Kyocera DuraPro (U.S. Cellular) review: Tough, easy to use, and excels at the basics

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MSRP: $149.99

The Good The Kyocera DuraPro's camera takes decent photos, it has great call quality, and its rugged construction can withstand a beating.

The Bad The DuraPro is hefty, its hot key can't turn on the flash, and both its data and processing speeds are slow.

The Bottom Line U.S. Cellular's Kyocera DuraPro has both the brawn and the reliable call performance that make it a good choice for users looking for a rugged feature phone.

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6.7 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 6
  • Performance 7

Review Sections

As U.S. Cellular's only rugged device, the Kyocera DuraPro meets military standards for shock, dust, and water resistance. And while it excels at being tough, don't expect to find any high-tech specs in this feature handset: it has only a 3.2-megapixel camera and a low-resolution display, and its 3G data speeds are as fast as a slug on Ambien.

Then again, the DuraPro was never meant to be on the bleeding edge of technology, and what it lacks in powerful specs, it makes up for with clear, reliable phone calls and decent photos. The phone is identical to Sprint's DuraXT (save for the Direct Connect button) and is currently going for the prepaid price of $179.99. If you sign a two-year contract with the carrier, however, that price drops to $149.99.

Editors' note: Due to the phones' similarities, sections of this review have been taken from our review of Sprint's Kyocera DuraXT.

Given its purpose, the DuraPro is naturally no delicate item. Encased in rubber with a thick plastic speaker grille surrounding the external display, it looks like what Optimus Prime would carry around as his own phone. It stands 4 inches tall, 2.1 inches wide, and 1.1 inches thick.

Weighing in at 5.3 ounces, it's heavy in the hand, and I felt especially uncomfortable after spending a few minutes with the device pinned between my cheek and shoulder during a call. Though it can fit easily in a shoulder bag, backpack, or tool belt compartment, it barely fit in my jeans pockets. The fit was snug and the device bulged out awkwardly like I was a little too happy to see someone.

Kyocera DuraPro (side)
On the U.S. Cellular model, the DuraPro's hot key (outlined in yellow) can launch the calendar, alarm, Bluetooth, or Web browser. Josh Miller/CNET

On the bottom left side is a Micro-USB port that's covered by a thick plastic door. Above that are a volume rocker and a pimpled yellow button that was originally for Sprint Direct Connect. However, because U.S. Cellular doesn't support push-to-talk, the key can be programmed to launch other functions like a calendar, Bluetooth, alarm, and Web browser. In addition to these limited options, I would have really liked it if the hot key could turn on the LED flash so it could be used as a flashlight.

At the top, where the hinge is for the clamshell, are the speaker button and the call list button. The former also doubles as a keyguard unlock if you hold it down for a few seconds.

On the right is a 2.5mm headset jack, which also is covered by an attached plastic door. Though it's good for PTT headsets, the jack is incompatible with the standard pair of headphones you probably have at home. Fortunately, a converter cable is included with the handset.

When closed, the front of the handset sports a high-contrast, 1-inch monochrome display. It has a very low resolution, only 96x64 pixels, but if you press any of the aforementioned buttons, the screen will light up and tell you the time, battery life, reception, which features are turned on (like GPS and Bluetooth), and if you've received a new message. Below that is an LED indicator light.

The rear of the device hosts the 3.2-megapixel camera with flash. A toggle switch at the bottom lets you unlock the back plate and remove it. There you'll find the battery and the microSD card slot underneath takes cards of up to 32GB.

The handset's main QVGA 2-inch screen has a resolution of 240x320 pixels. Despite the low specs of the display, photos I took and wallpaper images still managed to look clear. Though some pictures had a noticeable amount of graininess and color gradients appeared streaky, overall, photos displayed well on the screen. Smaller text did show aliasing at the edges, but bigger text rendered smoothly. And though the UI made me feel like I was back in 2001, it's extremely easy to navigate.

Above the display is the earpiece and below is a keypad. The first half includes two soft keys and a circular navigation control with a menu/OK button in the middle. To the left of the navigation control is a shortcut key for the camera and on the other side is a back button. Below those sit the talk, speaker, and end/power keys.

Underneath this entire arrangement is your standard set of alphanumeric keys, which are graciously sized with ample space between each key. Though you can feel a slight bump in each key, they look flat and lie flush with the phone's surface. However, they're still easy to press and typing is a breeze.

The Kyocera DuraPro is built to military-grade specifications, meaning it's dust-, shock-, and splash-proof. It's resistant to salt fog and can operate under extreme temperatures, high humidity, and solar radiation. You can also submerge it in up to a meter of water for 30 minutes.

It has a few bare-bones task management features, such as T9 text messaging, a calendar, alarm clock (that can remember up to five settings), a stopwatch, a calculator, a world clock feature, Bluetooth capabilities, and a contact book that can store a maximum of 600 contacts.

Kyocera DuraPro (back)
The DuraPro's back plate has a toggle lock to keep it secure against the elements. Josh Miller/CNET

When you open the Apps icon, you can access "Daily Perks," which sends you information and discount offers from U.S. Cellular and gives access to a GPS navigator developed by Gokivo, and e-mail.

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 U.S. Cellular portal, where you can choose to go to your social networks, read up on finance and sports news, or check the weather.

Camera and video
In addition to a flash and a self-timer, the 3.2-megapixel camera has a 12x digital zoom, five picture modes (normal, beach/snow, scenery, mirror image, and night/dark), three meters for brightness, sharpness, and contrast, and five white-balance options. There's also a package of "fun tools" that include color overlays like aqua blue, sepia, and B&W, and a multiple-shot mode.

After you take a photo, there are some editing options. You can add text captions, trim it, access picture metadata, and resize images up to 2 megapixels (1,200x1,600 pixels). When you decrease the image of a photo (the lowest you can go is 240x320 pixels), you get more "special effects," including fun frames and stamps to superimpose on your pictures, more color tones, and rotating.

As for the camcorder, you're first prompted to choose between two video lengths, video mail (50 seconds) and long video (which depends on how much storage is available). With the exception of the sharpness meter, all options in the camera mode are retained. The only editing option is to add text captions.

Similar to the DuraXT, this handset's photo quality was respectable. Colors aren't as vibrant as they are in real life and photos feature a noticeable amount of pixelation and graininess, especially those taken indoors. However, in general, pictures are easy to make out, as long as you have ample lighting and a wide focus area (meaning, don't expect much with tight shots and close-ups).