The ~4.5-inch smartphone is now commonplace and 4-inches is considered small. Funny how fast things change. Now in late 2012 and looking into 2013, the new hotbed of mobile activity revolves around even bigger 5-inch phones. At what point is big too big? Thankfully (or not) we have no shortage of manufacturers will to continually test the limit.
With the runaway success of Samsung’s Galaxy Note and Note II, it was only a matter of time before other manufacturers jumped in the 5-inch arena. And today, we’re taking a look at HTC’s latest, the 5-inch DNA on Verizon Wireless.
We’ll cut to the chase. We love the DROID DNA’s design. The best part in our opinion is the front of the device where the large, 5-inch display and glossy black bezel seemingly blend together, giving the device a sophisticated appearance from the front. Slim bezels are nice but a 1080p display is even more worthy. HTC managed to cram a 1920 x 1080 panel onto this (relatively) tiny device. It’s crazy to think about the fact that many other electronics that are much larger (tablets, laptops, etc.) don’t even have such high resolution. And while we could talk about the display all day and long into the night, it’s simply one of those things you have to experience for yourself. It’s plenty bright at all but the most retina searing brightnesses outside. Colors are vivid and sharp. And pixels…good luck. We have some good eyes around this place and we have to get really close and look really hard to see any. Quite simply, if you’re making your next smartphone purchase based on the display alone, the DNA is the device to beat on almost all fronts regarding the display. Also located on the display side is the DNA’s front-facing camera and hidden notifications LED behind the earpiece grill.
As is customary with DROID branded devices, black and red is the main theme. The contrast between the deep, glossy red accents around the edge of the DNA and several other pieces looks downright awesome against the soft-touch, matte black back casing.
So if the high point is the display we talked about above, what’s not so great? Some would look back at HTC’s history with battery life and immediately point to that. But in our testing we were quite shocked to find the DNA is actually pretty decent in the battery life department. It’s not Galaxy S III or Note II awesome. But considering the absolute garbage HTC has shipped before in regards to battery life, the DNA is a breath of fresh air. So, no. The battery isn’t the low point. (But more on that later.) It’s the stupid port covers.
On the bottom center of the DNA HTC has placed the microUSB charging/sync port behind a finicky, terribly designed flap. While we’ll give huge props to HTC for finally putting the USB port in the right place, we aren’t so full of nice words for that flap they covered it up with. It’s simply a pain. Covering the port up with said flap isn’t the most seamless nor easiest; it takes a couple of attempts to get a good seal. Similarly, opening the port back up requires even more tests of patience (and a sharp tool). We get what HTC was trying to do in this case but they did it all wrong.
Jumping to the top you’ll find the power button (also located directly in between the left and right sides), headphone port and SIM card slot. The left side is void of any buttons or openings while the right plays host to nothing more than a volume up/down rocker.
If we had our way, we’d put the power button on the left or right side of the device about a third of the way down from the top of the phone. On device’s 4.5-inches or larger, having the power button all the way at the top of the device is simply poor design from an ergonomics standpoint.
On the backside you’re treated with a mainly black, soft-touch paint job with a few red accents here and there. Unlock the ridiculous branding VZW plastered on the Note II, the DNA maintains a simple HTC in the middle of its rear as well as 4G LTE and beatsaudio branding further south.
Make no mistake, we absolutely hate Sense UI at this point. It’s long in the tooth and incredibly heavy to run. It bogs down phones like there’s no tomorrow. But on the DNA, not a single hint of bloat was felt. The 1.5 GHz Snapdragon S4 Pro (quad-core) processor and 2 GB of RAM no doubt helped that. But still, taking this much power to simply run the UI smoothly should make HTC ashamed.
Mini-rant aside, there’s nothing slow about the DNA. Opening apps, starting music, browsing 5 different tabs at once and all kinds of multi-app usage patterns ran without a hiccup. LTE was fast too with a possible new record from VZW’s network locally – 42.5 Mbps down. While that could certainly be attributed to the network at the time and have nothing to do with the phone itself, it’s still worth pointing out.
Battery life – often when reviewing HTC devices this paragraph is extremely short and negative. For years now HTC has ignored pleas for larger batteries and more efficient software. Motorola went the bigger battery route. Samsung went the optimized software (and slightly larger than average battery) route. HTC meanwhile stagnated and on certain devices went backwards. Well, good news. The DNA is a nice departure from HTC’s abysmal track record with battery life. In our day-to-day usage that saw moderate to heavy use we were able to go a solid 15-18 hours with about 3-5 hours of screen on time out of the built-in 2,200 mAh battery. For a phone this powerful and with such a large, high resolution display, that’s pretty awesome. The next closest variant, the HTC One X, was probably the worst device we’ve ever used in terms of battery life. 1-2 hours of screen-on time with half the cores, RAM and only a 4.7-inch 720p display was the norm. The larger battery (over the One X) and optimized Sense 4+ really helps on the DNA, so we can only hope HTC continues improving battery life in general with each new device in the future.
In real-world usage, the DNA is as fast as any other device on the market and easily powerful enough to get you through the next couple of years.
Camera & Video
Pictures from the rear-facing 8-megapixel camera were mostly usable though we wouldn’t necessarily say anything to write home about. Colors were saturated and accurate enough to keep us happy in most instances. Like pretty much all camera phones, though, low-light situations meant plenty of excess noise to deal with. As advanced as these tiny cameras are getting, there’s still plenty to improve upon when lighting nose dives.
Like other modern HTC devices, Sense features many additional built-in camera features such as filters and panoramic mode just to name a couple. The panoramic mode is just as nice as the one found in iOS 6, though the additional filters do add a bit of added utility.
Video performance of the DNA is typical for smartphone 1080p video. Colors and brightness are portrayed decently during playback, though sound could be slightly tinny at times. Distortion even at loud levels is thankfully non-existent – great for all of the concert goers out there.
The DROID DNA isn’t the biggest phone on the market. That crown goes to Samsung’s Note II. But the DROID DNA easily beats the Note II in a few ways. For starters, the display is in a completely different league. The 1080p LCD has far more accurate colors than the Note II’s AMOLED display. Also, the Note II can’t hold a candle to the DNA’s screen brightness (which actually isn’t overly bright itself, bested by the One X and One X+). Also, and certainly more objective, is the aspect of size. The DNA is designed in a way that makes it easier and more comfortable to hold and use than the boxier Note II. Coming from fans of smaller devices, the DNA actually surprised us in how not big it felt in hand.
The DNA is obviously powerful. It has a unique, edgy design. And the software (Sense) while not everyone’s favorite, is still decent. At least with the muscle under the hood, Sense is made to look lean and mean. Combine the above with some (finally) respectable battery life and you’ve got yourself one of the best device’s on VZW for the foreseeable future. Display junkies, you have no other choice. The DNA is the phone to beat.