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HTC Droid DNA Review

If you live by the axiom that bigger is better, you probably understand where Verizon is coming from with the release of the HTC DROID DNA. With its high-res 5-inch display, the phone joins the class of devices pushing the limits of just how big a smartphone can be, but unlike some of those handsets, it does so without feeling tablet-like.

At first glance, the Droid DNA reads as not only the best Droid handset of recent times, but also the best Android device from HTC. Does it meet those expectations? Read on to find out.

Hardware

If the Droid DNA proves anything, it is that HTC still has it when it comes to beautiful handset design. While other manufacturers have improved in this area, none have quite hit the right balance of appearance and materials that HTC manages to strike time and time again.

Taking cues from the familiar red-and-black design language of the Droid franchise and effortlessly mixing them with the styling and materials used for HTC’s One series (as well as their recent Windows Phone 8 releases), the Droid DNA is a delight to look at and hold in the hand. From its soft-touch back to the perforated red grills lining each side of the device, a good deal of craftsmanship is apparent.

The phone features prominently a 5-inch Super LCD 3 display with a 1080p HD resolution. This equates to a pixel density of about 440 ppi. Take that, Retina Display. The screen looks great with clear and crisp visuals, nice color reproduction, and good brightness, though it still deals with some of the shortcomings associated with LCD technology. Colors aren’t always as rich and contrast not always as deep as the AMOLED displays deployed by Samsung, but you will hardly notice the difference as you are distracted by the searing clarity provided by such a high resolution.

The Droid DNA features a quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro processor, and it shouldn’t be a news flash that the 1.5GHz chip exceeded expectations. There wasn’t anything we could throw at the phone that it couldn’t handle smoothly. 2GB of RAM no doubt helped. Verizon’s 4G LTE data speeds complimented the powerful hardware nicely, and we were thoroughly spoiled for it.

One major concern leading up to the release of the Droid DNA was its 2,020mAh battery. The power capacity seemed a little lacking for a device with such a large display and powerful hardware. We’re happy to say that battery life was impressive, though not quite what you get from a phone like the Droid RAZR Maxx HD. The Droid DNA was perfectly capable of getting through a normal day’s use, but you will want to keep a charger handy if you consider yourself a power user. Video and gaming certainly detracts from overall battery life.

Another positive about the size of the battery is that it allows HTC to keep the handset slim. At 0.38 inches at its thickest with edges tapering to even thinner, the phone doesn’t feel like a true 5-inch behemoth. Sacrificed in the design is the ability to remove the battery as well as room for storage expandability via SD card.

Software

The HTC Droid DNA ships with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and comes skinned with HTC Sense 4+, which makes the device privy to a smattering of features found in both. You get improved versions of the Beats Audio and ImageSense technology that have featured in HTC’s phones since the launch of the One series earlier this year as well as Android enhancements such as Project Butter and Google Now.

While Sense certainly isn’t for everyone, HTC has done a good job in paring down their custom user interface to only the essentials. It changes the overall look of the OS, brings a few new features and enhancements, but it no longer comes with the bulky additions of past versions.

For Google purists, it’s worth nothing that HTC has opted to go with hardware navigation keys rather than the software implementation introduced with Android 4.0. This choice does away with some of the context-aware menu options of apps designed for later versions of Android, but it does provide constant and easy access to central operating system actions.

Verizon and HTC have included plenty of software options out of the box, including a new all-in-one Amazon experience that combines your digital content library with the retailer’s online storefront, much as Google has done with Google Play. Other apps and games include Reign of Amira, Amex Serve, and Amazon Kindle. You still get plenty of VZW bloatware, as well.

All in all, the marriage of software and hardware works effortlessly and HTC continues to trend in the right direction with Sense. Instead of attempting to reinvent the Android experience, the Droid DNA pushes just the right buttons to compliment Google’s mobile vision.

Camera

Two cameras are featured on the Droid DNA: the main rear camera rated at 8MP and an HD front-facing camera. HTC has implemented a similar sensor setup as that found on the front camera of Windows Phone 8X, providing wide-angle image capture at a high resolution.

The rear camera features an LED flash and auto-focus and is a pleasure to use, just as the One X was before it. You might remember we rated that camera experience highly, both for the images it produced and for the software enhancements HTC implemented in Sense 4+. If the One X was good, the Droid DNA is great. If only all OEMs could have the same focus on camera quality as HTC. Click on the images below to see larger versions.

The Droid DNA worked well in various lighting conditions in both photo and video mode. In photo mode you get features such as burst shot and panorama to add a touch of creative flourish or capture the perfect action shot. Even when in standard mode, there is little noticeable shutter lag, letting you live in the moment rather than a few seconds after it.

Conclusion

If you are looking for the best phone on Verizon’s network, the best Droid device, and the best phone HTC has offered in some time, this is it. But here’s the thing with the Droid DNA: while it by no means feels bulky, it is certainly robust. If you aren’t in the market for a 5-inch phone, you may be better served looking elsewhere.

If that sounds like you, I urge you to reconsider your bias against such big phones. Not only does it seem they are here to stay, but if you want the best possible combination of hardware and software, it’s an element you will need to deal with. I promise you won’t be disappointed. You might even learn to love it. The Droid DNA gets it right on just about every level.

Continue reading on the HTC DROID DNA forums, see the specs, or find news and reviews.




  • KOLIO

    Battery life is ok,but,better keep a charger handy,just in case you actually want to use the phone & all it’s features in a normal manner,all in the name of keeping the phone slim.
    No thanks.If I wanted a POS phone that can’t make it until noon w/o looking for a power outlet,I’d have stayed w/CRICKET & selected one of their POS phones,w/o a 2yr. obligation.

  • Guest

    yeah ill keep my nexus and losse .35” of screen

  • matt t

    ill keep my nexus and loose .35” of screen…..

  • BigCiX

    still happy with my one x

  • WhoaManWtF

    So it is sorta like my LG Optimus G cept cost a lot more. And before anyone says but LG sucks at software, this phone is already unlocked and has custom roms! Not to mention has a great power efficient screen and a larger battery!

  • Abstract

    Memory is disappointing. Placement of headphone jack and power button is a small annoyance. I really love the hardware this has and the design is growing on me. If this sits well in the pocket I might consider it.

    The real question is when will the DNA receive Android 4.2.

    • http://twitter.com/gamercore Chris Chavez

      There isn’t too much in 4.2 that HTC isn’t doing already. People just want to know they have the “latest,” even when it’s not the greatest.

      I’d be content in all OEM’s skipping 4.2 entirely, and working on keeping 4.1 stable. Once Key Lime Pie drops, then we can talk about that.

  • Waiting

    Waiting for note 2.

    • reiththestud

      I just got mine (Sprint). I freakin love it. Not the biggest fan of touchwiz, but it’s perfectly bearable and the removable battery + expandable storage made it a no-brainer for me. And the pixel density is more than high enough. You need a magnifying glass to see any pixelation.

      • buddah123

        They donr offer the htc DNA on sprint…do they?

    • Layman76

      DO IT. BEST. INVESTMENT. EVER.

      • DYNK

        seriously nothing ever comes close to the Note 2 experience. Its not just a bigger version of the GS3.

    • Fuzzypaw

      You won’t be disappointed! I finally got mine just two weeks ago and it is the best phone I have ever used, let alone owned. :D

  • michael sorce

    Unlimited data + fixed battery = dealbreaker
    I use 20+ GB/mo. I need a longer powercycle than that. Nice specs, but looks like I still have my sights set on the GS4.

    • Rex_D

      Sounds like you should try Wi-Fi occasionally.

    • Tony Lai

      How many porns do you watch on your phone? lol~

  • Rex_D

    I’ve had 3 Droid phones…. none of were Red and Black, I wouldn’t say the design is “the design language of the Droid franchise”.

    • http://twitter.com/inguatu ingua2

      I wouldn’t say there is such a thing. BTW, there was always red and black on A L L droid packaging. It *is* part of the design, if you need to get all whiny about colors.

      • Rex_D

        I have a Droid Charge…. no red and black, the Thunderbolt, no red and black, my 1st Moto Droid, no red and black, Droid X… no red and black, the Droid Bionic, no red and black. How was I whining? The red check is a Verizon color and has nothing to do with Droid.

  • http://twitter.com/inguatu ingua2

    Yeah my last HTC phone will be the Rezound. I don’t need any of my cash going directly to Apple via their Android mouthpiece sellouts, HTC.

  • http://www.facebook.com/johnboy7501 John Hensley

    Got this baby at launch and for all those hating on the battery it outlasts my friends S3 with similar use. I got nearly 10hours with over 3 1/2 hours screen on which coming from a Gnex is uncharted territory.

    • DYNK

      I get over 30 hours on my Galaxy Note 2 with 9hour screen time. You see why so many of us are disappointed yet again with HTC? After all the market share drops they still arent listening to its customers and royal fans!!

      • http://twitter.com/cincij Josh McKinney

        Who needs 30 hours? Do you sleep?

    • C-Law

      I regularly get 3.5 hours screen on time with my gnex. And it sucks. That’s pathetic. I have to charge twice a day

  • ntegrit

    Sorry to bore you with an apparently irrelevant question, but what about… umm… CALL QUALITY?! This is still a phone, isn’t it? (Saw another review where it was an issue.)

    • ntegrit

      You mentioned the lack of expandable memory, but didn’t discuss, or even point out, another popular and associated concern – 16 gb internal storage.

  • bos

    What’s the point of having 1080p when it doesn’t even have enough storage to fit a single 1080p movie (and you’d have to win the lottery to be able to afford to stream a 1080p movie on Verizon’s share your wallet data plan). The small non removable battery is icing on the cake, I guess.

    HTC has officially thrown in the towel. They are done.

    • DYNK

      +100. Say that we do forgive the lack of removable battery and microsd, 2020mah battery for a phone this size and calibre is just unacceptable with the fact that HTC phones generally have bad battery life. Biggest mistake ever.
      Before you say anything about software improvements for battery s4 quad core whatever that will n e v e r compensate for an extra 1000mah juice. Physics is law.

      • burgosma

        The Verge did their normal battery tests and this phone failed miserably at them.

  • Magnus100

    Could be great phone but rendered an absolute POS by the lame amount of on board storage and the flaccid, nearly impotent battery.

    HTC has a propensity for shooting itself in the foot.

    Hope they’re already drafting their bankruptcy documents.

    • http://profiles.google.com/bullard.randyj Randy Bullard

      The hyperbole in a post like this cracks me up. It’s an “absolute POS” now, because it has a couple of things that you don’t like. Got it.

      Personally, I don’t use much storage on the phone. I use my phone as a phone, GPS/navigator, email access, web browsing, and certain apps. For music I use Pandora and for video/movies I use my laptop. So for me… I really don’t need the storage. I have a 32g card in my current phone and have about 2g of data on it that I actually use. I store all of my dynamic files/data on DropBox and infrequently access things there when I need to from the phone.

      The battery though was/is a bigger concern. But I like everything else about the phone so much that I’ve dropped $50 for a high capacity (9000ma) external battery to keep in my bag. The only time I run the battery down is when I’m on the road, and I always travel with my bag on the road so that will work. With my old Thunderbolt I kept 3 fully charged extra batteries. I think this solution is better than swapping out batteries constantly, and I think this phone will do much better on the battery than my TBolt (a pretty low benchmark admittedly).

      Comments like yours are just silly though. The phone has pluses and minuses. For me, I like the pluses. I’m getting mine today.

  • http://twitter.com/gamercore Chris Chavez

    I honestly can’t believe all the negative comments on this phone. Wow…

    I walked into the Verizon store today and played with it for about 20 minutes. Easily the best display I’ve ever laid eyes on. The phone was fast, build quality was great. The DNA is practically unmatched. For those that feel 5.5-inches is too big (something I’m starting to figure out slowly), this is PERFECT. And the only phone on the market offering this. People who’ve used the phone are saying battery life is awesome, so why knock it on battery life based on your assumptions with previous HTC devices, packing subpar CPU’s?

    I will tell you this: I am 100% selling my Galaxy Note 2 and picking up the DNA for activation on Straight Talk with AT&T. Immediately.

    • Dima Aryeh

      Hate it definitely does not deserve. But the lack of microSD, bootloader unlock, and a removable battery are downsides for some, like me. I can’t stand Sense personally, so I’d toss AOSP on there, but can’t due to a locked bootloader. That makes me sad.

      • http://twitter.com/gamercore Chris Chavez

        Yeah, I understand those criticisms. They’re completely valid. It’s the other stuff people are saying that made my jaw drop.

        • Dima Aryeh

          I read through the comments. Ridiculous. Android fanboys hating a flagship Android device?

      • ratnok

        Don’t forget bloatware, garish branding, and the inevitable “WHEN IS MY KEY LIME PIE COMING” nonsense.

    • OldPhoneJoe

      I think Verizon customers that want the Note II are upset that this phone is probably the reason for the delay in the release. With this in mind, it seems that you are intentionally poking the bear with the comment about selling your note II.

      I have played with this phone in the store too. It is very nice, but is not then phone for me.

    • Gilbert Aispuro

      @Gamercore:disqus I am really thinking about jumping ship from Sprint. Is there a way you can elaborate on Straight talk. Are there any cons, because it looks like a very good option. I wish you could do a quick post trying to help fellow readers get the best plan out there. Thanks

  • http://profiles.google.com/bullard.randyj Randy Bullard

    I’m up for my 2 year upgrade tomorrow and have really been struggling between this and the Galaxy Note 2. Went to the Verizon store today and played with it for a while and think I’m going with the DNA. I don’t need/want more storage. My only real heartburn was the battery, but the way I use the phone, I’m going to buy/carry an portable battery charger. They’re cheap and that is a good enough solution for me I think. I won’t use the S-Pen on the GN2, and I prefer the 5″ screen on the DNA over the 5.5″ on the GN2. That said, I’m still conflicted. They’ve both got their pluses. But the DNA is a damn sexy piece of hardware and I really liked it in the store.

  • rustygh

    I want my own memory! I don’t like clouds
    I believe clouds cost you. You must re-download the same files
    I just want my own memory and have these clouds stop trying to make me use them
    Its like a car lease. The car Co wants you to lease because they make more
    For me no SD card I can’t buy it. Really bums me out this is an awesome phone

  • http://profiles.google.com/bullard.randyj Randy Bullard

    I just bought mine yesterday, and I’m really mesmerized by this screen. It’s like there’s no glass on it, It looks to me like the image is right on the surface of the glass or almost floating. I really hadn’t anticipated the screen being much better than others since the pixel density is really beyond human perception, but it really makes a difference, even for every day use.

    I’m a heavy user. It’s fully charged and I’m just going to run it until it runs out of juice. I’ll do that for the week and see how it deals with a typical work day of use (for me). I’ll also be traveling every week and will look at usage on the road, which for me is much higher. I bought an external battery and anticipate using that when I’m on the road if necessary.

  • Uriah Romero

    The HTC Droid DNA looks fantastic. I’m sure that everything looks great on that display and LTE should make quick work of streaming. One of my DISH coworkers has a phone with LTE, so I feel it would be beneficial to upgrade my phone. We use the DISH Remote Access app on our phones to stream live and recorded shows through the Sling Adapter that we have on our receivers. Its cool being able to watch my channels anywhere and I think the app would work
    wonders on the DNA. It’s either this or the LG Nexus…

  • Christian Rene Friborg

    It’s Android! C’mon! Android over Apple!

  • http://www.facebook.com/scarlettdragon Samantha Foxi Mitchell

    I Just got this phone and I love it! I had been looking at an iphone 5 for a while just for the siri. But this was the other one. The rep informed me assistants were also available on android and let me boot this guy up though and I was floored. I was deterred by the size but honestly after taking it home I got used to it. It lasts me the whole day with normal use. Also I showed my mother a hobbit trailer after buyingit and the first words out of her mouth were holy crap the screens clearer then the tv. And if the display isnt the best feature plug headphones into it and watch a trailer on it. The beats audio makes it sound like your in a movie theater.

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