HTC U12 Plus vs. Galaxy S9 Plus: Clash of the plus-sized phones

HTC U12 Plus Review
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

We love the early months of the year, since it always means a deluge of new devices vying to take the market by storm. The latest to make its mighty presence known is the HTC U12 Plus, and it comes with all the power you’d expect from a 2018 flagship, along with a few of HTC’s special features.

But the Taiwanese company has competition, specifically the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus. How do these two mighty behemoths fare head-to-head? We take a look in this specs comparison. And be sure to check out our HTC U12 Plus hands-on review for our impressions of the phone.

Specs

HTC U12 Plus Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus
Size 156.6 x 73.9 x 8.7-9.7 mm (6.16 x 2.9 x 0.34 – 0.38 inches) 158.1 x 73.8 x 8.5 mm (6.22 x 2.91 x 0.33 inches)
Weight 188 grams (6.63 ounces) 189 grams (6.67 ounces)
Screen size 6-inch Super LCD 6.2-inch AMOLED display
Screen resolution 2,880 x 1,440 pixels (537 pixels per inch) 2,960 x 1,440 pixels (529 pixels per inch)
Operating system Android 8.0 Oreo Android 8.0 Oreo
Storage space 64GB, 128GB
64GB, 128GB, 256GB
MicroSD card slot Yes Yes
Tap-to-pay services Google Pay Google Pay, Samsung Pay
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
RAM 6GB 6GB
Camera Dual 12MP and 16MP telephoto rear (both with OIS), dual 8MP lenses front Dual 12MP and 12MP (both with OIS) rear, variable aperture, 8MP front
Video Up to 4K at 30 frames per second, 1080p at 240 fps Up to 4K at 60 frames per second, 1080p at 240 fps, 720p at 960 fps
Bluetooth version Bluetooth 5.0 Bluetooth 5.0
Ports USB-C 3.5mm headphone jack, USB-C
Fingerprint sensor Yes (back) Yes (back)
Water resistance IP68 IP68
Battery 3,500mAh

QuickCharge 3.0 (4.0 with adapter, not included)

3,500mAh

QuickCharge 2.0

Qi wireless charging

App marketplace Google Play Store Google Play Store
Network support T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint
Colors Translucent Blue, Ceramic Black, Flame Red Midnight Black, Coral Blue, Lilac Purple
Price Starting at $800 Starting at $840
Buy from HTC, Amazon Samsung, Amazon
Review score Hands-on review 4.5 out of 5 stars

Performance, battery life, and charging

samsung galaxy s9 plus review taking photo
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

On paper, the performance on these two phones appears to be a dead heat. Both are equipped with the Snapdragon 845’s blisteringly powerful performance, and with 6GB of RAM apiece, we’d expect both of these phones to be fairly snappy, and very similar in real-life usage.

It’s the same story when we turn to batteries. The 3,500mAh batteries in each are hefty, but with the energy demands from such large screens, we expect that they’ll equal about the same battery life — roughly a day. We see some differences in charging rate though — while the Galaxy S9 Plus is stuck with QuickCharge 2.0, the HTC U12 Plus comes with QuickCharge 3.0 out of the box, and the option for QuickCharge 4.0 with a compatible adapter. However, despite having flagship specs and a high price point, the U12 Plus does not have wireless charging — which seems more than a tad odd for a 2018 flagship with glass on the back.

We can’t separate these two yet — this has to be a tie for now.

Winner: Tie

Design and durability

HTC U12 Plus Review
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

This should be completely clear from the outset — both of these phones are drop-dead gorgeous, glass-wrapped beauties. The Galaxy S9 Plus takes its style cues from its older sibling, the S8 Plus — but that’s no bad thing, since the gentle curves, slim bezels, and sleek design look stunning. The HTC U12 Plus takes a similar route, bringing back the Liquid Surface design from the HTC U11, but slimming down the bezels significantly. And how could we not mention the slight transparency of the Translucent Blue model? Brilliant. In terms of pure bezel size, though, Samsung takes the win for its skimpier edges around the screen.

Durability is always going to be an issue with glass phones of course, and you’re probably going to want cases for both devices, just in case the worst does happen. It’s all good news on the water-resistance front though, as both phones come with an IP68 rating and should be able to resist a trip down the toilet or into the pool. The U12 Plus may even be even better at water resistance, because it doesn’t have any mechanical buttons, just touch-sensitive ones.

It’s more or less even on this front. But there is something of a tie-breaker if you’re passionate about your old headphones — the HTC U12 Plus has no headphone jack. It comes with some USB-C headphones in the box to offset this, but for us it’s a missing feature, so the Galaxy S9 Plus ekes out the win.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus

Display

samsung galaxy s9 plus review always on display
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

You’ll find a 6-inch Super LCD screen dominating the front of the HTC U12 Plus, with a 2,880 x 1,440 pixel resolution. With a pixels-per-inch (ppi) measurement of 537 , HTC’s phone delivers a sharper display than the S9 Plus’ 529 pp. But no matter how good the U12 Plus’ display is, it still can’t beat the AMOLED display on the S9 Plus. AMOLED screens are capable of much deeper colors and inkier blacks than LCD screens, and it’s clear that there’s something of a mismatch here.

That’s not to say the HTC U12 Plus’ display isn’t good, but it’s up against one of the world’s best displays here.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus

Camera

HTC U12 Plus Review
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The S9 Plus comes with two 12-megapixel lenses on the rear, plus an 8-megapixel selfie shooter on the front. The HTC U12 Plus goes a step further with two lenses on the back (a 12-megapixel lens and a 16-megapixel telephoto lens), but it also comes with two 8-megapixel selfie lenses. That sounds exciting, but in practice, most of what the front two lenses do is Portrait Mode selective blur for selfies, and not much else. It’s a feature that was already possible on the Galaxy S8, never mind the S9 Plus.

In terms of raw camera hardware, we suspect the Galaxy S9 Plus’ variable aperture and great low-light performance gives it the edge over the HTC U12 Plus, but we need more time to be absolutely sure of that. You’ll find bokeh-style selective blur on both cameras, and both phones are capable of 2x optical zoom thanks to telephoto lenses.

In terms of video, you can expect solid performance from both, with both being able to record in 60 frames per second at 4K resolutions. The S9 Plus’ 960 fps super slow-motion video is more impressive than the U12 Plus’ regular slow-mo, but HTC’s Sonic Zoom tech wins it some points back. Sonic Zoom is a feature that lets you zoom in during a video, and the camera will suppress other sounds to focus on your zoomed-in-on subject.

Honestly, without further testing, we’re finding it hard to separate the two phones. HTC’s phones have beaten Samsung’s before, so we’re not confident enough to declare a winner yet. It’s a draw, for now.

Winner: Tie

Software and updates

samsung galaxy s9 plus review maps
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

These aren’t phones for stock Android enthusiasts — both phones come with manufacturer skins of Android, and your choice between the two is going to be personal. Rest assured though, both are accessible for anyone with prior experience of Android. Both also come with Android 8.0 Oreo, and as flagships, we expect both will be supported for years to come, especially with the upcoming Android P.

In terms of update speed, HTC has continuously beaten Samsung. The HTC U11 was one of the first non-Google devices to get Android 8.0 Oreo, and it’s fair to assume this will still be the case with Android P. While we laud Samsung’s breadth of updates (the Galaxy S7 recently received the Oreo update), it’s just too slow in getting the ball rolling.

Winner: HTC U12 Plus

Special features

HTC U12 Plus Review
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Being top-of-the-line flagship phones, you’d be right to expect a good amount of special features from both of these phones. The Galaxy S9 Plus’ roster is well known at this point — there’s virtual reality with the Gear VR, the ability to turn your phone into a desktop computer with the Dex Station or Dex Pad, A.I. assistant Bixby — and finally — the hit-and-miss AR Emojis.

That’s a formidable arsenal, but the U12 Plus has its own strengths. Edge Sense is back from the U11, and in addition to squeezing the sides, there’s also a new action — double tapping either side of the phone There’s also face unlock — also available on the S9 Plus — as well as the BoomSound speakers that was one of the highest points of last year’s HTC U11.

There’s a lot to love on both of these phones, and there’s no particular feature on either of these phones that signify a clear winner. It’s another tie.

Winner: Tie

Price

The Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus is currently available on all major carriers, and prices start at $840 for the 64GB model. The HTC U12 Plus can be pre-ordered from May 23 from HTC’s website and Amazon, with prices starting at $800 for the 64GB model. It’s certified to work on AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon.

Overall winner: Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus

This was a very hard choice to make — there’s a lot to love in both of these phones, including stunning designs, tons of power, and some wonderful additional features. While the HTC U12 Plus certainly has a lead in some areas, it’s not quite enough to topple the Galaxy S9 Plus based on specifications alone. That may not be the case after we’ve tested features like the camera and battery, so stay tuned for our full review.