After Google snatched up HTC's smartphone design team to the tune of $1.1 billion, you'd be forgiven for thinking the company would turn its attention elsewhere — perhaps to focus more on its trailblazing virtual-reality efforts.
But HTC is back with a new flagship phone, the $799 U12 Plus, which advances a few of the features we loved in the U11 and avoids the notched display trend that Android handset makers are copying left and right. The U12 Plus also packs four cameras (two in front and two in back) and a bunch of new ways to interact with the voice via a squeeze. But it can be complicated to remember what gestures do what.
Price and Availability
The U12+ is available to preorder today unlocked via HTC or Amazon. The device starts at $799 for the 64GB model in Translucent Blue or Ceramic Black. Translucent Blue is also available in a 128GB variant for $849. The device will be supported on AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon's wireless networks, but you won't be able to buy it through a carrier.
Design: Bolder hues, bigger screen
The "plus" in the U12's name refers to its size — at 6 inches, its display is much larger than the 5.5-inch screen on last year's U11. But HTC moved the fingerprint sensor from the chin of the screen to the back of the device so that it could extend the display, making the 6.16-inch-long U12+ just a smidge taller than its 6.06-inch predecessor.
The display isn't quite edge-to-edge. That's because there's a top bezel with dual front-facing cameras and a chin that seems too thick, given that the fingerprint sensor is on the back. The LCD screen is also difficult to see in sunlight; in my hands-on time with the device, I bumped the brightness up to the max and still struggled to see the camera preview when taking outdoor photos.
HTC carried the U11's metallic, futuristic "Liquid Surface" aesthetic over to the U12+. Most smartphone makers play it safe when it comes to the shades and finishes of their devices, but the U12+ is available in three colors, two of which are particularly striking. The Translucent Blue version provides a glimpse at the components inside the device, hearkening back to Apple's iconic, brightly colored, translucent iMac G3. No other phone on the market looks like this, and that's a good thing.
The Flame Red U12+ isn't red at all, but it does evoke a fiery sunset. In some lights, it looks fuchsia; in others, gold. Sometimes the effect is a beautiful ombre. Unfortunately, you won't be able to buy this hue in the U.S. anytime soon, but we hope HTC changes its mind.
The Translucent Blue version provides a glimpse at the components inside the device, hearkening back to Apple's iconic iMac G3.
Another shade, a glossy Ceramic Black, plays it safe. When the display goes dark, this model looks like any other phone on the market.
Both the black and blue models will be available to order in the U.S. at launch.
Special Features: Your main squeeze
HTC is still trying to make squeezable phones happen, so the U12+ features upgraded and expanded Edge Sense controls.
HTC's Edge Sense UI takes advantage of sensors baked into the sides of the phone so you can use a short squeeze, a squeeze-and-hold and a double tap on the edges of the phone to trigger actions in a variety of apps. All of these gestures are customizable and compatible with almost any third-party service, in addition to native apps such as the camera.
We just have to wonder whether users will take advantage of these shortcuts, or if the novelty will wear off after a short while.
Edge Sense 2 adds a double-tap function to launch a miniscreen within the larger display for easier one-handed use. You can double-tap on the phone's left edge to pin the window on the left or the right edge to launch the window on the right.
When you hold the phone on both sides and rotate it, the orientation will stay the same instead of getting confused and flipping between landscape and portrait modes. The hold functionality is not customizable.
You can use a short squeeze, a squeeze-and-hold and a double tap on the edges of the phone to trigger various actions.
In the U11, we found the squeezes to be pretty forgettable. The addition of double taps and the hold-to-lock orientation could prove more useful.
Camera: Double dual lenses
The U11's camera wowed us, so we're eager to see if the U12+ and its dual-lens systems on both the front and the back can topple today's top smartphone cameras.
The rear-facing 16-MP telephoto and 12-MP wide-angle lenses offer optical image stabilization, 2x optical zoom, and manual and auto bokeh effects that you can view in the live camera preview and edit after shooting to change the focus or adjust the blur.
The front-facing lenses also enable a portrait mode effect, which I tested with a colleague against the Manhattan skyline. The result was practically perfect.
The front dual lenses enable a new face unlocking feature, which we'll put to the test for both ease and security.
The rear camera also sports an intriguing video feature called Sonic Zoom, which lets you point the camera in the direction of a specific sound and then focus the device's microphone to enhance that sound. This feature would be ideal in crowded rooms with a low din where you're trying to record a person speaking off in the distance, or maybe recording an artist onstage at a concert.
Sonic Zoom seemed to work when I recorded a colleague talking off in the distance while other people were speaking in the foreground, but stay tuned for a full review of the feature.
HTC U12+ Specs
|Price||$799 (64GB), $849 (128GB)|
|Display||6-inch (2880 x 1440) LCD|
|Rear Camera||16-MP (f/2.6) main lens and 12-MP (f/1.75) wide-angle lens|
|Front Camera||Dual 8-MP (f/2.0) lenses|
|Storage||64GB or 128GB|
|microSD||Yes, up to 2TB|
|Colors||Ceramic Black, Flame Red, Translucent Blue|
|Size||6.16 x 2.9 x 0.38 inches|
The U12+ sounds great on paper. HTC's latest flagship has Qualcomm's latest processor and 6GB of RAM, which should enable powerful performance. Then there are dual-lens cameras on both sides of the device, which enable adjustable portrait effects we liked in person. With creative colors and upgraded squeezable controls, HTC's new flagship could set itself apart from the Android pack in a way that LG's latest phone, the G7 ThinQ, did not. Stay tuned for our full review.
Credit: Shaun Lucas/Tom's Guide