Review by Andrew Kameka on Wednesday December 12, 2012.
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Verizon has entered into an agreement with Amazon that will make all of the carrier's Android devices have a more Amazon flavor, and the DROID DNA has a healthy serving of bloatware as a result. Aside from the usual suspects of pre-loaded software - My Verizon, NFL Mobile, Slacker Radio, Viewdini, and VZ Navigator - the phone includes six Amazon pre-installed Amazon apps. The presence of Amazon, Amazon Kindle, Amazon MP3, Audible, IMDb, or Zappos may be unwanted, but users can disable those apps in the settings menu.
The DROID DNA features more useful software in the form of apps that HTC has developed as part of its Sense UI. The Calendar app includes management of PC calendars, Google accounts, event invites, and a Task app that can sync with Google.
The Movie Editor app creates slideshows with photos or videos mixed together with musical backing. The app is limited to a few templates and lacks simple editing tools, but it provides a trouble-free method for creating dynamic slideshows. Thanks to the DROID DNA having Android 4.1, buyers can further entertain themselves with the 700,000 Android apps and games in Google Play.
HTC applied its Sense UI to the Android 4.1 browser in order to maintain visual consistency. The cosmetic changes include larger navigation buttons, a horizontal scrolling bar when switching between tabs, and a different UI when browsing settings. The app is otherwise a typical Android experience with saved pages, viewing desktop sites, Incognito and other privacy modes, and sharing to other apps.
The selling point of the DROID DNA is obviously its HD screen, but the device also packs a pair of HD cameras that can take very good photos to display on that screen. Both lenses have high levels of contrast and brightness, and capture photos that might be a little too saturated at times but mostly very appealing. The 2.1 megapixel front-facing camera has f/2.0 aperture and an 88-degree ultra-wide angle lens, so it picks up much more space when taking group photos. The front facing camera captures more of the subjects and surrounding scenery and has a two-second timer to give users more time to get the pose just right.
The quality of the rear camera is equally impressive. The 8 megapixel camera also has f/2.0 aperture and a wide angle lens, but it also has an LED flash, a BSI sensor for better photos taken in front of a light source, HTC ImageChip for better photo processing, and the ability to record video in 1080p. The camera quality in HTC devices has steadily improved since last year, and the DROID DNA has the best camera I've seen in an HTC device.
The HTC DROID DNA has a Music app that is actually a hub for four different apps. It supports the default music player of locally stored songs, purchasing new tracks or albums from Amazon MP3, streaming through Slacker Radio, and streaming live radio broadcasts with TuneIn Radio. The default player is not as polished or feature-rich as the media apps found on other Android smartphones, which is disappointing because HTC's custom Android skin has traditionally featured one of the better MP3 players. Google Play Music, which is pre-installed, is a better option for playing music stored locally or in the cloud. Both apps support Beats Audio, an optional setting that enhances sound quality by raising bass levels and overall volume. The settings sadly cannot be customized, but the inclusion of Beats can make some genres of music more enjoyable than others.
One would think that packing a 1080p display into a smartphone might trigger some serious battery drain issues, but the DROID DNA holds up nicely. HTC includes a 2020 mAh non-removable battery that will get you through the day on light and moderate usage. Embedded batteries eliminate the possibility of buying extended or replacement batteries, so it's good that HTC managed to make the phone capable of lasting through most activities, but users who tax their phone excessively may want to keep a charger handy. In a mix of YouTube viewing, web browsing, and tethering over the past two weeks, the DROID DNA survived about 12 to 15 hours on most days. Performance may vary according to screen brightness, LTE signal strength, and user activities, but battery life is better than expected given the demands of the display.
The HTC DROID DNA rates highly on almost every standard used to judge smartphones. Its display is unreal, its camera is very good, and its physical design is simple but effective. By most measures, the DROID DNA almost perfect. Almost. The breathtaking display is occasionally a handicap because a few apps will not display correctly or the virtual Menu button will inexplicably pop-up when it is not needed. It also wouldn't hurt to see the battery have more staying power, especially when one considers that the DROID DNA's screen inherently encourages more Netflix and YouTube viewing.
The phone also has the misfortune of debuting just as Google has released a new set of Android features and optimizations that will not trickle down to this device for several months. That's a pitfall for most Android devices, but anyone considering the DROID DNA should be aware of it. With that said, there's a good chance that people will gladly put up with those shortcomings. The pros outnumber the cons, and whatever complaint someone can levy is soon less meaningful when gazing at the handset's screen.
There have been many DROID's at Verizon, but none quite like the DNA. The DROID DNA is a sight to behold and well worth holding on to.
Photo and video samples of the DROID DNA are available on the next screen
Andrew is MobileBurn.com's managing editor. He is based in Miami, Florida.