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Kyocera Contact (Virgin Mobile) review: Basic QWERTY handset that can't nail down the basics

Although its budget price may beckon, Virgin Mobile's Kyocera Contact messaging phone is one to avoid.

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Lynn La
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Lynn La

Senior Editor / Reviews - Phones

Lynn La covers mobile reviews and news. She previously wrote for The Sacramento Bee, Macworld and The Global Post.

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8 min read

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Editors' note: Due to their similarities, sections of this review have been taken from our review of the Kyocera Verve .

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6.3

Kyocera Contact (Virgin Mobile)

The Good

Virgin Mobile's Kyocera Contact is competitively priced off-contract, has a capable camera, and can transfer media files via a USB connection.

The Bad

The Contact's keypads have minor design flaws, call quality is poor, and glacial data speeds make Web surfing a drag.

The Bottom Line

Though the Kyocera Contact is inexpensive and easy to use, there are better, more reliable prepaid phones on this network and others.

Available without a contract for $39.99, the Kyocera Contact is Virgin Mobile's version of Sprint and Boost Mobile's colorful Kyocera Verve . Though it's dressed in a much more formal black coat, the Contact has all the same benefits as the Verve: a decent camera, straightforward media transferring, and a low price.

Unfortunately, the device also has the same problems, like the fact that some of its keys are uncomfortable to press. What's more, the Contact performed worse than the Verve (which wasn't so stellar to begin with) in the areas of call quality and data speed. At the end of the day, other prepaid feature handsets are more reliable for around the same price. This is one Contact that needs a little distance.

The affordable, QWERTY-toting Kyocera Contact

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Design

Unlike Sprint's bright-pink and Boost Mobile's deep-blue variants, the Kyocera Contact for Virgin comes in stark black. It's still ultra-pocketable, however, measuring 4.53 inches tall, 2.13 inches wide, and 0.59 inch thick (115mm by 54mm by 14.9 mm). With its compact frame and reasonable weight (it weighs 4.7 ounces or 132.5 grams), it's very comfortable to hold. You can slide the keyboard in and out with one hand, and when closed, it's still easy to navigate with one hand.

Located on the left edge are a volume rocker and Micro-USB port, and up top is a 3.5mm headphone jack. The right edge houses a shortcut camera button and a small indentation. Using the latter, you can pry off the subtly textured back plate to reveal the 1,100mAh battery. The rear houses the only camera on the device as well, and two slits for the audio speaker.

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The Contact has a low-res 2.4-inch QVGA display and an alphanumeric keypad. Josh Miller/CNET

On the front sits a 2.4-inch QVGA display with a 320x240-pixel resolution. Obviously, with these specs, graphics and texts on the screen will look pixelated and jagged. Images such as default wallpapers showed noticeable color banding as well. The display also has a narrow viewing angle. A slight tilt from any angle can wash out the screen entirely. All that said, however, it's still viewable, and I didn't have any trouble looking, reading, or navigating my way through menus.

To the left of the screen are two black softkeys that can be utilized when the QWERTY keyboard is slid out and in use. Because they blend with the rest of the handset, they are unobtrusive and don't add any clutter to the device's overall look. Below the screen are an alphanumeric keypad, complete with its own set of two softkeys, and a silver rectangular navigation control with a menu/OK button in the middle. This silver ring of buttons feels a bit sharp to the touch, but it's not a deal breaker. After using it a few times, I got used to the way it felt and hardly noticed it after a while.

At the bottom of the two shortcut keys are buttons for the speaker and back button. Altogether, these four keys are quite small and cramped around one another. The fact that they angle inwardly helps a little bit, but often, I still found myself pushing a couple of them at the same time, so you'll need to be precise when you press.

Next to those sit the talk, speaker, and end/power keys. Both of these keys are conveniently raised and bulge out a little from the surface of the phone, making them easier to feel for and to press. And finally, below that is the alphanumeric keypad. Like the talk and end buttons, the keypad sits above the surface of the Contact, so you can easily dial numbers without looking directly at the buttons. The keys arc slightly downward and are generously sized. In addition, if you long-press the star and pound keys, you can launch your In Case of Emergency information and contacts, and dial 911, respectively. This is especially useful for seniors who may want quick access to either of these services.

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The QWERTY keyboard features directional arrows and an Alt-function key. Josh Miller/CNET

The key feature of the device however, is its sliding four-row keyboard underneath. The sliding mechanism to open and close the keyboard operates smoothly, and feels snappy and secure. And of course, there's nothing like definitively collapsing a handset shut after every use.

As for the keyboard, it includes four direction buttons for easy navigation, plus a function key for secondary entry input. You can also long-press the spacebar to insert a period mark. The buttons are responsive, and personally, I found them to be reasonably sized and spaced. I had no problems typing quickly and accurately while looking at the keyboard. If you have small or medium-size hands like me, this keyboard will feel comfortable. Someone with slightly bigger hands, however, might need to look elsewhere.

In general, the buttons lie flat against the surface of the phone, making it a little difficult to feel for specific buttons on touch alone. In addition, even though the spacebar is wider than the other keys, you'll have to press it in the right place: I found it had some dead spots on either end, plus a thin dead section in the center. When I tapped on these areas, nothing registered. This slowed down my typing and caused me to miss spaces in my messages.

Software features

As the Contact is a "feature phone," you won't find sophisticated software apps of any kind included. But you will get the bare-bones necessities of any useful handset. The Contact's address book can hold up to 600 entries. With each entry, you can input several more pieces of information, such as a person's work number, email, job title, and birthday.

There's also T9 texting (and e-mailing), 256MB of RAM, and 512MB of internal storage space.

The phone has a handful of basic task-management tools as well, like a calendar, an alarm clock, a stopwatch, and a calculator. There's also a world clock feature, a voice memo tool, and a countdown timer. A few other goodies include the option to transfer media files through a USB connection, Bluetooth 2.1, Spanish-language mode, and airplane mode.

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The device comes with a handful of software tools and a basic Web browser. Josh Miller/CNET

To keep track of your plan minutes and balance, the Contact has a My Account feature. There's also a Miss Alerts menu item where you can check your missed calls and messages, and a Downloads folder holding all your downloaded content.

The handset has an elementary WAP 2.0 Web browser. When you use the navigation key to move through Web pages, the browser will first open to the Virgin Mobile's Web portal, which contains links to popular websites, news, and weather pages.

Camera

Given that the camera has a 2-megapixel lens, I didn't expect much of its photo quality. But I was pleasantly surprised how decently some of the pictures turned out. True, lighting was washed out, you can see a noticeable amount of digital noise, and images didn't appear very sharp. But in environments with ample lighting, the camera functioned adequately. Central objects of focus were easy to make out, and particularly bright and vivid colors managed to stand out. For more on camera quality, check out the photos below. And be sure to click on the pictures to see them at their full resolution.

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Though not particularly sharp, colors in this outdoor photo are true to life, and objects are distinguishable. Lynn La/CNET

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In this dimmer indoor shot, lines appear a bit blurred and objects are grainy. Lynn La/CNET

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Despite the amount of digital noise in our standard studio setup, the white balance is accurate. Lynn La/CNET

The camera doesn't have a flash and can't record video. Though it doesn't have many editing options, there are some, like the five picture modes (such as night/dark and mirror image); a 12x digital zoom; a self-timer; and the choice to manually or auto-adjust the brightness, sharpness, and contrast.

Additional options include five white balances, three "fun tools" that give different color tones, decorative frames, and the ability to take multiple shots at once; four resolution options (from 0.1 megapixel to 2 megapixels); three qualities; and three shutter tones.

Performance

I tested the dual-band (800/1900) device in our San Francisco offices, and results were similar, if not a bit worse, to those with its Sprint variant. Specifically, volume range was very low. My calling partner sounded very far away and soft, despite my increasing the volume to its highest level. I kept my ear close and had to find myself in a quiet room in order to hear her. In addition, there was a notable amount of muffled static (though it wasn't too overly distracting), and audio sounded delayed by a few seconds. Understandably, callers in other areas may have a different or better experience than I had, but in my location, I wasn't impressed.

Podcast

Speakerphone was average and was easy to understand, though it sounded sharp and thin when volume was at its loudest. Meanwhile, my partner reported that she had no problem hearing the audio on her line, and that my voice came off clear as well.

Both data speed times and processing power are slow. The handset doesn't have Wi-Fi capabilities, so it runs solely on the 3G network of Virgin's parent, Sprint. On average, data times were even slower than on the original Sprint model. There were also times when the data connection timed out for no reason. It took 25 seconds to open the browser and finish loading the carrier's home page (compared with the Verve's 18). It also took nearly 2 minutes (as opposed to 1 minute and 6 seconds for the Verve) for it to display the CNET mobile site. Keep in mind that CNET's site and other pages are stripped of much of their coding and you're left with simplified, skeletal version instead.

As previously mentioned, the phone itself is slow. When I took photos, I needed to hold the Contact still a few seconds after pressing the shutter to prevent motion blur. I also needed to wait a beat for the camera to ready itself to take another picture. On average, it took 43 seconds for the device to restart itself and 2.04 seconds to launch the camera.

Anecdotal evidence for the device's battery life has been underwhelming so far. The 1,1000mAh battery didn't last a weekend on standby, and after a workday of medium usage, the phone displayed only 50 percent of its power left. This was pretty similar to the Sprint model, which, by the way, clocked in 6 hours and 12 minutes in our talk time lab test. According to FCC radiation measurements, the phone has an SAR rating of 1.29W/kg.

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Powering this device is a 1,100mAh battery with up to 6 hours of talk time. Josh Miller/CNET

Conclusion

I can almost give Kyocera a pass for the Contact's shoddy Web performance, since a) most buyers probably aren't choosing the device with the goal of high-speed browsing and b) those in Virgin's footprint may experience faster speeds than I did. But, there's no way to turn a blind eye to the subpar call quality that I experienced in my area, even at the handset's low $39.99 off-contract price.

Instead, consider Virgin Mobile's Samsung Montage . It costs the same, has a loud call volume, and has a QWERTY keyboard as well. For $10 more, you can get the Samsung Array on the prepaid carrier Boost Mobile. It too has the same design, and "top-notch call quality" according to CNET's Kent German. Both are feature phones just like the Contact, and do a better job of covering the basics.

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6.3

Kyocera Contact (Virgin Mobile)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 5