In a time when the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 prepares to set foot on American soil via the major carriers, HTC and Verizon have finally announced the HTC Droid DNA, a device that the tech blogosphere has been eagerly expected to arrive on Verizon’s LTE-enabled network ever since back in July.
Although the definition of a phablet is a bit blurry these days, it goes without saying that both these Android handsets tend to roughly the same consumer base: people who want an Android smartphone with a screen considerably bigger than that of the rest of the Android pack.
If you’re in a hurry, you can jump directly to the conclusion. If you’re not in a hurry, you are in for a treat as you might find that it’s pleasantly hard to decide if the HTC Droid DNA is better than the Galaxy Note 2 or if it is the other way around!
We’ve thoroughly discussed the 5.55-inch Super AMOLED panel used by Samsung on the Galaxy Note 2 with plenty of other occasions, but to sum it all up, what we’re dealing with here is the biggest smartphone display so far available on the market. In this context, the Note 2’s pixel resolution of 1280 x 720 amounts to a PPI ratio of 265, a bit behind most other flagship smartphones of 2012. Crispness is a bit improved over the Galaxy S3 since the Note 2 does not use a PenTile layout.
The Super AMOLED technology behind the Note 2 display gives it unrivaled contrast ratios and brightness, as well as wide viewing angles. On the other hand, unfortunately for Samsung fans, color reproduction is not what you’d call accurate on Super AMOLED displays.
As it was rumored, the number one selling point of the HTC Droid DNA is its 5-inch Super LCD3 display, one that runs at an impressive 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution (known as 1080p). What we’re talking about here is a smartphone display with a 440 PPI (Pixel Per Inch) ratio, well above the 320 PPI featured by the Super LCD 2 display on the HTC One X (critically acclaimed as the best smartphone display “currently” around.
The quality of the Super LCD 3 panel on the HTC One X is nothing but impressive, while its ultra high resolution gives it perfect crispness. Viewing angles are great, color reproduction looks to be very accurate. Simply put, this is the best smartphone display that we’ve ever laid our eyes on.
Verdict: The HTC Droid DNA features the best smartphone display ever.
Design and Build Quality
In the Samsung corner, the Galaxy Note 2 looks very much alike the other Samsung Galaxy flagship for 2012, the Galaxy S3. Darcy’s drop tests have confirmed that the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 is a sturdier smartphone than the S3, which is always a good thing to hear, although most critics agree that the overall design could have been better.
The Galaxy Note 2 measures 151.1 x 80.5 x 9.4 mm and weighs 183 grams. It’s safe to assume that those only those of you with big hands will be able to comfortably use the Note 2 with just one hand.
On the other hand, the HTC Droid DNA is arguably amongst the best looking handsets to have ever been released. The notably smaller display of the Droid DNA (when compared against the Note 2) and its curved edges allow for a much more compact package that fits perfectly in your hands and pockets.
The Verizon-bound Droid DNA measures 143 x 71 x 9.73 mm and weighs 138 grams, making it thinner, narrower, shorter and lighter than the Note 2.
Both the HTC Droid DNA and the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 have narrow bezels that allow them to maximize the screen reals estate for their respective footprints, a very useful thing on such massive smartphones.
Verdict: While its smaller footprint can be attributed to a smaller display, the HTC Droid DNA wins this one thanks to its overall better looking design!
This is where the competition heats up: on the Galaxy Note 2 we have a 1.6GHz Exynos 4 (A9) quad-core processor and a Mali400 MP GPU, while on the HTC Droid DNA we have Qualcomm’s Snapdragon S4 Pro (1.5 GHz quad-core Krait processor and an Adreno 320 GPU). Both these tablets feature 2GB of RAM, which allows for a smooth multitasking experience.
While the Snapdragon S4 Pro’s quad-core Krait processor achieves significantly better scores than the standard S4’s dual-core CPU (such as those found in the U.S. versions of the HTC One X and the Samsung Galaxy S3), the 1.6GHz quad-core processor inside the Galaxy Note 2 is still the king of mobile CPU benchmarks for the moment, which is a bit strange given that it uses the ARM Cortex A9 architecture. The overall CPU experience is silky smooth on both our contenders.
On the other hand, the Adreno 320 GPU inside the Droid DNA is significantly faster at equal resolution that the Mali 400 MP GPU inside the Galaxy Note 2. The LG Optimus G, a smartphone also based on the Snapdragon S4 Pro SoC has achieved better GPU benchmark scores than the rest of the Android crop at a 720p resolution, but it will be interesting to find out how much will these scores (as well as the actual experience) be altered by the 1080p resolution on the Droid DNA.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 2 comes in 3 variants: 16GB, 32GB and 64GB internal storage as well as an SD card slot that can work with SD cards up to 64GB in size. On the other hand, the HTC Droid DNA is not as flexible as it arrives only in a 16GB variant without a SD card slot for additional storage.
On to cameras, both the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 and the Droid DNA feature 8MP primary cameras. The Note 2 uses a 1.9MP secondary camera, while the Droid DNA uses a 2MP front-facing shooter. The quality of the camera on the HTC Droid DNA will be tested more thoroughly in the near future, but it’s safe to assume that there won’t be any significant differences. Both are enough for your basic point-and-shoot needs.
Last, but not least, the Galaxy Note 2 features a 3100mAh battery, while the HTC Droid DNA features a much smaller 2020mAh non-removable battery. It remains to be seen what kind of battery life the Droid DNA actually has, but the numbers don’t seem to paint a very positive picture for HTC’s first phablet.
The Note 2 also makes use of a Wacom digitizer and the S-Pen to implement a few software functions that we’ll discuss a in the next segment of the article. The Droid DNA does not come with such hardware features.
Verdict: The Samsung Galaxy Note 2 has a microSD slot and a bigger, removable battery. Draw!
Software and Ecosystem
Both the HTC Droid DNA and the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 run Android 4.1 Jelly Bean out of the box, with each of the two manufacturers layering their custom UI on top of Google’s OS. An update to Android 4.2 should arrive in the near future on both these devices.
While HTC’s Sense version that can be found on the HTC Droid DNA seems to be minimalistic (a design trend that plenty Android purists agree with), the Samsung TouchWiz UI comes with a number of software tweaks that actually add to the overall functionality of the phablet.
I’m not only talking about the Smart Functions that Samsung has originally introduced with the Galaxy S3, but also the unique range of Galaxy Note 2 software features that we’ve talked about earlier here (true Multitasking can now be improved to work with any Android app that you desire). Then there’s the ever increasing number of S-Pen enabled apps. Plenty agree that this one of the Galaxy Note 2 major selling points!
Verdict: The Galaxy Note 2 wins this round thanks to the wide array of extra software features
Pros and Cons
HTC Droid DNA Pros
- Best display
- Pocketable and beautiful form factor
HTC Droid DNA Cons
- No SD card slot
- Low power, non-removable battery
Samsung Galaxy Note 2 Pros
- Huge 5.55-inch display
- Fastest mobile CPU available for Android
- Smart Functions & unique software functions
Samsung Galaxy Note 2 Cons
- Lesser PPI
- Hard to pocket
Hands On Video
Choosing between the HTC Droid DNA and the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 really boils down to this:
a) Do you want a smartphone with blazing fast internals and a fantastic 5-inch display? Get the Droid DNA!
b) Do you want something a bit more than a smartphone, a device that actually improves on the Android OS and allows you to take notes and take advantage of a hardware digitizer? Get the Galaxy Note 2!
Note: Since the Galaxy Note 2 and the HTC Droid DNA are two very complementary smartphones, I find that the competition between these two smartphones has a single overall winner: the Android user of the future.
Put together, the winning features of each round paint the picture of the Android phablet of tomorrow: blazing fast processor and GPU, big and crisp 1080p displays that beautifully complete a modern OS with custom tweaks that actually enrich the Android experience. Just give it another year!
What are your takes on this battle? Which is better and why ? Drop us a comment in the section below and let us know!