back to article HTC U12 Life: Notchless, reasonably priced and proper buttons? Oh joy

Ailing HTC has given the midrange market a kick with U12 Life, announced today. It's a far more impressive offering than its predecessor, the HTC U11 Life. While Motorola rules the sub-£200 market, and Huawei the £300+ mid market, things are dicier in between. Ignore the retail pricing of £299. If you're looking for a SIM-free …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    " And it's merely "splash resistant", rather than leaping in the air for joy waving its IP67 certificate."

    So what IPxx are they rating it as?

    "IP67 equipment is the most commonly found in the connectivity market. It is 100% protected against solid objects like dust and sand, and it has been tested to work for at least 30 minutes while under 15cm to 1m of water. "

    1. DougS Silver badge

      IP67

      IP67 is overrated, IMHO. Who's going to drop their phone in water (but not too deep, and only clear fresh water not salt water, chlorinated pool water, etc.) and leave it there for minutes? I imagine "splash resistant" is probably just as good as IP67 for the kinds of "water issues" most phones are likely to encounter.

      And don't get me started on IP68, which "improves" IP67 by being exactly the same except 1.5 meters of water. Is there really enough difference between 1 meter and 1.5 meters of water that a separate grade is needed? WTF let's add IP69 and go for 2 meters!

      1. Dabooka Silver badge

        Re: IP67

        Although I get your point, I thought the IP ratings were really a standard for all things to contend with, rather than specifically phones? In which case it's feasible the differences matter in some use cases is it not?

        I may be 100% incorrect with this of course.

      2. Cuddles Silver badge

        Re: IP67

        "Who's going to drop their phone in water (but not too deep, and only clear fresh water not salt water, chlorinated pool water, etc.) and leave it there for minutes?"

        Generally they won't leave it there for too many minutes if they can help it, but lots of people are perfectly capable of dropping their phone in the sink, a puddle, or something similar. IPx7 is the lowest standard to cover actual immersion for any length of time, so obviously that's what's needed to cover things like that. I'm sure it's great if you've never dropped anything or never go near any body of water larger than an eggcup, but those are both things average humans have to contend with in their day-to-day lives.

        "And don't get me started on IP68, which "improves" IP67 by being exactly the same except 1.5 meters of water."

        No it isn't. IPx8 covers immersion to any depth greater than 1m; it's up to the manufacturer to decide what depth that is. Things like cameras and watches are frequently rated to tens of metres. It's essentially an open-ended standard that is essentially just anything better than IPx7 but with no upper limit.

        "WTF let's add IP69 and go for 2 meters!"

        IPx9 covers high-pressure jets, not continuous immersion. Immersion to 2m is already covered by IPx8.

        1. DougS Silver badge

          Re: IP67

          My iPhone 5 was knocked into a kitchen sink full of water. I fished it out almost immediately, turned it off, dried it off, let it sit with a fan blowing over it for a few hours and then nervously turned it on and found it worked perfectly. Had no issues with it after that, or when trading it in to Apple for a 6S plus a year or so later.

          The iPhone 5 was not sold as IP67 or IP anything, but I'm not the only person I know who fished a pre-IP67 iPhone out of water and found no issues. I have no reason to assume that Apple is special in that regard, maybe when companies sell phones as IP67/IP68 they do a little extra testing but I think most phones with a non-replaceable battery are probably pretty much able to pass the "uh oh better fish it out QUICK!" test. IP6x is mostly marketing, IMHO, at least for phones.

          I agree that the difference between IP67 and IP68 might matter for other products...can't think of an example where half a meter matters, but I suppose if there's a difference between items that might fall into a sink that's typically less than a half meter versus a bathtub that is often more than a half meter but not likely to be more than a meter...

  2. K Silver badge
    Devil

    Honestly.. this is the problem with the Android phone market

    The USP of this handset is practically non-existent.. there was a time when HTC had a unique feel, but if this was not branded it would be impossible to distinguish it from the other several hundred phones released in the past 18 months!

    I understand this is budget, but other manufacturers manage it... though admittedly it is usually through changing the colour so something ridiculous, then I end up feeling like a peacock!

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Honestly.. this is the problem with the Android phone market

      The market is mature. That's largely a good thing for users. Innovation for the sake of it is largely a red herring. Now the big changes are over and done with, designers can concentrate on creating a balanced and refined experience.

      Most people want a phone that is pretty good in all areas, not a phone with one standout feature and several niggles.

    2. Craig 2 Silver badge

      Re: Honestly.. this is the problem with the Android phone market

      "The USP of this handset is practically non-existent.. "

      As mentioned, the market is mature. Do you buy a toaster that has some great USPs or do you just want good toast? I want any device to perform the functions I bought it for, not to play with the latest gimmick.

      1. K Silver badge

        Re: Honestly.. this is the problem with the Android phone market

        No, the market has stagnated..

        1. JohnFen Silver badge

          Re: Honestly.. this is the problem with the Android phone market

          I would say "matured". Smart phones have been able to do pretty much everything most people want for years now, which is why we've been seeing phone manufacturers flailing about and adding all sorts of weird nonsense to their phones, not to mention removing useful stuff, for the sake of differentiation rather than actual improvement.

      2. toffer99

        Re: Honestly.. this is the problem with the Android phone market

        The USP of this phone is that the Apple price is £1000.

    3. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Honestly.. this is the problem with the Android phone market

      The USP of this handset is practically non-existent.

      I dunno, a device at a reasonable that's been thoughtfully put together seems pretty rare nowadays. I suspect the biggest problem may be that people who like the new range don't buy new things as often: it is sometimes easier to sell the expensive stuff to the people who do want a new one every year.

      1. DropBear Silver badge
        Mushroom

        Re: Honestly.. this is the problem with the Android phone market

        "Mature" is definitely not the word I'd use. "Scared shitless to try anything at all" is more words, but much closer. The number of features lots of folks would love to have (often _back_) is legion, but noooooo, there's just this one single design being produced, everyone bending over backwards to emulate the most bland, featureless, average "2.5 children" design they think comes closest to ticking at least some of the boxes for the most people possible. It's utter bullshit, and the complete death of any choice - the most you get to decide today is whether or not you're willing to tolerate the notch. Screw that!

    4. JohnFen Silver badge

      Re: Honestly.. this is the problem with the Android phone market

      It seems to have an increasingly unique selling proposition to me -- all of the stuff that I value and that phones are increasingly omitting: audio jack, real buttons, SD card slot, etc.

      I couldn't care less if my phone is visually distinctive or if it has gee-whiz features at the expense of the one I know I want. What I really care about is what functionality it has, and this is one of the very few that ticks all the boxes I care about.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Gets out key spec list needed for me to upgrade...

    ...from my Wileyfox Swift (bought Dec 2015).

    1) (Proper) Dual SIM ?

    2) NFC ?

    3) SD Card ?

    4) Removable battery ?

    5) Stock Android (no operator/manufacturer cruft) ?

    if those ANDed together comes to "1", then I might look closer. If not, it's a paradigm of why phones are still a mature market,

    1. James 51 Silver badge

      Re: Gets out key spec list needed for me to upgrade...

      The Gemini comes close to meeting your requirements, its second sim is an eSim.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Gets out key spec list needed for me to upgrade...

      6) Security & OS updates?

      1. Dabooka Silver badge

        Re: Gets out key spec list needed for me to upgrade...

        6) is essential, and for my Swift 2 at least they still come through. My pal got a G4 at the same time and can't recall when he last had an update, while I recently had 8.1 pushed out...

      2. jfm

        Re: Gets out key spec list needed for me to upgrade...

        6) Security & OS updates?

        Should be #1. When the Moto g5 was released I bought one to replace my original Moto g. It was supplied with Android 7.0 and has had no version updates and only occasional security updates in the 18 months since its launch.

        I won't be buying Lenovo/Motorola again.

    3. xanda
      Pint

      Re: Gets out key spec list needed for me to upgrade...

      There also needs to be spare batteries available too...

      ...you're forgetting the compass!!

      ;-)

      Otherwise 'amen' to all of the above.

      The U12 does have proper dual nano-SIM according to the spec at:

      HTC UK - U12 Life Spec

      + something called SIM card manager which is probably an additional eSIM. Not sure if this means it has effectively x3 SIM capability but it certainly looks promising either way.

      As for the size - yowzers! 6" is way too big. If I want to lift weights then I'll go to the gym thank you very much; otherwise a 4.3-4.5" display form factor is quite enough ta (less is more).

      1. BongoJoe

        Re: Gets out key spec list needed for me to upgrade...

        ...you're forgetting the compass!!

        Oh yes,. Everywhere is North. And South... And East and West too...

    4. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Gets out key spec list needed for me to upgrade...

      I could live without NFC and even a removable battery if the one in the phone is big enough, though I have 3 for my S5. SD card, good OS updates and speakers: the stereo on the HTC is pretty good for a phone.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Gets out key spec list needed for me to upgrade...

      if you havent bought a new phone since 2015, i can assure you, none of the manufacturers are designing their handsets with your list of must-have's in mind.

    6. BongoJoe

      Re: Gets out key spec list needed for me to upgrade...

      You're joking, surely.

      Wiley Fox had Cynogen "because it cared about our security" then it went over to Android and the first thing we saw on boot-up was a Russian newsfeed sucking up our preferences.

      So, sod that.

      And now on my Wiley-Fox I have the diseased spyware called 'TrueCaller' which is something that I had never asked for and certainly wasn't part of the original Wiley-Fox ethos.

      So, fuck them and their partners. Hell's teeth I may as well get a bloody Samsung.

      1. Dabooka Silver badge

        Re: Gets out key spec list needed for me to upgrade...

        @Bongo

        I had the same bitterness about Trucaller which I disabled and has been removed from 8.1. I don't know what the hell they were thinking bundling that shite

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Truecaller

        A little bit shite, but it does stop quite a few scam/spam calls and texts.

        1. xanda
          FAIL

          Re: Truecaller

          "...but it does stop quite a few scam/spam calls and texts."

          It does nothing of the kind - our Wileyfox is a testament to that.

          It does seem to us that Wileyfox have some unholy relationship with Truecaller, hence its 'enforcement' on the range. Truecaller seems to exist with the sole aim of harvesting the worlds phone numbers (a strange phenomenon given the almost universal disdain for being in a traditional phone directory), the aim of which is not entirely clear...

          Perhaps WFs tie-in with Russian backers helps the peripheral security services corroborate their records?

          Besides, has any WF owner actually got an alternate dialer to work properly yet despite recent updates supposedly being 'pure Android'? Even the standard Google one doesn't work.

  4. Flywheel Silver badge

    Updates

    Have HTC got any better with their software/OS updates? I still remember the time when getting an updated OS meant nipping out to Argos and buying a new phone.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Updates

      It has varied, since there was a HTC phone that was effectively a Nexus and got prompt updates. If this ships with Oreo then likelyhood of frequent and sustained updates is much greater. Over the last few years vendors who were once poor have upped their game in this regard; history isn't the best guide to future update rollouts.

      1. Benchops

        Re: Updates

        (

        (

        5\) Stock Android?

        &&

        6 a\) Updates?

        )

        ||

        6 b\) LineageOS? (probably have to wait a month or so)

        )

  5. Bavaria Blu
    Go

    just like an Honor 9

    Looks like my Honor 9 but a bit cheaper and with a 6" screen.

    Funny that not much has changed in 7 months!

    It is great dual SIM is becoming the norm at this price point. I think Apple will soon launch an iphone for £400 with similar specs, and then you can choose to pay the 50% extra for a phone without "operator/manufacturer cruft" .

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: just like an Honor 9

      then you can choose to pay the 50% extra for a phone without "operator/manufacturer cruft"

      Some of us regard iOS as manufacturer cruft in its own right. And for me, iOS looks like a bad Android skin, with its cartoonish and dated icons.

      Admittedly there's lots to like about iOS (like it isn't Google), the security's pretty good, and software and product quality is generally better. But couldn't they make it a lot more customisable, and look modern?

      1. djstardust

        Re: just like an Honor 9

        Apple are frightened to change the UI as it would confuse the pensioners that buy their gear. Screw the rest of us.

    2. JohnFen Silver badge

      Re: just like an Honor 9

      The reason I don't consider iPhones is because they require far too much lock-in for my tastes.

  6. RyokuMas Silver badge
    Coat

    Poaching...

    "HTC was playing footsie with Google, which is where many engineers ended up after a deal last year"

    In the aftermath, it sounds like a thinly-disguised raid by Google to poach HTCs people...

    1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

      Re: Poaching...

      Think it was more a case of HTC flogging off the family silver to keep the roof over their heads.

      1. Dabooka Silver badge

        Re: Poaching...

        It was rather well covered at the time. I doubt it was a choice they could afford to turn down if they wanted to keep the lights on

  7. Ross 12

    "My experience of the same chip in last year's BlackBerry was that it was fine to start off with but slowed down under strain"

    Is it really the processor that's the problem here? Everyone always seems to ignore the quality of the internal storage, which seems more likely to be an issue when it comes to degrading performance over the life of the device

  8. Cuddles Silver badge

    Right decisions?

    "HTC has made all the right design decisions here. This unit is larger (6-inch)"

    So, not all the right decisions then.

    1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

      Re: Right decisions?

      agree. Even at 5.5" my well liked Moto Z Play is too big for my tiny man hands.

      1. Trilkhai

        Re: Right decisions?

        While I don't feel like my 5" Moto E4 is too large for my overly-long-fingered female hands, it's about the most I can cram into the back pocket of my jeans and I suspect a larger phone wouldn't fit easily into my jacket pockets, either.

        I'm just waiting for a company to release a phone with a flexible 5.25" display and market it as the Floppy.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Too Big

    so it's a no buy for me.

    The Pixel2 is as big as a phone should be.

  10. Gene Cash Silver badge

    * Larger screen

    * Larger battery

    * 3.5mm jack

    * SD card

    * No notch

    * No edge squeeze crap

    * Buttons are real mechanical switches

    Damn. Sounds like they went right down my shopping list. They might get my business away from Motorola if my Nexus 6P finally dies.

    So how invasive is the "HTC Sense skin"? Is it just the launcher? I install Apex Launcher anyway...

  11. johnnyblaze

    Seems like HTC have realised they can't compete at the premium end, so are looking at mid-range again, and I'll be honest, with that spec and that price, I would seriously consider it as my next phone. I'd probably replace the UI with Nova Launcher, but other than that, well done HTC.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Notchless

    The photo of the phone displaying the register home page is a perfect demonstration of why a lot of people prefer a phone with a notch.

    1. Solviva

      Re: Notchless

      If you really want the notch, just get some black electrical tape and put it there et voila notched phone!

      Otherwise are you pointing out there's a piece of display which is currently unused and hence not needed (except for times when it is used unlike in said photo)?

      That's starting to sound like those folks that used to moan at 16:10 displays having black bars above and below when watching 1080p content, resulting in the near-disappearance of 16:10 displays in favour of 16:9. Which still have black (or whatever colour the bezel is) bars above, below, and either side of the picture.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Notchless

        "Otherwise are you pointing out there's a piece of display which is currently unused and hence not needed (except for times when it is used unlike in said photo)?"

        By jove! I think you've got it! So what you are saying is a notch phone is good when using content like a web browser in the the photo or anything that makes good use of the screen.

        Remember a notch phone gives you two extra little pieces of screen for the same size phone, so you are never going to be worse off.

        1. JohnFen Silver badge

          Re: Notchless

          "Remember a notch phone gives you two extra little pieces of screen for the same size phone, so you are never going to be worse off."

          Unless you need a complete row for the status bar, of course.

          1. DougS Silver badge

            Re: Notchless

            How many status icons do you need, exactly?

            1. JohnFen Silver badge

              Re: Notchless

              Right now, I have nine showing. Those, plus the time, don't fill it completely (although there are a couple of icons that pop in and out, so sometimes there are more) but they certainly would not fit if there had to be a notch in the middle of them.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Notchless

                " but they certainly would not fit if there had to be a notch in the middle of them."

                Depends on the phone size. On a big phone I see photos that look like there are room for 10.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Notchless

            "Unless you need a complete row for the status bar, of course"

            Errr no. It's still two extra pieces of screen. If for some reason you don't want to make use of them you are back with the same screen area as a notchless phone.

            1. JohnFen Silver badge

              Re: Notchless

              Really? There's a setting that tells the phone not to use the "ears" at all? That would indeed change things for me, but I hadn't heard that this was possible.

              1. DougS Silver badge

                Re: Notchless

                At least some Android phones with notches have such a setting. Maybe all do if they're running the last version of Android. Which FWIW supports multiple notches at once, and supports them on the top, bottom, sides and even corners so you might see some really weird stuff down the road from OEMs who want a unique look :)

                The iPhone doesn't have such a setting, though since I don't have "too many status icons to fit" I haven't noticed it as a problem on my iPhone X. Most of the time it is just used for status, only when you go to 'full screen' on an app does it matter. AFAIK the app can choose whether full screen includes the notch or leaves it out and shows status icons there.

                For the oft-cited case of watching video in landscape, the default is to show video in 16:9 and since the X is 19.5:9 there's blank space on either side. You can zoom to fill the sides if you want, which cuts off a bit of one side with the notch - but doing so also cuts out stuff on the top and bottom which is going to be true on any phone that's not 16:9. Which is basically all of them these days, so notch or no notch you will either have blank space on the sides or stuff covered up watching standard 16:9 video.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Notchless

        "If you really want the notch, just get some black electrical tape and put it there et voila notched phone!"

        Nope you have that exactly backwards. If you want a notch free phone, just take a "notched" phone and put two pieces of electrical tape over the extra bits of screen a notced phone has. Alternaitively just set up your phone to leave these two extra zones blank.

    2. Charlie Clark Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Notchless

      Why? All the notch does is highlight the fact that it's a cut-out.

      But, if you like it so much, you're spoilt for choice with this year's crop from Shenzen.

    3. JohnFen Silver badge

      Re: Notchless

      How so? What's wrong in that photo that a notch fixes?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Notchless

        "How so? What's wrong in that photo that a notch fixes?"

        Glad you asked. All those little notifications that are either side of the top of the display could be scrolled up and be on either side of the speaker, camera, proximity sensor etc. leaving a nice blank rectangle of screen that can be used to give you extra few percent screen space. Alternatively the phone could be made smaller for the same "effective screen size".

        The photo is a convincing demonstration of how a notch would help. The notifications line up exactly where the extra space would be on a phone with a notch.

        1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          Re: Notchless

          The photo is a convincing demonstration of how a notch would help.

          No, it doesn't. Sounds like you want full screen mode so you can read El Reg without being interrupted.

        2. JohnFen Silver badge

          Re: Notchless

          I suppose, if that bothers you. For me, though, the notch would be worse -- my status bar has no blank spaces the notch could fit into, and there's nothing up there I'm willing to get rid of.

    4. Mark Manderson

      Re: Notchless

      who views webpages on their phone in portrait?

      I certainly dont, landscape mode on my ancient (but awesome) LG G3 (3gb/64Gb) perhaps this is the replacemnent for reasonable money.

      suddenly the notch becomes a pain in the arse for landscape browsing full screen no?

      1. Trilkhai

        Re: Notchless

        > who views webpages on their phone in portrait?

        I definitely do... I zoom the article I'm interested in reading so it spans the width of the screen and only the cruft I'm not interested in is off-screen; if I view the page in landscape mode, then a large chunk of the screen is wasted on sidebars & similar stuff. Also, proportionally speaking, a blank line in portrait mode would take up 90 characters of space rather than 160 characters, so portrait mode would also waste less space.

  13. JohnFen Silver badge

    Now we're talking!

    This phone looks excellent to me. Is the bootloader locked (and, if so, has anyone broken it yet)? If I can slap my own ROM on there, this would be seriously tempting.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Midrange? Where is the savings?

    Mid range? Amazon lists this thing at $850 US. https://www.amazon.com/HTC-U12-Factory-Unlocked-Phone/dp/B07D7PV144/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1535655084&sr=8-3&keywords=htc+u12

    I bought my Galaxy S8+ used for $300 US. At $850, HTC U12 is DOA.

    1. JohnFen Silver badge

      Re: Midrange? Where is the savings?

      Ack, that's a great catch. I did find them for sale cheaper elsewhere, but they're still priced far, far too high. Damn, this was the first phone I'd seen in at least a year that looked like one which would actually meet my needs. Oh well, it was a nice dream while it lasted.

    2. Clunking Fist Bronze badge

      Re: Midrange? Where is the savings?

      Err: that's the U12+, not the U12 Life. The cameras are in entirely different locations.

    3. eldakka Silver badge

      Re: Midrange? Where is the savings?

      That's a HTC U12+ (plus) at $850.

      Amazon.com doesn't yet list the U12 Life, which is what this hands on is about.

      And just for comparison, it lists the U11 as 650 with the U11 Life at 380. So the Life branding is a lower end of the Uxx branding.

      1. JohnFen Silver badge

        Re: Midrange? Where is the savings?

        Oh, good! Thanks for the correction.

  15. Piro

    I have a soft spot for HTC

    But this is absolutely enormous. Sorry HTC, I'm just tired of unwieldy devices.

    I remember when publications thought the Desire HD was huge!! Hah! Now it seems quaint, but my hands haven't grown, so I wonder why perspectives have changed so much.

  16. David Roberts Silver badge
    FAIL

    Eat your own dog food, El Reg

    Home page should be an opt in 4 columns wide!

  17. tentimes

    HTC are finished

    It seems obvious to me that HTC are in their death throws. They have thrown just about all their spaghetti at the wall and not one piece has stuck. This really is their last gasp and has the potential to be one of their last phones with no firmware upgrade path for security updates. Not worth the risk when you can get a Samsung and be pretty sure it will be updated. My S7 edge has had two security updates within a week and several within the last year. That's what I need. A big phone with good battery life (2 days), fast and responsive that I can view webpages on easily and play my audiobooks on. I can't ever see myself downgrading to something like this HTC. I feel sorry for them to be honest. I don't see how they can make their way back trying to compete with the Chinese in the value market.

  18. Dave Lawton
    Facepalm

    Pseudo Dual SIM and others

    What is it with manufacturers ?

    I thought I'd found my next phone.

    But in a 6" phone they couldn't provide 2 micro SIM slots, and a separate SD card slot, why ever not, Samsung managed it years ago with the B5722 :(

    Even Wileyfox managed it, all be it with Nano SIMs, in the Swift.

    Ah well.

    For those suffering from the Truecaller disease, ZERO Dialer is your friend.

  19. Wobbly World

    THE BLACK SCREEN OF DEATH??

    Question: Does it come with "THE BLACK SCREEN OF DEATH" Android © That disables all functions on the phone when you try to make a phone call??

    It seems to be ubiquitous to recent Android phones with a proximately senser!!

  20. This post has been deleted by its author

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