Kyocera DuraMax (Sprint)
Sprint will be phasing out Nextel's iDEN network in 2013, but that doesn't mean users will be without Direct Connect push-to-talk services or handsets. The carrier is transitioning Direct Connect to its CDMA network, which brings faster data speeds and eventually, broader network coverage. Of course, with the new service, you need compatible devices, and the Kyocera DuraMax is one such device. Available now for $69.99 with a two-year contract and after a $50 mail-in rebate, the DuraMax will feel very familiar to iDEN customers, with its rugged exterior and Direct Connect features, which work just fine. However, it's pretty basic and the speakerphone volume is a bit low. This doesn't make it the best handset for those who work in loud environments, but if you're just looking for a rugged handset, the Kyocera DuraMax certainly fits the bill.
The Kyocera DuraMax doesn't really pull any surprises in the design department. Like many Direct Connect phones before it, the DuraMax is a rugged handset that looks and feels like it can take a beating and keep on ticking. It meets Military Standard 810G, so it's resistant to dust, shock, vibration, humidity, and more.
The phone can also survive being immersed in up to one meter of water for up to 30 minutes, but just to make sure these claims were true, I decided to give it a try. (Hey, it's not often I get to dunk phones in water.) I placed the DuraMax in a glass of water for about 20 minutes, and sure enough, the phone worked just fine after being pulled out of the water. The handset even displayed incoming calls on its external display while under water.
At 4 inches tall by 2.1 inches wide by 0.1 inch thick and 5.1 ounces, the flip phone is a bit clunky but given the intended audience, I don't think that's a major problem. If you're working at a construction site and wearing gloves, you don't want to be fumbling around with a smaller phone. The DuraMax's alphanumeric keypad and navigation controls are easy to use, even if you have larger hands. This also applies to the Direct Connect button and volume rocker on the left spine. The phone features ridges along the sides of the phone, as well as a textured back, for a better grip.
On front, you get a 1-inch monochrome (96x64 pixels) display that shows the usual stats, such as time, battery life, signal strength, and missed alerts. The internal color display measures 2 inches diagonally with a 240x320-pixel resolution. It's bright and clear, though slightly on the small side. The user interface is pretty straightforward with grid and list views.
In addition to the Direct Connect and volume controls, there is also a Micro-USB port on the left side, which is protected by an attached cover. The 2.5mm headset jack on the right spine is also protected by a cover, but it is a nonstandard size, so you can't plug in your regular headphones. The top of the phone features a call list button and external speaker button. The microSD expansion slot is hidden behind the battery, which is inconvenient.
Sprint packages the Kyocera DuraMax with an AC adapter, a preinstalled 1GB microSD card and card adapter, a travel charger, and reference material.
The Kyocera DuraMax is the one of the first handsets to support Sprint's next-generation Direct Connect push-to-talk service. The new Direct Connect platform works on Sprint's 3G CDMA network and allows for faster data speeds compared with the current Nextel iDEN network, which is being phased out in 2013.
Another advantage to the next-gen service is broader coverage. Sprint says that by early 2012, Direct Connect is expected to match its CDMA voice coverage area, which is about three times the square miles covered by iDEN. That said, it should be noted that if you fall out of a 3G coverage area, the service does not work, so keep this in mind as you're shopping around.
Aside from the usual push-to-talk functionality, Direct Connect continues to offer call alert with text, Group Connect, Next Mail, availability notification, and the signature chirp sound to let you know that your call was successfully sent.
Direct Connect services aside, the DuraMax is a pretty basic phone. The address book can hold up to 600 contacts, with room in each entry for multiple phone numbers, e-mail addresses, IM handles, birthdays, and more. You also get a speakerphone, voice-activated dialing, text and multimedia messaging. The handset is EVDO-Rev. A capable and has Bluetooth 2.0 and GPS.
If you want to surf the Web, there is a WAP browser onboard, though it will test your patience. It's not particularly fast and doesn't render HTML pages very well. Other preloaded tools include a calendar, a calculator, a voice memo recorder, a countdown timer, an alarm clock, a stopwatch, a world clock, Sprint Navigation, and Sprint Family Locator.
The Kyocera DuraMax is equipped with a 3.2-megapixel camera with flash and video recording capabilities. The camera app offers a decent set of editing options, including zoom, a self-timer, white balance controls, contrast, and fun frames. Picture quality was OK. Low-light performance was poor, as you can see from the image above. Though the objects in the photos are pretty easy to identify, the colors are washed out and the overall picture is very dark. The camera performance was much better in brightly-lit rooms and outdoors, however.
By the way, if your company prohibits camera phones for security reasons, Sprint also offers the camera-less Kyocera DuraCore.
I tested the Kyocera DuraMax in San Francisco using Sprint service, and call quality was OK. With volume set to midlevel, I had no problem hearing my callers, and there wasn't any distracting background noise. However, once I stepped outside onto a busy street and jacked up the volume, calls sounded blown out, and it was difficult to understand what my friends were saying. Meanwhile, callers said the sound was mostly clear but a couple of people noted that my voice was distorted at times.
Kyocera DuraMax call quality sample Listen now:
I also tested the Direct Connect service with my colleague Jessica Dolcourt, who was in L.A. and also using a DuraMax. The sound quality of the PTT calls was good, and there was only a slight delay in transmission. My only issue was that speaker volume wasn't very loud. With volume set at the highest level, I could hear most of the conversation outside on a fairly busy street, but I craved more volume. I can only imagine if someone was using this at a construction site, it would be hard to hear some of the Direct Connect calls.
The Kyocera DuraMax ships with a user-replaceable 1,360mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 8.08 hours. I'm still running battery drain tests, but so far, battery life has been great. I'll update this section with final results as soon as testing is done. According to FCC radiation tests, the DuraMax has a digital SAR rating of 0.41W/kg.
If you're a customer of Nextel's iDEN push-to-talk services, then you should find Sprint's next-gen Direct Connect service to be comparable. The features worked well on the Kyocera DuraMax, and though it's a very basic handset, it offers a rugged exterior, easy-to-use controls, and good battery life.
However, there are a couple of issues that you should consider before picking up the phone. First, the speakerphone volume is pretty weak, so if you work in loud environments, such as a construction site, the DuraMax might not be the best choice. Second, be aware that for now, the CDMA-based Direct Connect service doesn't work if you're roaming, so consider the 3G coverage in your area before making the plunge. If you prefer to stick with iDEN a little longer or want some more features, check out the Android-based Motorola Titanium or CDMA Motorola Admiral.