Thursday, 24 May 2018 16:48

VIDEO: HTC's new U12+ is an edgy, no pushover phone you can push around

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With impressive flagship specs and very cool features other phones don't offer, HTC has doubled down on its genuinely useful edge-case UI that is really quite touching as never before.

Although one particular smartphone elitist at Mashable has declared boredom at HTC's new U12+ smartphone, and merely suggests HTC is playing catch up, my impression is that the company has done a very impressive job of genuinely being usefully different to every other smartphone out there.

And that's coming from someone — me — who is an iPhone person, although as it is my job, I try as many different devices as I can, and I especially appreciate features that different smartphone makers, such as Apple, Samsung, Sony, LG, Oppo, Huawei and many others, aren't offering (or aren't offering yet) as we'll see below.

I have had some hands on experience at an embargoed U12+ media briefing last week, so while that wasn't time for a full review, it was enough time for me to form some initial impressions, some of which I'm sharing in this article.

In addition, HTC is sending me a U12+ for review, so I'll be doing that over the next couple of weeks once my test unit arrives.

Now, in terms of features and benefits, HTC has a 6-inch 18:9 screen with very thin bezels on the left and right of the device, but its new "3D" screen edges actually feel like a better screen edge than I've felt before, and it's 2mm narrower than on its predecessor, the HTC U11.

Yes, it has a Qualcomm 845 processor, the same as Samsung's newly released S9 and S9+ models, so they're on par here with competing Androids, and unless you go for a Samsung Exynos processor, there's nothing better in the world of Anrdoid at the moment.

Yes, it has 6GB of RAM, which you're seeing more of on some Androids, but again, the S9 could only manage 4GB while you needed to go to the S9+ to get that same 6GB of memory.

It's true, of course, that Android's memory management leaves a lot to be desired, hence the need for such large amounts of RAM that Apple's memory-optimised iOS does not require, but that's not something within HTC's control, and making 6GB the standard clearly helps a lot in this regard.

There's IP68, which is now standard for most flagship smartphones out there, but even Google's Pixel 2 XL (made by LG at the time) was only ordered up by Google to have an IP67 rating.

HTC's U12+ Boomsound is noticeably louder than that of the U11, and with HTC proudly boasting of having a "subtle woofer and tweeter separation design" promising new levels of "power and clarity", more sound from your smartphone is always welcome, just as it was with the iPhone 8, 8 Plus and X compared to the 7 and 7 Plus before it, and the iPhones before those.

HTC also includes active noise cancelling USB-C powered headphones in the box (meaning there's no 3.5mm audio port but USB-C only), and alongside Hi-Res Audio capability, you can very easily say HTC's 2018 audio efforts sound very good, indeed.

As for cameras, dual cameras are now "de rigueur", as they say in French, where they might actually even puntastically say "deux rigueur", but don't, of course.

While Huawei's P20 Pro has added even a third camera, to seeming stunning low-light effect, the U12+ has two cameras on the back, and two on the front, achieving a DxO Mark of 103, which is certainly up there, with the specs being a 12MP + 16MP main camera with 2x high quality optical zoom and 10x digital zoom, and 8MP+8MP dual front camera "with natural Bokeh" for those ever-important selfies – at least, to some.

OIS and EIS are on the rear cameras, with 4K 60fps video recording available and 1080P HD slo-mo video at 240fps, although we don't see the 960fps slo-mo that Samsung and Huawei offer.

Then there's the video recording, with a smooth auto-zoom feature, a Sonic Zoom feature that lets you focus the audio recording to a particular spot that is 60% louder and 33% more focused than the HTC U11 was capable of, with "immersive 3D audio" recording to boot.

I record all my videos on an iPhone, because I simply get the best video and audio on a superbly consistent and ultra-reliable basis, but I'm keen to test HTC's new video and audio recording features to see how they compare to Apple's video and audio capabilities, which themselves have impressed me by simply getting better each and every year.

Plenty more to read after HTC's U12+ launch video below, please read on!

The U12+s on sale in Australia will feature 128GB of UFS2.1 Storage, although 64GB models are available overseas.

Then there's the dual-LTE SIM slots, which as far as I can see is the first smartphone in Australia to allow both SIM slots to connect to 4G networks simultaneously, rather than forcing one to be 3G only.

Need more storage space? I mention this below the SIM slots bceause you can add up to 2TB of storage via a MicroSD card slot, but to do so, you'll need to give up the second SIM slot to do so as the MicroSD slot will take its place.

Another feature that's new is that the power and volume buttons are pressure sensitive, with haptic feedback – so no physical buttons on the U12+ at all!

Now let's move onto HTC's new Edge Sense 2, an updated version of the Edge pressure controls that let you squeeze the U11 to perform various actions.

While Google used this feature in its Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL models to bring up Google Assistant, and Google Assistant only, HTC's Edge Sense 2 adds several new capabilities no other phones have even hinted at trying.

Back on 26 June 2017, I wrote about the U11's ability to let you use "the force", and wondered aloud whether users would really care.

The article also pointed to a Verge article suggesting Edge Sense was "gimmicky", and I queried whether this feature would survive into 2018 and actually be improved, given that companies such as Samsung had abandoned features like a temperature sensor in the S4 after having it in the S3, or the famed but disappointingly ditched eye control from the S5, which was wiped out after an Android software update and never had an eye laid on it again.

I questioned whether Edge Sense would end up squeezed out, but I am very happy to report that HTC decided to get edgier, and upgraded the capability into a new version 2 with added capabilities.

These features allow better one-handed control of the 6-inch screen, allow you to double tap to go back, allow you different pressures of taps to performance different tasks, to squeeze both sides to activate an app or feature, and even tap to make the displayed screen smaller for easier one-handed use.

That's impressive, and it's something no other smartphone offers, and is a genuinely useful user interface and experience.

In a way, it's a bit like Apple's 3D Touch for on-screen icons, but for the case itself, which already sits in the palm of your hand, so it's great to see HTC actually decided to improve this feature, rather than abandon it.

HTC describes the feature this way:

"Edge Sense 2: A new touch feedback experience turn the edges of U12+ into the easiest and most intuitive way to interact with your phone. The new Edge Sense knows which hand you are using, giving you one-handed freedom to double tap and navigate the device, hold to lock the screen orientation, or squeeze the sides for taking photos and videos zooming in on maps., and virtually any interaction."

The company describes its dual camera this way:

"The highest-rated dual camera: Two cameras on the front and back deliver beautifully artistic photos with DSLR-like bokeh. UltraSpeed Autofocus 2 includes full sensor phase detection autofocus and new laser autofocus to ensure you never miss your shot, while HDR Boost 2 lets you take fantastic photos in any lighting condition.

"The main camera’s 2x optical zoom and 10x digital zoom for photos means you are always ready for a close-up, while video with Sonic Zoom lets you “zoom in” on a sound or voice so you are truly the director of the scene. And with one-touch auto zoom, it’s almost like you have Hollywood in your pocket. It’s so good, the U12+ received a DxOMark score of 103, the highest rated camera in the industry for a dual camera smartphone."

Boomsound is described thusly:

"Best-ever HTC BoomSound, USonic, and Qualcomm® aptXTM HD audio: Incredible, pulse-pounding sound with louder-than-ever BoomSound speakers and USonic earbuds featuring Active Noise Cancellation to keep out unwanted distractions.

USonic matches the unique structure of your ear to shape the sound perfectly for you, so you hear every high note with crystal-clear precision and every bassline with thundering power. For wireless audio that goes way beyond expectations, aptX HD is designed to support high resolution 24-bit Bluetooth audio."

The "Liquid Surface" design of the U12+ is described this way:

"Liquid Surface: The U12+ showcases an even more artistic design featuring ultra-thin screen borders and new pressure-sensitive buttons encased in vibrant colours unlike anything you’ve seen.

"A Translucent Blue colour that lets you admire your phone’s beauty both inside and out, while Ceramic Black offers a gorgeously sophisticated look and Flame Red delivers extraordinary, colour-shifting hues in the most dynamic look HTC has ever created."

Power, performance and VR compatibility is described as being:

"Equipped with the Qualcomm® SnapdragonTM 845 Mobile Platform with X20 LTE that will extend the way people see, hear, and interact with the world around them. It is engineered to shatter performance expectations and connect you at beyond Gigabit LTE download speeds without unnecessarily compromising battery life.

"With 6GB RAM standard and up to 128GB storage, the U12+ shatters expectations of the power and performance you can expect from your phone. The U12+ is also VR ready for the Vive Focus (where available) with phone call and notification sync, plus mirror mode to turn your smartphone into your own personal VR theatre.

There's also the promise than this Android 8.0 phone will be upgradeable to the forthcoming Android P, and we're told the only reason the phone doesn't run on Oreo 8.1 yet is because of the quad cameras, which either the 845 processor or the newer OS didn't support yet (sorry, it was one or the other, I can ask HTC reading this to confirm what it was).

Because of this, the new phone isn't compatible with the Android P beta yet, but with Android P support promised, you will at leat be able to get an OS upgrade in the future.

HTC provided lots of additional materials, but instead of reprinting its brochure here, you can go direct to the Australian HTC U12+ page here and see for yourself.

Sadly, no Australian launch date nor pricing has yet been announced, with suggestions online the premium phone will come with a premium price, but the U12+ puts HTC back in the game with its very best Android smartphone yet, and despite the fact cheaper mid-range phones are there, and new Androids launch on a regular basis, the U12+ is definitely a worthy contender for anyone looking for a brand new Android smartphone to choose from.

If you haven't yet checked out HTC's video, I've embedded it here, too:

 

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