Android Phones

Droid DNA – Love at first sight, quirky at second glance [Hardware Review]

December 29, 2012 | by Ben Crawford

Android Phones, Android Phones and Devices, Carriers, Featured post, HTC, Reviews, Verizon

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Evaluated version: Jellybean 4.1.1

Pros: Gorgeous screen, solid build, blazing fast

Cons: Terrible USB protector, mediocre (nonremovable) battery, Sense UI

HTC has finally given Verizon users a reason to be happy for the holiday season. HTC’s Droid lineup has been lackluster on Big Red’s service for at least the past year, but the Droid DNA has changed all that. There are no more variations to the Incredible lineup; instead, the DNA attempts to rejuvenate HTC’s influence in Verizon’s Samsung-dominated lineup. While it may not bring a flashy name, the DNA hits all the major marketing points to promote and sells itself well, better even than Samsung’s Galaxy series.

Hardware

While our readers and other Android enthusiasts may drool over a high processor speed or the latest Android update, everyone, including your grandmother, drools over a high resolution, high quality display. There is no overlooking or denying that HTC and Verizon attempted to make buying a smartphone simple – hold two phones together, the DNA and anything else, and see which looks better. The DNA wins that battle handily and creates a remarkably simple sell for buyers and sales associates.

Conversely, the single annoyance that will make you throw the DNA, which you probably won’t notice in the store, is the micro-USB cover. The cover is a pain to get off (I couldn’t take it off without my pocket knife) and is worth ripping off before you even turn on the phone. I understand the reasoning HTC – to create a solid, unibody design and look – but how about a sliding door, a la the Fascinate, or anything else that doesn’t take fingernails of steel to rip off.  It’s also fairly creaky.  For having a unibody design, HTC should have been able to tightly secure the the back to the front and sides with no movement.

With that gripe out of the way, the DNA looks fantastic. The red accents are an aesthetically pleasing contrast to the black. The glass screen melts over the edges of the phone for a smooth swiping area, and the fake speaker grills on the sides give the DNA a nice, if unnecessary, garnish.  There are two LED notification lights; the front is very difficult to see from any angle but directly in front, but the back notification light is a stroke of genius on HTC’s part.  It’s bright, clear, and imperceptible when not flashing.

The power button and headphone jack are at the top of the device, along with the removable mini-SIM card slot. The volume rocker is recessed into the right side of the phone. The power and volume buttons take some getting used to, but after a while, they become second nature. Besides these normal traits, HTC has left the DNA bare but sleek. There’s enough flair and wow without any gimmicks.

Screen/Camera

These two features go hand-in-hand. A great camera with a great screen to view photos and videos. The screen’s resolution is a full 1080p, and at 5 inches, I find it to be a perfect form factor.  Even though it sounds like a large display, HTC does a tremendous job in blending in the screen so it fits comfortably in your hand.  It’s true that the pixels per inch blow every other phone out of the water, but you will really only notice when reading text or web pages. The DNA has a notable washed-out look, but I’ve found this to be the case with most HTC phones on Verizon. Instead of popping like the accents on the outside, the red Droid color scheme has never caught my eye as being vibrant. It’s more of a muted, subdued tone almost attempting to meddle in both the business world and private world.

I’ve always enjoyed HTC’s camera app, and the quality of the photo sensor is unmatched on Verizon. There are tons of options like a countdown timer, aspect ratio, picture quality, and different photo lenses and distortions. Your fingers can easily find all these buttons in a very simple interface.  It may not be as elegant as the new 4.2 Jelly Bean camera app, but the DNA has more features and one of the best cameras on the market. The camera sensor and LED flash is also flush with the body so no worrying about scratching it or having an unstable-laying phone.

Software

For only having 16GB internal storage, with no external storage possible, Verizon and HTC, unfortunately, bundled enough apps and extras to whittle the storage down to 11GB. The Sense UI overlay is a stark contrast to the smooth, coherent Jelly Bean look. Sub-menus with a cartoonish color scheme and features from the Froyo era make up the Sense UI. It’s enough to make 2GB of RAM and the latest quad core processor slow down more than is reasonable. I also don’t enjoy being reminded to turn on WiFi regardless of where I am.  Out to eat? WiFi! At work? WiFi! Out to sea? WiFi!  And there is no way to disable this incessant notification.

The only redeeming quality is the zero-gap screen, which makes widgets and apps on your homescreens appear to float above the background.  Maybe I am buying into the marketing, but it feels like everything on the screen is easier and quicker to touch.

Apps play great, out-pacing my Galaxy Nexus by dozens of seconds.  The radio is crisp and clear, although I did experience less-than-stellar performance while I was traveling.  The signal would drop from 4G to no signal far too frequently with no 3G in between.  On the whole, the DNA had a much stronger signal than my Nexus (not shockingly), and speed tests were noticeably better than my Nexus.

On WiFi, the DNA can last well over a day, maybe two, with moderate usage.  With a cell signal, however, you could burn through the battery in less than twelve hours for moderate usage.  Heavy usage, with a cell signal, you’re looking at four to six hours before the screen eats up the battery.

Final Thoughts

Not only has HTC gone a long way in reasserting themselves as a Verizon favorite, the DNA is the torch-bearer for high definition phones.  Next year, we will see a ton of 1080p resolution phones, but HTC and the DNA won’t let you get behind the technological times.  The DNA has all the specs to compete with the Nexus 4 and Galaxy S III/Note II, with a special feature to separate itself from the pack.  I love the look, and I love the unibody construction.  Unfortunately, that comes with the hassle of a non-replaceable battery and a fixed 16GB storage amount. The screen can pull you in to using your phone a lot, but the Sense UI can make the app drawer and homescreens drag more than you would expect with a quad core processor and 2GB of RAM.  The DNA has a lot going for it and a lot to enjoy.  The hesitations I have with it are basically personal annoyances (Sense, slightly dated software, USB cover), but I think many people agree with these annoyances.  As great as the DNA is, it hasn’t completely blown away its competition.