/> ED I T O R S C H O I C E IN N O V A T IO N A W A R D
X

CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.

Kyocera Brio - gray (Sprint) review: Kyocera Brio - gray (Sprint)

jessicadolcourt.jpg

Kyocera Brio - grey (Sprint)
6.0

Kyocera Brio - gray (Sprint)

The Good

The <b>Kyocera Brio</b> has good call quality, access to Web-based e-mail, room for a 32GB expansion card, and it's free with a new two-year contract.

The Bad

The buttons and keyboard could be more comfortable on the Brio, the camera is pretty terrible, and Internet is a poor experience. The Brio is not a 3G phone.

The Bottom Line

The Kyocera Brio is worth the price you pay for it, but unless you're in the market for a free feature phone with a small screen, QWERTY keyboard, and good call quality, keep on moving.

Amid all the high-end, superpremium devices, it's nice to see carriers like Sprint also offering free, basic phones for renewing customers and luring new recruits. While the Brio certainly isn't anything worth paying much money for, it's not a terrible free phone, either. Despite being incredibly basic, it does come with a QWERTY keyboard and supports e-mail services, Bluetooth 2.0, and a Web browser.

However, it also only channels 2.5G data speeds (that's right, there's no 3G), and doesn't support native mapping, hot spots, or GPS.

Design
In the looks department, the keyboarded Brio resembles the Kyocera Loft and the Kyocera Torino, mostly because of that compact QWERTY-on-a-candy-bar design that also mimics the classic BlackBerry form.

It's made of smooth gray plastic all around, with a couple of metallic gray accents on the navigation and surrounding the camera lens. The shape is about what you'd expect, too--4.5 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide by a slightly chunky 0.6 inch thick. It weighs 3.7 ounces, which is on the light side, but the phone doesn't feel like it's going to blow away in a strong wind.


The Kyocera Brio has a cool design around its soft keys, but they're not the most rewarding to press.

Like so many candy bar QWERTY handsets, the Brio's screen is on the smaller side. It's a 2.2-inch QVGA landscape display with a 320x240-pixel resolution and support for 65,000 colors. While bright enough and colorful enough, the small, blocky font is hard to read when in all-caps. Worse, it evokes an old computer typography best left covered with cobwebs. The lower-case font used more prevalently in the menus is also old-school, but easier to read.

Once you realize you have to press the OK button to reach the phone menu, navigating is a piece of cake. You can choose to either see your options in grid or list view, and it's pretty easy from there to navigate around. The display settings are fair--you can swap screensavers, change the backlight time and the screen brightness, and set the clock, but it's missing controls for font size and type. There are parental controls, however.

Navigation takes place with the four-directional D-pad, the central OK button, and two soft keys below the display. There are also the Talk and End buttons, the Back button, and a shortcut key that gets you to your messages. The Brio jazzes it up a bit by slashing sharp angles around the buttons, but frankly, the feeling of said buttons beneath the fingers was less responsive than I'd like, especially the soft keys. Likewise, the navigational square and OK button both have thin, sharp edges that worked fine but didn't feel good.

Below the navigation buttons, the four-row QWERTY keyboard is compact--those with larger hands would call it small. The buttons are ridged, which is usually a great idea for clearly defining where one end and the other begins, and for giving your fingers something to grip onto. In this case, I'm on the fence about them. Sometimes, I hit the buttons just right with my nails and typing is fine, albeit a little slower than on phones with better spring-back. Other times my fingers slip and I find myself frustrated. What is nice are the buttons for appending ".com," for emoticons, and for jumping to the call history.

As for the externals, Kyocera concentrates them on the phone's left spine. That's where the camera button, Micro-USB charging port, and short, narrow volume rocker live (bad design, Kyocera). Up top is the 2.5-millimeter headset jack. It should be the 3.5-millimeter standard, but since there's no music player on the phone, it's not as heinous a crime. On the back there's the lens for the 1.3-megapixel camera, and behind the back cover (which I initially had a hard time prying off) there's the microSD card slot that holds up to 32GB external memory. A red indicator light sits above the display on the phone face.

Features
Although most people won't exhaust the 600-contact limit in the Brio's phone book, it's a shame that there's not enough space for the more common 1,000 cap. There's room in each entry for multiple phone numbers, an e-mail address, IM and a URL, an address, a birthday reminder, and notes. There are also a whopping 37 preloaded ringtones to choose from, not including any you might download, and also silent mode.


The keyboard is compact, no doubt, but might be too compact for some people.

Being a basic free phone, you've got all the essential tools like an alarm clock, a calendar, a calculator, a countdown tool, a stop watch, and a world clock. The Brio supports Bluetooth, and text and multimedia messaging. There's also support for e-mail services through the Messaging folder, and that includes G-mail, Yahoo, AOL, Windows Live Hotmail, and corporate mail. You can also sync your calendar and e-mail contacts to the phone, which are pleasant surprises. In addition, when composing e-mail, you can access your online contacts. If you have a microSD card, there's no problem saving certain files, or attaching files (like photos) to an e-mail.

In addition, the Brio supports Nuance voice commands--the easiest way to summon it is to press and hold the keyboard button shaped like a phone speaker. There's also the browser, which isn't very pleasant to use in the phone's wider-than-tall landscape mode. There is Google search and various browser options, the ability to set your home page, and privacy settings. When you consider the slower browsing speeds combined with the squashed interface, I'd really only use the browser in a pinch.

Sprint also adds a few shortcuts to online services of its own, like the Sprint Family Locator (you get a free, 15-day trial. Otherwise it'll cost $5 per month to track up to four phones). There are also online stores to buy and download more games, ringtones, screensavers, and apps.


The 1.3-megapixel camera isn't at all good, but if you need to take a picture, it'll do the trick.

Now for the camera. The best thing I can say about the 1.3-megapixel shooter is that it's already set up to take landscape shots. The flashless camera does best in broad daylight with even lighting. There's no apparent antishake setting, so steady hands will produce the best shots. The best-lit photo had muted colors, with a lot of aliasing and noise. Of course, the smaller you view a shot, the better it will look. Without an expansion card, you're only looking at about 25 photos. With a 4GB card installed, the Brio's photo allotment increased to over 1,000 stills. The card slot holds up to 32GB. One thing I will say is that it's easy to copy and move pictures over from the phone memory to the external card.

Performance


A smooth, matte gray finish covers the Kyocera Brio.

I tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900; 1xRTT) Kyocera Brio using Sprint's network in San Francisco, mostly in quiet indoor locations in order to concentrate on the call quality. Call quality was pretty decent overall. On my end, I heard white noise whenever my caller spoke, but no other background noise when we were both silent. Voices were natural and fine on medium volume. At times, the voices sounded a little digitized for a snippet at a time. Our friends said we sounded nice and loud, without background noise, but we didn't always sound entirely natural. "Muffled" was the word they used. At any rate, we were able to have long conversations without asking each other to repeat words, and without wanting to hang up and call back from another line.

I tested speaker phone at waist level. Volume was very low on my end and I had to increase the volume to its maximum setting to hear. Other than that, volume sounded OK and the background hiss disappeared. Voices sounded slightly hollow (but not tinny) and characteristic of the typical speakerphone experience, but again, I had no problem spending a long time gabbing. On their end, callers said I sounded good overall, but were speaking at a lower volume. Although I still didn't sound crystal clear, they didn't complain of loud muffling, crackling, or distortion. In fact, they said that the Brio had better a speakerphone than other handsets we've tested together.

Kyocera Brio call quality sample Listen now: "="">

For data hogs, the Brio's lack of 3G could be a sticking point. It took about a minute to load CNET's mobile-optimized site over the 2.5G network, although it rendered somewhat incorrectly, and about 24 seconds to complete loading the mobile ESPN site.

The Brio has a rated battery life of 4.7 hours talk time on its tiny 870 mAh battery. It has a digital SAR of 1.2 watts per kilogram.

Conclusion
The Kyocera Brio isn't a great phone, but it's not bad for a free cell phone, either, thanks to its good call quality and its e-mail access, which has more features than you might first expect. Still, if you want a more advanced phone, Sprint is still offering the Samsung Replenish for free--it has a similar build and runs Android 2.2 Froyo, but you will need to buy into the monthly data commitment. If you don't care two licks about a smartphone, then the Brio isn't a bad place to start for keyboard-loving bargain-hunters.

Kyocera Brio - grey (Sprint)
6.0

Kyocera Brio - gray (Sprint)

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 6Performance 6