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HTC Droid DNA Android Smartphone Review
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Date: Dec 12, 2012
Section:Mobile
Author: Dave Altavilla
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HTC Droid DNA Review
There was a time when 5-inch and larger smartphones were scoffed at.  The term "phablet" was coined and holding one of these things up to your head typically meant a bit of ridicule was in order.  However, as devices got thinner, lighter and ever more sleek, the 5-inch smartphone has become a hot commodity with devices like the Samsung Galaxy Note II taking off towards stratospheric sales projections. 

Recently HTC jumped in on the action with the launch of the Droid DNA for the Verizon network; offering a quad-core Snapdragon S4 SoC under the hood, the latest Android Jelly Bean operating system, an absolutely killer, gorgeous 5-inch IPS display with a full 1080p capable native resolution of 1200x1920 and out of the box wireless charging.  Talk about hitting all the high points.  Does this thing mix Margaritas too? 

Let's give you a quick walk-around of the device and demo it in action. Then we'll look closer at the design, features and performance of this new smartphone titan.


HTC Droid DNA 
Specifications & Features
    • Operating System:  Android™ 4.1 (Jelly Bean) with HTC Sense™
    • Processor:   Qualcomm® APQ8064 Quad-core 1.5 GHz, MDM9615M
    • Memory:   16 GB, 2 GB RAM
    • Network:  CDMA: 800/1900MHz; UMTS/HSPA: 850/900/1900/2100MHz; GSM/GPRS/EDGE: 850/900/1800/1900MHz; LTE 700 MHz (Band 13)
    • Camera;   8 MP main camera with auto focus, LED Flash, BSI sensor, f/2.0 aperture, 28mm lens, 1080p HD video recording, w/ HTC ImageSense®: 2.1 MP front-facing camera, Dedicated HTC ImageChip®
    • Keyboard/Form Factor:  Virtual QWERTY
    • Display:  5-inch super LCD3, HD 1080p, Gorilla® Glass 2
    • Special Features:  Beats Audio® built in, HTC ImageSense®, Dedicated HTC ImageChip®
    • Battery:  2020 mAh LI-ION (embedded)
    • Dimensions:  141 x 70.5 x 9.73 mm
    • Weight:  140g / 4.94oz

    The quad-core variant of Qualcomm's excellent Snapdragon S4 system-on-chip powers the DNA, along with an Adreno 320 graphics core that's backed by 2GB of system memory and 16GB of on-board storage.  There's also an 8MP camera with LED flash, a 2.1MP front-facing cam and that sweet 5-inch super LCD3 IPS display we mentioned earlier with 1200x1920 resolution (440ppi).  Other features include built-in Beats Audio which does add a bit of spatial openness, along with accentuated highs and lows but only if you're rocking headphones or buds.  The small speaker on the back of the device is easily covered by your hand and, well, it's a tiny smartphone speaker so you can't expect much from it beyond speakerphone functionality.

     

    The DNA brings along the familiar Verizon red and black color scheme which does accentuate the design nicely. The front is fairly clean with a single piece of Corning Gorilla glass. The capacitive Android navigation keys on the bottom don't consume screen real estate, thankfully. We can't say enough about how nice the DNA's display is.  It's easily one of the nicest smartphone screens we've seen yet, with eye-popping brightness, great color saturation, good contrast and wide viewing angles.  Pure and simple, it's five inches of love.

     
    On the back you’ll see the DNA is entirely coated in a soft touch plastic which is a complete fingerprint and dust magnet but feels great in the hand. At 9.7mm thick, the DNA is thicker than many high-end smartphones these days but thanks to the tapered edges it has a deceivingly thin profile in your pocket or hand.  What's baffling, however, is why HTC thought it made sense to cover the DNA's microUSB port with a plastic, tethered cap.  You'll likely just want to rip the thing off as it just gets in the way, but to each his own we suppose.

    One other design misstep is the location of the power button on the top, center of the device.  It's often awkward to get to because the phone is so tall in the hand.  I personally have larger-than-most hands and can deal with it. NFL Linebackers shouldn't have a problem getting to that button with one hand. Ladies, on the other hand (no pun intended), will have a long reach.

    Android 4.1, otherwise known as Jelly Bean is here but it's lightly dressed in HTC's Sense 4+ user interface.  This sort of a love it or hate it affair.  In general, we like Sense 4+ but it's more of a departure from the pure Jelly Bean interface than TouchWiz is for some of the more recent Galaxy devices.

      

    Occasionally, we found that it took another step or two to get things done with Sense 4+ but we did like the multitasking button on the front of the device that allows you to quickly cycle through recent apps with a tile interface, much like you'd see multiple web pages in tile view.  That said, we did miss the app menu button which is replaced by this feature, leaving you with onscreen, in-app menu options to work with.
     
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    Performance Characteristics and Conclusion
    The DNA's 8MP rear-facing camera is quite good overall. Camera controls are simple and intuitive with manual options for ISO, exposure, image effects, depth of field, vignette and Instagram-like filters. The camera's white balance gets tripped up sometimes but you can adjust it manually if you like.

      
    HTC Droid DNA Camera App




    HTC Droid DNA Camera Samples


    Low light performance is right on par with most smartphones.  It's respectable for a quick shot but the DNA pales in comparison to the NokiaLumia 920 (our current watermark) in terms of general camera performance. Video, on the other hand, really is not the Droid DNA’s strong suit. White balance and over-exposure issues can sometime flare up, along with relatively poor audio quality from the on-board mic. These issues could possibly be resolved or improved with a firmware update of course.

    Performance Benchmarks 
    HTC Droid DNA Performance










    Both in terms of general compute performance and graphics horsepower, the HTC Droid DNA is one of the fastest high-end smartphone's on the market currently.  As you can see in our Linpack testing, the DNA absolutely ripped past other devices with its quad-core Snapdragon SoC.  It also kept pace or edged out some of the faster devices on the market currently in our graphics tests.



    Where the DNA fell short somewhat, was in our battery life test.  This is a large 5-inch phone remember. One would think there is plenty of real estate within to incorporate a large battery, but the DNA's 2020mAh battery only allowed it to place somewhere in the middle of the pack.  It still managed over 6 hours of uptime in continuous web browsing with its large display set to 50% brightness, so it certainly wasn't a bad showing.  Day-long performance in mixed usage scenarios also proved to be no problem for the device, so we'll give it a passing grade in this area.

    The HTC Droid DNA has a few quirks but they're mostly minor. The hardware is very well built but a few design choices, like the top-center mounted power button, hold this otherwise amazing device back. It’s great to see Android 4.1 on board but Sense tends to get in the way more often than not.  Then again the DNA delivers arguably the best display on any smartphone out there right now, so there's a lot of forgiveness in that feature alone.  The Droid DNA also boasts one of the fastest processors on the market currently, with Qualcomm's venerable Snapdragon S4 quad-core at 1.5GHz serving up best in class benchmark numbers in many test cases.  It's a potent combination to be sure and for $199 on contract, if you like 'em big, the HTC Droid DNA is bodacious and beautiful.

    • Fast and responsive
    • Gorgeous screen
    • Excellent build quality
    • Android 4.1 Jelly Bean
    • microUSB cover gets in the way
    • Middling battery life for such a large phone
    • Power button placement not optimal



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