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.
HTC Droid DNA Ups the Android Ante
HTC also included two amplifiers, one for a good headphone experience and another for clear sound when sharing music with friends—even at a volume loud enough for a few friends in a room to hear. I found it to have succeeded in both cases, and was even impressed by the sound quality on conference calls, even when using cheap earbuds.
As it did with the Windows Phone 8X, HTC paid attention here to the front and back cameras—holding the front camera at arm’s length, more people than you’d expect can fit into the frame. There’s also a very helpful three-second-countdown button, which addresses how easy it is to take a blurred photo when trying to press the shutter when holding a phone away from the body with one hand.
HTC has also given the DNA new gallery options. Photos can be arranged by Albums, which are very simple to quickly create out of a group of related photos, and Events, which the camera creates itself, understanding that certain photos were taken at the same time. These two little features do quick work of reducing the glut of photos that quickly pile up on a phone’s camera—and do so in a way that feels more intuitive to me than the way Samsung offers Albums (but not Events) on the Galaxy Note II.
I was also smitten with the DNA’s combination of the super-smooth Gorilla Glass, which runs over the phone’s edges, and the amazing tactile sensation behind the touch controls, which seem to have tightly wound springs behind them.
Less great design decisions were the little flap HTC put over the MicroUSB port. The flap is hard to open and, once open, feels distressingly flimsy. Additionally, the power button is flush with the top of the phone and made of something metallic feeling, instead of plastic. I was never sure if I was supposed to be pushing it down extra hard with my fingernail or tapping it with my fingertip—which is something no one should waste even seconds giving thought to.
Still, it’s a great phone. It’s fast, thin, has excellent cameras, gorgeous display quality and a screen that’s larger than the one on the Samsung Galaxy S III but in a body (chassis, if HTC prefers the car-speak) that can be used with one hand.
HTC president Jason Mackenzie has called the DNA “the pinnacle of the Droid brand” and the “most advanced phone on the market.”
The first statement is no doubt true, and iPhone 5 fans would be likely and right to contest the second. If it’s an Android phone you’re after, though, there’s not a phone you should buy without first comparing it to the Droid DNA by HTC.