Let me preface this review by saying that I’ve owned, not reviewed, my fair share of Android devices. From the HTC EVO 4G (my first experience with Android), to my previous device, the Galaxy S III and a slew of other devices in between. For whatever, no matter what Android device I’d get, I’d always find myself going back to my iPhone. Sometimes I would miss the way my iPhone felt in my hand and other times I miss certain apps, but regardless of the reason, I always felt bad when I switched back from Android, it was never because I didn’t like it. So when Verizon and HTC made the DROID DNA official, I didn’t have high expectations of this device becoming my “daily driver” either, but I was excited to see that 5-inch 1080p display and its 441 pixels-per-inch. Rather than request a review unit, I decided to sell my Galaxy S III and pick up the DROID DNA, so that I could keep it and immerse myself in a different type of Android experience or because I have a fondness for HTC. I’ve had the DROID DNA for a week and so far, I’ve been loving every minute of it. I could write about all the facets of the device, like where its power button is located or the fact that it has a microUSB charging dock, but reviews like that are becoming so repetitive and are in such surplus on the net. Instead, I’m going to tell you my experience with the device, my likes, my dislikes and whether or not I recommend it.
“Don’t call it a Phablet,” said HTC during the device’s reveal and in many ways, they’re right. The DROID DNA isn’t nearly as large as the Galaxy Note II—a true phablet—in fact, the frame of the DNA is only slightly larger than the One X, another HTC device. In the past, I’ve said that the iPhone always felt right in the hand, it has always been comfortable to hold, with no double joints required to operate it. The DNA is wider and taller than the iPhone 5, actually, it dwarfs it, but for some odd reason, it too feels fantastic in my hand. Perhaps it’s the curvature of the back which starts at 9.7mm thick at the middle and tapers to only 4mm at the edge that allows the DNA to be cradled in my palm. Maybe it’s the soft-touch finish on the polycarbonate frame, whatever the case may be, the DNA feels great. Aside from Apple, I personally believe that HTC has been one of the only other companies to really make a gorgeous looking smartphone that doesn’t feel like it’s made from cheap plastics, unlike the Galaxy S line. HTC’s done an outstanding job making the DNA feel like a top tier device and despite its size, making it only weighs 4.87oz (138g).
The DNA oozes with sophistication and style, from the red metal mesh on the sides, to the front glass curving to meet the edge, no matter where you look at this device, it’s polished and refined. While some reviewers have complained about the location of the power/sleep button—which is located in the middle of the top of the device—I have had no problems adjusting to its location, nor have the buttons (i.e. power/sleep and the volume rocker) recessed position given me any hassle. The only design feature that I love, and hate, is the plug for the microUSB port on the bottom. I love it because it fills the port and allows the device to look smooth all over, but it’s also a pain to have to keep removing it every time you need to charge or dock your phone. Thankfully, the DNA supports Qi wireless charging, so this problem can be avoided, as you’ll be able to just drop the smartphone on a charging pad without ever having to pry that little plug open.
Perhaps one of the bigger surprised for me was the performance of the Beats Audio. In the past, I have called this feature nothing more than a gimmick. During my review of the HTC One X, which also features Beats Audio, however, I noticed no difference in the sound, even when I wore high quality headphones. That’s not the case with the DROID DNA, the sound was noticeable louder, clearer and definitely had more bass and treble when turned on. That may be due to the fact that HTC built two amps. One is dedicated to the headphone jack, while the other is a 2.55v amp used for the rear speaker, which now puts out extremely clear sound with no distortion, even when the volume is turned all the way up. Still, I’m not sure the fact that the DROID DNA has Beats Audio is a major selling point, but it may appeal to some.
What about the biggest draw of the DNA, its 5-inch Super LCD3 1080p display, with 441ppi (pixels per inch). Lets just say that my excitement was not met with disappointment. The DNA’s display isn’t one of the best displays on the market, it is THE best display on the market. Even the iPad 3/4 and the new Nexus 10 with their super-high resolutions can’t match the pixel density of the DNA. Some people have said what’s the point of a “ppi” that high, if your eyes can’t see individual pixels beyond 320ppi? Sure, a device thThe fact is, you can see a difference, especially with larger 5-inch displays. Side by side with an iPhone and Galaxy S III, the DNA’s display is much sharper, colors are more accurate and whites are whiter. One area where this is extremely noticeable, is when you use the DNA as a camera, and that massive screen is your view finder. The image on the display is amazingly clear and makes viewing pictures and movies truly a sight to behold. Despite how great the display is, there are a few drawbacks. Certain games are not available to play on the DNA, possible due to its high resolution. For example, EA Games’ (FireMonkey) brand new Need for Speed: Most Wanted won’t even show up in the Play Store, despite the fact I own it for my Nexus 7. I reached out to FireMonkeys and was told they are looking into the issue and that the game should be updated “soon.” But Need for Speed isn’t the only game that doesn’t work, Rovio’s Angry Bird: Star Wars, which loads until the point where you need to pick the first intro movie, then it fails and kicks you back out to the home screen. But considering the DNA is the first smartphone with a resolution of 1920 x 1080, it’s to be expected that there would be some incompatibility issues, at least until developers update their apps. That being said, most of the apps I’ve downloaded (Facebook, Instagram, Flipbook, Tweetlanes, Google+, just to name a few) all work well.
The DNA uses the latest processor, the Snapdragon S4 Pro, which is a quad-core processor clocked at 1.5GHz per core. All that high-tech talk basically means the DROID DNA is a power house and one of the fastest devices on the market. Because the DNA is running Android 4.1 Jelly Bean—which features Project Butter—it’s already a smooth device, but the S4 Pro powers the DNA to point where it runs smooth as glass. With the exception of the NFL Fantasy Football app, which is terribly coded, there wasn’t a single app that I used on the DNA that felt slow. Perhaps one of the best examples of this, was Madfinger Games’ ShadowGun: Deadzone. This graphically intense shooter, looked gorgeous on the DNA’s display and played just as great. Because of the large display of the DNA, my thumbs took up less space and made playing the game almost seem a little unfair to those I killed, and I killed a lot.
On area where there has been some confusion and conflicting reports is the DNA’s battery life. It features a 2020mAh battery, which many critics thought would unfit to power such a monster smartphone. I didn’t run any battery drain tests, like leaving my phone on while running video until it died, because quite frankly, no body uses a phone like that. Instead, I decided to use my DNA, like I use every smartphone… for a week, not just 48 hours. During my review period, where I used the DNA heavily, updating Twitter, taking pictures, uploading to Facebook, sending text messages, web surfing and more. I never ran out of battery, but I did get down to 14%, however on that day I did use my device from 8 am to 1 am (17 hours), before I finally plugged it in prior to going to sleep. The fact is, not many people need a device to work for several days at a time, we do sleep, so as long as it makes it a full day under heavy usage, that’s all I ask and in the case of the DNA, it passed the test.
Updated (11/30/12): Some of you have asked me to prove my DNA’s impressive battery life, so I decided to post the image directly below this update. This is a screen grab from a battery widget that gives accurate reports of a device’s battery performance. As you can see (where I circled in red) my device after a weeks use, averages about 22 hours of battery life, per charge. This is with normal to heavy usage (running this site forces me to be on my phone a lot), again, I didn’t perform any stupid battery drain test, just everyday usage. As I said before, I don’t think most consumers would have a problem with the DROID DNA’s battery life.
The other criticism of the DNA that has some hardcore Android users upset, is the lack of expandable storage. The DNA comes with 16GB of on-board storage, 11GB of which is free to users. Again, for me, this hasn’t been an issue. I loaded all of my must have apps, Instagram, Facebook, Bank of America, Kindle Reader, Tweetlanes, Slices, Flipboard, Netflix, Spotify, and several games, some of which are big and I still have 8.5GB of free space. I could still load an HD movie and 2GB of music on the DNA if I wished, but I don’t put music on my phone, I stream it from either Google Music or Spotify. As for movies, I use NetFlix or HBO Go. So while the “hardcore” users may be upset, I think the majority of causal consumers out there will be just fine with 16GB. For the haters who believe that HTC’s decision not to include expandable storage or a removable battery, will be their death, think again. There’s another device out there that doesn’t offer either of those things and is the single best selling device in smartphone history, it’s called an iPhone.
The camera on the DNA is the same 8-megapixel sensor that’s found in the One X, which we were really impressed with when we review it. The DNA’s processor also helps out here too, as there is almost no shatter lag whatsoever and because of HTC’s ImageChip, taking video and stills at the same time is quick and painless. There is no jitter in the video when snagging a still image, which can affect other devices with a slower processor. On the front, HTC has included a 2.1-megapixel camera that has an 88-degree wide angle lens, the same camera found on the new HTC Windows Phone 8X. This wide angle lens allows users to video chat and feature more people in the shot.
The DROID DNA is a phone too, believe it or not, a fact that some reviewers seem to gloss over. As a phone, the DNA is good, it’s not out of this world, but it does the job. It has a loud ear speaker, that’s actual so loud that you can put your ear to the middle of the phone and still hear it as if it were over the ear piece. This isn’t really a complaint, but something I felt I needed to note. Because the DNA is on Verizon, I had amazing reception everywhere I went and as usual with Verizon’s 4G LTE network, extremely fast data speeds.
Perhaps the only thing that I really disliked about the DROID DNA, would be Sense 4+, HTC’s overlay on top of Android 4.1. While Sense has definitely been toned back since my days of using the EVO 4G, there are things that I can’t understand why HTC feels the need to change. Stock Android 4.1, is an amazing experience and I personally believe that if HTC were to release one of their devices with a stock build, it would sell better than Samsung’s phones. But alas, I doubt we’ll see that anytime soon. Thankfully, there are home launcher replacements like Apex Launcher, which will allow users to basically customize their device and mimic the look and feel of stock Android, see mine below.
The DROID DNA is without a doubt a beast, it’s not only the best Android phone on Verizon, it’s the best Android device currently on the market. It’s fast, smooth and has the industry’s best display. With Android devices, you need to understand that if you are constantly waiting for the best phone, you’re going to be waiting forever. There’s aways a better device just down the road—sometimes the next month—but the DNA feels like a device that may fair better than most. Like the EVO 4G, which lasted as one of the most powerful Android device for almost a year, the DROID DNA has a display that no other company has, it features the fastest quad-core processor on the market and the latest version of Android, that’s not on a Nexus device. It’s safe to assume that while other companies like LG and Samsung catch up with their own devices with a 1080p display and most likely the same processor, the DNA will still compete on equal footing, despite being a few months old.
Since I’ve used my DNA, I haven’t gone back to my iPhone and to be honest, I’m not sure when I will. I can’t stop staring at this display and I love the speed, feel and look of the design. It’s the first Android phone that I’ve owned that’s taken me away from my iPhone for more than 5 days without me wanting to swap my SIM card back to my iPhone. Its a phenomenal device, one that any Android lover would thoroughly enjoy, it’s big without feeling big and with Android 4.1, it’s also one of only a handful of current devices featuring an almost up-to-date version of Google’s latest Android build.
If you’re already on Verizon, getting a DROID DNA (especially over the Note II) is an absolute no brainer. If you’re wondering if you should jump to Verizon for the DNA from another carrier, if you want a powerhouse device, with the industry’s first 1080p display, amazing sound and uses the nation’s truly largest 4G LTE network, then I would say yes, it’s absolutely worth it.