HTC U12 Plus vs. HTC U11: Is it time to upgrade?

HTC U12 Plus Review
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Things have been tough for HTC over the last couple of years, but that hasn’t stopped the Taiwanese manufacturer from releasing some great Android smartphones. We were blown away by the camera quality in last year’s HTC U11 and we loved the budget HTC U11 Life. The latest release is the impressive HTC U12 Plus, which sports dual cameras front and back, a 6-inch display, and the usual host of innovative features we’ve come to expect from HTC.

We’ve tested the HTC U12 Plus out, but in this article we’re going to compare it with last year’s flagship — the U11 — to see what has changed and improved. If you’re considering buying one of these phones, or upgrading from the U11 to the U12 Plus, then this spec comparison should help you decide.

Specs

HTC U12 Plus HTC U11
Size 156.6 x 73.9 x 8.7-9.7 mm (6.16 x 2.9 x 0.34 – 0.38 inches) 153.9 x 75.9 x 7.9 mm (6.06 x 2.99 x 0.31 inches)
Weight  188 grams (6.63 ounces) 169 grams (5.96 ounces)
Screen size 6-inch Super LCD display 5.5-inch Super LCD display
Screen resolution 2,880 x 1,440 pixels (537 pixels per inch) 2,560 x 1,440 pixels (534 pixels per inch)
Operating system Android 8.0 Oreo Android 7.1 Nougat
Storage space 64GB, 128GB
64GB, 128GB
MicroSD card slot Yes, up to 2TB Yes, up to 400GB
Tap-to-pay services Google Pay Google Pay
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
RAM 6GB 4GB, 6GB
Camera Dual 12MP and 16MP rear with OIS, dual 8MP and 8MP front 12MP rear, 16MP front
Video 2,160p at 60 frames per second, 1080p at 240 fps 2,160p at 30 frames per second, 1,080p at 120 fps
Bluetooth version Bluetooth 5.0 Bluetooth 4.2
Ports USB-C USB-C
Fingerprint sensor Yes (back) Yes (front)
Water resistance IP68 IP67
Battery 3,500mAh

Quick Charge 3.0 (QC 4.0 supported but requires separate charger)

3,000mAh

Quick Charge 3.0

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 Amazing Silver, Sapphire Blue, Brilliant Black, Ice White, Solar Red
Price Starting at $800 $650
Buy from HTC HTC, Amazon
Review score Hands-on review 4 out of 5 stars

Performance, battery life, and charging

HTC U12 Plus Review
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The HTC U11 was a fine performer, with plenty of stamina and speed, but the HTC U12 Plus brings some important improvements. For a start, there’s the latest Snapdragon 845 processor, which is faster and more power efficient than last year’s 835. While the U11 came with a choice of 4GB or 6GB of RAM, paired with 64GB or 128GB of storage respectively, both storage models of the U12 Plus boast 6GB of RAM.

There’s also an extra 500mAh of capacity in the U12 Plus battery, though it is tasked with powering a bigger display. We found the U11 easily lasted a day-and-a- half between charges, so we’re hoping the U12 Plus will match it. Both phones support Quick Charge 3.0, but only the U12 Plus supports Quick Charge 4.0 — though you will need to buy a compatible charger separately as you don’t get one in the box. Sadly, neither phone has support for wireless charging.

Winner: HTC U12 Plus

Design and durability

HTC U12 Plus Review
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

One of the few things that disappointed us about the U11 was the chunky design and large bezels around the display. HTC has clearly worked on this, shaving down the bezels in the U12 Plus and moving the fingerprint sensor around to the back of the phone. As a result it has managed to pack in a much larger display without making the body too much bigger. There are still bezels above and below the screen, but mercifully there’s no notch. The stunning, color-changing, liquid glass finish on the back is still present, but the U12 Plus comes in new colors, including a Translucent Blue that shows some of the inner workings of the device.

There have also been improvements in the durability stakes, with the U12 Plus scoring an IP68 rating compared to the IP67 rating for the U11. That means it can be dunked in slightly deeper water without damage. A part of that improvement comes with the introduction of digital buttons — the power and volume buttons are not mechanical buttons, but they’re touch-sensitive.

Because of the glass finish, you’ll still need cases to protect these phones.

Winner: HTC U12 Plus

Display

HTC U12 Plus Review
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

You’ll find the Super LCD screens in HTC’s phones are sharp and pleasant to read on, though they lack the vibrancy of Samsung’s AMOLED screens. The U12 Plus boasts a 6-inch display with a resolution of 2,880 x 1,440 pixels, which works out to 537 pixels per inch. That’s very similar to the U11, which has a 5.5-inch screen with a resolution of 2,560 x 1,440 pixels, or 534 pixels per inch. It’s essentially a jump from the old 16:9 aspect ratio to the modern 18:9 and it gives you a slightly taller display.

Winner: HTC U12 Plus

Camera

HTC U12 Plus Review
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

On paper, the HTC U11’s 12-megapixel, single-lens camera didn’t generate too much excitement, but in practice, we found it capable of capturing some truly excellent photographs. In fact, it’s one of our favorite phone cameras of recent months. The U11 also has a capable 16-megapixel front-facing camera.

With the U12 Plus, HTC has gone dual-camera crazy, pairing a 12-megapixel lens with an f/1.75 aperture and a 16-megapixel telephoto lens with an f/2.6 aperture on the rear, both with optical image stabilization (OIS). There are also dual 8-megapixel lenses on the front, for superior portrait mode selfies. We can’t wait to put the U12 Plus camera through its paces and find out what it can do. We’re expecting something special that should surpass last year’s flagship. After all, it scored a DxOMark rating of 103 — just below the top Huawei P20 Pro.

Winner: HTC U12 Plus

Software and updates

HTC U11 Life review quick settings
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The HTC U11 launched with Android 7.1 Nougat and has since been updated to Android 8.0 Oreo. The U12 Plus is launching with Android 8.0 Oreo and will definitely be getting Android P. Both phones have HTC’s Sense user interface on top, which doesn’t deviate too far from stock Android. There are a few extras like A.I. Companion and Alexa support, but they complement, rather than replace, Google’s superior suite of apps and services.

As the newer and more powerful device, the U12 Plus will continue to get software updates for longer than the U11.

Winner: HTC U12 Plus

Special features

HTC U11 Acoustic Focus
Simon Hill/Digital Trends

The innovative Edge Sense feature made its debut in the U11, allowing you to squeeze your phone to snap a photo or launch Google Assistant. In the U12 Plus, it has been expanded to allow you to double tap either side of the phone to trigger an action.

The BoomSound speakers, which provide stereo sound via the bottom-firing speaker and the top earpiece, also sound better. Speaking of audio, HTC has also developed Sonic Zoom further in the U12 Plus, allowing you to focus in on the sound of a subject you are recording when you zoom in on them.

One new trick that the U12 Plus has up its sleeve is the ability to understand when to rotate from portrait to landscape based on how you’re holding and looking at the phone, which means it won’t rotate to landscape when you’re holding it in portrait and you lie down to read.

Winner: HTC U12 Plus

Price

The HTC U12 Plus costs $800 for the 64GB model or $850 for the 128GB model. You can buy the HTC U11 for $650, but you’ll probably find deeper discounts if you shop around, especially now that the U12 Plus has arrived. Both phones will work on all major carriers.

Overall winner: HTC U12 Plus

You would expect a new flagship to best its predecessor, and the U12 Plus certainly doesn’t disappoint. With improvements across the board — some minor, some major — there’s little doubt that this year’s HTC is the one to go for. Smart design tweaks, a slightly bigger display, software evolution, and a faster processor are all steps in the right direction, but the camera overhaul is probably the biggest change. Whether it’s enough to persuade U11 owners to upgrade is harder to say right now, so check out our full U12 Plus review.

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