Sprint will be phasing out Nextel's iDEN network in 2013, but that doesn't mean users will be without Direct Connect push-to-talk services or handsets. The carrier is transitioning Direct Connect to its CDMA network, which brings faster data speeds and eventually, broader network coverage. Of course, with the new service, you need compatible devices, and the Kyocera DuraMax is one such device. Available now for $69.99 with a two-year contract and after a $50 mail-in rebate, the DuraMax will feel very familiar to iDEN customers, with its rugged exterior and Direct Connect features, which work just fine. However, it's pretty basic and the speakerphone volume is a bit low. This doesn't make it the best handset for those who work in loud environments, but if you're just looking for a rugged handset, the Kyocera DuraMax certainly fits the bill.
The Kyocera DuraMax doesn't really pull any surprises in the design department. Like many Direct Connect phones before it, the DuraMax is a rugged handset that looks and feels like it can take a beating and keep on ticking. It meets Military Standard 810G, so it's resistant to dust, shock, vibration, humidity, and more.
The phone can also survive being immersed in up to one meter of water for up to 30 minutes, but just to make sure these claims were true, I decided to give it a try. (Hey, it's not often I get to dunk phones in water.) I placed the DuraMax in a glass of water for about 20 minutes, and sure enough, the phone worked just fine after being pulled out of the water. The handset even displayed incoming calls on its external display while under water.
At 4 inches tall by 2.1 inches wide by 0.1 inch thick and 5.1 ounces, the flip phone is a bit clunky but given the intended audience, I don't think that's a major problem. If you're working at a construction site and wearing gloves, you don't want to be fumbling around with a smaller phone. The DuraMax's alphanumeric keypad and navigation controls are easy to use, even if you have larger hands. This also applies to the Direct Connect button and volume rocker on the left spine. The phone features ridges along the sides of the phone, as well as a textured back, for a better grip.
On front, you get a 1-inch monochrome (96x64 pixels) display that shows the usual stats, such as time, battery life, signal strength, and missed alerts. The internal color display measures 2 inches diagonally with a 240x320-pixel resolution. It's bright and clear, though slightly on the small side. The user interface is pretty straightforward with grid and list views.
In addition to the Direct Connect and volume controls, there is also a Micro-USB port on the left side, which is protected by an attached cover. The 2.5mm headset jack on the right spine is also protected by a cover, but it is a nonstandard size, so you can't plug in your regular headphones. The top of the phone features a call list button and external speaker button. The microSD expansion slot is hidden behind the battery, which is inconvenient.
Sprint packages the Kyocera DuraMax with an AC adapter, a preinstalled 1GB microSD card and card adapter, a travel charger, and reference material.
The Kyocera DuraMax is the one of the first handsets to support Sprint's next-generation Direct Connect push-to-talk service. The new Direct Connect platform works on Sprint's 3G CDMA network and allows for faster data speeds compared with the current Nextel iDEN network, which is being phased out in 2013.
Another advantage to the next-gen service is broader coverage. Sprint says that by early 2012, Direct Connect is expected to match its CDMA voice coverage area, which is about three times the square miles covered by iDEN. That said, it should be noted that if you fall out of a 3G coverage area, the service does not work, so keep this in mind as you're shopping around.
Aside from the usual push-to-talk functionality, Direct Connect continues to offer call alert with text, Group Connect, Next Mail, availability notification, and the signature chirp sound to let you know that your call was successfully sent.