Verykool RS90 Vortex (unlocked) review: Boring features can't match the rugged design

Aside from the few modifications from Verykool, the phone has the same look and functionality as other Android devices. There's the Google Play store, where you can download apps, music, games, books, and movies, and all the other stock Google apps -- Gmail, YouTube, and Search. Skype, Facebook, and Twitter also come preloaded.

Verykool sells both a single and dual-SIM model of the Vortex. If you don't know, dual SIM devices , which are still rare in the US, let you have two phone numbers one one phone. I tested the single-SIM model.

Like other Android phones, the Vortex has portable WiFi hotspot capabilities. It worked fine in my test, but keep in mind some carriers may require you have a special data plan to use this feature.

The Vortex comes with 2GB of internal storage, but you can add up to 32GB with a microSD card.

Camera and video
On the back of the Vortex, there's a 5-megapixel camera. There's also a 0.3-megapixel front-facing camera near the earpiece. The camera loads quickly, but it takes several seconds to focus and snap the shot. At least a few times, thinking the phone had already snapped the picture, I moved the phone too quickly and ended up with a blurry image.

This studio shot is missing fine details and has a dark green tint in the right corner. Josh Miller/CNET

Indoor close-up shots turned out really well, with a lot of fine details showing up sharp. Colors looked natural and the lighting looked normal.

In this indoor shot, you can clearly see the details on the mug. Sarah Mitroff/CNET

However, in outdoor shots, both up close and not, colors look oversaturated. In every picture I snapped, indoors and out, the camera makes any area with bright natural light look completely washed out.

The light reflecting off these white flowers showed up too bright in photos shot by the Vortex. Sarah Mitroff/CNET

In my standard studio shot, the Vortex's camera struggled to pick up fine details, and there was a dark green tint on one half of the photo.

The camera shoots video in 480p. While video playback is smooth, the videos I shot looked fuzzy and low-quality.

You can see how the Vortex's camera chops compare with other smartphones in our cell phone photo gallery.

Call quality
The unlocked Verykool Vortex supports 3G HSPA (7.2/5.67) dual-band (850/1900) and 2G GSM quad band (850/900/1800/1900), and can be used with any carrier worldwide. In the US, the phone will run on all GSM networks, including AT&T and T-Mobile. You cannot use the phone on a CDMA network, so that means it won't work on Verizon Wireless, Sprint, MetroPCS, Cricket, or U.S. Cellular.

Call quality was less than impressive on the Vortex. To test it, I called another cell phone using T-Mobile's network in San Francisco. My tester said my voice sounded tinny and unnatural. On my end, background noise was loud and distracting, and my caller's voice sounded robotic.

Speakerphone sounded worse. The person I called said I sounded too quiet whenever I moved the phone away from directly in front of my mouth and no matter where I held the phone, her voice sounded muffled, even at max volume.

Verykool Vortex call quality sample Listen now:

Performance
The Vortex is far from lightning-fast, but the phone performs well when launching apps and swiping through menus. Inside, it has a 1.2 GHz dual-core processor and 512MB of RAM. That combo handles most popular mobile games, such as Temple Run 2, with ease.

During testing, I found that the back of the phone near the camera got hot while I talked on the phone for more than 5 minutes and when the phone was handling several processes at once, such as downloading an app and streaming a video. It doesn't seem to be a serious issue, but it makes the Vortex uncomfortable to hold.

Verykool Vortex
Average 3G download speed 1.1Mbps
Average 3G upload speed 0.3Mbps
App download (Temple Run 2) 32.5MB in 4 minutes and 24 seconds
CNET mobile site load 8.1 seconds
CNET desktop site load 27 seconds
Restart time 28 seconds
Camera boot time 2.4 seconds

The phone supports 3G HSPA and 2G data connections. Seeing that most phones today, even most rugged, low-cost phones, support 4G, it's a knock against the Vortex that it can't take advantage of faster networks.

The slower network speeds mean that apps will take longer to download and Web pages will load slower. I was able to stream YouTube videos over 3G, but I had a hard time getting high-quality (720p) videos to load. I tested the Vortex on T-Mobile's network in San Francisco, and had a 3G signal at almost all times.

The Vortex is running Android 4.0. Josh Miller/CNET

The Vortex's 1,800 mAh battery promises 9 hours of talk time and 192 hours on standby. In my testing, using the phone for 7 hours off and on, the battery drained quickly with the screen alternating between full and half brightness. On an average day of checking e-mails, looking at your social networks, making a few calls, and spending 10 minutes playing a game, you'll need to top off your battery during the day or risk it dying in the evening. The phone failed both the CNET video and call battery tests. During the call test, the phone would hang up after four hours and immediately shut down, even though it still had more than half battery power left.

Conclusion
I picture the perfect Vortex customer as someone who spends their time at the beach and doesn't want their phone to get ruined by the sand and surf, so it's fitting that Verykool is based in San Diego. If you spend a lot of time around water and need phone that can handle the elements, the Vortex is worth a look.

Though the phone's outdated operating system and so-so camera aren't doing it any favors, the Vortex has a few redeeming qualities, most notably its bright screen and stable performance.

At the $280, Verykool Vortex is also good deal for an unlocked phone you can take to any carrier. In fact, of the water-resistant phones that CNET has tested, the Vortex is the only unlocked model and one of the cheapest outright.

If you're looking for the best of both worlds -- a waterproof phone that also has other impressive features, you'll need to pick a model that's tied to a carrier. A few options I recommend are AT&T's Samsung Galaxy S4 Active and the Kyocera Hydro Edge for Sprint and Boost Mobile.

However, if the only thing luring you to the Vortex is that it's unlocked, I'd consider the Samsung Galaxy Grand instead. For just a few more dollars, the $300 phone has a newer version of Android and much more impressive specs.

What you'll pay

Pricing is currently unavailable.

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Where to Buy

Verykool RS90 Vortex

Part Number: RS90 Released: Jul 23, 2013

MSRP: $279.99

See manufacturer website for availability.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Jul 23, 2013
  • Weight 7.09 oz
  • Diagonal Size 4.5 in
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