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

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.