CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.
Kyocera rugged devices are nothing to mess with. As I've learned from the Kyocera DuraPlus, its handsets can handle just about whatever you throw at them. Better yet, perhaps it'd be best if you hurled them at something since these things are built so sturdily.
Sprint's Kyocera DuraXT is no exception. Dustproof, shockproof, and waterproof, this clamshell feature phone is designed to withstand practically anything short of the apocalypse. It has a push-to-talk feature for direct communication, and it's ideal for those working in tough environments, like field operators and construction workers. Or if you lead a particularly swashbuckling personal lifestyle, by all means, you can still benefit from this rugged device.
Currently, the DuraXT is going for about $270, but if you sign a two-year carrier contract and mail in a rebate, the price drops to a reasonable $70.
Given its purpose, the handset is naturally no small-fry 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 DuraXT 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.
On the bottom left side of the DuraXT is a Micro-USB port that can be covered by a thick plastic door. Above that is a pimpled Direct Connect Button outlined in yellow and above that is a volume rocker. At the top of the phone, 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.
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, what features are turned on (like GPS and Bluetooth), and if you 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 1,360mAh battery. Underneath that is a microSD card slot that can expand memory up to 32GB.
The handset's main QVGA 2-inch screen has a resolution of 240x320 pixels. Surprisingly, given the low specs of the display, photos I took and wallpaper images looked bright and clear. On closer inspection, some pictures had a little graininess and color gradients did appear streaky because not many colors can be displayed, but overall, photos displayed well on the screen. Smaller-font text did show aliasing at the edges, but bigger text rendered smoothly. And even though the simple user interface is extremely easy to use, the design makes me feel like I'm back in 2001.
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 flushed with the phone's surface. However, they're still easy to press and typing is a breeze.
The Kyocera DuraXT is built to military-grade specifications, meaning it's dust-, shock-, and splashproof. It's resistant to salt fog and it 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.
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, alarm clock, a stopwatch, a calculator, a world clock feature, Bluetooth capabilities, and a phone book that can store a maximum of 600 contacts.
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 handset also has turn-by-turn GPS navigation 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 the former because if you choose to say your destination, it'll call and activate Telenav, route you to some automated robot, and make you spend the next 10 minutes of your life shouting "Second 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 Sprint Web 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 (forget what I said about AOL earlier, do people still have MySpace pages?)
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, 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, cropping, 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 memory 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.
Though the camera has low specs, photo quality was still decent. In outdoor shots, colors were true to life and edges were well-defined. Due to a lack of focus, bright whites were washed out and it was hard to differentiate dark hues, but objects for the most part were in focus. Indoor shots fared a little worse, however, with more graininess showing up in the photos.
Video quality was less impressive. Audio kept picking up a low but constant humming or buzzing sound, which was particularly noticeable (and annoying) in recordings taken outside. Images were heavily pixelated and grainy, and moving objects were blurry and out of focus. Colors were also muted.
I tested the dual-band (CDMA 800, 1900) Kyocera DuraXT in San Francisco using Sprint's services. Call and signal quality were both very strong. My friends sounded clear and were easy to understand. There were no extraneous noises or buzzing, calls didn't drop, and audio didn't clip and out. Speakerphone was also superb and loud. Voices only started sounded sharp when volume was turned all the way. Likewise, my friends said they could hear me perfectly well. One even commented that it sounded like I was speaking from a landline.
Kyocera DuraXT call quality sample Listen now:
The phone includes Sprint's Direct Connect feature, enabling users to quickly 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 using its TeamDCsm 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.
The walkie-talkie feature worked pretty decently. Setting it up between to DuraXT models came easy, and it didn't take long before I could hold down the push-to-talk button and communicate directly with another person. Voices sounded loud and clear, even as I walked outside our CNET offices. I especially liked the chirping, which notifies you that your call was successfully sent.
As a rugged handset, the DuraXT can definitely take a beating. I dunked it in a fishbowl and in a fountain, threw it around on the floor and against walls, and stuck it in a freezer for 10 minutes. It always came out completely functional and in one piece without any visible scratches or dents. One thing I did notice, however, was that after it had been underwater, moisture gathered underneath the internal display. I didn't notice it when I was inside but it was noticeable when I was outdoors. I could really see the small amount of water droplets and steam and it obscured my view of the display. Though the device kept ticking, it might not be as sealed as it should be.
Sprint's 3G network (1xEV-DO rA) is slow as molasses on this phone. The carrier reports that the average download speeds range for the DuraXT ranges from "400 to 700 Kbps with peak rates up to 2 Mbps." Loading the CNET, The New York Times, and ESPN's mobile sites took an average of 10, 12, and 11 seconds, respectively. Mind you, these sites resemble nothing like they do on a regular smartphone. Many of the images and codes are stripped away, leaving a skeleton of the sites' key headlines.
The processor is also sluggish. Opening up menu items, using the GPA navigation, returning to the homepage, and even pressing the back button took so long that sometimes I thought the handset had frozen or hadn't registered my commands. The camera lags so much that one, I have to hold the device completely still for a handful of seconds after I click the shutter to prevent motion blur; and two, I have to sit through a progress wheel every time I want to save a picture or record video.
During our battery drain tests, the phone lasted nine hours. Anecdotally, the handset has great battery life. I spent most of the day browsing the Web, talking on the phone, and using the walkie-talkie feature without making a dent the battery usage. Furthermore, the handset can last a couple of days without a charge. When it was plugged in, charge time took less than an hour. According to FCC radiation tests, the phone has a digital SAR rating of 0.328W/kg.
Though I'm no construction worker, I still dig the Kyocera DuraXT. I like how it offers more features for daily use than the DuraPlus. With the DuraXT, Kyocera traded in the Plus' useful flashlight for a low-grade but decent camera. Users also get a microSD card slot and the device's clamshell design is less unwieldy than the rubber-brick-build the Plus sported. Most importantly, call quality is still top-notch and as for the DuraXT's physical durability, well, I'd expect nothing less from Kyocera.