Using a similar setup to HTC's mid-range U11 Eyes, the U12+ has two eight-megapixel sensors up front, which let you control background blur (aka bokeh) in your selfies. But this feature softens the foreground, too, smoothing out facial blemishes much like a beautification mode would. Several phones with single front-facing cameras that use software to add depth of field, like the Huawei Mate 10 Pro and Google Pixel 2, produce better, more natural results. The same can be said of Instagram's Focus feature, which works on all devices, as well as the iPhone X, which uses an infrared depth sensor to help generate realistic bokeh.
What's more, if you ignore the bokeh mode on the U12+ and just snap a regular selfie, the photo comes out paler, lacking appropriate color saturation. Even with Snapchat-esque AR filters and various beautification modes to play with, this phone probably won't impress selfie addicts.
The main camera arrangement comprises one 16-megapixel telephoto and one 12-megapixel wide-angle lens. These allow you to take close-ups and adjust the background blur behind a subject, both before you take the snap and after. There's little difference between the U12+ and other dual-camera phones in that respect: The feature does exactly what you expect it to. Occasionally, the bokeh can look artificial compared to the natural effect you get with a proper SLR and decent lens, but that's common to other handsets with dual cameras.
That's just one facet of the camera experience, of course, and there's a reason the imaging nerds at DxOMark rate the U12+ as the second-best cameraphone behind the Huawei P20 Pro. General performance is excellent. You get bags of detail in every shot, with accurate color saturation, white balance and contrast. It's very good in low light, too, with a remarkable lack of noise in challenging conditions. I'd only caveat that by mentioning the U12+ ups the brightness of low-light photos considerably -- note I'm not saying it over-exposes images here -- meaning your picture isn't true to life.
Beyond general camera performance, you get a lot of tools to play around with. These include up to 2x optical zoom, so you don't lose resolution before that point, and up to 10x digital zoom, a pro mode with full manual controls and RAW output, a time-lapse mode and 240 fps slow-mo video at 1080p. The U12+ also shoots 4K video at 60 fps with the option of hi-res, directional and 3D audio recorded by the phone's four microphones. As you'd expect, clips are nice and sharp but do come out a little on the noisy side in low-light situations. Overall, the U12+ has one of the most versatile camera setups around.
Performance and battery life
As you'd expect, the U12+ ships with Android 8.0 Oreo, but lathered on top of that is HTC's Sense UI. Some of the software modifications are relatively run-of-the-mill, like the Themes app for personalizing just about everything graphical and the Zoe video editor, which makes audiovisual slideshows from your gallery. Others are more elaborate, like Blinkfeed, the HTC Sense Companion and everything that powers Edge Sense.
Blinkfeed is one of HTC's veteran additions, having been part of Sense UI for five years now. It sits in your homescreen carousel and mixes together a custom timeline from sources that include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, your calendar and the preinstalled News Republic and health-tracking Under Armour Record apps. Oh, and ads. It's there if you want it, but I don't really mainline social media or care much for what's trending on YouTube, so it's of no use to me, personally.
HTC Sense Companion, not to be confused with an AI assistant like Google's or Amazon's Alexa (both of which live on the device out of the box), learns your movement/usage habits and supposedly makes handy recommendations based on that. Checking the traffic and reminding you when you need to leave for work, for instance, or warning you of bad weather. I haven't spent nearly enough time with the phone to make a call on whether this is useful or not (alas, I don't get out much), but my gut tells me it might just be another notification you don't want to read. That wouldn't be out of the ordinary, though. Google's Assistant can be guilty of clogging up your notification drawer with unwanted suggestions at times, too.
As far as the surviving Android manufacturer skins go, Sense UI is one of the heavier ones. Luckily, the U12+ is a beast thanks to an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 and 6GB of RAM roaring away inside. I've written this same spiel a few different ways before, but the fact remains that as far as processors go, the Snapdragon 845 sits at the top of the pile right now. Any phone running this chip is the fastest, slickest way to experience Android for the time being. All the extra weight of Sense UI does have an impact on responsiveness and load times, though. Only a few milliseconds difference here and there, mind, so nothing that ruins the user experience. It is perceptible when you've spent a fair amount of time using other Snapdragon 845 handsets with cleaner, nigh-stock Android builds, though.
That said, I've played a shameful amount of PUBG Mobile at the highest graphics settings on the U12+ without any issues. I didn't get the smoothest frame rate playing Asphalt 8: Airborne online on max graphics, but you can always drop the display resolution to FHD+ in device settings to get the best performance possible. It's well-suited to gaming, actually, with the big high-res display, BoomSound speakers and all.
There isn't a great deal to say about battery life other than it's neither outstanding nor abnormal. Like the vast majority of smartphones in its class, the U12+ gives you about a waking day of regular but spotty use before begging to be plugged in. Naturally, more screen time and intensive tasks like gaming will up the number of times you have to visit a wall socket that day.
Playing a looping video at 50 percent screen brightness, the U12+ went from a full charge to dead in just under 13 hours. That's 2 hours less than last year's U11, and take the result with a pinch of salt anyway, because it's not nearly as efficient as the rundown test would suggest when you're using the phone normally.
The U12+ charges pretty nippily, though. Using the supplied Quick Charge 3.0 cable, I recorded a top up from 15 percent to 57 percent in 30 minutes, finishing the hour on 85 percent.