HTC Droid DNA hands-on (video)

Welcome to the next wave of smartphone innovation: 1080p panels. At a joint launch event with Verizon in New York City today, HTC unveiled the Droid DNA, the stateside counterpart to the Japan-only J Butterfly. Made to run on Big Red's 4G LTE network and trimmed with the carrier's signature color, the 5-incher also enters the market as the OEM's first phablet effort; a direct response to Samsung's Galaxy Note. (HTC is very adamant that this is not a "phablet," partially thanks to its lack of stylus support.) But a larger footprint's not the only bleeding edge tech on hand here, as the device plays host to a quad-core S4 Pro clocked at 1.5GHz and buffered by 2GB RAM -- something we'd only seen within the Optimus G and Nexus 4 -- a 2,020mAh battery capable of Qi-compatible wireless charging, an 8-megapixel rear camera capable of 1080p video and Android Jelly Bean with Sense 4+. We had a chance to spend some time with it, so click on through for our initial take.


We don't think we have to explain that the DNA is a large device, but we'll say it anyway: this thing is huge. Perhaps not quite as unwieldy as the Galaxy Note II, but this is not a phone you'll be comfortably using with one hand, unless you're an NBA player. It's not even a particularly svelte device at 9.73mm thick. We wouldn't exactly call it chunky, it does slim down considerably around the edges, but it's not the sleekest on the market either. Still, that extra girth is what gives it room for that sizable battery, something that will be essential to keep the cutting edge hardware pumping. We do have to give kudos to HTC for making the bezel so thin -- despite sporting a much larger screen, the handset is only about 2mm wider than the Nexus 4. Surprisingly it only weighs one gram more than that all glass flagship, and that's largely thanks to the soft touch plastic construction. The texture feels great in the hands and looks serious (something that gets us all giddy, we'll admit), but it is deceptively light which is a little unsettling the first time you pick it up.

Physically you won't find too many surprises here. Below the expansive, insanely pixel-dense display is the expected trio of capacitive buttons, with the thin red dash of the speaker grille and Verizon logo cutting across the top. On the right edge is the volume rocker while the left edge remains unadorned except for the sleek red grille design that HTC says was inspired by super cars like those from Ferrari. The volume rocker has a slight texture to it of concentric circles that makes it easy to locate, but it has very little travel which actually makes it a bit of a nuisance to depress. The upper edge is where the manufacturer has stashed the micro-SIM slot, headphone jack and the power button, that has the same fire engine hue and rippled feel of the volume rocker.

We'll admit, the dimly lit demo station at HTC and Verizon's joint press event today was probably not the best place to judge the quality of the full HD panel, but we're pretty impressed based on our first impressions. The screen is bright, well saturated and crisper than just about anything we've seen. Text, widgets and icons all rendered nicely on the screen, though we didn't get a chance to load up any third party apps to truly put it through its paces. Our lone complaint of first blush is that even with the brightness turned all the way down we could easily distinguish the screen from the gorgeous curved glass bezel.

On the software front you're looking at Android 4.1 (sorry, no 4.2 for you HTC fans just yet), and Sense 4+. We've seen this particular combination before on the One X+ and there aren't any surprises hiding here. Sense continues to be a love it or hate it affair. It does add a certain layer of polish and the camera software is seriously impressive, but it's also packing an abundance of gloss that may turn off some. We will say this though -- Sense did in fact fly on the handset. Perhaps it's the perfect storm of slimmed down customizations, project butter and the quad-core killer under the hood, but in our short time we saw no stutters or hiccups. Obviously we couldn't run a full suite of benchmarks, but we did take it for a quick spin through SunSpider and Quadrant. On our favorite browser benchmark we got a pretty speedy 1,173.5 ms, which holds up well against the Nexus 4 and Optimus G (which share a CPU with the DNA) which pulled in a 1,975 and 1,283 respectively. Quadrant was a little less impressive, with it only scoring a 7,131 which is significantly lower than 7,628 the Optimus G pulled on the same test.

If you're eager to check out the DNA yourself and make your own judgement, head to a Verizon store on November 21st, when you'll be able to pick one up for $199 with 16GB of storage (and no microSD expansion, sadly, unlike its Japanese counterpart).