HTC Droid DNA Ups the Android Ante

Review: HTC needs a win, and with luck the Droid DNA is it. Loaded with firsts, it's a phone to compare all other Android smartphones to.

The Droid DNA by HTC has a display that's 5 inches (on the diagonal), which even in a landscape of growing display sizes would seem to be a—if not the—feature of note. It's not.

HTC used a lot of car language when it introduced the DNA Nov. 13, calling it a "performance beast," its tapered sides akin to the sleek behind of a supercar, and the "micro-grill" pattern on the phone's sides inspired by a peek at a Lamborghini engine. But HTC has pulled off the reverse of what car designers strive for: Unlike the happy trick of creating a small car that feels magically voluminous inside, the DNA is a big phone on paper that surprises by being a small phone in the hand.

It's a phone you can get your thumb across.

The DNA partially manages to feel small because it's fatter in the middle, where it matters less. HTC Design Director Jonah Becker explained at the phone's launch party that his team figured out how to stack the internal components pyramid-style, so that the phone's edges could be thinned to less than 4mm. (At its thickest points, the DNA measures 141 by 70.5 by 9.73mm.)

That established, more obviously a feature of note is the quality of all that screen real estate. The DNA is first smartphone with a true 1080p full HD super LCD 3 display with Corning Gorilla Glass 2 protection—it's gorgeous. Photos, video and apps are stunningly crisp.

Other notables: The DNA is also the first Android phone in the U.S. (it runs 4.1.1, Jelly Bean) that can charge wirelessly—like the newest Nokia Lumias—and the first to pair a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 quad-core processor with 2G of RAM and Verizon Wireless' Long Term Evolution (LTE) network. Together, these make for easy HD video viewing, unflagging game-playing and super-quick browsing and travel time between apps.

It's a fast phone.

For context, HTC's new thin and light Windows Phone 8X—which by most, if not all, accounts is a very, very nice phone—measures 10.12mm thick to the DNA's 9.73mm and has 1GB of RAM, a dual-core processor and a 4.3-inch LCD 2 touch-screen with a resolution of 720p.

HTC also gave the DNA a good, quick 8-megapixel camera with an f/2.0 aperture. It can snap four shots per second, which turns out to be quick enough to catch a 2-year-old in action, even in low light. However, while the shutter is fast, there were times when I'd miss the shot because the camera was busy focusing itself.

Also nice is a feature that enables the phone to unlock straight into the camera, making one more likely to catch a shot. HTC calls this Sight Seeing mode, which will drive you crazy if you try to find it. In the camera menu, it's the "touch to capture" option.