HTC Droid DNA review: HTC creates the most awesome Droid ever

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MSRP: $599.99

The Good The beautifully designed HTC Droid DNA features a quad-core processor, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, 4G LTE, a sharp 5-inch screen, an excellent camera, and long battery life.

The Bad The Droid DNA's large size makes it tricky to fit in tight pockets, and it lacks both an SD card slot and a removable battery.

The Bottom Line With quad-core power, 4G LTE, a lovely 5-inch screen, and a stunning design, the $199.99 HTC Droid DNA is currently Verizon's best Android deal.

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8.3 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8

The new Droid DNA is the best phone I've seen from HTC in a long while, especially on Verizon. With its blazingly swift quad-core processor, and a gorgeous and eye-grabbing 5-inch screen, not to mention a great camera and long battery life, the Droid DNA is an excellent deal at any price. And at $199.99, I feel it's a better buy than some worthy smartphone competitors, including the Motorola Droid Razr HD and Samsung Galaxy S3.

There are no two ways about it: the HTC Droid DNA is the sexiest-looking smartphone I've laid my hands on in quite some time. At a glance, the slab-shaped HTC Droid DNA looks like just about every other Android smartphone on the market. Step closer, though, and the signature Verizon red highlights jump out at you. While the handset is clad in stealth-bomber black, it's trimmed with red metallic stripes on either side.

HTC says it was inspired by Lamborghini supercars when crafting the DNA. As for me, I just think the stripes, which are iridescent and perforated by tiny holes, look futuristic and striking.

The HTC Droid DNA boasts a big, bright, and colorful 5-inch Super LCD 3 screen. Sarah Tew/CNET

Measuring 5.6 inches tall by 2.7 inches wide, the device is large, yet thin. At 0.38 inch thick, and a mere 0.16 inch thick at its thinnest point, its profile makes its edges thinner than the Samsung Galaxy S3. Picking up both handsets and placing them side by side, however, they seem to be of equal thickness, or shall I say thinness. This phone is razor-sharp, there's no doubt about that, and its metal buttons and trim give it a much more premium feel than the Galaxy S3's plastic parts.

The HTC Droid DNA is trim, despite its large size. Sarah Tew/CNET

Above the screen is a 2-megapixel front-facing camera capable of shooting video in 1080p HD. A tiny notification light sits here, too. Below are three capacitive buttons for Android functions. The right side holds a long volume bar, and up top are a headphone jack, power button, and SIM card slot. The bottom edge houses a rubber flap covering the phone's Micro-USB port.

The HTC Droid DNA's Micro-USB port is placed under a rubber flap. Sarah Tew/CNET

On back, the phone's soft-touch surface, cut from premium polycarbonate, reminds me more of the design language of the HTC One X and One X+. You'll need that soft-touch coating, too, since its rubber feel provides a sure grip. Also placed here are the DNA's 8-megapixel camera and LED flash. There's even an additional notification light, the first device I've seen with one in this location.

Staring at you from within a ring of crimson is the HTC Droid DNA's 8-megapixel camera lens. Sarah Tew/CNET

What further enhances the Droid DNA's waferlike dimensions is how the display's glass extends to the handset's edges. This helps the phone disguise the fact that it's packing a massive 5-inch Super LCD 3 screen. Not only is the display bright, it boasts a sharp 1080p resolution, which HTC claims translates into 440 pixels per inch. Text and details in photos and video looked crisp and colors vibrant. While it's not as oversaturated as the Samsung Galaxy3's AMOLED screen, colors were more accurate but popped less. Even so, watching the HD YouTube trailer for "World War Z" on the Droid DNA was riveting. I could clearly see the virtual burning cityscape of New York, the fear in Brad Pitt's lined face, and streams of running zombies in terrifying detail. For the record, the undead should never be able to sprint like that. Ever.

The big 5-inch screen makes watching movies very enjoyable. Sarah Tew/CNET

Software and UI
Android lovers are in for a treat since the HTC Droid DNA comes with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean right out of the box. Sure, it's not the most advanced version of the OS that Google has officially announced, but this is as fresh as you'll likely find outside of a true Nexus device.

Jump straight to apps you want from the lock screen. Brian Bennett/CNET

HTC does layer its own Sense 4+ interface on top of Android, which definitely changes the look and feel of Google's stock OS. The lock screen features a digital clock and the date is spelled out in slim characters on top. At the bottom edge of the screen are a virtual ring and four icons for Phone, Mail, Messages, and Camera. Pulling these icons into the ring whisks you directly to their corresponding phone functions.

Of course you can also swipe your finger anywhere across the screen to jump to the home screen. You have five home screens to choose from; you can personalize each with apps and widgets. By default the main screen features HTC's iconic weather clock widget along with shortcuts for Verizon Voice Mail, Google Play store, and browser. As with Android handsets running 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and later, you can also drop app icons on top of each other to create custom folders. I find it a handy way to cut down on home screen clutter.

Make custom folders to clean up home screens. Brian Bennett/CNET

Features and apps
As an Android 4.1 Jelly Bean device, the HTC Droid DNA can tackle all the usual smartphone tasks such as GPS, Bluetooth 4.0 (the most recent profile supporting low-power devices), Wi-Fi, and a mobile hot-spot app to share the phone's 4G LTE connection with other mobile gadgets. Remember, though, that the feature will cost you extra -- about $20 on top of your data and voice plans.

The HTC Droid DNA connects to popular Google services, too, such as Gmail, Google Plus, Maps, and Navigation. HTC has placed some of its own software on the DNA. A Music app combines the Amazon MP3 player and music storefront, Slacker Internet radio app, and phone-based tracks in one location.

Other apps on the handset include an assortment of free and paid software, services, and games, such as Amazon Kindle, Reign of Amira, Zappos, and the Amex Serve mobile payment solution. Sadly, Verizon flooded the Droid DNA with a helping of its bloatware, too, like My Verizon Mobile, NFL Mobile, Verizon Tones, and VZ Navigator.