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Editors' note: The Kyocera Domino is available on MetroPCS and Cricket Wireless. The phone's design will be the same on both networks, but voice network performance will vary on the two models, as will some of the bundled apps. We reviewed the MetroPCS version.
Kyocera delivers some truth in advertising with the Kyocera Domino. Not only is it tall and thin like its namesake, it's also almost as basic, at least as cell phones go. It looks strikingly similar to an earlier effort, the Kyocera Jax, a phone that didn't do much to impress us then, just as the Domino falls flat now. We can't fault the phone too much for its simplicity (it doesn't have a camera or a microSD card slot,) but we can object to weak construction and low resolution, same as with the Jax. Calling was fine, but there's little in this phone that impresses and there are better entry-level handsets to be had.
Sporting a candy bar design, the Domino comes in purple for MetroPCS and champagne gold for Cricket Wireless. It has a simple black matte backing and a slim body, at 4.3 inches tall by 1.7 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick. Although it feels solid enough in the hand and on the ear, we're not confident that the light 2.5-ouncer can handle much abuse.
When it comes to use, right away, the Domino's screen is far too small. It's only 1.8 inches, with entry-level specs that haven't budged from the Jax two years earlier: a quarter-QVGA display of 128x160-pixel resolution on a CSTN screen that supports 65,000 colors. Those are the details we'd expect for a flip phone's external display, not a primary display. A QVGA resolution (240x320 pixels) on a TFT screen with greater color support would have been more fitting, and in line with competitors. Our initial disappointment in the Domino's specs carries through to its fuzzy resolution. The diminutive screen size makes for cramped onscreen navigation and icons.
The Domino's physical navigation and keyboard are somewhat better than its digital face. The soft keys, Talk and End key, and Speakerphone and Back buttons are small--about half the size of a Tic Tac--and require precision to press, but they rise above the surface and have enough space in between to make them workable. It's the same story with the four-directional navigation pad and its central selection button. Those with larger fingers may find the Domino's buttons too small to be comfortable or accurate.
The numbered dial pad below is better, although we wouldn't call it roomy. Thanks to the oblong, backlit keys rising a good distance above the surface, we were able to compose texts fairly quickly with the predictive text feature turned on. Shared keys make it possible to lock the screen, access messages, and turn on vibrate mode from the dial pad.
As for the rest of the phone's external features, you'll find the Micro-USB charging port on the Domino's right side, just below the 2.5mm headset jack. The overly narrow volume rocker is on the left side. We had a hard time prying off the back cover, but since there's understandably no microSD card underneath, popping the Domino's cover shouldn't be a daily occurrence.
You won't find many surprises in the Domino's feature set, except perhaps its sparseness. Its address book holds 250 names, each with room for six phone numbers, two e-mail addresses, two URLs, two street addresses, and a note. You can access group calling from the contact menu. While you can assign ringtones and photo IDs, it won't be from the contact card. Instead, you'll need to open an image or a ringtone in the media folders to link them with your friend's name. Note that the Domino has no camera (like many other phones of this level,) so you won't be able to create photo IDs that way. There are, however, a few images to get you going, and you can buy more tunes and images from MetroPCS' @Metro online store.
The tools inside are typical. There's a calendar, a voice recorder, an alarm clock, a calculator and a tip calculator, a timer, and a stopwatch. Texting and Bluetooth 2.0 are also available; a browser, an e-mail application, a backup app, and mobile IM come courtesy of MetroPCS' preloaded bundle of branded apps. These programs will let you access Web-stored data in a pinch, but keep in mind that the small screen size may make you squint.
When we tried out the browser, it took about 15 seconds to load a very poorly rendered version of CNET's mobile site on the Metro Web app. Navigating to the page you want is slightly easier using the Google search bar on the default MetroPCS splash page or any of the links, though the pipsqueak screen still makes reading results a long scroll down.
We tested the dual-band (CDMA 850/1900) Kyocera Domino in San Francisco. Call quality was fairly good overall. The volume was fine, but we could have raised it as well. Voices sounded natural and clear, though we did hear interruptions on the line that sounded like bumps in the road, making voices fluctuate up and down. The calls were also dotted with some mild feedback that never interrupted the conversation.
On their end, callers said we sounded loud, but not altogether clear. Our voice quality was a little distorted, they said. The distortion disappeared when we pulled the phone away from our lips, but at the expense of volume. We were clear enough for normal conversation, however, and our friends didn't notice any feedback or interruptions.
Kyocera Domino call quality sample Listen now:
Speakerphone was pretty good on our end. It was loud and voices were relatively clear, considering they flowed out from the phone's external speaker on the back. On their end, callers said we sounded clearer over the speakerphone, but quieter. They had to listen a bit harder to hear our reduced volume.
The Domino has a rated battery life of of 3.3 hours of talk time and a rated standby time of 8.3 days. Our tests revealed a talk time of 4 hours and 12 minutes. It has a digital SAR of 1.2 watts per kilogram, according to FCC radiation tests.
The Domino's price is right. It costs $19 with an instant discount and $29 at full retail. Since it's a prepaid phone, there's no two-year contract. That's unfortunately not enough to overcome the phone's drawbacks. It's bad enough that the screen is so small and its resolution is so low. What adds insult to injury is that Kyocera has done little to improve the quality of its components, instead giving us almost the same underpowered handset it did with the Jax. Call quality and speakerphone may be the best things about the Domino apart from its portability, but they aren't enough for us to recommend it, not when there are better phones in MetroPCS' lineup that don't cost much more.