There's no doubt that the Kyocera DuraPlus is one tough cookie. When I wrote about its introduction in March, I admitted that I couldn't wait to get one in for review just so I could knock it around.
Although its plastic and rubber makes it an awfully unattractive device, this handset certainly can withstand a beating--making it perfect for extra-tough lifestyles. With its push-to-talk feature, military specs, and LED flashlight, it's especially useful for those working in construction or field operations. It is available on Sprint's network for $69.99, after sending in a $50 mail-in rebate and signing a two-year contract.
The Kyocera DuraPlus is 5.28 inches long, 2.17 inches wide, and 0.93 inch thick. Yup, you read that right, it's nearly an inch thick. It also weighs 6.67 ounces, so it's not lightweight. Indeed, it feels heavy in the hand and could barely fit inside my jean pocket, and when I talked for a couple of minutes with the phone between face and shoulder, I felt like I was pinning a rubber brick to my face.
I do get that the device is designed to satisfy military specs, which results in a few aesthetic limitations. But outside of construction workers and extreme sports enthusiasts, I just can't see anyone using this handset day to day like a normal phone without finding it cumbersome. It is possible to make a rugged phone that doesn't look like a chew toy that can withstand the apocalypse, but this device is not such a phone.
On the bottom left side of the DuraPlus is a Micro-USB port that can be covered by a thick plastic door. Above that is a pimple-like Direct Connect Button outlined in yellow and above that is a bulbous volume rocker. At the top of the phone are the speaker button and the call list button, with an LED flashlight in between. On the right is a 2.5mm headset jack, which also is covered by an attached plastic door.
On the back of the device there are two screws near the top, sealing in the remote speaker microphone. The 1,650mAh battery sits below that and is locked underneath its own cover. You can twist this cover open with a coin. Lastly, below the battery are the two yellow-rimmed power connectors.
The handset's QVGA 2-inch screen has a resolution of 240x320 pixels. Because the display is so elementary, few colors can be displayed. Texts appear pixelated and images are streaky and grainy. In fact, the interface feels like it's straight out of 2000.
Above the display are the earpiece in the center and an LED indicator to the right. Below the display are two soft keys and a circular navigation control with a menu/OK button in its middle. To the left of the navigation control is a shortcut key to turn on the flashlight and the talk button; to the right are the back button and the End/power key. Below the entire set is your standard set of alphanumeric keys, and below that are the speaker and microphone. Given how big the phone is, you would think the number keys would be just as big, but they're actually quite small. Although they're bulbous, making them easy to feel, they're tiny compared with the rest of the phone, which made it a little difficult to type out numbers and letters.
The Kyocera DuraPlus is built to military-grade specifications, which means it is shock-, dust-, and splash-proof. It can operate under extreme temperatures, humidity, and solar radiation. What's more, you can submerge it in up to a meter of water for 30 minutes.
Since it's not a smartphone, it doesn't have any applications installed. It does, however, include some bare-bones task-management features, such as T9 text messaging, a calendar, an alarm clock, a stopwatch, a calculator, a world clock feature, Bluetooth capabilities, and a phone book that can store a maximum of 600 contacts. The handset can hold up to 256MB of internal storage, and doesn't have a microSD slot.
There's a My Account feature that tells you your plan minutes and balance, and a My Stuff folder that keeps track of all your purchased games, ringtones, and screen savers.
The DuraPlus also has a turn-by-turn GPS navigation feature that you have to log in to with your e-mail to use the first time. When you access it, you can enter or search for your destination by either typing it in or speaking the address out loud. I recommend typing because when you choose to say your destination, your DuraPlus will call activate the Telenav and route you to some automated robot that will make you spend the next 10 minutes of your life shouting "Bryant Street" because it just "didn't get that."
In addition, the map is equipped with Sprint's Family Locator, which lets you pinpoint your kids or other family members on a map. You can also look up your current location, check traffic, search for airports and local businesses locations, or choose a contact to go to. Useful information, yes, but it all comes at a very glacial network speed.
The device is also loaded with a WAP 2.0 Web browser, which is a very elementary browser, reminiscent of what we saw on phones 10 years ago. When you use the navigation key to move through Web pages, the browser will first open to the SprintWeb portal, where you can choose to read the day's featured headlines, check the weather, or look for media files to download.
You can also check your e-mail, as long as it's a Yahoo, AOL (do people still have those?), or Hotmail address. A Gmail shortcut is not included. And you can check up on your social media networks like Facebook and MySpace (yes, despite this handset being released in 2012, the makers still think MySpace is relevant, just to show you how out of touch they are.)
I tested the dual-band (CDMA 800, 1900) DuraPlus in San Francisco using Sprint's services. Although this device doesn't have a lot of things going for it, it's got call quality in the bag. Voices sounded clear and clean, there was no extraneous buzzing or noise, and voices over speakerphone were just as clear. Likewise, my caller said that I could be heard perfectly, except that I sounded a little bit muffled when I switched over to speakerphone, though still easy to understand.
Kyocera DuraPlus call quality sample Listen now:
The phone comes with Sprint's Direct Connect feature, which enables users to instantly connect with other Direct Connect subscribers using push-to-talk. It works on Sprint and Nextel network platforms. Customers using Group Connect can talk to up to 20 subscribers instantaneously, or up to 200 people via its TeamDC feature. You can also set up alerts, texts, and notifications, which will let you send an audio or text alert to other people to let them know you are trying to reach them via Direct Connect.
I thought the walkie-talkie feature worked pretty decently. After I set up another DuraPlus to call, I could hold down the push-to-talk button and communicate directly with the person holding that phone. Voices sounded loud and clear, even as I walked outside our CNET building and continued around the corner. I especially liked the chirping, which notifies you that your call was successfully sent.
Being a rugged device, the DuraPlus can take a beating. I dunked it in my sink and threw it in my freezer for 10 minutes each, and it came out completely functional. I also banged it around a hardwood floor and slammed it against a wall multiple times, and it still kept on ticking. Barely any of these activities made a dent on the phone, and the rubber exterior fended off a lot of scratches and dings.
On the other hand, the Sprint 3G network (1xEV-DO rA) on this handset was as slow as molasses. The carrier reports that the average download speed for this device ranges from "400 to 700Kbps with peak rates up to 2Mbps." Loading the CNET mobile site took an average of 32 seconds, but mind you, the mobile site on this device looks nothing like it does on a regular smartphone. Many of the images were stripped away and what was left was a skeleton of our site's key headlines. After numerous tries at accessing our full site, a "memory shortage" error message started popping up. The New York Times and ESPN mobile sites both loaded within an average of 10 seconds. Again, the sites were displayed within the bare minimum of their coding. Full sites for the New York Times and ESPN's were inaccessible since links to their sites were not shown.
During our battery drain tests, the phone lasted 11.47 hours. Anecdotally, the handset has a great battery life, which is to be expected for a non-smartphone. I spent most of the day browsing a sketchily rendered version of the Web, talking on the phone, and using the walkie-talkie feature without making a dent in the battery usage. According to FCC radiation tests, the phone has a digital SAR rating of 0.78W/kg.
Despite being a rugged device that is shock-, dust-, and splash-proof, the Kyocera DuraPlus from Sprint is too heavy and thick for its own good, and its design is an eyesore. I simply would not enjoy lugging this thing around for daily use. However, I am fond of its push-to-talk feature and the call quality is superb. If you're a field operator working the night shift or a swashbuckling pirate, I can understand how this would come in handy. But if you don't need the walkie-talkie option and still want a decent tough phone, consider something a little more modern-looking.