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

Review Sections

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.

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:

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.

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.