Kyocera Hydro Vibe review: Splash-happy budget phone cuts corners

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CNET Editors' Rating

3 stars Good
  • Overall: 6.3
  • Design: 7.0
  • Features: 7.0
  • Performance: 5.0
Review Date:

The Good Sprint's Kyocera Hydro Vibe is affordable on contract, it's water resistant, and it has a few nifty software features for first-time smartphone users.

The Bad Call quality was poor, the camera's problems with focus resulted in blurry photos, and data speeds were especially slow, even for 3G.

The Bottom Line The Kyocera Hydro Vibe is an unmemorable phone that can't outpace its competitors, and is only worth considering if water-resistance is a top priority.

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For those who have met the unfortunate fate of being thrown into a pool with your smartphone in your pocket, the water-resistant Kyocera Hydro Vibe for Sprint may look tempting. After all, at $29.99 on contract, it's reasonably affordable, and peace of mind isn't just limited to pool parties. Indeed, a device like this would come in handy when you're cooking in the kitchen, or hanging around a beach.

Unfortunately, despite excelling at being water-resistant, the Hydro Vibe struggles with key features. Its 8-megapixel camera is mediocre and has a difficult time steadying its focus, call quality was unimpressive, and performance was buggy at times. So unless you're dead-set on jumping in the pool with your handset, it's best to look elsewhere.

Design

Similar to Verizon's Hydro Elite, the Vibe has a simple, austere design with straight edges and clean lines. This look is more modern than past Kyocera devices, and because it doesn't have any port coverings, you wouldn't be able to tell at first glance that this is actually a water-resistant handset. It measures 5.02 inches tall, 2.5 inches wide, and 0.43-inch thick (127.4 x 63.5 x 10.9mm), and can fit easily in your front jeans pockets or handbag. Weighing in at 4.9 ounces (139g), it's also lightweight, and is comfortable to hold. The textured battery door also helps with grip and prevents it from slipping around on slick surfaces.

On the left edge is a volume rocker, while the top houses a 3.5mm headphone jack and the sleep/power button. The right has a shortcut button for quick access to the camera (which you can customize to launch video instead, if that's what you prefer), and on the very bottom is a Micro-USB port for charging.

kyocera-hydro-vibe-0112-005.jpg
The Hydro Vibe includes a shortcut button to launch the camera or video. Josh Miller/CNET

On the back are an 8-megapixel camera and its corresponding flash, as well as two small slits for the audio speaker. A small indentation on the bottom edge allows you to peel off the back cover to reveal the 2,000mAh battery, the SIM card, and the microSD card slot right above. On the underside of the back cover, you can see the water seal (in orange) that protects the phone's innards.

The Hydro Vibe's 4.5-inch IPS screen has a 960x540-pixel resolution and is impact resistant. This means that it's a bit more durable against the daily abuses that people put their devices through, and that it should be able to survive a reasonable fall without cracking. As for the screen, it is responsive to the touch, and I didn't find any trouble tapping on apps or typing on the virtual keyboard. The resolution isn't very crisp compared to higher-tiered handsets, but text and images still look very clear. It also has a wide viewing angle, and I had no problem looking at the phone in bright sunlight.

Water resistant construction

Certified to satisfy IPX5 and IPX7 standards for waterproofing, the Hydro Vibe can survive a good dunking. It can be submerged in up to a 3.28 feet (1 meter) of water for 30 minutes. Just be sure that your back cover is completely secured.

Though I wasn't able to test my review unit in 3-plus feet of water, my device withstood several dunks underwater in a vase and splashes in the sink. And although I could see a few water droplets underneath the battery door when I removed it, the handset continued to function just fine. In addition, it kept on ticking after being in the shower for 20 minutes, and after being fully submerged in a tall vessel for 30 minutes. It was even able to register an incoming call during its time underwater.

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Splish splash, this device can definitely take a bath. Josh Miller/CNET

Software features

The handset contains a few choice features from Kyocera that make it unique. There's one feature called MagniFont, which increases the interface's text size even greater than the default "large" setting. EcoMode, is an app and a widget that lets users quickly adjust certain settings to conserve battery life. Lastly, there's an Easy Mode option that simplifies and minimizes the UI. This is especially useful for recent smartphone adopters who want an easier time navigating.

The Hydro Vibe runs on Android 4.3 Jelly Bean. While that's not the most recent version of the OS, it's great that the device is the most up-to-date of the Kyocera handsets I've seen. As expected, it has several key Google apps like Chrome, Drive, Gmail, Search, Plus, Hangouts, Maps, YouTube, and a number of the Play Store portals. You can also access Google's digital-assistant feature, Now, by long-pressing the home button.

kyocera-hydro-vibe-screenshots.jpg
The phone's UI with MagniFont activated (left) and Easy Mode (right). Screenshots by Lynn La/CNET

Sprint preloaded a handful of its own apps, such as its digital payment system called Sprint Money, a ringtone portal called Sprint Music Plus, Sprint TV and Movies, and Sprint Zone, which users can use to check their account information and balance. Lastly, there's Sprint ID, an app that enables you to customize your phone with preselected apps, widgets, and other items depending on which ID profile you choose.

Basic task-managing apps include a calculator, a native browser and email clients, a calendar, a clock with alarm functions, a news and weather app, a sound recorder, and a voice dialer. A few other nonstandard goodies thrown in are apps for eBay, CBS Sports, Scout, and NextRadio, as well as a flashlight app, an "In Case of Emergency" app to store pertinent contact and medical information, and an app to help set up your mobile hotspot.

Camera and video

The 8-megapixel camera's photo quality was inconsistent, and just poor in general. Most of the time, the lens had a difficult time focusing. Even after I tapped the screen multiple times to enable touch-to-focus, the camera never quite locked onto any object, which resulted in extremely blurry shots. On the occasions that it did manage to focus, photos were still disappointing. Pictures had a tendency to contain a lot of overblown lighting, especially with outdoor shots. With indoor scenery, colors looked muted and flat. For more on the phone's photo quality, check out the test pictures below. Be sure to click on each one to see it at its full resolution.

Video recording capabilities fared a bit better, though not by much. Both moving and still objects were kept in focus for the most part, and nearby audio was picked up accurately. However, the camera did lag when it came to adjusting for lighting, and audio sources that was somewhat farther than a few feet away were not picked up at all. In addition, there was a subtle but noticeable "pulsating" effect with the recordings when the lens had to readjust itself.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Technology CDMA2000 1X
  • Service Provider Sprint PCS
    Virgin Mobile
  • Weight 4.9 oz
  • Diagonal Size 4.5 in
  • Sensor Resolution 8 pixels
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