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

A fast quad-core processor and the Android 4.1 Jelly Bean OS plus a lovely screen and great camera combine to form the most fearsome Droid ever built.

Brian Bennett Former Senior writer
Brian Bennett is a former senior writer for the home and outdoor section at CNET.
Brian Bennett
7 min read

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.



The Good

The beautifully designed <b>HTC Droid DNA</b> 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.

HTC Droid DNA combines stunning looks and killer speed (pictures)

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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.

I'm happy to say that the HTC Droid DNA's 8-megapixel camera does justice to the legacy of its One-class handsets such as the One X, One S, and One V. Like those devices, the DNA uses special electronics designed to power through the demands of image processing, which HTC calls the HTC ImageChip.

Because of this, the Droid DNA does all the slick camera tricks that the One phones do, such as Continuous Capture (burst mode), HDR mode, and Panorama. You can also snap pictures while rolling the video camera. I found the Droid DNA camera to be fast on its feet as well, capturing shots almost instantly and its autofocus locking on almost just as fast.

The camera was fast enough to snap fast-moving kids. Brian Bennett/CNET

On my tests, indoor still-life shots were clear and with rich, some would say oversaturated, colors. Details were sharp, too, even under low-light conditions, which is a skill many phone cameras lack. Outside in the fading fall sunlight, I enjoyed vivid colors in flowers, trees, and grass. The DNA's backlit sensor was also able to pull out details that would have otherwise been hidden by shadow but does paint everything in a ghostly glow. I found the Panorama mode fun and easy to use as well, as long as you don't pan across the scene you want to capture too quickly.

Details are clear and colors true in still-life shots. Brian Bennett/CNET
The Droid DNA takes panorama shots too. Click to view full image. Brian Bennett/CNET
Can you spot the tourists? Click to enlarge. Brian Bennett/CNET

Colors of flowers even in weak sun were vibrant. Brian Bennett/CNET
Shots of NYC streets were clear and crisp. Brian Bennett/CNET

The HDR mode enhanced shadow details but added a ghostly quality. Brian Bennett/CNET

Android Jelly Bean brings to the table many tasty improvements, but the most important is speed. In fact, Google made it a priority to speed up Android performance in Jelly Bean, calling the initiative "Project Butter." Also helping the HTC Droid DNA achieve buttery smoothness is its powerful 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro processor and 2GB of RAM.

The handset felt very fast, tearing through menus and launching apps with no hesitation. Synthetic benchmark tests backed up the impression of speed I experienced. The Droid DNA notched a stratospherically high Linpack showing of 401.6 MFLOPs (multithread). Its performance on the Quadrant benchmark was just as impressive, with the device turning in a score of 8,165.

Data speeds over Verizon's 4G LTE network were solid, too, though not the fastest I've seen. I clocked average download speeds of 9Mbps and uploads at a slower 5.3Mbps.

Call quality on Verizon's CDMA network in New York was acceptable, though not outstanding. While making standard calls through the Droid DNA's earpiece and microphone, callers reported that my voice sounded clear and free of background noise but could easily tell I spoke from a cellular connection. They even noticed occasional clipping and crackles and the end and beginning of words. On my end though, voices sounded loud and free of distortion plus the earpiece packs plenty of volume. The some goes for my experience with the speakerphone and callers couldn't discern when I switched between the speaker and regular handset mode saying that I sounded the same either way.

HTC Droid DNA call quality sample Listen now:

I was surprised by the HTC Droid DNA's battery performance, as well. Despite the phone's large screen and swift performance, the handset's embedded 2,020mAh battery lasted for a long 8 hours and 43 minutes in the CNET Labs video battery drain test. By comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S3 offered an even longer 9 hours and 24 minutes on the same benchmark, whereas the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx HD kept going for an unbelievable 14 hours and 53 minutes.

Performance: HTC Droid DNA
Average LTE download speed 9 Mpbs
Average LTE upload speed 5.3 Mbps
App download 646KB in 9.9 seconds
CNET mobile site load 5.7 seconds
CNET desktop site load 8.2 seconds
Boot time 11.2 seconds
Camera boot time 0.8 second

HTC has tried to make a serious A-list smartphone for quite some time but hasn't caught a break. The thunder of the One series -- HTC One X and HTC One S -- was rudely stolen by Samsung's Galaxy S3 and even the Galaxy Note 2. And the HTC Evo 4G LTE shipped without a robust Sprint LTE network to support it. Well, it's payback time as they say, and the $199.99 HTC Droid DNA has a winning combination of stylish design, devilish good looks, blazing performance, and a lovely screen, all for a good price. Its great camera is icing on the cake but enough to edge out the Motorola Droid Razr HD. Frankly, the DNA is HTC's best smartphone -- and Verizon's best Droid -- yet.



Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 8