Droid DNA by HTC Review

Intro

HTC has tried desperately to make a difference in the market like they once did. Companies like Samsung have taken the crown that HTC once proudly wore as one of the top manufacturers in mobile and the King of Android. HTC has pumped out device after device, many with little differences over the others with little success. Many consumers had become turned off by the fact they would purchase a device from HTC and within weeks would become outdated by a slightly updated variant with little support for the device they newly purchased. Then you have Sense UI. What was once considered a great addition to HTC devices in a time where Android was infant, became a burden. Android had grown much over the years and became a beautifully functional operating system with the launch of Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). Sense UI added tons of bloat and masked many great things about the new Android. As HTC launched the One Series, they promised fewer devices and to offer better experiences. They haven’t really fulfilled the promise the way most had wanted them to. They have released fewer devices -- but there are still many SKUs out there that make little sense -- and they have toned down Sense to an extent. They’ve rid some of the performance and battery killers such as Friend Stream, Stocks, HTC Hub, and much more. Regardless, at the end of the day you will still be dealing with Sense. Even though their profits are dropping each quarter and competition is innovating stronger in comparison, HTC has not given in just yet. In partnership with Verizon, HTC released one of the first full HD 1080p smartphones on the market today -- the DROID DNA. Beyond the stunning display, the device includes a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB internal memory, 4G LTE, a non-removable 2020mAh battery, and built-in wireless charging. This device is pretty much what most devices in the first half of 2013 will strive to be. But will HTC’s head-start at creating a powerhouse like the DNA in late 2012 in time or the holidays help make them relevant again to consumers and power-users alike? Or will the device get lost in the crowd as Samsung continues to dominate the market?



Software

The DROID DNA by HTC comes fresh out of the box running one of the later versions of Google’s Android operating system; Android 4.1.1 Jelly Bean, with HTC’s software overlay Sense 4+. Most of the goodies Google included in this update are included such as Google Now, Jelly Bean’s expandable notifications, and Project Butter. Sadly most of Google’s efforts in making Android look beautiful are covered up by HTC’s Sense UI. Of course as I mentioned before, it is a bit toned down than previous versions. There aren’t as many applications or widgets taking up most of the memory as before, but there are still plenty there.

I will say though, Sense isn’t exactly an ugly and negative experience. A lot of the aesthetics are actually very nice and consistent. It also offers some nice customization and functionality. The lock screen is a good example, where you can add up to four application shortcuts that you can launch directly from the lock screen. You also have options to display the weather, your social feed, your stocks, or even your notifications. It’s actually quite useful and really well designed. I also love the smart dialer in the phone app where you can begin to type numbers and it’ll give predictions on who you’re calling by matching the numbers or letters you’re dialing on the dial pad. It’s extremely convenient and confuses me why others such as Google haven’t implemented this feature yet. Another place where Sense shines is in the camera application. It’s a pretty minimal interface, but offers tons of options to get the picture you like. I also love that when shooting a video you can take a still photo. You can even take a snapshot of a movie playing on your device.

What I’m not a fan of in Sense is the home screen. The icons look small and too spaced out. The launcher also doesn’t feel as smooth to operate. There is the occasional stutter in the device, especially in the home screen. It’s not very common, but you shouldn’t be seeing that with a device running a S4 Pro processor with two-gigs of RAM. While this may be purely opinionated, I prefer the interface of stock Android. It’s clean and futuristic, and prefers the choices of colors used in. HTC does away with most of the design language with their tweaks. So when you download apps that are following the Android design guidelines, it seems somewhat out of place with HTC’s interface.

It’spretty known how deep Sense goes into the framework, so thanks to that updates will surely see delays. HTC is notorious for late delays and short support life. Same goes for Verizon. So don’t get your hopes up on getting quick and frequent updates. Right now the version it’s running now gives majority of Google’s current killer features and apps shouldn’t have any compatibility issues as far as software goes. Only real thing that user might want from newer updates is Quick Settings and other minor improvements Google would continue to add. Then again, HTC might conceal most of the improvements anyway.


Hardware

Right off the bat you know you’re holding a high end device. The look and feel is very premium. The body is not quite unibody like the One Series, but shares many of the same aesthetics and materials. The back is a rubberized matte black finish made of polycarbonate plastic that wraps around the sides where it met with red meshed strips along the device. The front holds a 5" 1080p HD display covered by Gorilla Glass 2. You have Verizon branding, a front facing camera, some sensors, and a speaker grill on the front. Bottom of the device illuminates with HTC’s off-screen capacitive keys: Back, Home, Multi-tasking with minimal bezel surrounding the device to make the large device a little more bearable to handle. The glass wraps around the sides of the device where it feels like there’s no end to the glass. It’s very smooth and helps create an enjoyable experience. Going back to the red mesh strips along the DNA, you’ll notice more places where the red accent lives. The front speaker has a red strip in the bottom of the grill. The power/sleep button that lives on the top of the device is also a red metallic, as well as the volume rocker on the right. Both are sunk into the devices to give as seamless feel and blend in. At times the buttons can be hard to find and press. The headphone jack and SIM card tray live at the top right next to the power button, along with one noise canceling mic. On the bottom you have a flap which you open to reveal a micro-usb port for syncing and charging. I understand why HTC went with that, and it looks nice, but it’s a pain to take off and put on. I know it’s going to end up breaking off in the coming weeks.

While the device is definitely a beauty, much of the talk is about the specifications. It’s one of the most high-end devices you can get on the market. The display is a gorgeous five-inch SLCD3 display rocking a resolution of 1920 x 1080, giving it a pixel density of 441. Many say that the extra pixels aren’t necessary, but trust me when I say it makes a different. It’s truly a stunning display. The colors are very accurate and viewing angles are amazing. The display is extremely bright, even at its lowest brightness. This is obviously the display to beat. Of course, you need some major horsepower to power a display of that magnitude, right? Well the Droid DNA does not disappoint in giving a pretty satisfying spec sheet. What’s powering the display is a quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro processor with 2GB of RAM and it really helps the device scream. Although it didn’t feel like a huge difference from the Galaxy S3 I previously used with 2GB of RAM along with a dual core S4 processor. Nonetheless, the hardware does not disappoint.

What’s really disappointing is the fact it only ships with 16GB of internal storage with only 11GB actually usable. There’s no way to expand on that either. While I personally don’t care for expandable memory, I would have liked it if there was a 32GB option. I don’t have much room for music and media. Luckily though, I still have my unlimited data and fast data speeds or Wi-Fi everywhere I go so I can just stream. Sadly, this isn’t the case with everyone so it can be a problem and could have an effect on battery life.


Battery Life

Everyone was a little concerned about the battery life on the HTC Droid DNA. HTC is known for putting small batteries in power hungry devices. While at first blush, a 2020mAh battery may seem a tad small for the kind of specifications the device has, it actually performed well. The battery life was pretty on par with my recent Galaxy S3, which I praised for having a reliable battery life for my use. I manage to get a full day’s use of this phone without having to really worry about limiting my use to make sure it lasts. So I was able to unplug my device 8AM all the way till 11PM with moderate use using some Wi-Fi. On a day I’m mostly on LTE, it’d probably last till about 8PM or 9PM. Not sure whether HTC has made some good software tweaks, or if the S4 Pro or SLCD3 screen is much more efficient, but whatever it is, it works. Let me just point out that even though I may get decent battery life, usage with others may vary. Also keep in mind that the battery is non-removable.


Call and Sound Quality

About three years ago I had the original Droid by Motorola, and the sound and call quality of the device was astonishing. The best experience I’ve had with any devices before and after my Droid. The radios and speakers they use were well above par. I mean, what do you expect from the guys that pretty much created the cell phone industry. Let me just remove all doubt and say that the Droid DNA by HTC really delivers in this department. Sound quality was incredible. I can hear people so much better and I’ve even had people asked if I got a new phone because there was such a huge difference. The clarity was amazing on both sides. Data speeds and signal strength are really good. I have yet to have a dropped call or a slow down when browsing the web.

Just like the call quality, the sound really is a pleasant experience. HTC heavily advertises their phones with built-in Beats Audio, and I can see why. The speaker was really loud and crisp. The audio was never distorted even at its loudest volume. It’s an even better experience when headphones plug into the device. I just find reasons to listen to media just because it’s that good.


Camera

Another major selling point HTC hypes in their newer devices is their camera. They claim to have even better sensors with a dedicated Image Sense chip to give the camera the appropriate processing power to take great and instantaneous photos.

The back camera is an eight-megapixel camera capable of shooting 1080p HD video. While I wasn't necessarily blown away by it, it performed quite well. If in theproper lighting, it can take some really good photos. The colors were pretty true to what they really were. While the photos look great on the phone’s display, when blown up on a computer monitor, it doesn't look so great. The pictures seem to come out pretty grainy at times. A little disappointing, but it’s definitely capable of taking good pictures with the right tweaks.

The HD video on the other hand really comes out nicely. It picks up sound very well and details of the video come out looking very crisp. Much like still photos, color reproduction looks very true to what they really are.

The front camera is a two-megapixel camera with a wide-angle lens. Basically you can see more in the surroundings when taking photos, shooting videos or even video chatting. To my surprise, it’s a pretty good camera. It takes photos much better than other smartphones. I can actually take photos and be able to make out the picture. Detail is decent that you wouldn’t feel as bad taking photos with the front camera. It’s not amazing, but it’s still very usable.


Conclusion

HTC really did a great job on the Droid DNA. Its display is jaw dropping and specifications match, if not best, the competition. Despite some flaws with Sense, the small non-removable battery, limited storage, and uncertainty of support, this phone is well worth the upgrade. The pros easily outweigh the cons. This is certainly a striking device for HTC to finish up the year with. Hopefully they can further step up their game and reclaim their position in the market, giving Samsung a run for their money.



Pros:

-Gorgeous Display
- Top of the line hardware specs
- Premium hardware design
- Latest version of Android
- Sense toned down

Cons:

- Limited storage
- Non removable battery
- Battery size
- Still Sense bloated

UPDATE 1:

Seems like there are some quality issues with the hardware of the device. The black borders around the device chip and I am unsure how something like this happens when I take good care of my device. Also, lint gets stuck around the screen. They really should have used the same rubber on top size and wrapped it slightly over the screen. I like the look and feel of their choice, but it carries some quality concerns.