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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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Patrick Holland
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Patrick Holland

Senior Editor

Patrick Holland has an eye for photography and a passion for everything mobile. He is a colorful raconteur who will guide you through the ever-changing and fast-paced world of phones. He also is one of the hosts of CNET's I'm So Obsessed podcast.

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3 min read

Shop for HTC U12 Plus (64GB, translucent blue)

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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.

Peek under the hood of the HTC U12 Plus

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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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Watch this: HTC U12 Plus goes buttonless

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 and Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus, 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 PlusSamsung Galaxy S9 PlusGoogle Pixel 2 XLiPhone XOnePlus 6
Display size, resolution 6-inch; 2,880x1,440 pixels6.2-inch; 2,960x1,440 pixels6-inch; 2,880x1,440 pixels5.8-inch; 2,436x1,125 pixels6.28-inch; 2,280x1,080 pixels
Pixel density 537ppi529ppi538 ppi458 ppi402ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 6.17x2.91x0.34-0.38 in6.22x2.91x0.33 in6.2x3.0x0.30 in5.7x2.79x0.30 in6.13x2.97x0.31 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 156.6x73.9x8.7-9.7mm158.1x73.8x8.5 mm157.9x76.7x7.9 mm143.6x70.9x7.7 mm155.7x75.4x7.75 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 6.6 oz; 188 g6.66 oz; 189 g6.17 oz; 175 g6.14 oz; 174 g6.2 oz; 177 g
Mobile software Android 8.0 OreoAndroid 8.0 OreoAndroid 8.0 OreoiOS 11Android 8.1 Oreo
Camera 12-megapixel standard, 16-megapixel telephotoDual 12-megapixel12-megapixelDual 12-megapixel16-megapixel, 20-megapixel
Front-facing camera Dual 8-megapixel8-megapixel8-megapixel7-megapixel16-megapixel
Video capture 4K4K4K4K4K
Processor 2.8GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 845Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 845, or Octa-core Samsung Exynos 9810Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835Apple A11 BionicOcta-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
Storage 64GB, 128GB64GB, 128GB, 256GB64GB, 128GB64GB, 256GB64GB, 128GB, 256GB
RAM 6GB6GB4GB3GB6GB, 8GB
Expandable storage Up to 2TB400GBNoneNoneNone
Battery 3,500mAh3,500mAh3,520mAh-3,300mAh
Fingerprint sensor Back of phoneBackBackNoneBack
Connector USB-CUSB-CUSB-CLightningUSB-C
Headphone jack NoYesNoNoYes
Special features Water resistant (IP68), Edge Sense 2, Quick Charge 4.0Dual-aperture camera, water-resistant (IP68); super slo-mo video; wireless charging; iris scanningSqueezeable sidesWater 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) TBAAU$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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