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

For those looking for a no-muss, no-fuss feature phone that can survive a good beating and a dunk in the pool, U.S. Cellular's Kyocera DuraPro is a great one to consider.

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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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6 min read

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.

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6.7

Kyocera DuraPro (U.S. Cellular)

The Good

The <b>Kyocera DuraPro</b>'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.

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.

Design
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 super tough Kyocera DuraPro (pictures)

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Features
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).

Kyocera DuraPro (indoor)
Though dark hues are hard to distinguish, and details in the fur and carpet are lost, this dimly lit indoor photo of my sad dog is still clear. Lynn La/CNET

Kyocera DuraPro (outdoor)
This close-up shot of the flower is severely out of focus, but details in the background are on point. Lynn La/CNET

Kyocera DuraPro (SSI)
In our standard studio shot, the dim lighting results in noticeable digital noise, but the white balance is accurate. Josh Miller/CNET

Video recording fared a bit worse. Recordings showed heavy pixelation and there was a lag between my moving the camera and the feedback. It took a while for the camera to adjust for lighting, and colors looked less vivid than they were in real life. Lastly, I could hear a constant scratching or humming sound with the audio, even while recording indoors in a quiet room.

Performance
I tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900) phone in San Francisco and call quality was solid. None of my calls dropped, voices came in clear and strong, and max volume was reasonable and loud. I didn't hear any static in times of absolute silence, and there was no extraneous noise or buzzing. Speaker quality was also impressive, as it was loud and didn't make voices too tinny or harsh.

Kyocera DuraPro (U.S. Cellular) call quality sample

Listen now:

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Needless to say, U.S. Cellular's 3G roaming network (1xEV-DO rA) is glacial, so don't expect to get your e-mail in a jiffy or take a quick moment to check up on sport scores. For example, loading CNET's, The New York Times', and ESPN's mobile sites took an average of 11, 12, and 11 seconds, respectively. Keep in mind that you'll only see the bare-bones versions of these sites. On average, it takes about 37 seconds to e-mail a 135K photo.

The processor is also sluggish. Opening up menu items, setting wallpapers, and returning to the home screen took a few seconds longer than expected, and the camera is especially laggy. After you take a picture, you have to be sure to hold the device still to prevent even the tiniest instance of motion blur. You also have to wait a few seconds for the camera to save the photo in order to take a new one. On average, it takes about 50 seconds for the DuraPro to restart and 2.01 seconds to launch the camera.

Kyocera DuraPro (U.S. Cellular) Performance testing
CNET mobile site load time 11 seconds
NYT mobile site load time 12 seconds
ESPN mobile site load time 11 seconds
Restart time 50 seconds
Camera boot time 2.01 seconds

As for its ruggedness, the device can definitely withstand a few hits. I dropped it down a flight of stairs, which consisted of 20 steps, three times. Aside from two scuffs, and the Micro-USB cover opening up, nothing happened. The back plate didn't come loose and the screen was still intact. I submerged it in water in a small container for 30 minutes and then stuck it in the freezer for 30 minutes immediately afterward. After each trial, it could still make a call, connect to the Web, and take a photo.

In our talk time battery drain test, the phone lasted 9.32 hours. Anecdotally, it has an excellent battery life. With minimal use, the 1,360mAh battery can survive a whole weekend without one charge. According to FCC radiation standards, the phone has a digital SAR rating of 0.52W/kg.

Conclusion
Because U.S. Cellular's town ain't big enough for two tough phones, the DuraPro has replaced the Motorola Quantico as the only rugged handset in the carrier's lineup. And honestly, I'd say it was a successful usurpation. True, the DuraPro has an inherent advantage since the Quantico came out almost four years ago and technology has improved a lot since then. But users will find that these improvements in specs don't interfere with the basic simplicity and competencies that they look for in a rugged feature phone.

The device is still tough as nails, and has excellent call quality, a decent 3.2-megapixel camera, and a longer-lasting battery. Anyone who mourns the loss of the Quantico should be satisfied with the DuraPro, and at a prepaid price tag that's $40 less than what Sprint is asking, it's a good deal.

However, if you don't mind signing up for a carrier agreement, then I'd suggest the DuraXT on Sprint instead. The handsets are almost identical, but U.S. Cellular's contracted price is $149.99, whereas Sprint's offering it for $69.99, and its version is Direct Connect-compatible.

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6.7

Kyocera DuraPro (U.S. Cellular)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 7
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