HTC Droid DNA: pros, cons, and in-betweens (hands-on review)

HTC Droid DNA: pros, cons, and in-betweens (hands-on review)

Summary: The HTC Droid DNA has been making waves recently, but is it really as good or bad as various reviewers have made it out to be? Here are my thoughts on an amazing phone that works for me, but may well fall short of the mark for others.

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TOPICS: HTC, Google, Verizon
18

After spending a good, long week with the HTC Droid DNA, I've come to some solid conclusions about this phone that both validate and discredit much of what I've read from others who have reviewed it: everything from battery life, to storage capacity, to screen resolution, to location of buttons, and so on -- I address it all. So, without any further ado, here is my list of notable facets of the phone (see, in bold, the ones you're specifically interested in, or read them all), each accompanied by my thoughts:

[Related gallery: HTC Droid DNA: hands-on gallery]

  • Battery life: This is the big one. All I've read from countless people is that the battery life in this phone is garbage. Well, depending on how you plan to use this phone, the battery will either be garbage, or it will last you 3-4 days, easy. On days where I gamed heavily on my device (a combination of Words with Friends, Scramble, Hanging with Friends, Espgaluda II, and various RPGs), I could count on getting no more than 4 hours of battery life. That's a terribly abysmal revelation for on-the-go gamers who want this phone -- even if you only use your phone like that every once in a while, depending on the situation.

    On days of usage that included Internet-browsing, YouTube video-watching (3-4 videos), music-listening, texting, and talking, the DNA lasted me all day, easy, and may well have lasted me partway into the next day. But to be safe, I would definitely charge my phone at the end of the day. Lastly, there were the extremely light days that involved talking, texting, and listening to music. Of those days, I didn't drain so much as a quarter of my battery! The DNA performs like a champ in these last two scenarios; it's only if you plan to have the screen on for extended periods of time that the battery life will drain quickly, as that seems to be the biggest power-sapper of all (the tremendously high-resolution screen).

    And if you're wondering, these points are worth noting about the battery because you cannot replace it, so it's not like you're going to be able to go out and buy a battery that's double the capacity and say, "TAKE THAT, PHONE!" One cool thing worth noting is that they made this battery capable of being charged wirelessly. My personal recommendation is to pick up a Qi wireless battery charger, which I did. I keep it on my nightstand, which allows me to keep my wall charger at my desk, where I keep my phone hooked up most of the time. If you're a heavy phone user, you will definitely want to make provisions to have charging in place wherever you are -- especially in your car, if you're the traveling type.

  • See itClick here
    to see it
    Charging/data port: The port on the bottom of the phone is the same port HTC has been using on their phones forever now, so that's convenient. There's a door that covers the port and it's very fickle to remove -- especially if you keep your nails short. I haven't quite gotten to the point where I just tear that little door off yet, but I've been thinking about it. I've never had any issues with those ports being exposed previously (like dirt getting in them in whatever), but perhaps it's a different story with it being located directly on the bottom of the phone, instead of on the side. I'm ultimately being nitpicky with this point, though; it's not really that big of a deal. Just a minor inconvenience.
  • Storage: Right off the bat, I think companies like HTC and Verizon should be held accountable for advertising this phone as having 16GB of internal memory. Why? Because you only end up with 11GB to use, thanks to how much space is being used by the phone's OS and whatever else Verizon has thrown on it. 5GB may not seem like a whole lot, but for an avid smartphone user today, it's a LOT to take away from 16GB. And because they've provided no external storage capabilities with this phone, 11GB is what you get to work with, forever.

    Having said that, I would wager that 11GB is enough for the average phone user. I'm saying that completely blindly, though. As for me, I can make it work. ~7GB is how much space gets used for my music, and the rest will be for games, pictures, videos, etc. I'll just have to be diligent about staying on top of offloading pictures, uninstalling games I don't play, etc. That's not a terrible task for me, though, because I don't really install that much on my phone these days. Your mileage may vary.

  • See itClick here
    to see it
    Screen resolution:  The screen resolution is undoubtedly the highlight of this phone. It is beautiful, indeed, and I feel this should be a standard for all phone screens from here forward; however, there's a certain "wow" effect that I missed out on, primarily due to my Retina-display-equipped iPad. I've gotten so used to seeing text and graphics on a Retina display that the DNA's screen just seemed like, "oh, it's cool to have this on a phone now." Yes, the DNA's resolution is far greater than Apple's iPhone Retina display, but it seems as though there's a definite threshold of what the human eye is capable of noticing -- at least, for my eyes.

    Having said that, if you've never seen a Retina display and you're not already using one of the more recent smartphones with high-resolution displays, then the DNA's display will most likely be nothing short of breathtaking to you. Text is ultra-clear on the brightly-lit screen and the 5" display is a pleasure to do just about everything on. (I say "just about everything" because there are some games/apps that don't use the screen real estate properly, but that's no fault of the phone's.)

  • Other screen features: Perhaps my two of my favorite features of the screen is how clear it looks in broad daylight, and how it looks while wearing polarized glasses. I've seen people in the past make note of how cell phone screens look fair enough in sunlight, but this is the first screen I've ever personally seen that was discernibly visible in outdoor conditions: no having to bend over like a gymnast to cast a shadow over the screen so you can see it, etc. Also, there's no need to lift up those polarized glasses anymore, because the screen will be equally as visible through them, albeit with an ever-so-slightly blur-inducing iridescent effect. I know these aren't necessarily "features," but they were pleasant surprises to me.
  • See itClick here
    to see it
    Cameras (front and rear): Both cameras on this phone are HD-capable, but if you really want to get great pictures out of them, you're going to have to do some tweaking. Well-lit, indoor environments seem to be the most optimal for the cameras, but they really favor glare and washed-out colors. Again, you can tweak the cameras to make for better photos, but just be aware that you may find yourself taking more of the same photo in attempts to get it "just right" than simply once-and-done snapping.

    The front camera (2.1 MP) is of lower quality than the rear camera (8 MP), but it's primarily meant to be used by video messaging apps, like Skype. In that case, and for quick face shots, the front-facing camera is great. Back to the rear-facing camera, I've found that auto-focus has major issues. I'll have to tap my object of focus on the screen 4-5 times before it finally focuses in on it properly, and it's not as if there's some other greatly-contrasting object in the frame for it to be drawn to. Overall, I'm pretty dissatisfied with the out-of-the-box camera functionality on this phone, despite the hardware being plenty capable, per its technical specs.

  • Speakers (ear and rear): I have one extremely notable thing to say about the speaker that you hold up to your ear: connected calls don't sound like they're connected when the person on the other end is silent. I'm not sure if there's a way to tweak this or not, but connected calls seem to block silence and ambient noise... and it drives me absolutely crazy! I keep feeling like I have to ask if the other party is still on the line. It's annoying much in the same way that getting stuck behind a driver who keeps tapping on their brakes is (if you've never experienced this, then consider yourself lucky). Also, there seems to be a preferred spot to hold the phone up to your ear. If you don't have it just right, you can tell you're not getting maximum aural pleasure.

    As for the rear speaker, it's about as you'd expect a cell phone speaker to be: tinny-sounding. When I bought this phone, I was under the impression that Beats Audio was going to be used to enhance the bass on this speaker as well, but that's not the case, as I'll delve into in a later focus on Beats Audio. So, overall, there's nothing remarkable or terrible to note about the rear speaker: it's a cell phone speaker, ladies and gentlemen!

  • See itClick here
    to see it
    Volume and power buttons: The first thing I did when I unboxed this phone was check the volume and power buttons. There were resounding opinions that the buttons were too flush with the body, hence a bit of a pain to use. Well, I'm happy to report that I haven't found this to be an issue. The volume button on the side juts out just far enough that you can feel it with your finger. This sounds like it's more involved than it actually is, but to change the volume, all you have to do is slide your thumb from around the proximity of the top or bottom of that button, accordingly, and you'll feel the jutting-out of the up/down such that you can press it. It's really a complete non-issue to me, but this simply a matter of opinion.

    As for the power button, the top of the phone angles ever-so-slightly down, towards the front. I'm not sure if it's purely aesthetic or if it plays a role in the ease of pressing the power button, but I find the latter to be the case for me, intentional or not. It looks like it's not going to be easy to find, feel, or press, but looks are deceiving in this case. I find no issue with pressing the power button, whatsoever.

  • See itClick here
    to see it
    Beats Audio: Unfortunately, I'm not sure what to compare Beats Audio to, because my previous cell phone -- an HTC Thunderbolt -- sounded as good through headphones as the Beats-Audio-integrated Droid DNA does. Then again, I use good headphones. As an audiophile, all I can say is that the Droid DNA sounds great with headphones, but may require tweaking on open speakers, as it seems Beats Audio is bass-heavy. Either way, Beats Audio doesn't enable itself until you've attached headphones or speakers to the jack. In other words, don't expect the in-built Beats Audio to make your cell phone speaker sound like anything other than the cell phone speaker it is.
  • Android Jelly Bean likes/dislikes (so far): Coming from Android 2.x on an HTC Thunderbolt, Android 4.2 is near-dreamy -- but not without a couple of hiccups, as I fully expect from the OS these days. For starters, the default music app sorts my music folders in a really weird way. I put music on my phone and renamed the folders accordingly. Unfortunately, none of that renaming seemed to happen on the device, so sorting through my songs is a headache in some cases. I'll work around that, though. Next up, the feature where the phone automatically kicks into speaker mode when you flip it over seems defunct. It has yet to work correctly, so I've disabled it.

    As of now, those are the only two dislikes that really stick out in my mind, per my typical usage of a phone. I'm sure there will be more to come, but for the most part, Jelly Bean has been an absolute joy to use -- especially things like being able to assign apps to various home screens via one screen. I know features like that will be old hat for some of you, but coming from Android 2.x, it's all the more enjoyable. Also, the most annoying problems with Android 2.x that I had have been resolved -- such as the time it takes for an email inbox to refresh and 4G connectivity/responsiveness. The latter may have something to do with the hardware, but either way, Jelly Bean is significantly snappier.

  • Dimensions and weight: This phone is light -- very light. Granted, this opinion of mine is formed through being an HTC Thunderbolt user for almost 2 years with a double-capacity battery installed. It was like carrying a brick in my pocket, but I've never been bugged by weight. The difference is quite notable, though. As for its dimensions, there are the technical specs, and then there's how it feels to hold and use. I'm 5'11" and this phone feels great in my hands. Nothing is arduous for me to reach, press, touch, etc. But I also rarely use a phone with one hand unless I'm talking on it, so if you primarily use a phone with one hand, then you may want to look elsewhere for informed opinions of that specific usage scenario.
  • Wish list: I really, really miss the kickstand from my HTC Thunderbolt. When I first bought the Thunderbolt, I remember thinking the kickstand was just a gimmick. Man, how wrong I was! I found myself using that kickstand every time I set my phone down on a flat surface. Also, the option for external storage would be a much-welcomed re-addition to this phone model (yes, re-addition, because this phone has external storage in its Japanese and international counterparts: the J Butterfly and Deluxe/DLX, respectively). Lastly, the ability to replace the battery would be fantastic. Oh, and did I mention a kickstand?

Conclusion

If I had to give this phone a rating out of 10, based on its feature set (or lack thereof) alone, I'd say it's a 6.5. But that's the Droid DNA on Verizon: the phone that gives you only 11GB of usable storage (even though Verizon falsely advertises 16GB), limited battery options, disappointing out-of-the-box camera performance, seemingly pointless Beats Audio integration, and more nitpicky things, like the finicky port door.

Now, to give it a rating out of 10 based on the way I, personally, use a cell phone, I give it a solid 9. So, as you can see, your enjoyment with this phone will have everything to do with your personal cell phone needs. Most power users are probably going to want to wait it out, unless they can make appropriate provisions for battery life and deal with a measly 11GB of internal storage. But if you're not a gamer or glued to your cell phone screen constantly through the day, this just might be the device you've been waiting for -- especially if you're using a cell phone that's almost 2 years old, like I was.

Any other Droid DNA owners out there? Feel free to share your personal opinions of the device so as to help others who may be looking to make a purchasing decision!

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Topics: HTC, Google, Verizon

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18 comments
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  • Fair and objective review

    I always try to "max" out the storage memory of my mobile devices after learning that lesson the "hard way" when I bought an 8 GB iPod Touch model.

    For example, on my iPhone 5, I purchased the 64 GB model because I anticipated using it for video and photo taking - which eats into that available memory capacity.

    Add your normal compliment of apps, music (even if one uses a cloud based storage medium, it is always wise to have a few albums stored - just in case) and the data that goes along with those apps and, there you go, the bytes just add up. As it is, I now have 33 GB free on my iPhone.

    Even if the HTC Droid DNA model had "best in class" features but lacked sufficient memory storage headroom, the user experience, over time, would be crippling.

    BTW, I have read that HTC sells a "twin sister" model to the DNA for the Asian markets that provides an option for external memory expansion. I don't understand the logic of selling a premium smartphone without that option if one was available.
    kenosha77a
    • www.Google.MEL7.CoM

      until I looked at the paycheck 4 $9178, I didnt believe that my cousin could realey receiving money in their spare time at there labtop.. there great aunt haz done this 4 only 14 months and just now repayed the morgage on there apartment and got a brand new Alfa Romeo. read more at..Above
      stefaniecarter29
    • Amazing Phone

      Hardware: 5/5

      You will not find a better phone on the market as of right now, period. First of its class 1080p LCD3 screen is so crisp and clear you wouldn't believe it until you see it. Coming from the Galaxy Nexus (720p) I really didn't think it could possibly get much better, but comparing the two is like night and day! Very impressed! Match that up with the latest quad-core processor and 2gb of RAM and you really have one of the fastest phones any carier has to offer.

      Software: 5/5

      Runs Android 4.1.1 (Jellybean) right out of the box! Which is amazing because if you know anything about HTC and how they update their phones, then you will be glad you have Jellybean because odds are you will not be seeing any other Android OS upgrades for quite some time... if ever... Some people really don't like HTC's Sense skin but I personally think it adds a very nice looking touch to android. I had the Galaxy Nexus and vanilla android always kind of left me with something more to desire.

      Features: 5/5

      Here is where just about everyone will differ on this phone, no SD expansion and only a 2020mAh battery. If you're anything like me, then you will never play games on your phone and you don't have much interest in using your phone as a media consumption device (i.e. Movies, Games, Music) For that, I have an iPod and a laptop. With 16gb of storage (about 11gb partitioned) you have plenty of space to hold all of your pictures. As for the battery, well I guess it really all depends on what you're coming from in your last phone. For me it was the Galaxy Nexus and let me say this phones battery blows me away with how long it lasts. Full day of fairly heavy usage (streaming Pandora to and from class, Facebook, Gmail, texting) and by the end of the night I'm still hanging around 25-30%. With my Nexus I was reaching for the charger around lunchtime... of course if your last phone was the RZR Maxx then yes, you may be disappointed, but for most I think you'll be pleased.

      Camera: 5/5

      Blows me away, it's really incredible! Again it all depends on what you're converting from, if it was a previous iPhone 4/4S/5 then you might think its on par or even slightly less, but I am very impressed at the clarity. Still wouldn't depend on it to document an epic hiking adventure, it is after all still a cell phone camera. For quick shots though it is excellent.

      Overall: 5/5

      My perfect phone and worth the upgrade! In fact I didn't want to loose my unlimited data so I ended up paying full retail for the phone (599) and it was still worth it! But this phone, you will not regret it.

      *P.S., You can check for best deal of the HTC DROID DNA at: Androidphones2012s.blogspot.com/p/htc-droid-dna.html

      I hope my comment is helpful.
      NJHancock
  • 440/480DPI Is The New Hawtness

    And only one platform has in-built support for it: Android.
    ldo17
  • ?

    Hmmm...I don't see how the DNA's screen doesn't give the writer of this article the "wow" effect like he says the iPad does. I say this because I took my HTC rezound to a Best Buy and did a direct side by side comparison of it's display and the latest ipad, which has a ppi of 264. I played a high-res video from the exact same source (Vevo) on both devices and found that although their colors were exactly alike, the rezound's 342 ppi was noticeably sharper. So how is it that the DNA' s ultra high 440 ppi lacking "wow" when compared to the new iPad?...I don't think so.
    trob6969
  • Beats Audio...

    In pretty much every review of Beats Audio I've read, its looked at as being pointless but the writers ALWAYS goes on to state that its "bass-heavy". That's the whole point of Beats Audio! It's not meant to add clearity, its meant to add depth to the music being played. When Dr. Dre co-designed the software he said that when music went digital it lost a lot of bass and Beats Audio was to enhance the low tones of the music played through it, and it does exactly that. So these reviewers are giving it subpar ratings because they're perceiving it's reason for being on a device wrong.
    trob6969
  • Proof that the world isn't ready for 1080p phones,

    until battery life catches up.


    Give me 720p with decent battery life over 1080p with poor battery life any day.
    bradavon
    • At least Samsung are still giving us removable batteries

      And MicroSD slots as standard!

      Get with it HTC and realise these are big sales drivers.
      bradavon
  • This phone is awesome

    Been putting it through it's paces since launch. All the "big" concerns mentioned by reviewers have been non-issues for me. Battery and storage have beat my expectations and have more than met my needs. I don't play many games, but I use the phone almost constantly for voice, text, organization, bluetooth, etc. The DNA is amazingly light and thin, but doesn't feel cheap or "plasticky". And it looks GREAT.

    Reviewer gave it a 9; FWIW I say 9.8
    rfarrah@...
    • Love this phone

      Bought it for the hardware and because it's made by HTC. The screen is awesome. I've had no battery issues at all. Kind of mystified by all the beefing.
      deshmyster
  • Storage

    Why remove the SD card on a high resolution device that you are going to probably use to watch HD content? By decreasing storage capacity, you are forced to use move cloud storage and thus consume more data.
    Though the average person may not actually use that much space, if you had a few video recordings, a few picture/video downloads, music, and documents, it will get stuffed up. Looks really nice but I think those on metered data plans or who tend to use storage to access offline content might want to look elsewhere.
    rgor@...
    • phone storage

      I have spoke with Verizon corporate store employees, Verizon HQ via phone, and HTC and it was not HTC prerogative to delete the SD card. I have been repeatedly told that Verizon would not accept the phone with an SD slot. While the J butterfly and other variants around the world have it, it was a deal breaker for Verizon to get the phone. Shame on Verizon!!!! While I am an HTC fan and may still end up buying the phone, I feel like I am caving in on principle if I buy a phone without an SD card slot.
      Cameron Olenik
  • Audio Issues

    I really like this Phone. The only issue I have had with it is, when I plug my car's 1/8" Monster Audio Jack to listen to my Music, I get all this interference in my car's speakers. I have read that HTC phones do this a lot. I put the phone on airplane mode and it turns off, but what's the point if I cant receive calls while driving. Other than this issue, I am very happy with the switch I made from iPhone (since they can't seem to come up with a better looking phone) to this.
    dvaldrums
    • audio problems

      Were you ever able to fix the sound problems when plugging it in your car. I thought I was the only one experiencing this. I am thinking about going to another phone because of this. It's a shame because I really love this phone.
      Brad Roy
  • Don't blame HTC for the lack of external storage

    It is Verizon that decides if they want a memory card slot on the phone. In fact, HTC builds the same phone for a Japanese carrier with external storage capability. For HTC, the cost different is $1.
    yadayada@...
  • low storage space

    is a non-starter for me for sure
    I'm also less than thrilled with the battery life. my note 2 gets 2 days minimum with constant use.
    theoilman
  • No battery replacement - no purchase.

    Great review! "And if you're wondering, these points are worth noting about the battery because you cannot replace it, " If we all would stop buying phones that do not have a replaceable battery, the manufactures would stop building them. So far, I've only purchased phones that I can up the battery on, or replace it. I hope I can keep doing that.
    onerioi
  • No phone is perfect but for me its the best option i have now.

    I have the htc droid Dna the Motorola razr maxx and thd galaxy s3 all verizon

    My needs clear sound quality as a phone, fast, good reception, internet, txt, good camera, solid build

    Moto con slow, had to pull phone away from ear to change volume while on call. Camera no good . Pros. Good sound quality, reception, great build and battery life

    Sammy con. Bad reception and bad build qualify, hard go hold phone (size and its slilpery) could not understand people on other end. ( my hearing is not to good) Pro super fast best camera for video and standard pics, nice screen.

    Droid Dna con. Battery when on web of playing games constantly. Can get warm, auto focus on video is slow but not horrable. Pro great phone audio, camera although not the best its tolorable, great build, super fast, great build even though its big it feels good in hand. Great reception

    My vote i would love a perfect phone. Out of all 3 ill stick with htc dna. My main needs are to be able to hear the person on the other end. This phone also has a lot of other bells and whistles i value great build reception, its super fast camera takes nice pics but the auto focus is slow especally on video. The saving grace is its much Better quality and fuctionally than on moto.

    Btw i dont use this phone like a jukebox of 1000s of songs so memory is fine for me.my vote is for


    THE HTC DROID DNA
    thecomputergenius@...