HTC DROID DNA Review: the future of high-res displays?
Verizon's newest device features the sharpest display on any smartphone yet
With the DROID DNA, HTC jumps into the 5-inch smartphone market through Verizon. And although the word "phablet" was uttered at the device's launch, HTC doesn't want you to think of its newest smartphone that way. It doesn't have a stylus like Samsung's S Pen, and it doesn't replace any of the functions of a tablet. It's just one bigass smartphone.
The HTC DROID DNA is a bit of a handful if you're used to sub 4.7- inch smartphones, but it's not cumbersome. But just because it's a monstrous smartphone, it doesn't mean that HTC skimped on the display. In fact, it's the sharpest and best display I've seen to date, despite what others are saying online. If there was even the slightest sacrifice for brightness to have a 440 PPI display, I can't tell. At its brightest, it's too bright, so it's not even a big deal. It's sharp, color rendition is excellent and it's plenty bright. It's simply the best display on the market right now. For its size and resolution, you really can't beat it.
But is that what the HTC DROID DNA is all about? Read on to find out a little more, and hopefully you'll know whether it's the smartphone that fits your needs.
The design of the DROID DNA just screams HTC. It reminds me so much of the original DROID Incredible without the oddly contoured back. At the face, however, it strikes in me feelings of nostalgia.
The phone is black with red accents, signaling the phone's ties to the Verizon network. The backing has a soft-touch coating, which can sometimes attract oils and fingerprints from your hand, but it's easy to clean. The camera module has a red-colored ring, like other HTC smartphones on Verizon.
At the face, you'll find the large, 5-inch, LCD 3 1080p display. I strained my eyes trying to find pixels -- I couldn't. At the bottom are the back, home and application switcher buttons, and at the top are the front-facing camera, earpiece and sensors. To the right of the device, where one would typically find a sleep/power button on a phone of such size, is the volume rocker. The power button is actually at the top, which is unusual placement, but you get used to it and it's not a big deal. It's next to the 3.5mm headset jack.
The back of the device has an 8MP camera with an LED flash and a small microphone, presumably for canceling noise and for use in recording videos. Down at the bottom, beneath the Beats Audio logo, is the speaker.
Along either edge of the device are nice red grills, which offer distinct accents on the phone but serve no functional purpose.
Android fans should be happy that Android 4.1 Jelly Bean is on board, but for Android purists, note that the device does come with Sense UI. HTC calls it Sense 4+, but it will be extremely familiar to users with any experience with Sense UI. Sense 4+ gives the DROID DNA additional widgets, like the default clock/weather widget, a custom skins and features in other areas of the platform like the browser or phone dialer. It's something you're going to love or hate, or maybe just get used to.
With Android 4.1 on the DROID DNA, you do get some cool Google features like Google Now, which offers info like weather, traffic, public transportation schedules and other goodies just by pressing and holding the home button. I do love Google Now and the voice recognition on the DROID DNA -- I think the combination is superior to Siri on the iPhone for most things.
The DROID DNA is fast, whether you're switching apps, opening and closing apps or watching videos and multitasking. It has 2GB RAM on board and a 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro processor. To most of you, and even to me, those figures don't mean much unless they function in some meaningful way. And when you start using the DROID DNA every day, pushing it beyond what most users would do with it for the sake of doing so, you can appreciate the optimization between hardware and software.
The camera is pretty good. By default, it shoots photos in the 15:9 ratio, so your images will be wide and narrow, but there is the option to switch to a more natural looking 4:3. The camera can take a while to focus in low-light conditions, if it ever focuses at all. In ideal lighting scenarios, it focuses well, but I do wish it were a little faster.
Like most Android devices these days, you can shoot panorama, HDR and other scenes with the DROID DNA. You can even edit photos within the camera app, but your options are limited and you have little control of how much of a filter or effect you can add. Still, it isn't bad, and it's nicer to have the option of downloading multiple photo apps from the Play Store to tweak your photos.
Image quality is good. Smartphone cameras have become so good at shooting photos that having a point-and-shoot is almost pointless these days. The DROID DNA is no exception, as you can see from the images below. One is in low light, another is a close-up photo and one was shot in HDR. The HDR image has a slight halo effect, but it's not dramatic or overly pronounced, and it's almost close to what the eye naturally sees.
Battery Life and Performance
Although the HTC DROID DNA has a 2020 mAh battery, slightly smaller than what you'd find on the Nexus 4 and significantly less than its other five-plus-inch competitor, the Galaxy Note II, it still lasts a day. With moderate use, you can comfortably leave home without a charger and not worry about running out of juice before you get home. But if you're somewhat of a power user, or you like to watch videos and listen to music on your commute, it's better to have a charger with you or at the office. The battery is not user-replaceable.
Call quality is good and it's plenty loud, and it's nearly impossible to find pockets of spotty Verizon service these days. Equally good is the 4G LTE performance, where I saw peak speeds of about 24Mbps download and 9Mbps upload in New York City.
If you're wondering about Beats Audio, it sounds good. I've owned HTC devices with Beats Audio before, and what it does is add a little punch and bass to audio. Sometimes it can be a little overpowering, but you can easily turn it off by accessing it through the notification pane whenever you have headphones plugged into the DROID DNA. But if you're a fan of drowning out subtle sounds and instruments, and little nuances in musical arrangement with thumping bass, Beats Audio will delight you.
Who is the HTC DROID DNA for? I usually ask myself this question when I get a new phone. Its standout feature is its large, high-resolution display. It is excellent for watching videos and looking at photos or browsing the Web. So I'd say it's for users who see their smartphones as entertainment and multimedia devices, more than anything else. Not that the DROID DNA isn't capable of much else, but I have to keep coming back to that big, sharp display.
I have mixed feelings about Sense 4+, and any issues I have with the UI are the same ones that I've had with Sense for years. But I've learned to work around them or just get used to them, and I think anyone else who isn't a big Sense fan can, too. I mean, only if you're willing to give up convenience and some aesthetics for a phone with a huge display and powerful internals.
So, should you buy this or the new Galaxy Note II? Just because they're both very large phones doesn't mean they can really be compared. The Note II's display isn't as sharp, and it has an S Pen. We can't discount the S Pen given the suite of apps loaded on the Note II dedicated for use with it, not to mention the features within other areas of the software made to do different things with the S Pen. The DROID DNA is more of a huge smartphone than it is a tablet hybrid, so you'll want to take that into consideration before buying one.
Ultimately, I like the device, though I'm not sure I like the direction that smartphones are heading in, in general. We don't always need gigantic displays in our pockets or purses.