HTC DNA – 5″ Phone With Power and Quirks
I really enjoy reviewing HTC phones. You can see with each new model that comes out some of the signature HTC design stays the same, but you can also see that they do a lot of design experimentation. Some of their experiments work better than others. So far, the HTC high point has been the One X+, with a cleverly contoured body, and hitting the screen size just right. The HTC DNA pushes the envelope a little bit with a 5″ diagonal screen. But the other stats also make this a high end phone:
Processor: 4 core, Snapdragon S4 Pro, 1.5 ghz
Graphics: Adreno 320
Display: 1920 x 1080 super LCD3, 5″ diagonal
Weight: 138 g
RAM: 2 gb
Storage: 16 gb/user avail: 11 gb
Battery: 2020 mah
Camera: F&B, 8 mp/2.1 mp, f2.0OS: Android 4.1.1 (Jelly Bean)/Sense 4+
The HTC DNA was probably intended to be Verizon’s response to not carrying the One X, One X+, One S or the One V. Those phones have all been reviewed here, the One X+ being my favorite. The One X and X+ are on AT&T while the One S is on T-Mobile. Verizon tends to delay phone releases, especially anything related to HTC. Samsung seems to get their stuff pushed through. I think the delays really hamper HTC’s chances to sell a big hit on the biggest carrier. The One X and X+ are phones that Verizon shouldn’t have turned down, the DNA showing up months later didn’t really make up for the situation. It becomes a problem, however, when the release of these great phones on other carriers lines up with dead air in the Verizon release schedule.
HTC has announced its next phone, which is called simply the HTC One. The body shape and specs of the One are much like the DNA, but it’s made of aluminum, and has a 4.7″ display. At this point, Verizon is not slated to get that phone either. One rumor has Verizon getting the One in “3-4 months”, which should get a hearty “why bother” from most fans. In this industry, you can’t market a single product for that long. It’s not like Verizon customers will get any sort of a price break for getting a cutting edge phone 3-4 months late, and it’s not like Verizon is that much better than AT&T to warrant the delay either.
So when the DNA did finally hit, was it worth the wait? If you compare the One X+ specs to the DNA, the biggest difference you see is that the DNA has a 5″, 440 ppi display over the 4.7″, 312 ppi display, and an extra gig of RAM. The DNA is primarily about a bigger and more luscious display. I have to say that while the display on the DNA looks great, it would be hard to say it was really 33% better than the X+, because once you get up into that range of pixel density, it’s really hard if not impossible to distinguish the difference with your eye. I couldn’t pick out individual pixels at either resolution.
You might also compare the cases for the DNA and One X+. They are both plastic. The X+ has a polycarbonate material with a soft texture, while the DNA has a rubberized soft-touch coating on the back that really gives it a warmth to the touch. Here, I think the X+ had an advantage because of the sides of the case. The DNA has recessed grilles that don’t feel awful in the hand, but don’t feel as good as the One X or X+. The sides of the X+ slope forward slightly, which helps with grip. The DNA sides are parallel with recesses, which are less comfortable to my hand.
Physically, the DNA has a nice arching back with soft touch materials, and sides that make the phone feel thinner than it is. The camera lens ring is flush with the back, so it shouldn’t get knocked around any more than the rest of the phone.
One thing about the DNA that doesn’t leave a good impression is the flap over the USB connector (which is on the bottom of the device). The flap is tough to open, and tough to close. If I owned it, this piece would be ripped out.
There are no tricks or gimmicks with this phone. It relies on good materials, good design, and great specs to sell itself. There is no stand alone camera button. No headphones that come with it. No kickstand. No free Dropbox storage. The one feature that does stand out on this phone is the wide angle of the front facing camera. How many times have you lamented that you didn’t have arms 6 feet long when you want to take a picture of yourself with a group of four friends? With the DNA’s front facing camera, you can get everyone in the shot pretty easily. Nice feature, I wish more phones had this. I think after this, more of them will.
There is no removable battery. You will hear a lot of people complain about the battery life of this phone. But after living with it for a couple of weeks, I found that if you just have the phone in your pocket, or on the desk in standby, on wifi, it could last two days. If you use it for simple emails, web browsing, checking the weather or reading the news, it will last a solid day. Obviously if you’re playing a lot of games or videos on it, using 4G, you’re going to chew through the battery pretty quickly. I can see demolishing a full charge in a 4 hour session of your favorite 3D game. It’s just like anything. If you stand on the pedal of your Prius, you’re not going to get very “green” results. Use your head. If battery life is your main concern, get a Motorola Razr Maxx. But don’t bother complaining about the display. You’re unlikely to get everything you want in one place.
There is no SD card. The rumored HTC One is said to be coming with 64 gb of storage. That would be great, but it’s not coming to Verizon any time soon. I estimate that I would need 128 gb of storage to accommodate the active part of my music library along with the apps and junk I want to keep on the phone. 128 gb in a phone sounds ridiculous, until you realize that it is a primary entertainment and communication device. I’ve said this before, but I don’t care for what Android 4+ has done with the SD card partition. Even if you don’t have a physical SD card on your phone, the file system has an area for it, with a dedicated name. If there is an SD card on your phone, you have to be careful, because there is still an area that has nothing to do with the SD that is labeled as if it were an SD partition. You don’t see this unless you’re poking around the file system, or looking for the contents of the SD card.
Is 16 GB liveable? If you limit your music collection, it is. If you don’t store movies on your phone, it is. If you don’t use your phone like a mobile office, it might be. My first smart phone was the HTC Eris, which had 147 mb internal storage. I was constantly swapping out apps. I had even rooted it so I could remove the parts of the OS that I didn’t use, and I was still swapping out stuff. That phone formed most of my fears and prejudices about what you need to make a mobile phone really useful. Storage space is cheap. Why can’t we have obscene piles of it?
And what about the 5″ display? I have to say that sitting in bed reading news at night, the 5″ was perfect. At the distance you hold a phone from your face, 5″ is the perfect size. Unfortunately, that’s not the only thing I do with my phone. I also carry it around. It just felt a bit awkward having it in any pocket. For this reason, I think I would compromise on a 4.7″ phone instead. It’s not much but it makes a difference. If you are one who likes small phones or at least phones with more efficient use of space, you might try the Motorola Razr M, which has a 4.3″ display in a phone the same size as my 4″ Incredible 4G.
In benchmarks, the DNA slots in between the Galaxy SIII and the Note2. Keeping up with the Note2 is a feat. I have to say, though , that sometimes, in actual use, the display did stutter, or was jittery. Sometimes with simple stuff like text, scrolling was noticeably choppy. With the Adreno 320 graphics and the quadcore processor, it’s hard to see where this might come from, but I definitely observed it on multiple occasions while not doing anything particularly taxing. It could be a problem with specific apps, or it could be related to the simply huge number of pixels that have to be processed at 1920 x 1080.
The speed of this phone on the Verizon 4G network is very nice, even in a relative backwater like Roanoke, Virginia. The Speedtest.net results are not the fastest I’ve seen, but they aren’t bad. The speed for this test has more to do with the current state of the network than the phone. But the network is an undeniable part of the package deal that you sign up for with a specific phone from a specific carrier, so it does deserve some attention.
In most reviews, I focus on the hardware, because software is replaceable. But for this device, the software turns out to be a problem. I’m not sure why, but there were several apps that I could not load onto this phone, including some games, like the Sims Freeplay, an app called Piano, BBC News, and others. I got the message from Google Play Store that these apps were not compatible with my device. The only thing I can think is that it has something to do with the insane display resolution.
I often also complain about the standard Android email tools. I have been using the K9 email client, but recently I discovered Aqua Mail (free from the Google store). It handles my web-based mail beautifully, and allows for a lot of things that K9 couldn’t do. I like the remote folders capabilities, and the display, as well as the smart inbox, which combines email accounts. Now I just need something that can integrate mail with calendars…
On the plus side, my Incredible 4G feels downright barbaric when compared to the DNA keyboard. The Incredible vibrates like its got a screw loose, violently. The DNA’s vibration is far more civilized. I know its just a setting, but its a setting you can’t access on standard phone. You have to root to get that kind of access. The DNA probably also saves a bit of power by toning down the haptic feedback.
I really do like the HTC DNA. But I have to admit that I like the One X+ better. The display is great, but it doesn’t feel good in any pocket. The power of the device is amazing, but the strange stutters and the installation limitations do detract from its awesomeness. The battery is even sufficient. You can’t really complain about the case of the phone, but I still found holding the One X+ to be better. There is no one issue that I can point to as a killer for the DNA, but overall, it just doesn’t stack up to the X+ for me. If you’re inclined to wait, you might consider the HTC One, which will be out on major US carriers (except Verizon) this month. You might consider that temptation enough to switch to AT&T.