With the U12+, HTC somehow manages to mess up the one thing that all other phones get right: the volume and power buttons. I don’t generally pay much mind to the buttons on my phone—the Bixby key on the Galaxy S9 notwithstanding—but the U12+’s are so finicky, I actively tried to avoid them.

htc u12 u11 buttons Christopher Hebert/IDG

The buttons on the U11 (bottom) were fine, HTC, so why’d you have to change them?

The U12+’s buttons notwithstanding, I’d still have a hard time recommending this phone. Yes, it improves on the U11 in some key areas—most notably, the camera—but it’s also a stark reminder of just how frustrating HTC’s phones have become. Ever since the glorious One changed our perception of what a high-end Android phone should be, HTC has consistently taken one step forward and two steps back with each new flagship phone.

I was hoping the U12+’s fresh design and mesmerizing transparent blue case would break that trend, but the phone’s quest to be different ultimately proves to be too much to bear. While there are some aspects of the U12+ that stack up to the Pixel 2 XL and Galaxy S9+ (its intended targets), HTC seems to have abandoned the basic rule of design: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

A new design… that feels too familiar

HTC gave us a glimpse of the future of the flagship U phone with last year’s international-only U11+, so the 18:9, slim-bezel design in the U12+ is hardly a surprise. Even if you’ve never seen that handset in the flesh, HTC’s moves here are mostly predictable, dumping the home button, bumping the display from 5.5 inches to 6 inches, and upping the screen-to-body ratio from a paltry 71 percent to more than 80 percent. It’s definitely more holdable than the U11, but the bezels are still thicker than on most other phones in its class, and I found its weight to be a bit top-heavy.

htc u12 screen Christopher Hebert/IDG

HTC has updated the HTC U12+ with a 6-inch, 18:9 display.

While the new dimensions certainly put the U12+ on a par with the other phones in its class, HTC doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. The bezels are still pretty chunky (likely due to new Edge Sense features that add tapping and holding to its squeezing repertoire), and the liquid surface aesthetic is just as slippery and fingerprint-y as it was on the U11. The back is a bit busier due to the extra camera and fingerprint sensor, but it still looks stunning in the right light, particularly the translucent blue and fire red colors. Even though it’s made of glass, HTC still hasn’t added wireless charging, and like the HTC’s U phone’s of 2017, it also doesn’t have a headphone jack or a USB-C-to-3.5mm adapter (though a pair of USB-C U-Sonic earbuds are included in the box).

On the front, the Quad HD+ 2880×1440 display is still LCD rather than OLED. Even though it’s HDR 10-compatible, I found the colors to be somewhat dark and muted, even when using the optimized DPI-P3 color profile.

Compounding things is a surprisingly dim display. With the brightness slider pushed to the max, the U12+ Super LCD 6 can’t hold a candle to the Galaxy S9 OLED screen and pales in comparison to the LG G7’s Super Bright LCD display. I also had weird issues with force-touching the screen to bring up options. Either I didn’t press hard enough or I pressed too hard and the menu quickly disappeared. I eventually just stopped trying.

Pushing the wrong buttons

And then we have the buttons. There are just three of them—volume up, volume down, and power—and they look unassuming clustered on the right side. But then you touch them and discover they’re not traditional buttons. They’re pressure-sensitive buttons that don’t actually move when you press them. In theory that might be helpful for water resistance and durability, but in practice it’s just awful. Haptic feedback is supposed to mimic the act of pressing, but it rarely synced and never helped.





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