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HTC Droid DNA review

HTC creates the most awesome Droid ever

The good: The beautifully designed HTC Droid DNA features a quad-core processor, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, 4G LTE, a sharp 5-inch screen, an excellent camera, and long battery life.

The bad: The Droid DNA’s large size is tricky for tight pockets, and it lacks both an SD card slot and removable battery.

The bottom line: With quad-core power, 4G LTE, a lovely 5-inch screen, plus a stunning design, the $199.99 HTC Droid DNA is currently Verizon’s best Android deal.

The HTC Droid DNA boasts a big, bright, and colorful 5-inch Super LCD 3 screen.

The new Droid DNA is the best phone I’ve seen from HTC in a long while, especially on Verizon. With its blazingly swift quad-core processing, a gorgeous and eye-grabbing 5-inch screen, not to mention a great camera and long battery life, the Droid DNA is an excellent deal at any price. At $199.99, though, I feel it’s a better buy than other worthy smartphone competitors, including the Motorola Droid Razr HD and Samsung Galaxy S3.

Design
There are no two ways about it: the HTC Droid DNA is the sexiest-looking smartphone I’ve laid my hands on in quite some time. At a glance, the slab-shaped HTC Droid DNA looks like just about every other Android smartphone on the market. Stepping closer, though, and the signature Verizon-red highlights jump out at you. While the handset is clad in stealth-bomber black, it’s trimmed with red metallic stripes on either side.

HTC says it was inspired by Lamborghini supercars when crafting the DNA. As for me, I just think the stripes, which are iridescent and perforated by tiny holes, look futuristic and striking.

Measuring 5.6 inches tall by 2.7 inches wide, the device is large, yet thin. At 0.38 inch thick, and a mere 0.16 inch thick at its thinnest point, its profile makes its edges thinner than the SamsungGalaxy S III. Picking up both handsets and placing them side by side, however, they seem to be of equal thickness, or shall I say thinness. This phone is razor-sharp, there’s no doubt about that, and its metal buttons and trim give it a much more premium feel than the Galaxy S III‘s plastic parts.

HTC Droid DNAThe HTC Droid DNA is trim despite its large size.Above the screen is a 2-megapixel front-facing camera capable of shooting video in 1080p HD. A tiny notification light sits here, too. Below are three capacitive buttons for Android functions. The right side holds a long volume bar, and up top are a headphone jack, power button, and SIM card slot. The bottom edge houses a rubber flap covering the phone’s Micro-USB port.

HTC Droid DNAThe HTC Droid DNA’s micro USB port placed under its rubber flap.On back, the phone’s soft-touch surface that’s cut from premium polycarbonate reminds me more of the HTC One X and One X+’s design language. You’ll need that soft-touch coating, too, since its rubber feel provides a sure grip. Also placed here is the DNA’s 8-megapixel camera, and LED flash. There’s even an additional notification light, the first device I’ve seen with one in this location.

HTC Droid DNAStaring at you from within a ring of crimson is the HTC Droid DNA’s 8MP camera lens.Display

What further enhances the Droid DNA’s waferlike dimensions is how the display’s glass extends to the handset’s edges. This helps the phone disguise the fact that it’s packing a massive 5-inch Super LCD 3 screen. Not only is the display bright, it boasts a sharp 1080p resolution, which HTC claims translates into 440 pixels per inch. Text and details in photos and video looked crisp and colors vibrant. While not as oversaturated as the Samsung Galaxy SIII’s AMOLED screen, colors were more accurate but popped less. Even so, watching the HD YouTube trailer for “World War Z” on the Droid DNA was riveting. I could clearly see the virtual, burning cityscape of New York, the fear in Brad Pitt’s lined face, and streams of running zombies in terrifying detail. For the record, the undead should never be able to sprint like that. Ever.

HTC Droid DNAThe big 5-inch screen makes watching movies and other multimedia very enjoyable.Software and UI

Android lovers are in for a treat since the HTC Droid DNA comes right out of the box with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. Sure, it’s not the most advanced Google has officially announced, but this is as fresh as you’ll likely find outside of a true Nexus device.

HTC does layer its own Sense 4+ interface on top of Android, which definitely changes the look and feel of Google’s stock OS. The lock screen features a digital clock and the date is spelled out in slim characters on top. At the bottom edge of the screen is a virtual ring and four icons for Phone, Mail, Messages, and Camera. Pulling these icons into the ring whisks you directly to their corresponding phone functions.

Of course you can also swipe your finger anywhere across the screen to jump to the home screen. You have five home screens to choose from; you can personalize each with apps and widgets. By default the main screen features HTC’s iconic weather clock widget along with shortcuts for Verizon Voice Mail, Google Play store, and browser. As with Android handsets running 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and later, you can also drop app icons on top of each other to create custom folders. I find it a handy way to cut down on home screen clutter.

Features and apps
As an Android 4.1 Jelly Bean device, the HTC Droid DNA can tackle all the usual smartphone tasks such as GPS, Bluetooth 4.0 (the most recent profile supporting low-power devices), Wi-Fi, and a mobile hot-spot app to share the phone’s 4G LTE connection with other mobile gadgets. Remember, though, that the feature will cost you extra — about $20 on top of your data and voice plans.

The HTC Droid DNA connects to popular Google services, too, such as Gmail, Google Plus, Maps, and Navigation. HTC has placed some of its own software on the DNA. A Music app combines the Amazon MP3 player and music storefront, Slacker Internet radio app, and phone-based tracks in one location.

Other apps on the handset include an assortment of free and paid software, services, and games, such as Amazon Kindle, Reign of Amira, Zappos, and the Amex Serve mobile payment solution. Sadly, Verizon flooded the Droid DNA with a helping of its bloatware, too, like My Verizon Mobile, NFL Mobile, Verizon Tones, and VZ Navigator.

Camera
I’m happy to say that the HTC Droid DNA’s 8-megapixel camera does justice to the legacy of its One-class handsets such as the One X, One S, and One V. Like those devices, the DNA uses special electronics designed to power through the demands of image processing, which HTC calls the HTC ImageChip.

Because of this, the Droid DNA does all the slick camera tricks that the One phones do, such as Continuous Capture (burst mode), HDR mode, and Panorama. You can also snap pictures while rolling the video camera. I found the Droid DNA camera to be fast on its feet as well, capturing shots almost instantly and its autofocus locking on almost just as fast.

On my tests, indoor still-life shots were clear and with rich, some would say oversaturated, colors. Details were sharp, too, but I’ll need to do more testing under low light before I can make a judgment under these conditions. Outside in the fading fall sunlight, I enjoyed vivid colors in flowers, trees, and grass. The DNA’s backlit sensor was also able to pull out details that would have otherwise been hidden by shadow.

Details were clear and colors true in still life shots.
The Droid DNA takes panorama shots too.Performance

Android Jelly Bean brings to the table many tasty improvements, but the most important is speed. In fact, Google made it a priority to speed up Android performance in Jelly Bean, calling the initiative “project butter.” Also helping the HTC Droid DNA achieve buttery smoothness is its powerful 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro processor and 2GB of RAM.

The handset felt very fast, tearing through menus and launching apps with no hesitation. Synthetic benchmark tests backed up the speed I experienced. The Droid DNA notched a stratospherically high Linpack showing of 401.6 MFLOPs (multithread). Its performance on the Quadrant benchmark was just as impressive, with the device turning in a score of 8,165.

Data speeds over Verizon’s 4G LTE network were solid, too, though not the fastest I’ve seen. I clocked average download speeds of 9Mbps and uploads at a slower 5.3Mbps.

I was surprised by the HTC Droid DNA’s battery performance, as well. Despite the phone’s large screen and swift performance, the handset’s embedded 2,020mAh battery lasted for a long 8 hours and 43 minutes on the  Labs video battery drain test. By comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S III offered an even longer 9 hours and 24 minutes on the same benchmark, whereas the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx HD kept going for an unbelievable 14 hours and 53 minutes.

Conclusion
HTC has tried to make a serious A-list smartphone for quite some time but hasn’t caught a break. The thunder of the One series — HTC One X and HTC One S — was rudely stolen by Samsung’s Galaxy S III and even the Galaxy Note 2. And the HTC Evo 4G LTE shipped without a robust Sprint LTE network to support it. Well it’s payback time as they say, and the $199.99 HTC Droid DNA has a winning combination of stylish design, devilish good looks, blazing performance, and a lovely screen, all for a good price. Its great camera is icing on the cake but enough to edge out the Motorola Droid Razr HD. Frankly the DNA is HTC’s best smartphone — and Verizon’s best Droid — yet.

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