The DNA launched with last summer’s Android 4.1 “Jellybean” out of the box, one of the few smartphones to do so. Given how new the device is it’s a safe bet that there’s an update in the pipeline to bring it up to the more recent 4.2 version, but currently it’s anyone’s guess when that will happen, since many devices are just now getting 4.1. It also features HTC Sense 4.1, which is HTC’s special overlay to the normal Android interface. Each manufacturer has their own “secret sauce” of changes to Android, but Sense is substantially more invasive than either Motorola or Samsung’s alterations. As a result, there’s a higher learning curve, and it’s much less like a stock Android device. I have to admit, I did not enjoy using Sense — while both Motorola’s Motoblur and Samsung’s TouchWiz have gradually turned into mature and sensible modifications that make the device better, Sense seems more like it’s there for the sake of being there.
Unlike the quad-core LG Optimus G I recently tested, the HTC Droid DNA had no trouble maintaining consistently high benchmark scores using its own quad-core processor. In four run throughs of Quadrant benchmark, the DNA scored an average of a whopping 8129. Compared to the already very fast performance of the RAZRs and the Galaxy S III, each of which score around 5000, that’s pretty impressive. I frankly would have a hard time imagining an app or movie which would choke even the high-end dual cores mentioned, but if you can find one, the DNA will burn through it like a blowtorch through paper.
Unfortunately, there is one huge drawback to the Droid DNA’s specs: storage capacity. Out of the 16 GB of internal memory that the DNA has, 11.3 GB of it is free out of the box. That wouldn’t be so bad, except for this: it’s all the memory you’ll ever have. The DNA doesn’t have a microSD expansion slot, meaning that you can’t upgrade it, ever. Usually, when devices drop the microSD slot (like the Optimus G, or the Galaxy Nexus) they make sure to pack in 32 GB of memory so that the user isn’t too pinched. The DNA doesn’t do that. To illustrate why that’s a big problem, let’s look at what the average user might want to do.
Let’s assume that part of what you want to do is carry around your music. For me, that means about 5.5 GB off the top. Also, my music library grows at about 500 megs a year, at the end of a two year contract that’ll be up to 6.5 GB. Figure another 500 megs that you want to reserve for apps, downloaded files, documents, books, etcetera. The most recent few hundred photos you took on your phone, that’s another gigabyte. Of course, some of the games that will really show off that 5-inch screen are up to 2 gigabytes each. If you want to load up an HD movie for during your airline flight, that’ll probably be 2 gigs at least. And just like that, you’re out of memory. Music, your photos, one movie, one game, and you’ve hit bust, trying to decide what to delete so that you can do what you need to do. Maybe the math is a little different for other people — maybe no games, but two movies. Maybe they have a little more music. Maybe they want to record more than 20 minutes or so of HD video. Whatever way you hit the limit, you hit it much too soon.
If the DNA were more of a business-oriented device, or targeted at less demanding users, I would tend to be more forgiving on this count, but it’s not. Multimedia and gaming are what’s front and center for it, and yet it doesn’t pack enough memory to handle more than the basics at any one time. That’s just unreasonable.
The overall communications suite of the Droid DNA is fairly unremarkable. It stocks the standard Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, as well as the increasingly-common Near Field Communication. CDMA and LTE capabilities keep you fully connected with Verizon’s 3G and 4G networks. The signal strength I’ve seen out of it over the course of this review isn’t anything to write home about, but it’s also no slouch. Like basically all of Verizon’s recent smartphones, the DNA is also equipped with a GSM/HSPA radio for international roaming.
Slightly off topic — it’s also not strictly a form of communication, but it IS wireless — we have one little note. The Droid DNA also happens to support inductive charging, which lets you recharge the battery wirelessly just by setting the device on a charging “pad,” like the models sold by Energizer. Just set the phone on the pad, and it charges, no cables needed. A pretty cool feature, especially if you don’t want to be constantly plugging and unplugging your phone every time you take it off your desk.
The Droid DNA is rather remarkable in this category, for one simple reason: it doesn’t stock even a single additional productivity app beyond the ones that are part of Android. Not even a basic Microsoft Office-compatible suite, not even just to view documents. That’s something that almost every other smartphone, including low-end ones, makes sure to include. Sure, you can download one through Google Play, but you can look forward to paying extra for what’s basic functionality on other devices.
There’s a few more options here: beyond the usual Google Music, Books, TV & Movies, etcetera, it also has Kindle, Audible, and a game demo or two. Still nothing that you couldn’t download for yourself from Google Play, so it’s still pretty much just taking up space, but it’s there.
The DNA’s camera is pretty much typical for an 8 megapixel phone camera, to possibly a little below typical. Even in good light, it doesn’t have a lot of crispness in detail. I have to admit that I’m disappointed manufacturers haven’t done more to move cameras forward in the last 12-18 months; while we now have phones with HD screens and have gone from single-core to quad-core processors, we’re still stuck with the same basic camera quality that we had before.
Although the battery capacity on the Droid DNA is “only” 2020 mAh, less than any of Verizon’s other recent high-end phones, it doesn’t do too badly — at least, depending on how you use it. The big battery drain isn’t, as you might expect, the 5-inch screen, but rather the quad-core processor.
With a lot of low impact use — web browsing, texting, light YouTube type video — you can reasonably expect it to go a full day to even a day and a half depending on how much time you put in on it. If, on the other hand, you’re using it for heavier duty things like streaming high-quality video, or playing a lot of games (even light games like Words With Friends), you can probably count on having to recharge well before your day is done. The display is power hungry, but it’s nothing set beside the massive horsepower that drives the DNA. So expect your mileage to vary significantly.