As far as we are concerned, HTC has not been on the right track in the smartphone field lately. Perhaps the main problem is the screen of the U11+ and U12+, which consumes a lot of energy. We also weren’t very happy with the removal of the buttons on the U12+. We hope that HTC finds its way again, as it used to be the smartphone manufacturer of choice for many.
Perhaps the mid-range U12 Life is a new beginning. The price is not too high, because it costs 350 euros and you get a device with fairly reasonable specifications on certain fronts. It has 64GB of storage memory, a Snapdragon 636, a screen of 6″, stereo speakers, a 3.5mm port and a battery capacity of 3600mAh.
To the buttons
However, making a midrange device always means making concessions. As a manufacturer, what do you really want to get right and what do you cut back on? Let’s start with the housing. There seems to be some savings. The device feels cheap. This is primarily due to the ‘acrylic glass’ back. This feels like plastic, if you tap it for example, and scratches quickly in our experience. The device also turned out to be quite flexible during our first touches. The U12 Life is very light due to the material used and that is also worth something for some.
A second reason why the smartphone feels a bit cheap is that the buttons, which also seem to be made of plastic, are not completely comfortable in the device. One phone we had in our hands had a crooked volume rocker and another had slack in both the volume rocker and the power button. As far as we are concerned, HTC has lost it a bit in the area of buttons, where they used to be so sturdy, especially in the high-end models. As far as we’re concerned, that reputation is… gone.
The back of the device does have something special. Perhaps HTC was fed up with our negatives for fingerprint-sensitive backs, because to make touch marks less noticeable, the bottom three-quarters of the device have small ridges. They are laser cut stripes of only 0.3mm depth. Unfortunately, you’ll still see some finger-swiping, but it does help. In addition, you have a little more grip on the phone. It’s somewhat similar to the idea of the Pixel phones, with the lower part being matte and the upper part glossy, although the implementation on the U12 Life is substantially different.
The fingerprint scanner is also located on the back of the device. This one works pretty smoothly. It is a bit too high for our taste, but it is not really annoying. Speaking of speed; the device feels smooth overall. Switching between apps is fast and apps load quickly. With the speed of the Snapdragon 636 and HTC’s software optimization, it seems to be fine. We were also able to keep about ten apps in memory with the 4GB RAM, which is also fine.
Take a step forward and a step back
The software is a separate story, because the U11 Life was part of the Android One program. It is not entirely clear to us why, but HTC has abandoned this for the U12 Life, while Android One can certainly be a reason to choose a device, due to the rapid updates and upgrades. HTC has put a light version of Sense on the U12 Life, where News Republic has disappeared, among other things, and we are not sorry about that. Whether the software is also better optimized for devices without high-end hardware has not become clear to us. A downside to the fact that this is not a device in the Android One program is that it comes with Android 8.1, where it would probably already be in stores with Android 9 otherwise.
Another point of criticism is the water resistance of the U12 Life. Predecessor U11 Life had an IP67 rating, but this device has to make do with a chemical coating over the innards and no rating. We have therefore not seen any rubbers in places where the water can flow in. HTC has therefore chosen for cost reasons not to make the U12 Life really waterproof and that is something to take into account.
Edge Sense has also proved too expensive, because that is no longer on the U12 Life either. While it’s a feature you might expect on high-end devices, it was handy to have it on the U11 Life. In practice, it is quite nice to squeeze a smartphone and, for example, quickly start the camera, or of course something else that you like.
Fortunately, the U12 Life has improved on enough points compared to the U11 Life. Not the least important: the screen. There is a 6″ LCD screen in the device with a resolution of 2160×1080 pixels, so that the pixel density amounts to 402ppi and that is sharp enough. That is an extended Full HD screen with an aspect ratio of 18:9. In the bright Berlin sun, it was sometimes quite difficult to read the screen properly at maximum brightness, although more devices in this segment suffer from this. It is also inconvenient that the brightness decreases quite quickly when you look at the screen at an angle. the bezels below and above the screen are quite large, which means that this device should certainly not be classed as a small phone.
A larger battery generally also fits in a larger phone and it has been scaled up considerably compared to the predecessor. The battery capacity of the U12 Life is 3600mAh and that is on the high side. Since it was explicitly said during the hands-on session that the LPS screen is more energy efficient than the IPS screen of its predecessor, we have high hopes that the battery life will be better, but only battery tests can tell. The device has support for fast charging , which according to HTC itself is ten percent slower than Quick Charge 3.0.
There is also progress in the camera field. For example, a second camera has been placed on the back, making artificial background blur possible. We tested that and the device, like more phones, drops stitches on the edges of the objects that need to be sharp, but that does not alter the fact that the effect itself is beautiful, especially for portraits. The LED flash is also back on the front, so selfies in the dark have a better chance of success.
The camera software we tested was still in its beta phase and a small shutter lag was sometimes noticeable. Still, focusing was generally smooth and accurate, though that was a different story when shooting video. In addition, the autofocus did not understand it at all. In fact, it was so bad that we assume that this will be fixed in the final version, but that remains speculation of course. We usually do not see optical stabilization in this segment and it is not on the U12 Life either. This makes it more difficult to take a sharp photo in moderate light, for example.
Another point of progress is that the U12 Life has dual sim functionality. You will have to choose whether to insert a micro SD card or a second SIM card. It is also nice that the 3.5mm port is back and that it has nfc, which is no guarantee in this price range. Another advantage is that it has stereo speakers. These can’t be as loud as the big brother U12 +, but it is certainly better than mono sound, as we have heard.
The U12 Life has its pros and cons. The flimsy buttons and case that isn’t waterproof are a setback. We also don’t quite understand why HTC moved away from the Android One program with this product line, although the Sense skin isn’t bad and the device feels fast. Fortunately, the U12 Life also has a number of positive points, including the stereo speakers, the battery capacity and the dual sim functionality.
Unfortunately for HTC, the competition in this price category is fierce. The Nokia 7 Plus is very popular in this segment and currently available for around the same price. If you put that device next to the HTC U12 Life, the differences are not huge. In principle, the Nokia 7 Plus has a better update policy with Android One, the housing is more solid and it has a somewhat faster soc. The camera also has an advantage, because in addition to a bokeh mode, it also has ‘optical zoom’.
The HTC U12 Life has many things that the 7 Plus also has, such as a 6″ screen, smooth software and a large battery capacity. The 7 Plus again does not have stereo speakers, which is therefore a plus of the U12 Life. The quality of the camera could be a deciding factor, but we can’t pass judgment on that after this short session with beta software, but for now the Nokia 7 Plus seems to have the advantage, mainly based on specs.
Apart from this comparison, the U12 Life doesn’t seem like a bad device to us. Tests and practical experience must of course show how the U12 Life compares to the competition. Although there is a lot of competition in this price range, it could very well be a great deal.
The U12 Life is for sale from the beginning of October in the colors purple and blue for 349 euros. HTC says it gives a ten percent discount if the device is ordered through the HTC Club.