HTC's new Droid DNA smartphone brings a 5-in. display to the table

Okay, so how big -- or small -- do you want your smartphone's display to be? Do you want something small and pocketable, like the 4-in. Apple iPhone 5? Or lightweight but a bit larger, like the 4.3-in. Motorola Droid Razr Maxx or the 4.8-in. Samsung Galaxy S III? Or do you want to go for broke and get something that is large enough to really work with and just small enough to still, possibly pass as a phone, like the 5.5-in. Samsung Galaxy Note II?

Vendors are now vying to find the sweet spot that will attract the most consumers. HTC has just introduced its latest, the Droid DNA, which is not quite as large as the Note but slightly larger than the Galaxy S III -- and is obviously hoping that this will attract those customers who want a nice, big display that won't be referred to with the rather tortuous title of "phablet" that has dogged the Note. (Although I understand that Qualcomm has indeed used that term to refer to the DNA in a recent blog post. Oh, well.)

Droid DNA

The DNA is, indeed a very nice looking phone. The display, which was one of the main features underscored in the press conference today, has an impressive list of specs: The Gorilla Glass super LCD display offers 1080p Super HD video and 440 pixels per inch (which, according to HTC, is the "highest pixel density available on a smartphone." According to HTC design director Jonah Becker, the viewing angle has been improved so that users can see a clear image at an 80-degree angle.

I had a chance to play briefly with the Droid DNA, and I have to admit that the display did look very nice -- and that when I shifted the phone so that I was looking at it from the side, the image still looked quite bright and clear. (However, it wasn't that much better than my aging Galaxy Nexus, whose display only starts to darken when I approach a truly side view.)

And I did find it much more comfortable in the hand than, say, the Note II -- which, although it's an admirable compromise between a phone and a tablet, is not all that comfortable to hold in one hand, never mind holding it against your ear.

The rest of the specs of the Droid DNA are those of a high-end entertainment-centric smartphone: A Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro quad-core 1.5GHz processor, 16GB of storage (unfortunately, not expandable; there's no SD card slot) and a 2020 mAh battery (not replaceable). There's an 8-megapixel back-facing camera with an f/2.0 wide-angle lens and a 2.1-megapixel front-facing camera with an 88-degree scope. I took a couple of photos and found the resulting images quite clear and nicely focused, despite the fact that I took them quickly without much care.

Audio is handled by two built-in amplifiers, one for the headphones and one for phone's speaker; I tried it out with the volume on maximum and I could actually hear a music track in the crowded and very noisy room, which for a smartphone is a considerable achievement.

The phone will come with Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) and HTC's Sense 4+ overlay.

I have to admit that the display was impressive, and I could easily get used to the 5-in. size. Whether that will be enough to push the Droid DNA to the top of the Android heap -- past new phones such as the Nexus 4 and old favorites like the Galaxy S III -- has yet to be seen.

The Droid DNA will be available November 21 for $199.99 with a two-year Verizon Wireless contract. We'll have a fuller review of the phones about that time -- stay tuned.

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