HTC's HTC business is not doing well. The buttonless design of the HTC U12 Plus was a flop and poor sales generally led to layoffs. The innovative Android pioneer is on the go and needs a hit. We were thrilled with last year's HTC U11 Life, which brought the features of its flagship brother to a more affordable package, but the HTC U12 Life is a completely different beast.
This mid-range offer costs 300 euros in the UK or 350 euros in Europe (around 350 US dollars), but no official publication in the US. It has little relation to the U12 Plus, which is probably a good thing. With an interesting striped design, a big screen and a large battery and a tempting price, is there room for the U12 Life to break off a slice of the increasingly competitive midrange marketplace? We believe that there is, but it will have to beat competitors like the Nokia 7.1
Stripes soften a chunky design
As manufacturers continue to wage war on the bezel, HTC has lagged slightly, withstanding the notch and retaining edges above and below the screen. The U12 Life has a decent screen-to-case ratio. Its 6-inch display accounts for nearly 80 percent of the front. The front bezel also has a front speaker with the selfie camera on the left side.
When you turn the U12 Life around, things get a little more interesting as the generic front gives way to a shiny plastic design called the HTC Acrylic. Our test device is purple, but also in blue. There's a two-tone pattern, a bit like Google's pixel phones, with a glossy top that houses a two-line camera module and a fingerprint sensor in the middle at the top left.
A distinctive, streaky, textured finish covering the bottom two-thirds of the U12 Life. It makes the phone a bit easier to grip even though it does not extend to the sides, but the main advantage is that it does not show fingerprints and smears, as is the case with the glossy top.
It has little relation to the U12 Plus, which is probably a good thing.
On the left side is the SIM card slot with space for a microSD card. On the right side is the volume rocker with a structured on / off switch. At the bottom edge is the USB-C port and the speaker with the lower volume. In the form of a 3.5mm audio jack, there is a surprise that HTC has not offered in recent cell phones.
It's a good-looking phone, but it feels a bit chunky and unmistakably plastic. It seems a little strange that the fingerprint sensor sits at the top of the shiny area, as this inevitably leads to unsightly finger marks. We assume that Google reduced the glossy area in pixels 2 and 3 and instead placed the fingerprint sensor in the matte area.
The design is beautiful. However, medium and even low-cost phones have skyrocketed over the past year and often reflect the glass designs and notched displays of their more expensive contemporaries. We believe that there are more eye-catching and expensive phones in this price range, for example the Nokia 7.1.
Digital buttons and squeezable pages have nowhere to be found in the U12. We really did not like the U12 Plus's digital buttons, so we're not disappointed, but we believe Edge Sense is useful, and the lack of any IP rating feels like a step backwards – last year U11 Life had both.
Entertainment on a Budget
We're excited to find stereo speakers in the U12 Life, but they're not good enough to get the boomsound label, and the volume is limited. Headphones are always superior and we are sure that some will be pleased to see the return of the 3.5mm audio jack.
The 6-inch screen is a good size for watching movies and games, but is not the best quality
The 6-inch screen is a good size for watching movies and games, but it is not best quality. The aspect ratio of 18: 9 is fine and the resolution of 2,160 x 1,080, equivalent to 402 pixels per inch, is sharp enough, but not always bright enough. When you adjust the brightness, the automatic brightness is only disabled completely, so you can not set your preferred levels that we found disturbing.
The colors and the contrast are good and you have to accept that you do not get OLED at this price. The screen of the Nokia 7.1 looks similar to paper, but has an important extra that the U12 Life lacks in the form of HDR10 support. If you watch a lot of Netflix movies or other HDR content, this is a very important difference and makes the Nokia (sold in the US) a much more attractive perspective.
Solid performance with some software stuttering
The HTC U12 Life features a Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 processor with 4GB of RAM. There is 64 GB of storage space, just under 50 GB are immediately ready for use and a MicroSD card slot for extensions.
These specifications are exactly the same as those of one of the biggest competitors: the Nokia 7.1, which we have just described as a top device budget phone.
If you look at the benchmarks, the U12 Life is actually a little bit, but in real life there were occasionally slow loading and stuttering issues, especially in the camera app. (The AnTuTu benchmark is missing because the app can not be installed on our device.)
- Geekbench 4-CPU: 1.345 single-core; 4,936 Multi-Core
- 3DMark Sling Shot Extreme: 763 (Volcano)
The HTC U12 Life is generally fast and responsive. These results are based on what you would expect from the hardware, and most of the time, U12 Life has served us well.
We played games like Project Highrise and Asphalt 9 Surfing the web without problems was smooth, but there were occasional delays in loading and unloading apps, and loading some apps took longer than they should.
Android 8.1 Oreo runs on the HTC U12 Life with HTC's Sense interface above. Swipe from left to right to get BlinkFeed, HTC's aggregated news feed. We do not find it very useful, but luckily it's easy to remove.
TouchPal is also installed as a standard keyboard, and there are a variety of topics to choose from when you want to customize your home screens. We find the HTC software a bit spicy, with a few too many notifications and suggestions, and a few unnecessary preinstalled apps.
The contrast to Nokia 7.1, an Android One phone without bloatware, is blatant. Not only does the Nokia feel faster, it's also sure that the Android 9 Pie Update will be faster than the U12 Life, with two-year fast version updates and three-year security updates. If the U12 Life were an Android One phone, it would be easier to recommend.
Camera Requires Patience
The HTC U12 Life features a dual-lens main camera that features a 12 megapixel main lens with a 1: 2.0 aperture and a secondary 5 megapixel lens. This combination allows a good bokeh effect with blurred backgrounds for portraiture.
Using the camera with the automatic settings, we found that it made decent photos in good lighting conditions, but the quality deteriorated rapidly as the light began to fade. You have to stand still and wait for a decent shot. Movement tends to blur something. Overexposure is also a problem, especially with mixed lighting.
HDR is disabled by default, and as soon as you turn on the camera, the recording becomes relatively slow and the processing becomes very slow. We actually thought it was frozen because it took so long to process a shot. We usually suggest that HDR should always be on, but it's not just the slow processing that you have to worry about here.
We believe that there are problems with the camera app and the software tuning. If you look at these two shots, you'll see that the brighter HDR feature is on. It seems a bit too aggressive, losing the contrast, and making scenes all the way much brighter than they really were.
Detail levels and color accuracy are good for a midrange device, you just need a steady hand and good light to make the most of it. Expect the grain to creep the minute the sun goes down.
The portrait mode in the U12 Life has pleasantly surprised us. It takes a bit of fumbling and it is not very fast, with warnings that light up when you are too close or far from your subject, but persist and get beautiful photos. If you're craving for confused backgrounds like DSLR, you can get them with this camera, but if you look closely, you'll find that they occasionally get messed up around the edges by the camera department. If HTC could bring out a software fix for the HDR to tweak tuning and speed things up, that would be great, but as it stands, there are shortcomings.
The big battery is a highlight
For those who suffer from it The HTC U12 Life will calm those nerves. It contains a 3,600 mAh battery that will easily lead you through a busy day. Even at a lengthy game session, we found that the U12 Life was still in the tank at bedtime. For an average mixed-use day, you should have 30 to 40 percent left by the end of the day.
The HTC U12 Life relieves these nerves for those suffering from battery vacancies.
There is no real fast-loading here. With the supplied charger and cable, the device has recharged in 30 minutes from 10 to 43 percent. It took just over one and a half hours to reach 100 percent. They also do not find support for wireless charging, as is common in the midrange market.
Pricing, Availability, and Warranty
The HTC U12 Life costs £ 300 in the UK and € 350 in the continent where it is widely used. It's probably $ 350, but unfortunately HTC has no plans to launch this phone in the US. You could always buy it directly from HTC, but it does not work with Verizon or Sprint.
HTC offers a standard year warranty that covers manufacturing defects.
The HTC U12 Life is a solid midrange smartphone that has much to offer. It is definitely a step away from the mediocrity of the middle class, but here there are compromises. We like the design, the big screen and the long battery life, but it is alleviated by software bugs.
Is there a better alternative?
Yes, we think the Nokia 7.1 is a better phone. The clear software, the quality of the build and the slightly better display and camera result in an overall better device.
You may also consider the Android One version of the Moto X4 or the Moto G6 Plus in the UK They may not fit U12 Life in all areas, but are both a bit cheaper.
How long will it take?
You can expect to have two years with the HTC U12 Life. The plastic case of the U12 Life is more durable than glass, but it lacks an IP rating for water resistance, and you probably want a case to protect the glass front.
We wish that HTC would have stuck with Android One, which would have guaranteed security updates for three years and at least two Android versions upgrades. We believe the U12 Life will receive Android 9 Pie, but we're not optimistic about software updates for this phone.
Should you buy it?
If you love the design and are tall Screen and battery are your top priority. Then you should buy the HTC U12 Life. Most people should buy the Nokia 7.1 instead.