The Kyocera Neo E1100 for MetroPCS may look like your run-of-the-mill flip phone, but it offers some stylish elements that set it apart from the handset crowd. And in typical Kyocera fashion, they're subtle and complementary, rather than dramatic and distracting. The feature set is squarely functional, but that's hardly a bad thing. Even as high-end smartphones explode in popularity, there's always a place for a handset that just makes calls. At $49 with MetroPCS' no-contract service, the Neo is already reasonably priced, but you can get it for as little as $19 if you buy it online.
With smooth lines and a thin profile (3.52 inches long by 1.05 inches wide by 0.66 inch thick), the Neo takes us back a couple of years. That's to be expected since Kyocera first unveiled the handset two years ago, but we wouldn't call its design dated. The front face has a glossy finish in light blue. You can use it as a simple mirror, and we were pleased to see that it doesn't show too many fingerprints and smudges. The handset is rather light (3.2 ounces), though it doesn't feel too wispy.
Running down the full length of the exterior is a "light pipe" that flashes blue when you get a call. It's a nice touch, and you can turn it off. The light pipe also circles the camera lens at the phone's top end. On the other hand, we weren't impressed with the vertical external display. We don't mind the monochrome resolution, but it is way too small. The display is "hidden"--meaning that it's invisible when the backlighting is off--and even when active the tiny text can be difficult to see in strong light. What's more, you have to choose between viewing the date and time or the signal strength and battery meter (you can't do both).
The remaining external features include a volume rocker and camera shutter on the left spine. The rocker is thin, but you can find it when you're on a call. On the right spine, you'll find the Micro-USB charger port (good) and the 2.5mm headset jack (not so good). The Neo features a reverse hinge, which means that the front flap folds behind the rear face when it's open. It doesn't have an impact on usability.
The 2.2-inch display is smaller than it could be, but the 262,000-color (240x320 pixels) resolution is perfectly serviceable. You're offered a few customization options, and the menus are simple and easy to use. We also like the shortcut options that are available in standby mode.
The spacious navigation array consists of two soft keys, a circular toggle with a central OK button, the Talk and End/power controls, a speakerphone shortcut (nice), and a back key. The array is mostly flat, but the toggle is slightly raised. The keypad is equally comfortable and easy to use. Though the individual buttons are flush, raised ridges between the columns and rows make it possible to dial by feel. We also approve of the large numbers and bright backlighting.
The Neo's phonebook holds 500 contacts with room in each entry for six phone numbers, two e-mail addresses, an instant-message handle, two street addresses, and notes. You can organize callers into groups and pair them with a photo and ringtone for caller ID. You get just nine options with the handset, but you can record your own tones.
As mentioned, the Neo's feature set isn't impressive. Yet, it offers the essentials for communication. There's text and multimedia messaging, instant messaging, and the @Metro POP3 e-mail service. The latter feature is available only through a Web interface, so it's not the easiest to use.