With the Droid DNA, HTC has once again opted for placing capacitive buttons just below the display instead of opting for virtual on-screen buttons, the latter of which provide a far more fluid and user-friendly Android experience. Current versions of Android are designed to use the on-screen button model, after all, and while the software does still support hardware buttons, it's very much a matter of legacy support -- not an ideal usage situation or one that's native to the platform.
Interface issues aside, the buttons didn't consistently light up when I was using the device in dimly lit conditions, which made them impossible to see and thus press without just poking around blindly and hoping for good luck.
In a rare and interesting twist, the Droid DNA has two LED indicators that alert you to things like missed calls and new messages -- one on the phone's front, at the top-right of the earpiece grille, and one on its back, to the left of the camera lens.
Under the hood
HTC's Droid DNA has an engine that should be screamingly fast: a 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro quad-core processor along with 2GB of RAM. That's the same setup used in the Nexus 4 and the LG Optimus G, both of which are absurdly speedy devices.
That's why I've been very surprised with how inconsistently the Droid DNA performs. While tasks such as app loading are impressively fast, the phone suffers from a lot of jerky and glitch-filled performance in other areas. System animations frequently stutter, and scrolling on the Web is slower and less fluid than what I've come to expect from a high-end phone.
Beyond that, the system seems to struggle to keep up at times: When typing, for instance, the phone will often freeze up for a few seconds and ignore my input -- then quickly burst out the backlog of letters it's collected in a rush to catch up. I can't remember the last time I experienced anything like that on a computing device.
In general, getting around the system feels like more work on the Droid DNA than on other devices with comparable or even less horsepower. On-screen gestures aren't always responsive, which makes a simple task like trying to swipe away a tab in Chrome feel like a labored effort. And I experienced a shocking amount of hiccups and glitches, including weird flash-frames and blurred graphics when I tried to switch from one app to another. A few times, the phone briefly flashed random colors on the screen for no apparent reason.