It's become difficult for consumers to find a basic cell phone that's designed for, well, making calls. And for the models that do fit the bill, they're usually as plain on the outside as they are on the inside. The Kyocera K4130 SoHo is an exception, however, as it wraps basic calling features in an adventurous design. If you don't care about such extras as e-mail support and picture messaging, you'll find this phone an attractive option. But you may find that it's better suited for use while on the go, as we had trouble keeping a consistent signal when using the SoHo indoors. Regional carrier U.S. Cellular is currently the only provider offering this phone, which lists for a fair $180. Depending on the plan you choose, however, you can get it for free after rebates. Created in collaboration with BMW DesignworksUSA, the Kyocera K4130 SoHo sports a somewhat industrial look, with lines carved into the faceplate and an asymmetrical bottom edge. The all-slate-gray color isn't eye-catching, but the phone does support changeable faceplates. Small and light (1.73 by 3.46 by 0.94 inches; 3.4 ounces), it has an overall solid construction with a particularly sturdy hinge.
The rectangular, two-line external screen is a bit on the small side, but the monochrome text display is large and bright enough that you can read caller ID information easily (where available). You'll also see the date, time, battery life, and signal strength. Other features on the outside of the mobile are a stubby antenna, a volume rocker, and the ports for the headset and charger.
Flip the cover open and you'll see a 65,000-color internal display. We found it somewhat hard to read in bright sunlight, and even indoors, the colors don't pop as much as those on other internal screens. More troublesome, though, are the buttons. Instead of being slightly raised from the body of the phone, the dial pad is slightly recessed into the body, making touch-dialing virtually impossible. The five-way navigation toggle, positioned directly beneath the display, is very small, and it's easy to make the wrong menu selection. The toggle gives one-touch access to the Web browser, voice memos, call history, and the custom menu, which can be programmed with your favorite features. You can also set the left soft key to open your 15 most frequently called contacts instead of your entire phone book. The SoHo also sports a minuscule Back button and a designated speakerphone key. The latter is an especially nice touch, even though you can turn on the speakerphone only after you've initiated a call. Don't expect a lot of whiz-bang features on the Kyocera K4130 SoHo. There's no camera or picture messaging, and common wireless Web access don't come standard with the package. The 200-entry phone book is relatively small, though you can store five numbers, three addresses, and notes for each contact. You can assign contacts to a caller group and pair them with a picture or any of 25 polyphonic ring tones. Be aware, however, that pictures do not appear on the external screen. Other goodies include a vibrate mode, a timer, an alarm clock, a calculator, a stopwatch, a tip calculator, text and multimedia messaging, and voice memos. For playtime, the SoHo comes with one BREW-enabled game (Race 21) and a doodler application.
The handset does include some nifty calling features, however, and we were pleased that it supports voice commands and includes a speakerphone. When wearing a headset, the Voice Answer option asks whether you want to answer an incoming call. If you say "Yes," you'll be connected to the call, which makes it a great feature to use while driving. If you receive a call while in the middle of another conversation, the Hold feature places the incoming caller on hold, complete with a greeting you've created, until you're ready to take the call. Yet another great addition is the Smart Sound feature, which automatically adjusts the volume during a call based on the surrounding noise levels.
The SoHo includes a WAP 2.0 browser, but wireless Web access isn't immediately apparent. In order to get the usual news and weather content, for example, you'll have to open an Easyedge account--U.S. Cellular's enhanced (1xRTT) wireless service--and order a package from the Easyanswers category. New York Times articles, for example, cost $2.99 a month, while ESPN BottomLine fetches $3.79 a month. With Easyedge, you can also purchase ring tones and more BREW-enabled games. For business users, the iDatebook application lets you access your Outlook calendar information from your SoHo phone. You can personalize the mobile with wallpaper, colors, and a ticker message that scrolls across the external screen when the phone is in standby mode. We tested the triband (CDMA 800/1900; AMPS 800) Kyocera K4130 SoHo in the Chicago area, which is U.S. Cellular's home turf. While outdoor reception was always strong, we had trouble maintaining a consistent signal indoors. Call quality was good for the most part, although we did encounter some annoying static and brief dropouts when we used the phone inside a building. The speakerphone is plenty loud and clear for holding sustained conversations.
Battery life is only average. We reached 2.75 hours of talk time, a bit short of Kyocera's maximum rating of 3.5 hours. And we fell far short on standby time, getting only 100 hours compared with the rated 165 hours. This was most likely due to the fact that the phone was at rest indoors most of the time and often struggled to hold a signal, which can affect the battery's performance. According to the FCC, the SoHo has a digital SAR rating of 0.76 watts per kilogram and an analog SAR rating of 0.99 watts per kilogram.