Believe it or not, HTC is still around! With four months of 2018 under its belt, HTC has turned in four monthly earnings reports that rank among the worst in the company’s history. After the sale of its ODM division to Google, HTC has a $1.1 billion cash infusion to play with, so it still has some runway to turn things around.
That brings us to HTC’s newest flagship, the HTC U12+. I recently got to spend a few minutes with the new device, and while it has a few unforeseen tricks up its sleeve, it isn’t a huge departure from past HTC devices like the HTC U11.
First, we have a more-or-less standard 2018 spec package. There’s a Snapdragon 845 SoC, 6GB of RAM, 64 or 128GB of storage, Android 8.0, and a 3500mAh battery. The display is a six-inch 2880×1440 LCD with an 18:9 aspect ratio, and the phone skips out on the notch trend. You get a MicroSD slot, stereo “boom sound” speakers, and IP68 water resistance, but no headphone jack. The back is glass, so you have the downside of the device being a fragile fingerprint magnet. The one positive of a glass phone—wireless charging—isn’t here. The phone starts at $799.
So, with nothing special from the basic specs, pricing, or materials department, we’re left with just a few tricks that HTC hopes will entice you to make a purchase.
There are two front-facing 8MP cameras now, so you can do selfie-portraits. The back (which looks a heck of a lot like an LG phone) features a fingerprint reader and dual cameras. You also get a 12MP main camera and a 16MP sensor with a 2x optical zoom.
HTC has added more pressure sensing to the phone, which started with last year’s HTC U11 with “active edge.” The volume and power buttons are now totally solid and part of the phone shell. They don’t “click” or move at all; instead, they depend on pressure sensing to know when you want to activate them. In practice, they work fine, and this probably leads to simpler construction. It’s also one less place for water to seep into the phone.
HTC’s trademark squeezy sides have been upgraded from “Active Edge” to “Active Edge 2,” and now the phone can tell when it is being held in addition to being squeezed. A squeeze will still launch a shortcut like the Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, or whatever you program it to do. When holding the phone one-handed, you can now tap on the side twice with your thumb, which will shrink the screen down into one-handed mode. Since the sides are touch sensitive, the screen will shrink toward the side of the phone you tapped on, enabling an easy left- or right-handed one-handed mode.
HTC is also using the touch-sensitive sides to help with auto rotate: if you are touching the left and right side, the phone won’t switch to landscape, no matter the orientation. If the phone is sideways and you let go of the sides—like say when holding the top and bottom of the phone for landscape—then it will rotate.
The colors are neat. The blue version of the HTC U12+ is translucent. Just like an old Game Boy, you can see inside the phone a bit. If we’re going to be stuck with glass phones, it’s nice to see a company use one of the interesting properties of glass. I actually wish the U12+ was translucent—you can see inside the phone, but only around the camera module. I’ve seen some fully transparent phone mods before, and, with a bit of a color tint, I think they would look great (especially without the pesky charging coil in the way). The red and black options are opaque, but the red option has a cool color-shifting effect that changes from red to yellow.
That’s pretty much it. Like with LG’s G6-to-G7 transition, it doesn’t seem like a winning strategy for a company to take a poor-selling phone and then change very little in its next model year. I know phone companies have long lead times for products and can’t necessarily react to the market from year to year, but I don’t see anything in the U12+ that will capture more customers than the HTC U11 did.
In the US, the HTC U12+ will support AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon. There’s no word on any carrier deals yet, but the phone will be sold unlocked on HTC.com and Amazon, with pre-orders starting 5/23. The 64GB version is $799 USD, while the 128GB version will run you $849. HTC.com also has financing options: $34 USD/month for 24 months at 0% APR.