The life of HTC has been a bit of a rollercoaster: from its heyday highs of mobile phone ruler, to more recent limited sales and its Design Team being acquired by Google. The company's recent phones haven't always been on the mark either: the HTC U12+ was overly chunky in a flagship world where that's not the norm; while the mid-range HTC U11 Life wasn't a great laster and was a little too pricey too.

The HTC U12 Life, the 2018 update to its mid-range device, looks to right its predecessors wrongs, by bolstering the screen size, upping the battery capacity and lowering the price tag. As mid-range phones go, is this very shiny offering from HTC actually bold enough to make its mark? We got to handle the handset ahead of its official unveiling to get a closer look...

Design & Display

  • Glass back with laser-engraved 3D Ultra Stripes in two colours: Moonlight Blue, Twilight Purple
  • 6-inch, 18:9 aspect ratio, 1080 x 2160 resolution LPTS display, no notch
  • Rear-facing fingerprint scanner
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Stereo speakers
  • Splashproof

In both its blue and purple colour finishes, the U12 Life is a very shiny handset indeed. Its glass rear, which features laser-etched horizontal lines for textural and aesthetic points of interest, is hyper glossy – to the point that fingerprint smears will appear in mere moments.

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That's actually part of the point of the stripey design: to hide such smears. Oddly, however, the rear fingerprint scanner is on the exposed upper third, which is entirely mirror-like in its finish, where fingerprint smears can't be hidden at all.

The shiny look adds a point of difference compared to the typically black and dull middle range. For us it's a smidgen too much though; we prefer the Liquid Surface design of the higher-end U12+, which is also more colourful and bright.

The U12 Life seems to make a point of doing things differently though. There's a 3.5mm headphone jack on board along with proper stereo speakers – something which is increasingly absent on phones in the world of wireless headphones – while the screen doesn't feature a notch (that blacked-out dip to the top of the screen), instead opting for a more traditional look. That's bold, but we respect it.

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Compared to its U11 Life predecessor, the U12 Life also goes one-up in terms of size: with a 6-inch panel it's a bigger handset, and better for it. This display utilises a LPTS display, which is a low-temperature LCD said to be better for battery consumption (which was one of our main complaints about 2017's U11 Life). The more up-to-date 18:9 aspect ratio makes for a handset that's easier to hold and in-line with the current crop too.

Hardware, Software & Battery Life

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 processor, 4GB RAM
  • 64GB storage (microSD/dual SIM for expansion)
  • 3600mAh battery, USB-C quick recharging
  • HTC Sense software (over Android 8.1)

In terms of core power, the HTC 12 Life opts for a Qualcomm SD636 processor, paired with 4GB RAM, which plants it squarely in among its main competitors: the slightly cheaper Moto G6 Plus runs with a slightly less powerful SD630, while the slightly pricier Nokia 7 Plus opts for a marginally more powerful SD660.

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There's 64GB storage on board, while the dual SIM slot offers a microSD card slot instead of using that second SIM if you'd prefer. Get a large enough card and just like the Samsung Note 9 the HTC U12 Life can support up to 1TB.

As the U12 Life is physically larger than its U11 Life predecessor, in part thanks to its expanded screen size, it squeezes in a far larger battery too: at 3,600mAh there's a whole 1,000mAh more capacity this time around. And while we've not used the phone for long, this considerable bump ought to help correct for the U11 Life's fairly limited longevity.

HTC's approach to software has also shifted, with the U12 Life's use of HTC Sense (over Google's Android 8.1 operating system) bucking the use of Android One, which began with the U11 Life. An odd change, which we queried, only to be told it doesn't necessarily spell the end for the out-the-box Android solution. We, however, suspect it does, so don't expect Android One in an HTC handset from now on.

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The software also removes the much maligned Edge Sense feature too, which enabled squeezing/tapping the side of the phone to perform an action. Not so in the HTC U12 Life, which goes altogether lighter in its software approach. Don't expect too many gimmicks to arise here then.

Cameras

  • Dual rear cameras: 16MP, 1/2.8in sensor, f/2.0; 5MP, 1/5in, f/2.2 (for depth and blurred-background bokeh)
  • 13MP front-facing camera (1/3in, f/2.0) for selfies
  • Video: 4K at 30fps; 1080p at 60fps

Where the U11 Life had one major camera on its rear, the U12 Life doubles down with a dual rear camera setup. This comprises a main 16-megapixel sensor with larger-than-average sensor and f/2.0 aperture lens, alongside a 5MP lower-resolution sensor that's used for depth perception – this being useful for blurred background 'bokeh' effect via software for portrait shots and similar.

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We've briefly dabbled in the camera – which HTC was at pains to point out is pre-release software – which seems capable, but we'll need to wait for final review units before critically commenting.

First Impressions

Overall, the HTC U12 Life gets a whole lot right for a mid-price handset. It's updated the screen size and aspect ratio compared to its predecessor, improved the battery capacity, and doubled-down on the cameras too.

Crucially, it has cut the price tag too. At £299, the U12 Life isn't just £50 less than its U11 Life predecessor, it's slap bang in the middle of the mid-range pack – the Moto G6 Plus is £279, the Nokia 7 Plus is £349 – making it a genuinely competitive option with a lot going for it.

There's no notch, the design is bold, the software touch is light, and other than the overly shiny fingerprint magnet of a design, the U12 Life delivers strong for its sub-£300 asking price.

Price when reviewed:
£299