 64GB model. Both the Ceramic Black and Translucent Blue are available for ordering with both unlocked and certified to work with Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T networks in the US.

In Canada, Translucent Blue can be pre-ordered for $1,099 CAD (64GB) or $1,169 CAD (128GB), and Ceramic Black for $1,099 CAD (64GB).

Why choose an HTC U12 Plus over other current flagships?

I've now bought and returned two Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus phones and while this is a very compelling smartphone I honestly like the Note 8 better. The battery life was the straw that kept breaking the camel's back for this phone.

My full review of the LG G7 ThinQ just went live this week and again this device just hasn't "grabbed" me after a month of using it. I believe this device is priced too high and again the battery life limited my excitement for it.

The Huawei P20 Pro has been the most exciting device I've used lately, but it is not available in the US. However, it's price through third party sellers on eBay is just a bit more than the new HTC U12 Plus.

So after using these three flagships over the past month or more, I offer the following for consideration of this device over the others:

  • BoomSound that is even louder and clearer than LG's new G7 Boombox speaker mode
  • The useful and customizable Edge Sense 2 capability, as compared to the Google Assistant and Bixby buttons.
  • The high DxOMark ranking of the U12 Plus (103) which is second to just the P20 Pro (109)
  • A price that is lower than the Galaxy S9 Plus and P20 Pro
  • A very light Android skin when compared to Samsung, LG, and Huawei
  • Four microphones and Sonic Zoom recording option for likely the best video and audio recording experience

Wireless charging and a 3.5mm headset jack are missing, but given everything else that we see here I am willing to forgive these ommissions and the lack of a headset jack is becoming the new standard for nearly all phones. Buyers get the active noise-canceling HTC USonic earbuds in the retail box too.

An evaluation HTC U12 Plus arrives this week so stay tuned for our full review in a week or so. Please leave any questions you may have as I spend the Memorial holiday weekend putting it through its paces.