Review: The HTC Droid DNA - 1

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Review: The HTC Droid DNA - 1
I really, really want to love the HTC Droid DNA. I've been a fan of HTC since I owned the first Incredible, which was so well-built that it's now living its second life as my daughter's DroidPod Touch.

But HTC itself is getting harder to love. Once a definitive contender in the handset wars, HTC has never been able to establish who they are. Apple is about design, Samsung is muscle, Motorola is style (for what that's worth), LG trends young, and Pantech trends cheap. HTC makes some great products, and Sense is still my favorite overlay by far (if I have to have an overlay), but the product line gas gotten lazy, seemingly borrowing from all of the above while not clearly owning any one category.

HTC is like the Volvo of phones. They may not be flashy or bleeding edge, but you're safe with one, technically and aesthetically speaking. And nothing screams this philosophy louder than the Droid DNA.

Spoiler alert: There's a "but" coming after this bit of gushing.

The Droid DNA should be an amazing device. For $200 (from Verizon), it's packed with a quad-core processor and running Jellybean, the Android OS update I first fell in love with reviewing the Motorola Razr M. Of course it's 4G and, here's the kicker, it's got a 5-inch, full 1080p HD screen.

It takes video from both cameras in 1080p, while shooting 8MP photos with the rear camera. You've got Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, 5 GHz WiFi, Beats audio -- basically, whatever is new and awesome at the time of this publication, the Droid DNA has.


The Droid DNA is the epitome of sacrificing portability in the name of power. I found myself thinking, "This is the best phone I've ever used, as long as I don't have to use it."

Let's start with the battery, which is an enigma. The Droid DNA on that quad-core is blazing fast, but the battery is sketchy, to say the least. I first noticed this in one hour-long session opening Christmas presents with my family, taking about 25 pictures on and off, and doing the occasional Facebook check, I blew through 20% of my battery. Then I put it down for several hours and barely lost a drip.

This phenomenon happened several times over the week and, even though I've mirrored the DNA to match my current phone, I found I couldn't get a normal day's use -- email, social, phone calls, web, etc -- on a single charge. I did some research and read several other accounts that say the same thing. The hi-def screen murders the battery (and makes the handset wicked hot, I might add), while non-screen usage might get you days. Ideally, I want a great phone that I don't have to charge until midnight, but I was getting 6-8 hours before going red.

But then why ship the phone with a non-removable battery?

I'll tell you why. Style. A non-removable battery means less real estate, and so the device itself is sleek as hell. It's got the standard HTC quirks, curves where you might not expect them and the customary bits of red. I'm used to this, and in my opinion, the device looks and feels like a well-designed HTC phone should.

The screen on the Droid DNA is, and I know the gravity of what I'm about to say, the most awesome screen I've seen on a mobile phone to date. It's massive, it's brilliant, it just plain looks "different" in my hand. The wow factor lasted throughout the entire week.

The screen is 0.2 inches larger than the Samsung S3 and, since the DNA is built to go head to head with that phone, it wins. It's clear and crisp and just plain gorgeous. It's also clearly visible in bright light, even outdoors.


While the Droid DNA body is just a little thicker and just a tad heavier than the S3, the DNA is noticeably longer.

Review: The HTC Droid DNA - 2
I have to give up a lot of single-hand usage on an S3-sized phone (compared to the iPhone or the similarly-sized HTC Incredible 4G, shown in the second panel). But I was prepared to live with that. If I had to, for example, use two hands every time I type, I'd do it for the beauty of that screen. The problem is I can't do anything on the Droid DNA with one hand.

It's quirky just unlocking the phone with one hand, and there is no law of physics or grip exercise that will get my thumb from the navigation buttons on the bottom to the menu/refresh areas which are now mostly at the top of the screen. This is a common motion with the Android operating system, and it just can't be done without shifting my grip dramatically -- which is the thing you do right before you drop the phone. Then the swearing.

Like the Samsung Galaxy Note, I'd call the Droid DNA a really tiny tablet.

The next dichotomy with the DNA is storage, as in you get 16GB built in, but no option for external. I realize the cloud is out there (noting that hitting my Box or Amazon account all the time is going to cost me even more battery life), but if I'm taking 8MP photos and shooting 1080p videos and listening to my (eclectic) music collection with Beats and gaming on that brilliant screen -- all the things a powerhouse like the DNA wants you to do -- then I'm running out of 16GB real quick. Not to mention that, according to my Astro File Manager, it's really 11GB after the OS and bloatware.

Speaking of photos, you can see the image above where the DNA took a picture of the Incredible 4G and vice versa. The Incredible picture just looks better, and the Incredible camera is good, not awesome. I took a lot of washed out, red-eye pictures with the DNA. When the picture was good, it was amazing, but I wound up taking 5 or 6 shots (which the DNA does in super-rapid succession), to get one good one.

Jellybean, again, is fantastic. I covered Jellybean pretty thoroughly in this review, so I won't get too deeply into it here, but the OS finally brings Android up to date as a competitor with iOS and in many ways surpasses it. Unless you're a die-hard Apple fanboy, this is the OS you want.

And finally, the keyboard, which for me is a huge factor that isn't talked about enough. The HTC keyboard has always been my favorite in terms of versatility, and that translates really well to the DNA, including a muted haptic response that you just barely notice.

As I usually do, I typed about 2/3 of this article on the Droid DNA itself, and it was a pleasure. Love the keyboard. Have to use two hands at all times.

Overall, the DNA is a stellar phone with an amazing screen that is just not for me.

I need to be able to get through a medium-usage, 16-hour day without charging.

I need to do some tasks (photos, dialing, note taking, app launching) with one hand.

I need to know I'm not going to have to offload music, photos, and video routinely.

As it is, the Droid DNA is almost perfectly designed, very powerful at the expense of the battery, bold but questionably stylish, somewhat trendy, and kinda inexpensive.

What's disappointing is that if the phone were maybe 0.5 inches smaller (maybe requiring a 4.8-inch screen like the S3), had a better battery or at least an option for a larger battery and cover at the expense of a fatter phone, and had either a 64GB option or was expandable, I'd probably be in love with HTC all over again.