HTC has been pushing out phones with large displays ever since the HTC HD2 hit the market three years ago. Since then a lot of things have changed within the mobile industry, but HTC still thinks that there’s huge consumer appetite for smartphones with even larger displays. Enter the HTC Droid DNA. The phone’s full HD display is by far its main attraction. But do the phone’s design, software and performance match up with our pixel perfect expectations of a great flagship smartphone? Let’s find out.
1. HardwareI’ll lead with the full 1920×1080 HD Super LCD 3 screen, since that’s the groundbreaking feature on the DNA. But really, all the hardware in the DNA is top notch. It uses the Snapdragon S4 Pro, which in case you aren’t familiar, is a quad-core processor running at 1.5 GHz with the Adreno 320 graphics processor. It also has a full 2GB of RAM. That all sounds a bit crazy, but with the number of pixels this thing is pushing around I think that it squeezes every last ounce of juice out of that processor.
The DNA also offers the full gamut of connectivity options with Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi (a/b/g/n 5GHz), NFC, DLNA, MHL and, of course, micro-USB. While I can’t promise that the latest OS update will always be there, this is about as future-proofed a device as you’re going to find at the moment.
As is somewhat inevitable with a 5-inch screen, the DNA isn’t a small device. It measures 5.55-inches tall by 2.78 inches wide and 9.73mm thick. It is, however, lighter than you would probably expect. At 4.87 ounces, the phone manages to wear its size well, as I’ll cover in the design section.
The DNA isn’t a significant departure from most Droid branded offerings; it’s a basic black slab with red accents. Viewed head-on, the phone is particularly monolithic with just a glimpse of red at the earpiece to break up the inky blackness. Taken as a whole, though, the phone offers a professional appearance without being too staid.
The “fit” of a phone is naturally subjective, but the DNA is one of those phones that just feels right when I’m holding it. The back of the phone is tapered and made of a soft touch material that feels like a high quality case. No question: this is a large device. But HTC has done an excellent job of masking that.
There are two misfires with the DNA design. While neither is catastrophic, they are both quite irritating. The first is the placement of the power button at the top of the phone. I’ve been using the DNA for a week now and I’ve started to adjust, but this is still a flawed design for a phone this large. It requires you to contort your hand or shift your grip somewhat awkwardly. The second problem is minor by comparison. HTC opted to cover the micro-USB port with a bit of rubber that I would probably tear off the phone inside of two weeks. Unless you’re making a military spec phone, you just don’t need to cover the ports.
3. Build qualityWhile the DNA doesn’t match the unibody construction of the One X, it still feels like a well constructed phone. The front is protected by the fairly pervasive Corning Gorilla Glass 2, and the back is that soft touch material I already praised. As a purely aesthetic complaint, the back does show lint and fingerprints, but I suspect it’ll fare better in a fall than some of the metal- or glass-backed phones out there. And how often are you looking at the back of your phone, anyway?
4. DisplayThe 5-inch 1920×1080 Super LCD 3 display is, without question, the highlight feature of the DNA. It’s the first of its kind in the US. Whether this is overkill or not is up for debate, but it’s hard to argue with the results. Text and images pop off the screen, and eyesight permitting, it means that you can view webpages in their entirety without ever needing to pinch and zoom. The DNA’s 446 pixels per inch (ppi) blows every Apple “retina” product completely out of the water in terms of resolution. And it does a far superior job of faithfully rendering colors than any mobile device I’ve used previously.
5. SoftwareThe DNA comes with Android 4.1.1 and a helping of Sense 4+ on top. I’ve never really liked Sense, so I’m going to avoid delving too deeply. Fortunately it continues to scale back,which means there isn’t much to dive into anyway. One positive thing that Sense offers is the ability to at least hide some of the abundant bloatware found on the DNA. By and large, though, Sense does feel almost purely cosmetic. Although I do prefer the stock version, I can imagine someone who has historically used HTC devices might like what they see in Sense 4+.
The one inexcusable miscue to me is that HTC or Verizon opted to go with the multitasking capacitive button rather than menu. There’s no way to change this in settings, which seems beyond bizarre. You get a fresh reminder anytime you see a menu button appear on screen.
6. PerformancePhones running on Qualcomm’s quad-core Snapdragon S4 processors have been all the rage this year, but the Droid DNA takes things to a new level. The phone is one of the first to ship with the new Snapdragon S4 Pro (APQ8064) quad-core 1.5 GHz processor. HTC has paired the quad-core chip with 2GB or RAM, giving the DNA enough power to easily manage its 1080p display and muscle through the most taxing 3D games.
Our benchmark tests show that the HTC Droid DNA performs slightly better than the Samsung Galaxy Note II, but it would be impossible to notice in normal day-to-day use. We did encounter a few hiccups here and there while playing our favorite games (we’ve been playing Samurai vs Zombies Defense a little too much lately), but we have a feeling that the slight stutters we’ve encountered will be resolved once developers optimize their games for 1080p displays.
|Benchmark Test||HTC Droid DNA||Samsung Galaxy Note II|
|Nenamark 2||59.1 FPS||60.3 FPS|
Taking pictures with the HTC Droid DNA is pure pleasure. The phone comes equipped with an 8 megapixel rear camera enhanced with a BSI sensor and f/2.0 aperture to improve low light picture quality. The hardware components on the main camera allow the HTC Droid DNA to produce images comparable to the Samsung Galaxy S III and other HTC One series devices. If you’re not the kind of person who likes walking around with a DSLR all the time, the Droid DNA could definitely act as a replacement for a mid- to low-end point-and-shoot camera. Scaled to 100%, the images are grainy, but most of those flaws will never be visible in a printed image unless you’re planing to print an 8.5″ x 11″ picture for your living room wall.
While the main camera on the Droid DNA is impressive, what makes the phone really stand out is its front-facing camera. HTC has equipped a front-facing camera on the Droid DNA with a 2.1 megapixel imaging chip and an amazing 88 degree wide-angle lens. I’ve never been a fan of self-portraits or video chat; most front-facing cameras on other devices produce images that can only get in my ugly mug. With wide-angle lens, the DNA can easily caputre my upper body and the background in the frame.
If you hold the Droid DNA at arm’s length, you can effortlessly capture a group shot of four to five people. Predicting that self-portraits would be a huge draw with the 88 degree wide-angle lens, HTC tweaked the camera app with a two-second timer (triggered by simply touching the screen).
The HTC Droid DNA is also able to capture 1080p video with both cameras. Simply choose which camera you want to use and hit the video button. As an added bonus, you can also snap a 6 megapixel image with VideoPic by pressing the camera shutter button while recording video. If you miss the shot, you can always go back and extract a 1080p (roughly 2 megapixels) resolution image from the video at a later time. The second feature also comes in handy if you want to extract an image from a movie you’ve saved to the device.
Other HTC Droid DNA camera features include:
- Sightseeing mode: bypasses the lock screen and automatically launches the camera app when pressing the power button if the device was turned off while the camera was in use.
- Burst Mode: press and hold the shutter button to capture four images per second (up to 99 shots) – great feature for capturing that perfect moment with children (who don’t always like to smile on cue), group shots or sporting events.
- Panorama Mode: easily capture great panoramic shots with on-screen frame guidance. The feature works vertically and horizontally – allowing users to capture sweeping landscapes or an entire skyscraper in a single image.
8. BatteryWhen I first heard that the HTC Droid DNA would ship with a 2,020 mAh non-removable battery, I was a bit worried. Yes, the HTC EVO 4G LTE and the HTC One X have decent battery life and can manage 11-13 hours on a single charge, but those two phones were paired with a smaller 4.7-inch 720p display. Surely the 5-inch, 1080p display on the DNA would act as a catalyst to make the phone an overpriced paperweight that requires users to be tethered to an outlet three or four times a day.
To my surprise, that couldn’t have been further from the truth. In the seven days that I’ve used the HTC Droid DNA, the phone has averaged 13 hours and 50 minutes on a full charge with roughly three and a half hours of screen-on time. During that time, I used the Droid DNA to stay on top of three Gmail accounts, two twitter accounts, browse the web, play games, capture dozens of portals on Ingress and snap a dozen or so pictures each day.
No, the Droid DNA will not last as long as the Note II or Droid RAZR MAXX, but its battery life is comparable to the Samsung Galaxy S III and should get most users through a full day without any issues.
9. Call quality and soundThe HTC Droid DNA can do some amazing things, but let’s not forget that it can also make phone calls. During our week of testing the Droid DNA, we didn’t experience any dropped calls. We typically had three to five bars of 4G LTE coverage everywhere we went. I even tested the Droid DNA in the elevator at work (I typically lose all reception with T-Mobile and Sprint devices), but the Droid DNA managed to hold on to two bars of service, and the caller on the other line did not notice any reduction in audio quality. Like most other phones, audio during calls isn’t as clear as it could be, but you’d probably only notice if you’ve had the opportunity to use a phone with Sprint’s new HD Voice functionality.
If you’re looking for a phone with great sound quality from the speaker phone and 3.5mm headphone jack, the Droid DNA is currently one of the best Android options out there. Yes, HTC is still touting Beats Audio integration as a selling point for the DNA. But, HTC has also included a 2.55v amp for the speakerphone and headphone jack to enhance the audio experience with the phone. Unfortunately, the amp does not increase the volume output from the DNA, but the sound is much clearer when the volume is cranked to max. The difference is subtle, but definitely noticeable if you enjoy listening to music on your phone.
10. Wireless chargingIn past reviews, we’ve given devices an extra point for incorporating NFC. Yes, the Droid DNA does have NFC, but since NFC is now considered to be a standard feature in high-end Android phones, we think it’s now time to shift our focus to wireless charging.
We’ve covered wireless charging a little over the past few years, but the Droid DNA is the very first Android phone from Verizon to enable the feature right out of the box. For a while, Verizon has been pushing the Qi wireless charging standard and has encouraged many of its OEM partners to provide Qi enabled replacement back covers for their phones. But with the Droid DNA, there’s no replacement cover to buy since the wireless charging coil is incorporated directly into the uni-body shell. All you have to do is decide which Qi compatible wireless charger you want to buy.
While Qi is currently the most popular wireless charging standard in the industry, there are still only a handful of chargers available. LG and Energizer have had their charging pads on the market for some time, but we found that Nokia’s new wireless charging accessories to be more aesthetically pleasing. A decent charger will set you back about $50, but it’s certainly a great investment if you need a few extra hours of battery life every day without having to fiddle with a charging cable or the DNA’s ridiculous microUSB flap.
The HTC Droid DNA is, in my opinion, the best pure smartphone on Verizon at the moment. That isn’t to say it’s the best option for everyone; the Note II offers a number of unique features, and the Droid RAZR MAXX HD, of course, delivers endless battery life. If you aren’t swayed by the specific advantages of those handsets, though, the specs on the DNA (and most importantly the screen) are simply untouchable right now. It has some flaws. But they’re manageable. And in the end worth it for the rest of what the phone has to offer. I’ll be surprised if a year from now this phone doesn’t still stack up well against the competition.