HTC U12+ hands-on review

TAIWANESE SMARTPHONE MAKER HTC has had a rough few years. Thanks to Chinese upstarts Huawei and Xiaomi, the firm’s share of the smartphone market is now somewhat non-existent, with its latest flagships failing to give the company the boost it so desperately needs.

HTC is hoping that its latest flagship, the HTC U12+, will change that. Unlike many of its rivals, HTC isn’t too fussed about minor spec upgrades, which it tells us are “not changing the game or way phones work”. Rather, the firm is focusing heavily on software – and hopes buyers will be wooed by its unique, and somewhat bizarre new gesture controls which it claims make the device perfect for, er, one-handed use.

Design and display
The HTC U12+ doesn’t look too dissimilar from its U11+ predecessor, but with its mirror-like ‘Liquid Surface’ chassis, it does look different to many of its competitors. While it’s by no means the only company making reflective, glass-clad smartphones, the company is hoping buyers will be tempted by its unique ‘Flame Red’ and ‘Translucent Blue’ colour options – the latter of which offers a subtle glimpse at the handset’s under-the-hood goods. 

While the U12+ offers a unique, premium look, within minutes of picking up the device its backside was covered in fingerprint marks. It’s also quite slippery, and we found it difficult to grip onto the phone without it trying to escape from our hands.

HTC U12 Plus design

It’s quite cumbersome, too. While most Android manufacturers have shifted to full-screen, iPhone-esque designs to keep the footprint of their devices compact, the HTC U12+’s 6in screen is still surrounded by chunky bezels at the top and bottom, which HTC justifies as essential for housing its dual front-facing cameras and souped-up BoomSound speakers. The handset does boast “ultra-thin” borders, though, putting the handset’s 6in 3D glass 18:9 display at the forefront. 

This display, which offers a Quad HD resolution and IPS screen tech, is exactly what you’d expect on a £700 flagship: it’s bright, sharp and offers excellent contrast levels and viewing angles. Of course, we’re yet to put it fully through its paces, so check back soon for our full review.

HTC U12 Plus display

Around the sides of the handset, you won’t find any physical buttons. Rather, HTC has opted for pressure sensitive buttons with force feedback – which, supposedly at least, simulates the feel of real buttons. During our short time with the U12+, we found these ‘buttons’ unfamiliar and difficult to operate – firing up the handset’s squeezy gesture controls accidentally on numerous occasions. 

The handset promises to be pretty tough, though, as it comes with IP68 waterproofing and dust resistance. 

Software and performance
The HTC U12+ is the first device to come with Edge Sense 2.0, which introduces a bunch of other ways to interact with the smartphone by prodding, poking and squeezing it. 

On the HTC U12+, as well as squidging, you can prod and tap the device in more ways than before. Double tapping the side of the device, for example, will launch a feature of your choice – HTC demoed a new Edge Launcher with a one-handed mode (below), for example, ideal for those people likely to be making a trip to the newsagents soon. 

HTC U12 Plus

Much like HTC’s new pressure sensitive buttons, we found the tech somewhat temperamental and found the device often had to be held in awkward angles in order for it to respond to the double-tap feature, for example. What’s more, it’s little more than a novelty, and we can’t imagine many would actually use the added functionality in day to day use.  

The U12+ is the first HTC smartphone to feature dual cameras since 2014’s HTC One. To make up for missed time, HTC has shoved dual cameras on both the front and rear of the device – both of which offer “DSLR-like” Bokeh effects. 

HTC U12 Plus camera

Around the back you’ll find a 16MP f/1,75 wide-angle lens with UltraPixel 4 paired with a 16MP telephoto lens, complete with optical image stabilisation and optical zoom up to 2x and a “high quality” digital zoom up to 10x. Although we’re yet to test it fully – we’ll save that for our full review – the camera seemed to work well in a brightly-lit office environment, producing detailed and sharp images. 

A dual 8MP wide-angle lens sits on the front of the camera, prompting HTC to add OnePlus-style Face Unlock tech to the U12+. 

First impressions
Although we’re not yet ready to cast our full verdict on the U12+, we can’t help but feel that the handset will struggle. While the design is somewhat unique and its camera setup impressive on paper, HTC is hoping that buyers will be wowed by its gesture-based Sense 2.0 software and, er, we’re not. It’s gimmicky, doesn’t always work and we can’t imagine it will persuade buyers to fork out £700 – especially when the OnePlus 6 is more than £200 less expensive. µ

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