HTC DROID DNA For Verizon Review: The DROID Line Makes A Comeback

Think back to a more simple time, one where the iPhone was the dominant smartphone. Android was barely a blip on the radar, T-Mobile and Sprint, the two smallest carriers, were the only ones to offer handsets running the green little robot. Then, in the fall of 2009, Verizon and Motorola teamed up to jump start what would later become the most popular mobile operating system in the world.

They released the Motorola DROID, the first phone in a now widely popular line. Just a few short months later Google released the Nexus One, a phone that set the bar for superphones. And, just a few more short months after that, HTC released the DROID Incredible, a phone that brought American carriers into the modern age of Android smartphones.

Now, two years later, HTC seems to have done it again. They have set that bar – at least on paper – for what a high-end Android phone should be. And, once again, they decided that Verizon was the carrier to partner with.

I’ve spent the last two weeks with HTC’s new DROID DNA, a phone that brings a new level of beast to Verizon. Featuring a “new” screen size, along with the best specs money can by, we’ll see if the latest DROID can live up to the series’ expectations.

Hardware

Upon first hearing of the device, I was expecting it to be more the size of the Galaxy Note II, 5-inch screen and all. Remember the Dell Streak? That monster of a phone had the same size screen as the DROID DNA. When I finally picked up the device, it was an entirely different case; it’s closer in size to the Galaxy S III than a phablet like the Note II. The dimensions come in at 141×70.5×9.73mm. For me, that’s great, as I find the Note II to be just a little too big for my taste.

The phone is made of a soft touch plastic, feeling very solid in the hand. It’s not flimsy at all, and feels like it could take a drop or two. Verizon decided to even make the phone look like the true successor to the DROID Incredible, featuring a color scheme of black with red accents. Grills on the sides of the phone feature the red accent, along with the earpiece, lock button, and a ring around the camera.

As with most Android phones we see, the front is dominated with a large display, with small bezels on the edges and a 2MP camera in the upper left corner. To the right of that is a Verizon logo, and the bottom features Back, Home and Multitask capacitive buttons. The right side has a volume rocker, while the left sports nothing. A 3.5mm headphone jack can be found on the top, along with the power/lock button and Micro SIM card slot. The back holds the camera, along with another 4G LTE logo and Beats Audio branding. The Micro USB port, with a little cover, can be found on the bottom. Sadly, the back is non-removable.

Overall the hardware is great, but I have one major beef with it. HTC could not have picked a worse spot for the lock button, as it’s smack-dab in the middle on the top side of the device. It’s awkward to reach, and I just don’t understand why HTC wouldn’t put it on the right side like every other manufacturer. As phones get bigger, it gets tougher and tougher to reach a lock button on the top. This isn’t 2010 anymore HTC, time to move that button to the side. Also, there isn’t a MicroSD card slot, so you’re stuck with the phone’s 16GB of built-in storage.

Screen

One of the biggest selling points of the DROID DNA is the screen it uses, a 5-inch 1080p display. That’s right, a full 1080p HD, just like you’re TV. As I mentioned earlier, the last (and only) time we saw a 5-inch phone was the Dell Streak, and at the time that was considered more of a tablet than anything. The DROID DNA is an entirely different case, with most of the screen accessible but my large mitts with a single hand. It’s great design on HTC’s part, and compliments the sheer quality of the display.

I’ll be frank: I’ve never used a display this good. It’s better than the Galaxy S III, the Note II, iPhone 5 and any other phone that pops into my mind. It tops HTC’s One X, adding a much higher pixel density at 440ppi. While using the display it almost feels like everything on the screen is real, with incredibly smooth travel. The panel is as accurate as it gets in terms of performance, and color reproduction cannot be matched. This screen is the best one I’ve ever seen – on any device – and is reason enough to own the phone.

Software

I’m not going to go very in-depth about the software on the DNA, as it’s just about the same as the One X and EVO 4G LTE. The only major difference is that the phone is running Sense 4+, a slightly updated version of Sense that runs atop Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. Everything worked well for me, and I can say that I’m a definite fan of the newer versions of Sense.

As always, there’s some Verizon bloatware to weigh the phone down a bit. It’s an unnecessary evil, but we’ve come to live with it on Android phones. Included on the phone are apps like VZ Navigator, Verizon Tones, a specialized Voice Mail app, My Verizon Mobile, and my personal favorite, NFL Mobile. For football fans, or sports fans in general, there’s not a single app available that matches the quality and sheer amount of content NFL Mobile offers.

If I had any one issue with the software, it would be the keyboard. Back in the early days of Android, HTC’s Sense keyboard was considered the best available. Now it feels a bit clunky, though I do like the ability to swipe words (yes, just like Swype). Sadly, it’s the only keyboard installed, and I found myself downloading the stock Jelly Bean keyboard within a few hours.

Performance

In terms of specs, it doesn’t get better than the DROID DNA. Featuring a 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 Pro quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM, there’s really no other phone on the market that contests this. Sure, a debate could be made for the Note II and its Exynos, but I don’t classify it as a phone.

I digress.

There was never a single instance in my time with the DNA that it stuttered, slowed down, or even had a hiccup; everything was as smooth as butter. I’m more than certain this is due to the high-end specs paired with Jelly Bean and its Project Butter-y goodness, and I have absolutely no complaints. Every game I threw at it ran as planned, with no problems at all.

As always, Verizon’s service was top notch, and I never received data speeds below 14Mbps down and 8Mbps up. Seriously, LTE is the bomb. I’ve found that going back to any non-LTE phone is just plain depressing; it really makes a difference in the overall performance of the device. For those who still like to make good ol’ fashioned voice calls, I’m happy to report that sound quality was good and friends on the other end could concede to good voice quality.

Battery Life

In a world where Android phones are boasting 3,000mAh + batteries, where does the DROID DNA stand with its 2020mAh battery? Well, most reviewers have downgraded it for being “small,” something that I think is absolutely outrageous. A year ago this size battery would be considered overkill. The fact that HTC was confident enough in their phone to put in a smaller battery really speaks, and they have every right to that confidence. I would have thought we’d be moving to smaller batteries as time went on, with more optimized software and more power efficient components. Turns out I was wrong, as many Android phones still can’t make it through the day with even a 2,000mAh battery.

That’s not the case with the DROID DNA. I was able to make it through the full day, from 6:40AM to about 8:30PM with moderate usage. This encompassed about 50 texts, a few emails, some web browsing, a phone call, all the while pulling in constant notifications from GroupMe, an app known to kill battery. I was very impressed with the battery, and am very excited with the direction HTC is going with battery efficiency.

Camera

The camera on the DROID DNA is once again a grand slam, with photos looking great. HTC’s ImageSense is in there to accompany the device’s 8MP camera, and they both decided to show up when it came to photos. Even in low lighting situations pictures showed great color reproduction. The camera is on par with the One X, a camera that is no slouch in any respect.

Wrap Up

After spending a solid two weeks with the DROID DNA, I can say that it is the best Android handset I have ever used. Everything is there, from stellar performance to the best display available. Pair that with Verizon’s expansive LTE network, and you’ve got not only a winner, but a champion on your hands.

The DROID DNA is available now from Verizon for $199.99 with two-year contract, which is a great price for such a high-quality phone. If I had to recommend any Android device to buy right now, it would no doubt be the HTC DROID DNA.

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