By Michael Fisher | December 7, 2012 2:52 PM
Normally, a company launching a variant of an already-released smartphone isn’t huge news. Variations on a common theme are business-as-usual in the mobile tech world, not blockbuster paradigm shifts — especially as mobile offerings grow more and more streamlined across different carriers and markets.
Sometimes, though, a handset comes along that deserves special mention. The new Butterfly, quietly unveiled just this morning on HTC’s website, is one of those devices. It’s a new variant of the design that served as the basis for Japan’s Butterfly J and the impressive Droid DNA for Verizon Wireless, and it stands a good chance of single-handedly reversing HTC’s harrowing financial trajectory — or at least helping a great deal.
We’re no strangers to the Droid DNA, and if you’re a regular Pocketnow reader, neither are you. We’ve reported from its NYC launch event, reviewed it, compared it, and talked extensively about it on many episodes of the Pocketnow Weekly. But maybe you tuned it out. Maybe the phone’s high-definition display didn’t faze you, or its American exclusivity frosted your cookies a little bit. So if you don’t know what the Droid DNA is or why it’s important, take a gander at our handy three-part refresher course.
If that’s not enough to jog your memory (or you’re reading this article at work and can’t afford to sneak a video), here’s why the Droid DNA is important: it’s the American variant of the world’s first smartphone with a 1080p display, the aforementioned Butterfly J. More than that, though, it’s a well-specced, flagship-class Android device with incredible build quality and some interesting differentiators, like Beats audio and that super-wide-angle front-facing camera. For some HTC enthusiasts, it feels like the ultimate expression of what was supposed to be the company’s comeback year. As Brandon Miniman put it in one of our recent podcasts, “this is what HTC does. It makes beautiful hardware.”
So it’s understandable that some of the reaction to our extensive Droid DNA coverage was animosity. Many of our readers hail from regions of the world where neither the Droid DNA nor the Butterfly J are available (and wouldn’t work properly, even if they were). Even some folks from the United States were annoyed, because the Droid DNA’s feature set, excellent though it is, is hobbled somewhat by a trend we’ve been seeing recently: a lack of expandable storage and a sealed, non-removable battery.
If the spec sheets are to be believed -and HTC warns on its website that “specifications are subject to change without prior notice”- the new Butterfly is here to fix (some of) that. The new device still includes an embedded battery, but it features MicroSD expansion up to an additional 32GB atop the on-board 16GB of storage, and its radio includes quad-band GSM and dual-band HSPA.
The memory card is great news. Sure, it’s not SDXC up to 64GB like some of its competitors, but it fills a significant local-storage gap. We can’t see a reason anyone would complain about the Butterfly’s inclusion of MicroSD support (unless they’d just bought a Droid DNA).
The radio loadout is more of a mixed bag. While it’s nice to see a device of this caliber free of carrier shackles, it’s disappointing that it only includes dual-band 3G support. The much-older Galaxy Nexus includes a penta-band 3G radio, so it’s confusing to see a late-2012 device launch with such limited band support — until you realize the Butterfly is a device destined for the Chinese market, where it’ll be available on China Unicom, according to AndroidCentral. This is not, in other words, the true “global” version of the Droid DNA you’re looking for. Frowny-face.
This is no real surprise – we’d heard rumors of the Japanese Butterfly’s plans to ditch its “J” suffix for the China market before. And tactically, it makes sense as the next logical step in a steady, deliberate worldwide rollout. But for those in search of a true globetrotting version of HTC’s 1080p flagship with expandable memory, it’s also a brutal tease.
Here’s why it’s a good thing.
It makes sense from a strategic standpoint because it’s a multi-stage rollout that allows HTC to focus on each launch market individually, honing the experience for each one. Also, if the company is experiencing supply-chain constraints (just speculation on my part), it spares it the obligation of producing obscene quantities of devices to satisfy a global appetite. Finally, it generates buzz that helps fuel demand in markets that don’t yet offer the device – the kind of ferocious longing that only the statement “you can’t have it” creates.
And while, like all teases, it’s an unpleasant experience, it’s also a good sign for the future of HTC. You may not agree with the company’s tactics, but there’s no denying that the staggered rollout of the Droid DNA is generating a lot of talk — and sometimes, even negative chatter is better than none at all. If nothing else, it’s proof that HTC has created a very compelling product in the Droid DNA/Butterfly/J, further evidence that the company’s recovery is just getting rolling. We haven’t yet seen much encouragement on the financial side to support that notion -the disappointments keep rolling in- but these things take time. While the Butterfly may be just the latest in HTC’s small steps back to health, it’s also the most tangible proof yet that the company has what it takes to accomplish that recovery. We’ll just have to hope that the next step will be a little bigger. Bolder. A little more “global,” if you will.
Need more insight into HTC’s latest and greatest? Listen to the team’s in-depth thoughts on the Droid DNA on Episode 019 of the Pocketnow Weekly, available here.
HTC Butterfly specs, info via HTC