Wednesday, 21 November 2012

HTC Droid DNA First Impressions and Review

At last week's launch event in New York City, HTC and Verizon said they had created the ultimate "droid". So does the HTC DNA live up to that bold claim? Previously known as the HTC Butterfly J which was exclusive to Japan, it received critical acclaim for its specifications but as the rest of the world was not able to get their hands on this device, it was hard to tell if it was a game changer or not. The Droid DNA is basically the exact same device as the Butterfly J but with a different name. This device might not have any real nucleotides (that I know of), but that doesn’t make it any less of a superphone.

Product Specifications

·        1.5 GHz Quad-Core Snapdragon S4 with 2GB RAM
·        Adreno 320 GPU
·        8MP rear camera with 1080p HD video recording; 2.1MP front camera with an 88 degree viewing angle
·        5-inch Super LCD 3, 1920 x  1080p full HD, Gorilla Glass 2
·        Weight: 140g
·        Dimensions: 140 x 70.5 x 9.73mm
·        16GB Internal Storage


Critics have been calling this phone’s design as “Muscle car like” and “Ferrari inspired” due to its gorgeous red highlighting on the sides, the earpiece grille along with the power button and the three capacitive buttons below the screen. The black matte polycarbonate back has tapered edges which make this rather thin device feel even thinner than its footprint and compliment the phone’s beauty. Though the matte black finish combined with the red accents looks sleek and stylish but this theme has been used countless times and we’ve grown accustomed to it. Additionally, the matte polycarbonate back, though stylish in its regard, is very susceptible to attracting dust, smudges and fingerprints.

No doubt the phone's design looks sleek
This is an expertly crafted device with thought given into every aspect which makes me wonder why HTC decided to put the power/lock button on the top-middle of this 5.5-inch tall device which is tough to feel as it is almost in line with the phone’s body. Though it’s not a deal breaker for most people but this might get annoying over time as the phone has to be shifted in the palm to access the power button by making a ridiculous claw shape out of your hand. HTC’s designers should realise by now that the power button belongs on the side of a phone that is 4.3-inches or bigger. Motorola, Samsung and LG have figured it out, it’s about time HTC got on board.

My complaints with the DNA’s design don’t end with the power button. In a device that screams luxury, it is beyond me why HTC thought adding a cheap-feeling plastic flap to cover the micro-USB port was a good idea. This flimsy little flap has the power to frustrate even the best of HTC fans considering this beast of a device will need to be charged at least once a day for which you will have to fight your way through this fiddly strap to reach the micro-USB port. This idea has never worked for a phone (Palm Pre and Nokia N79, for instance) yet still HTC deliberately decided to jump into that pit. Fortunately, there is an expensive workaround to this annoyance which will be discussed in the hardware section.

The Droid DNA also opts for 3 capacitive buttons (back, home and multi-tasking) instead of using the stock android onscreen nav buttons. That is not much of a disadvantage as it is a preference. 

The annoyingly situated power button

 Under the Hood (Hardware)

This is the part where the device really shines and the star of the show is none other than the jaw-dropping 5-inch 1080p HD screen that boasts a whopping 440ppi (pixel-per-inch) density. It is truly one of a kind for this Super LCD 3 contains a staggering number of 2 billion pixels, which is approximately 1 billion more than the Samsung Galaxy S3’s and LG Optimus G’s 983040 pixels. The difference between the screens of these three smartphones is not stark and is hard to spot with the naked eye, but the difference is a bit clearer when text is zoomed-in to insane levels. Moreover, the screen is unambiguously brighter than the LG Optimus G’s 720p display.

This additional number of pixels is a double-edged sword in itself as the GPU and CPU have to work twice as hard to render double the amount of pixels as compared to the LG Optimus G, for both these devices have the exact same 1.5GHz quad-core S4 CPU and Adreno 320 GPU. The app load times on both these smartphones are almost identical with HTC’s Droid DNA coming out on top in some cases, but the Droid DNA suffers from occasional lag while operating the UI.

The stunning 1080p screen in full action

In an interesting twist, the Droid DNA has two notification lights, one at the top-right of the earpiece grille and another on the back of the device, to the left of the camera lens. You will find this to be a useful addition if you tend to put your phone facing down a lot. The top of the DNA is where the micro-SIM tray resides which can be accessed by a small pin, provided with the phone.

The phone’s rear 8MP camera provides good quality pictures in well-lit environments but the colour and sharpness of the images fade away in low light conditions. It is capable of shooting 1080p videos and taking pictures at the same time thanks to its ImageSense chip. The 2.1MP front facing camera is able to record videos at 720p and has an exceptionally wide 88 degree field of view, so that you don’t dislocate your shoulder while trying to fit yourself in the picture. Though the image quality is not as great as the Nokia Lumia 920 or the iPhone 5 under low light conditions, it should be able to satisfy most users.

The DNA supports wireless charging out of the box which makes it worth investing in a wireless charging pad (for instance the Nokia Fatboy pillow or the Energizer pad) so you can avoid accessing the annoying plastic flap every day. While on the subject of battery, the DNA features a 2020mAh battery that almost provides enough juice to last a full day with minimum to moderate use, but it gets to dangerously low levels on moderate to high use. It might be clever to invest in a portable charger, for the battery is not removable and simply swapping the battery with a charged one is not an option.

The Droid DNA also takes advantage of NFC which is good news for people who like sharing content by simply touching the back of the phones. This feature will probably get more popular in the near future as more stores start accepting payments via NFC and as NFC tags get cheaper and readily available. An MHL adaptor can be used to connect the phone to an HDTV but sadly, USB OTG (On-the-go) is not officially supported.

Playing HD games on this phone will be quite the experience

The idea of avoiding a microSD slot is nothing new for HTC (the HTC One X+ is guilty of the same thing) and they yet again repeated the same with the DNA. Considering the fact that this phone boasts a 1080p screen and has 16GB of internal storage (only 11GB of which is available), users won’t be able to store their collection of HD videos to watch on this incredible screen or even install a collection of HD android games, for they take up a lot of space as well, and not to mention most of your music library might not be able to fit either. I found the idea of shunning the microSD slot quite confusing, since the Butterfly J (the Droid DNA’s Japanese counterpart) does allow expandable storage.


The Droid DNA sports android 4.1 jelly bean out of the box with the latest version of HTC’s Sense 4+ User Interface. Sense 4+ is very similar to Sense 4, and should look familiar to anyone who has used any HTC phone released this year. The most significant change however, is the new gallery which now has the option to let you view pictures by listing them as different events. Whether you like the Sense UI or not is completely up to your personal preference, but for the most part, Sense 4+ is very resource heavy and will usually be the biggest factor in draining the phone’s battery. Additionally, the UI suffers from occasional lag and graphical hiccups and might end up feeling a bit cumbersome to use for some users. Moreover, the Droid DNA is filled with pre-loaded unnecessary apps which cannot be removed.

One thing to note about the software is that the DNA is entirely phone-based. This means that it has no added tablet-like functionality (like the Galaxy Note 2) and is by no means a replacement to a tablet, or even a phablet (phone-tablet hybrid). Therefore, the DNA falls into the smartphone category despite its larger display.


The DNA’s Full HD screen is probably the best display your eyes have feasted upon so far, but the killer Super LCD 3 alone might not be the motivation required to convince potential customers to buy this phone. This is due to that fact that switching from a 720p display to a 1080p screen does not feel like as huge a change as jumping from qHD to 720p. In any case, the DNA’s display is to die for, the svelte design of the phone minimizes its footprint, and it features one of the fastest processors in smartphones to date. But once the initial impressions are surpassed, the cracks really begin to show. Unfortunately, a great display alone cannot make up for this phone’s problems. 

The dedicated 2.5V built-in amplifier doesn't do much apart from boosting the overall volume and bass a bit and is not under any circumstance equal to or even close to a real portable amplifier. 

Ultimately, the phone might have ended up being a bit underwhelming, but after seeing the potential of the DNA, the future of smartphones has got me really excited. We can only hope HTC addresses these issues before launching the UK version of the DNA, promptly named HTC DLX or Deluxe.

Final Summation! 

The Good

-         Screen is best in class, at any angle, in any light
-         A beautiful, thin and light design
-         Features android 4.1 jelly bean out of the box
-         The wide angle front camera is a welcome addition
-         One of the fastest processors available in any smartphone

The Bad

-         Less than average battery life
-         Limited internal storage; no option for external storage
-         Occasional performance hiccups
-         Sense 4+ is very resource heavy and has lag issues
-         Some annoying design features

So does Verizon’s new flagship device, the HTC Droid DNA, deserve the money out of a student’s wallet? That depends. If you want to have the best display the smartphone universe has to offer and enough money to pay 200$ for the phone along with a 2 year contract, then it’s a straight forward decision. But if you’re an android power user looking for an upgrade, I’d suggest you double check your options before hitting the Checkout button. 

After all the amazing smartphones that came out this year, which one will you be buying or recommending to your friends/family this Christmas? Comment below, let me know.

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