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HTC U12 Life, First Take: Solid mid-range features and smart industrial design

Written by Sandra Vogel on

HTC U12 Life

$777 at Amazon

Although HTC is not the handset-maker it once was, the company still produces a steady stream of smartphones. We weren't blown away by the high-end HTC U12 Plus when it appeared last year, but now I've finally had an opportunity to play with its mid-range alter-ego, the U12 Life. Does it fare any better?

Well, at £290 SIM-free at the time of writing, this handset sits right in the middle of a very competitive market sector, so it needs some standout features.

One of these is the design of the handset's back. About two-thirds of it has a laser-cut series of horizontal stripes, while the upper third is smooth and much more reflective. This means the handset is relatively unslippy to hold, and the dual styling looks distinctive. That's a double plus. The back doesn't seem to attract fingerprints as much as many handsets, either. A triple plus, then...


The 6-inch HTC U12 Life runs on a Snapdragon 636 chipset with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage (MicroSD expansion is available). It has a 3.5mm headset jack and charges via a USB-C port. There's no official IP rating for dust/water resistance for the U12 Life.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

This is a relatively large phone measuring 75.4mm wide by 158.5mm deep by 8.3mm thick and weighing 175g. A 6-inch, 18:9 aspect-ratio, 1,080-by-2,160 pixel screen makes the U12 Life good for media consumption, in particular. You can adjust the display's colour temperature using a slider that moves between warmer and colder tones, but there's no front-camera notch — a feature usually reserved for higher end phones. The stereo speakers deliver good volume and fair-quality sound, although it does get a little tinny at higher volumes.

There is 64GB of internal storage, of which 53.17GB is free out of the box. You can add storage capacity via a MicroSD card, although you'll have to use one of the two SIM card slots to do so.

Even at this price, people are starting to expect a dual camera system, and HTC duly delivers with a 16MP main camera and a 5MP secondary camera for depth sensing. I found that photos were of acceptable quality, and the depth sensor made it easy to get bokeh effects (sharp subject, blurred background). The front-facing 13MP selfie/video calling camera has the unusual addition of a flash, making selfies in low light a possibility.

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The Snapdragon 636 chipset, supported by 4GB of RAM, delivers performance that's adequate for most uses apart from high-level gaming. It delivered Geekbench 4 CPU scores of 4954 (multi-core) and 1337 (single-core); comparable handsets are the Asus Zenfone 5 and Motorola MotoOne, which has the added benefit of regular Android updates via Android One.

The previous version of this HTC handset came with Android One, but that's now replaced with Android 8.1, with HTC's Sense UI overlay on top. One of its most notable features is HTC BlinkFeed, a bespoke HTC alternative to the native Android news and info offering. HTC's side-squeezing feature, Edge Sense, is absent, which some will bemoan and others won't.

This handst's 3600mAh battery got a score of 4744 on Geekbench's battery test and lasted for 8 hours and 16 minutes, so a day's use away from mains power should be well within its capability.

The HTC U12 Life is a fine budget handset as far as it goes, but there's nothing here to make it stand out from the crowd.


HTC U12 Plus review: Sometimes innovation goes awry
HTC's newest phone is gorgeous to look at and captures great photos, but the new haptic buttons, poor battery life, and annoying indicators may bug you too much to commit $800 to the experience.  

HTC denies it will stop releasing new smartphones
VR headsets have become HTC's main focus after it failed to achieve notable shares in smartphone market but will continue to release new smartphones.

Sprint and HTC announce 5G mobile hub
Sprint, Qualcomm, and HTC are working on a Snapdragon-powered smart mobile hub to be released in the US by mid-2019.  

Best Phones for 2019 (CNET) 
These are the top-rated phones on CNET right now.  

HTC U12 Life is like the Pixel 2, only prettier (CNET)
It also has two rear cameras for portrait shots.

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