For the first time since switching to Android in 2010, I have stepped outside the Samsung world to get my first model with the Droid moniker: HTC's Droid DNA. After spending about a week with it, I am ready to give my first hands-on impressions.
Holding the Droid DNA in my hand is a rather new and unique experience for me. First of all, this is the first 5-inch phone I've ever held, and though the phone is massive, its thinness allows me to hold it in one hand while my thumb can reach across the screen/keyboard when needed. After being on the iPhone 3G (2008-2010), the Samsung Captivate, the Fascinate, the Galaxy Nexus and the Galaxy S3, the matte back is much less slippery to hold. Despite its size, however, the phone feels rather thin and light in my hands.
If you have don't have large hands, prepare to use both of them when using the phone to do anything other than holding it up to your ear. Speaking of which, the slender design of the DNA makes holding it up to the ear feel more natural, as opposed to holding the wider Galaxy Note/Note 2.
I found the flap on the MicroUSB port rather annoying, as I'm sure many of you who have already gotten a DNA do, but I liked the unobtrusive LED notification, which shows on both the front and the back of the device. The placement of the power button at the top of the device will take some getting used to, as will the placement of the volume rocker on the right-hand side. Again, those with smaller hands will need both of them to turn the screen off and on. I look forward to a developer mapping a long-press on one of the capacitive buttons to turn the screen off (wink wink nudge nudge ).
Speaking of the capacitive buttons, I was unable to find a way to keep them lit full-time, as their brightness seems to adjust (rather inconsistently) to the ambient brightness. Hopefully one of our elite developers could provide a setting for that as well . Media and in-call volume was about on par with my Galaxy Nexus, although activating Beats Audio actually made music harder for me to hear (obviously, I keep Beats deactivated).
Performance and Display
The phone's processor is in a class of its own - the quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro outperforms even the Exynos 4412 quad-core on the Galaxy Note 2 in most benchmarks (I will delve more deeply into these in a later article), and the display is stunning. Navigating throughout the phone, opening and closing apps, changing settings, etc. is much more fluid in the DNA than it is in my Galaxy Nexus. I have yet to experience any lag that isn't the result of a poorly-coded app.
While bumps in RAM (2 GB on the DNA), CPU cores and clock speed aren't always obvious to the end user, one area in which I noticed a huge improvement over the Galaxy Nexus is the time it takes to download and install/update an app from the Play Store. While on the Galaxy Nexus and the Nexus 7, the process of downloading and installing automatic app updates bogs the rest of the device down. For example, if I'm playing Angry Birds on my Galaxy Nexus and it gets choppy or laggy all of the sudden, chances are that an automatic app update is going on in the background. On the DNA, there's no noticeable impact on performance while apps are being updated, and the entire process takes about 1/10 of the time it takes on the Galaxy Nexus.
While the 1080p resolution is the most advertised feature of the display, I should also point out that the Super LCD3 display is brighter and easier to read under direct sunlight than the Super AMOLED display on the Galaxy Nexus. The DNA's display isn't as color-saturated as that on the Galaxy Nexus, but it is still much more vibrant than the display on the Nexus 7. Likewise, blacks aren't quite as pure on the DNA as they are on the Galaxy Nexus (as expected), but the difference didn't seem all that pronounced to me.
Video playback won't betray the difference between 720p and 1080p resolution on a 5-inch screen, but still graphics and text are clearer, meaning that you can read many pages in the browser at full desktop mode without having to zoom in. Also, maps are very clear and easy to read in Full HD resolution. HTC has definitely tailored its wallpaper collection to showcase the DNA's 1920x1080 pixel display, so I have yet to do my usual browsing through my Wallbase app to find an ideal background.
Battery life was exceptional, despite the quad-core processor pushing 2,073,600 pixels. I put the phone through its paces - recording 1080p video, playing Netflix, tweeting, posting in the forums, browsing the web, checking on my fantasy football team, and downloading apps from the Play Store. Still, the battery lasted over 6 hours of heavy use. Although I didn't test it on moderate use, as in an average workday, most Android blogs claim it lasts through a full workday (a good thing, since the battery is non-removable).
Stay tuned for the next part of this hands-on series which will focus on the camera/camcorder. For those of you who don't have a Droid DNA but would still like to see its rather unique wallpaper on your phone, I have made a 1280x720 pixel version below for your enjoyment, as a show of appreciation for your reading this review.