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Android face-off: Nexus 4 vs. Droid DNA

There has been no shortage of hot new Android phones lately, but the LG Nexus 4 and HTC Droid DNA are undeniably the most talked-about, and for good reason. In their own ways, both are groundbreaking devices that push the envelope of what's possible on the Android platform.

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However, they're also very different -- and they're likely to compete for some of the same prospective buyers. Here's our in-depth comparison between the Droid DNA and the Nexus 4, on paper.

DISPLAY

Were the Nexus 4 up against almost anything else, its display would likely be considered highly competitive at the very least, with a resolution of 1280x768 and 4.7 inches of viewable area. That makes for a pixel density of 318 pixels per inch, nearly as good as the iPhone 5.

However, there's no getting around the fact that, for the moment, the Droid DNA looks to have the single most impressive smartphone display on the planet. An enormous 5-inch screen, checking in at a resolution of 1920x1080, is tough to beat. Even with the large size of the display, that's good for 441 ppi.

DIMENSIONS

Interestingly, the Droid DNA isn't too much bigger than the Nexus 4, despite the larger screen, thanks to a thinner bezel. (And it somehow manages to pack hardware buttons on there as well, though some might question HTC's judgment in persisting with those.) The Nexus 4 is actually slightly heavier than the DNA, though only by a solitary gram.

HARDWARE

The Droid DNA and Nexus 4 are very, very evenly matched in terms of their under-the-hood loadouts, with one notable exception -- the Droid DNA includes full LTE support, while the Nexus 4 does not. Other than that, they both sport 1.5GHz Krait quad-core CPUs, Adreno 320 graphics processors, and 2GB of RAM. Neither has an SD card slot -- much to the irritation of some users -- and both have 16GB of internal storage, though there's also an 8GB model available for the Nexus 4.

The Droid DNA has a slightly smaller battery than the Nexus 4, which, given the general parity of internal specs and much larger screen, might limit available usage time and require more frequent charging. We haven't tested this, however.

INTERFACE/SOFTWARE

While both the Nexus 4 and Droid DNA run Jelly Bean out of the box, the HTC device's operating system is overlaid with the company's Sense UI and a host of pre-installed applications that might not appeal to all users. That includes a big suite of Amazon stuff that, some have speculated, could eventually replace the Google Play store, though that hasn't happened on the Droid DNA.

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By contrast, the Nexus 4 offers a pure-Google experience, coming pre-installed with the latest Version 4.2 of Android and doing away with any bloatware. Given how generally excellent the base Jelly Bean experience has been, many users might not miss Sense and Amazon.

CAMERA

Both devices have nearly identical camera setups, with an 8MP main camera capable of shooting 1080p, 30fps video on the back and a secondary video-chat shooter on the front. The Droid DNA does have more bells and whistles, according to GSMArena, including simultaneous recording and video stabilization, as well as a slightly more high-performance secondary camera. The Nexus 4, however, does include the impressive Photo Sphere feature.

PRICE/AVAILABILITY

The Nexus 4 and Droid DNA represent two very different value propositions. The name of the game with the Nexus 4 is flexibility -- despite its inability to use LTE networks, it's available off-contract for $300 when equipped with 8GB of storage and $350 with 16GB. Compare that to the unsubsidized price of $600 for the Droid DNA. If you're looking to get a pre-paid plan, the Nexus 4 is far and away the better deal.

That said, the majority of smartphone users still tend to opt for contract plans, and at $200 with a new two-year deal, the Droid DNA represents quite an attractive option for such buyers. Even so, however, it's a Verizon-exclusive, so customers who don't want to sign up with Big Red are out of luck. (As are those who want to use the Droid DNA with an unlimited data plan.)

SUMMARY

Like many decisions, the choice between the Nexus 4 and the Droid DNA comes down to what you want out of a top-of-the-line Android smartphone. The Droid DNA's snazzy display alone will sway any number of users, as will its support for LTE. However, there's no denying the appeal of the Nexus 4's cleaner Android experience and ability to work on carriers that aren't Verizon.

If you're going to be on Wi-Fi most of the time anyway, and you don't mind missing out on the new gold standard in smartphone screens, the Nexus 4 gives you more flexibility and -- hopefully -- access to at least a couple years' worth of brand-new Android software updates. We wouldn't blame you in the slightest, however, for being tempted by the Droid DNA's screen, and think both devices are worthy choices for your next Android phone.

Email Jon Gold at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.

Read more about anti-malware in Network World's Anti-malware section.


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