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HTC U12 Plus says bye to real buttons, embraces the squeeze

And you can see its insides, too.

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The HTC U12 Plus gets skinny bezels and does away with actual buttons.

Josh Miller/CNET

It looks like a button, feels like a button, but it's not a button. That's right, there are no clicks on the new HTC U12 Plus. The sleep/wake button and the volume keys are nothing more than haptic feedback illusions.

Apple did something similar when it replaced the home button on the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus with a touch-sensitive area that simulates the action and feel of a real button. But HTC took it a step further and replaced all of its buttons with digital ones. Getting rid of mechanical buttons reduces the risk of a part breaking and allows the phone to have a dust- and water-resistance rating of IP68.

When the phone is powered off, the sleep/wake button still works. Apparently, the pressure-sensitive button requires so little power that it will work on a dead battery. Like the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, it will be interesting to see how people adapt to the new feel of these nonbuttons. 

These haptic buttons are one of the biggest differences you'll notice between the U12 Plus and last year's U11. But there are many more refinements aimed at making HTC's new flagship an antidote to our current crop of Android phones -- especially those with a notch.

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The sides have pressure sensitive "buttons" and the edges can accept taps and squeezes to trigger actions.

Josh Miller/CNET

Touch-sensitive and squeezable sides

Much like last year's U11 and Google Pixel 2 -- which HTC manufactures -- the left and right sides of the U12 Plus are squeezable. But now, with the upgrade, you can squeeze short, squeeze long or squeeze and hold. Each squeeze is customizable and triggers a different action. You can have it open an app, turn the flashlight on or open the camera and take a picture, among other things.

The sides of the U12 Plus are touch-sensitive and can receive tap input. For example, you can tap with your thumb and index finger on each side of the phone to minimize the screen for one-handed use. The U12 Plus can even identify which hand you're holding it with and offset the shrunken display accordingly.

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Bokeh mode and 4 cameras

The new phone also comes with four cameras. Two on the front and two on the back. Both pairs enable bokeh mode, which adds an artistic blurry background to portraits you take. You can adjust the focus point before or after you take a picture and change the amount of blur.

The HTC One M8 was the first phone with dual-rear cameras years before it became trendy. Like the iPhone X ($1,000 at Cricket Wireless) and Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus ($800 at Amazon.com), the U12 Plus has 2x optical zoom, which should make photos look sharper than a digital zoom would.

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Sonic Zoom uses the phone's four microphones to focus in on your subject for better audio when you zoom in while recording video.

Josh Miller/CNET

There's a nifty feature called Sonic Zoom, which, if you zoom in during a video recording, uses the phone's four microphones to hone in on your subject for better audio.

The U12 Plus shoots HD and 4K video at both 30 and 60 frames per second. It also shoots slow motion video at 240 fps at 1080p.

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The translucent blue version of the phone allows you to see the actual components of the U12 Plus.

Josh Miller/CNET

Snapdragon 845 processor and other niceties

The U12 Plus follows the skinny bezel, tall display trend with an 18:9 6-inch Quad-HD (2,880x1,440-pixel) display. HTC managed the smaller bezels without having to incorporate a notch. Though its fingerprint reader has migrated to the back.

The phone runs on a Snapdragon 845 processor with 6GB of RAM and comes with either 64GB or 128GB of storage. The U12's battery is larger than the one in the U11, but with the larger display, it will be interesting to see how long it lasts.

Despite the Gorilla Glass 3 back, the phone doesn't have wireless charging. But it does have Quick Charge 4.0. The phone comes with Usonic earbuds, a clear case that allows for access to the sides and a Quick Charge 3.0 charger -- a Quick Charge 4.0 power adapter can be purchased separately.

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From left-to-right: translucent blue, ceramic black and flame red.

Josh Miller/CNET

The phone comes in three colors:

  • Flame red -- looks like Iron Man's suit
  • Ceramic black -- isn't actually made of ceramic, it's still glass
  • Translucent blue -- lets you see the insides of the phone

Preorder the HTC U12 Plus

The HTC U12 Plus is now available for preorder through HTC's website and supports AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon. It will ship in mid-June. In the US, the 64GB model costs $799 and the 128GB model $849. UK and Australian prices will be announced soon, but $799 converts to about £600 or AU$1,060.

HTC U12 Plus specs compared with Galaxy S9 Plus, Pixel 2 XL, iPhone X and OnePlus 6


HTC U12 Plus Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus Google Pixel 2 XL iPhone X OnePlus 6
Display size, resolution 6-inch; 2,880x1,440 pixels 6.2-inch; 2,960x1,440 pixels 6-inch; 2,880x1,440 pixels 5.8-inch; 2,436x1,125 pixels 6.28-inch; 2,280x1,080 pixels
Pixel density 537ppi 529ppi 538 ppi 458 ppi 402ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 6.17x2.91x0.34-0.38 in 6.22x2.91x0.33 in 6.2x3.0x0.30 in 5.7x2.79x0.30 in 6.13x2.97x0.31 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 156.6x73.9x8.7-9.7mm 158.1x73.8x8.5 mm 157.9x76.7x7.9 mm 143.6x70.9x7.7 mm 155.7x75.4x7.75 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 6.6 oz; 188 g 6.66 oz; 189 g 6.17 oz; 175 g 6.14 oz; 174 g 6.2 oz; 177 g
Mobile software Android 8.0 Oreo Android 8.0 Oreo Android 8.0 Oreo iOS 11 Android 8.1 Oreo
Camera 12-megapixel standard, 16-megapixel telephoto Dual 12-megapixel 12-megapixel Dual 12-megapixel 16-megapixel, 20-megapixel
Front-facing camera Dual 8-megapixel 8-megapixel 8-megapixel 7-megapixel 16-megapixel
Video capture 4K 4K 4K 4K 4K
Processor 2.8GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 845, or Octa-core Samsung Exynos 9810 Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 Apple A11 Bionic Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
Storage 64GB, 128GB 64GB, 128GB, 256GB 64GB, 128GB 64GB, 256GB 64GB, 128GB, 256GB
RAM 6GB 6GB 4GB 3GB 6GB, 8GB
Expandable storage Up to 2TB 400GB None None None
Battery 3,500mAh 3,500mAh 3,520mAh - 3,300mAh
Fingerprint sensor Back of phone Back Back None Back
Connector USB-C USB-C USB-C Lightning USB-C
Headphone jack No Yes No No Yes
Special features Water resistant (IP68), Edge Sense 2, Quick Charge 4.0 Dual-aperture camera, water-resistant (IP68); super slo-mo video; wireless charging; iris scanning Squeezeable sides Water resistant (IP67), wireless charging, TrueDepth front-facing (Face ID) Dash Charging, dual-SIM, super slow mo
Price off-contract (USD) $799 (64GB), $849 (128GB) Varies: $840-$930 (64GB) $849 (64GB), $949 (128GB) $999 (64GB), $1,149 (256GB) $529 (64GB), $579 (128GB), $629 (256GB)
Price (GBP) TBA £869 £799 (64GB), £899 (128GB) £999 (64GB), £1,149 (256GB) £469 (64GB), £519 (128GB), £569 (256GB)
Price (AUD) TBA AU$1,349 (64GB), AU$1,499 (256GB) AU$1,399 (64GB), AU$1,549 (128GB) AU$1,579 (64GB), AU$1,829 (256GB) AU$702 (64GB), AU$769 (128GB), AU$835 (256GB)

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