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Kyocera Hydro XTRM review:

Despite waterproof capabilities, call quality sinks

Photo quality was respectable, but mediocre. Though you'll have no problem capturing your main image or a general scene, photos aren't as focused and clear, especially in dimmer lighting. And despite colors being true-to-life, dark hues are hard to distinguish from one another, edges aren't very well-defined, and you'll see some digital noise with your photographs.

Fortunately, recording video on 1080p yielded better results. Audio cam in clearly, and images were adequately sharp. Moving objects, like passing cars, remained in focus and colors were accurate. In addition, there was little lag between my moving of the camera and the feedback I saw on the viewfinder.

I tested the Kyocera Hydro XTRM in our San Francisco offices. Unfortunately, call quality was poor on U.S. Cellular. Though none of my calls dropped and audio didn't clip in and out, throughout my calls, I could hear a continuous high-pitched tone. I could hear this sound while someone talked and during times of absolute silence. Voices also came off scratchy, and I was told I sounded muffled and staticky as well. And while audio speaker sounded great and full of depth with music, phone calls sounded a bit harsh and tinny.

Call quality on MetroPCS and T-Mobile, however, fared much better. Again, it had no trouble keeping my calls connected. However, there were no high-pitched noises or buzzing this time. Voices did still sound a bit muffled too, and there were times when my calling partner's voice sounded notably hollow, but neither issues became overly distracting. As for the other end of the line, I was told that my voice sounded clearest while on the MetroPCS unit, and that while the T-Mobile model still performed well, I sounded more staticky when I turned on speakerphone.

Kyocera Hydro XTRM (U.S. Cellular) call quality sample

Listen now:

Kyocera Hydro XTRM (MetroPCS) call quality sample

Listen now:

Kyocera Hydro XTRM (T-Mobile) call quality sample

Listen now:

Because we didn't receive U.S. Cellular's 4G LTE coverage during our initial testing with the carrier, I browsed the Internet using the carrier's 3G roaming network. On average, data speeds were glacial. CNET's mobile site loaded in a minute and 38 seconds and our desktop site, oddly, took less time, a minute and 20 seconds. The New York Times' mobile site took about 27 seconds, while its desktop version took 2 minutes and 30 seconds. ESPN's mobile site took 34 seconds, and its full site loaded in a minute and 52 seconds. Ookla's Speedtest app showed me an average of 0.1Mbps down and 0.13Mbps up. It took a whopping 30 minutes and 32 seconds to download the (then) 32.41MB game Temple Run 2.

We were, however, able to get 4G LTE speeds on both MetroPCS and T-Mobile. For the former unit, it loaded CNET, The New York Times, and ESPN's mobile site in 6, 7, and 8 seconds respectively. Desktop versions of these same sites loaded in 22, 15, and 10 seconds. On average, it took about 58 seconds for it to download and install the now 40.89MB game Temple Run 2. Speedtest clocked in 11.64Mbps down and 6.97Mbps up.

Our T-Mobile unit showed similarly fast and consistent data times. CNET's mobile site loaded in 5 seconds, while its full site loaded in 15. The New York Times' mobile site finished displaying after 6 seconds, and the desktop version took 12. The mobile and desktop site for ESPN clocked in at 9 and 8 seconds, respectively. Temple Run 2, again at 40.89MB large, finished in 57 seconds, and Ookla's app averaged out with 11.47Mbps down and 6.62Mbps up.

U.S. Cellular (running 3G) MetroPCS (running 4G LTE) T-Mobile (running 4G LTE)
Average download speed 0.1Mbps 11.64Mbps 11.47Mbps
Average upload speed 0.13Mbps 6.97Mbps 6.62Mbps
Downloading Temple Run 2 30 minutes, 32 seconds (32.41MB) 58 seconds (40.89MB) 57 seconds (40.89MB)
CNET mobile site load (seconds) 98 6 5
CNET desktop site load (seconds) 80 22 15
Restart time (seconds) 48 45 42
Camera boot time (seconds) 1.66 1.71 1.81

The device is powered by a dual-core Snapdragon 1.2GHz processor. At times, it can be slow. It takes a few moments for it to switch from landscape to portrait mode and vice versa, and for it to unlock the home screen. In general, however, it has no problem carrying out daily but necessary tasks like opening up simple apps, returning to the home pages, or scrolling through Web sites. Though what carrier you have plays no role on the processing speeds of a phone, on average, it took the U.S. Cellular model about 48 seconds to reboot the phone, and 1.66 seconds to launch the camera. The MetroPCS unit took 45 and 1.71 seconds for the same tasks, and the T-Model device took 42 and 1.81 seconds on average.

As for its water resistance, the handset is certainly waterproof, and it can reportedly be submerged in up to a meter of water for 30 minutes. Our review unit survived multiple dunkings, 30 minutes completely submerged in a shallow bowl, and sitting inside a running shower for 20 minutes. Furthermore, I knocked it down a flight of cement stairs a few times. While that resulted in a lot of scuffs and scratches, the handset itself still kept on ticking and the touch screen didn't crack.

During our battery drain test, the device lasted 5.53 hours for continuous video playback. Anecdotally, it has a decent battery life. It has a reported talk time of up to 12.4 hours. Though it couldn't last the weekend on standby, with minimal usage, it can survive a workday without a charge. According to FCC radiation standards, the U.S. Cellular model has a digital SAR rating of 1.27W/kg. For MetroPCS and T-Mobile, it is 1.44W/kg.

For U.S. Cellular customers, if you want absolute peace of mind the next time you're at the beach or a pool party, the Kyocera Hydro XTRM will surely survive any splashes coming its way. In addition, compared to the equally-priced, water resistant Motorola Defy XT, the XTRM has 4G LTE, more internal storage, and a more powerful processor.

However, if having a waterproof device isn't a priority, consider the carrier's more higher-tiered devices like the reliable LG Optimus F7 or the stylish Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini (which both have the same contract price).

As for MetroPCS users, the XTRM is the only waterproof handset in its lineup, so you'll do well with it if you want a splashproof phone. If you can live without that feature, the cheaper $149 LG Optimus F3 retains the 4-inch screen size, but it has a bigger battery and a faster internal performance.

Though regular T-Mobile customers won't be able to casually buy the XTRM, business customers on the carrier will be able to purchase it. And if it's a waterproof handset you're looking for, consider the XTRM. You may not have the fastest phone on the market, nor will you be able to take the best photos, but it's still a satisfactory and reliable LTE handset that does well at keeping water at bay.

What you'll pay

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