The mid-range is almost as fierce as the flagship phone market these days and HTC is back for another crack at it. Our first impressions of the U12 Life are pretty good with the handset offering decent design and specs for under £300. Find out more in our hands-on review.
HTC has been struggling in the phone business for a while now, but we liked the U11 Life last year. Now the firm is back with an updated version, bring various improvements and no Android One.
HTC U12 Life: Price and availability
Last year, the price of the U11 Life was a big draw at £349. Well HTC has gone and lowered the cost of the phone for 2018.
So the U12 Life comes in at £299 in the UK and 349 Euros in Europe. We’re told it’s not destined for the US.
HTC expects the phone to ship late September and there will be no pre-orders.
HTC U12 Life: Design and build
In design, the U12 Life looks somewhat like the Pixel 2, which HTC incidentally made for Google.
There’s an interesting effect that HTC calls 3D Ultra Stripes. These are tiny grooves in the ‘acrylic glass’ that are laser cut to 0.3mm deep.
Not only does it create an interesting look different to other phones, it aids grip which is a regular problem for glass backed handsets. It’s also supposed to reduce fingerprints.
It does do this a little bit, but mostly compared to the top section which has no stripes. Oddly, this is where the fingerprint scanner is and you’re going to be polishing this area all the time to stop it looking grubby.
We wouldn’t mind if the entire back had the 3D Ultra Stripes.
The front of the phone is fairly plain, like most, but looks nicer this time around with a decent 80 percent screen-to-body ratio. HTC has opted against a notch, but the screen is tall and therefore on-trend in at least one way.
One downside this year is that the U12 Life isn’t waterproof. HTC says that it’s splash resistant but it doesn’t have an IP67 rating like its predecessor. It does have a headphone jack, though.
The U12 Life will be available in two colours: Midnight Blue and Twilight Purple.
HTC U12 Life: Specs and features
New phones can launch with precious few upgrades compared to its predecessor but the U12 Life has a number of new hardware elements. Nice work from HTC considering the phone is cheaper this year.
Due to the modern 18:9 aspect ratio, the U12 Life has a large 6in screen. Yet, along with small bezels, the phone doesn’t feel that big overall. It’s a big jump from the 5.2in display on the U11 Life.
The resolution also gets a bump to Full HD+ to account for the tallness. HTC has also switched to a new panel type called LPTS (Low-Temperature PolySilicon) which is partly due to cheaper manufacturing costs, we believe.
HTC says it comes with benefits over IPS LCD including power consumption and better contrast.
We’ll test further once we have a sample, but for now we can say that the screen looks good – especially for the price of the phone.
Processor, memory and storage
Inside there’s an upgrade to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 processor, which is 40 percent faster than the 630 inside the U11 Life.
There’s also 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage as standard, which was the higher spec model last year. If you need to add more storage then you can use the second SIM slot and add up to 1TB more.
There will be a 128GB model but it will be exclusive to Taiwan.
Performance seemed ok during our hands-on time but as usual we’ll need to test the device properly when we get a sample.
Connectivity and audio
As mentioned in the design section, HTC has re-introduced the headphone jack and the phone still has USB-C as you would expect. Elsewhere, there’s Bluetooth 5.0, GPS and NFC.
HTC has moved to stereo speakers for the U12 Life. They don’t get the BoomSound tag, though. Oddly, the phone has lost the ability to play 24bit Hi-Res audio.
The phone is dual-SIM if you don’t need to add an SD card and it’s LTE Cat 11 which means speeds of up to 600Mbps.
We’re pretty accustomed to even budget phones coming with dual cameras now and HTC has added a second to the rear.
So the U12 Life has a 16Mp, f/2.0 camera again but now a 5Mp secondary for depth effect. It’s got phase detection auto focus (PDAF) and electronic image stabilisation (EIS).
You can shoot video at 4K if you’re happy with 30fps, otherwise Full HD can stretch to 60fps.
The front camera is lower resolution 13Mp camera with HDR but now its own LED flash for taking selfies when there’s just not enough natural light.
Overall it seems pretty good for a phone under £300 but we need to spend some proper time with the cameras before we can comment properly.
There’s a nice jump in battery capacity from 2600- to 3600mAh so battery life should improve. HTC says you’ll get 88 hours of music playback, 13 hours of video (720p, mid brightness) or 12 hours of LTE browsing.
There will be a 5W charger in the box which the firm claims will charge the phone from empty to full in just 40 mins. We’ll believe that when we see it.
HTC U12 Life: Software and apps
The U11 Life came with Android One – Google’s program for phones offering stock Android and the promise of both security and OS updates.
Well HTC has ditched that for this time around, although the U12 Life comes with a still mostly stock version of Android 8.1 Oreo.
The Sense user interface is there, so if you swipe from the homescreen you’ll get BlinkFeed instead of Google Assistant, for example.
We’ll explore the software more when we get a final sample but we can tell you that HTC has also ditched Edge Sense, its pressure sensitive tech which on other phones means you can squeeze it to do various things.