HTC Droid DNA: To buy or not to buy?

Sometimes, technology catches you by surprise.


When I set out to review HTC's Droid DNA, I expected to have a top-notch smartphone experience. On paper, after all, everything about the phone screams high quality. HTC's recent One X and One S were fantastic devices. Why should the DNA be anything but another first-class product?

Suffice it to say, a surprise was lurking within the DNA's, erm, DNA. After using the Droid DNA in place of my own personal device for several days, I haven't exactly come away with a great impression.

You can read my in-depth review for the details of my experiences and the issues I encountered. Here, I want to focus on some comparisons and look at how the Droid DNA fits into the broader Android ecosystem.

I was in a relatively rare position of having Google's new flagship Android phone, the Nexus 4, in my hands alongside the Droid DNA. I had just finished reviewing the Nexus 4 when the DNA arrived, and I was able to use the two phones side by side to see how they stacked up.

The comparison, sadly, did not bode well for HTC's latest effort.

Droid DNA vs. Nexus 4

Despite the fact that the Droid DNA has the same basic processor and RAM as the Nexus 4, its performance was inconsistent and at times underwhelming -- a stark contrast to the Nexus 4's steadily snappy delivery.

It didn't stop there: The Droid DNA did significantly worse with battery life, call quality, and audio through its on-board speaker. The placement of its power and volume buttons made the phone harder to use than its pure Google cousin, and the decision to include a flimsy cover over its micro-USB port made it a pain to charge.

Then there's the user interface. HTC's Sense UI is certainly less bad than what some manufacturers do to Android -- and you can get used to it -- but man, after spending time with Google's pure Android Jelly Bean OS, it's hard not to resent the arbitrary changes HTC made to the software merely for the sake of change. When using one setup immediately after the other, the differences in visual consistency, user-friendliness, and overall user experience are painfully apparent.

The Droid DNA does have some areas where it comes out ahead -- like with its cameras and display. The DNA's cameras are outstanding, and at 1080p, its display is the highest res screen you'll find on a smartphone today. Those are areas where the phone undoubtedly deserves praise. But in real-world terms, the differences from its highs to the Nexus 4's also-impressive levels are subtle -- and they're largely overshadowed by the DNA's comparatively poor user experience.

To be clear, it's not like the device is completely unusable or anything -- far from it. Heck, some casual users might not notice or be bothered by the issues I identified. Compared to other high-end phones, the Droid DNA's performance just isn't where I expected it to be; a phone of this caliber should do better. Think of it this way: It's my job to point out these sorts of details and to look at a phone relative to the big picture; it's your job to decide how much you care about those factors.

If you want an HTC phone, I'd suggest looking into the One X, One X+, or One S. In spite of the UI issues, those are very much first-class devices (and models of what I thought -- and hoped -- the Droid DNA would deliver). If you're married to Verizon, the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx HD and Samsung Galaxy S III both provide good all-around experiences, each with its own set of strengths.

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If you aren't tied to any particular carrier, the Nexus 4 remains in a league of its own when it comes to overall user experience. As a bonus, the phone's unlocked sales model can help you cut your cellular bill in half -- or more -- thanks to the variety of contract-free prepaid plans perfectly suited to that configuration.

With any luck, HTC will find its next home run soon. Based on my time with the Droid DNA, this latest effort just isn't it.

[HTC Droid DNA review: A superphone with flaws]

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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