Lately, HTC phones have been having a bit of an identity overhaul. Having long been the manufacturer of Google’s own Pixel phones, and for a while the smartest Android handsets you could pick up, HTC is now something of a discerning outsider’s choice. The cream cheese bagel to Google’s ham baguette, the Janeway to their Picard, the “milk before tea bag” method to the “tea bag before milk” method.
And so as rival firms struggled to cram incremental performance boosts into their increasingly identical flagship devices, HTC instead quietly differentiated themselves from the competition with the inclusion of some odd features, and the kind of colour options your mum would describe as “funky”.
Most notable of these efforts to stand out were the “squeezable” sides of last year’s flagship, the U11, which allowed you to clutch the phone tightly to trigger certain functions. Now, the U12+ has developed this “Edge Sense” technology into something a little more practical. For example, when holding the phone in one hand the screen won’t auto-rotate when turned sideways, which is great news for folks who tend to roll around a lot when reading in bed.
You can also double-tap the edge to enable one-handed mode, which shrinks that huge six-inch screen down to a more manageable size while eating a sandwich, patting a dog or smoking a cigarette.
All this touchiness makes for a tactile phone, and it’s also allowed HTC to get rid of its mechanical buttons entirely. Just like the iPhone’s fakey home button, the volume and power buttons on the side of the U12+ don’t physically move. They’re force sensitive, and give you a little tactile vibration to imitate a click when pressed. The result is a more dust and rain resistant chassis, and one less prone to faults. In practice, these three faux-buttons take a little getting used to, their mimicry not quite convincing enough to fool your brain into thinking you’re pushing down on something real.
The U12+ has two rear-facing cameras, one more than the U11 had, which it uses to produce some impressive portrait shots. Overall quality is hampered by the phone’s sometimes grubby processing, and side by side comparisons with stills taken on the Pixel 2 XL and OnePlus 6 leave the U12+ lagging ever so slightly behind.
4K video shooting at 60fps is exceptionally stable however, with optical image stabilisation keeping shots nice and smooth. And the return of HTC’s quad-microphone setup allows for high-quality audio recording in even the loudest of locations, just in case anyone needed any more of an excuse to film at music gigs.
Elsewhere, the U12+ boasts broadly the same specifications of its nearest rivals. The Quad HD screen is sharp, vivid and (either a good or a bad thing depending on your personal preference) doesn’t sport the cutting edge notch seen on almost every other phone launched this year. Battery life is about average and lasts around a day. The speakers are boomy and clear, granted additional oomph by HTC’s formidable BoomSound technology, which makes the U12+ one of the best phones to play music directly out of.
At £699 this flagship is cheaper than the recent Huawei P20 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S9, but finds itself massively undercut by the just-launched OnePlus 6, a £469 phone that pips the U12+ in camera terms, and roughly matches it for power. The U12+ is a great phone, but that’s a tough sell for Android users looking to upgrade, and it will take more than Edge Sense to turn heads.
Price and website:
Release date: June 7
Internal: 6GB RAM, 64GB storage and microSD
Rear: 12MP f/1.7, secondary 16MP for zoom
Front: Dual 8MP