Kyocera DuraXT (Sprint) review: Kyocera DuraXT (Sprint)

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The Good The Kyocera DuraXT has an indestructible design, a decent camera, push-to-talk direct connect, and solid call quality.

The Bad The DuraXT isn't easy on the eyes, it has a nonstandard 2.5mm headset jack, and it can accumulate moisture underneath its screens.

The Bottom Line Though its clamshell design isn't pretty, the Kyocera DuraXT is tough as nails, with great call quality, and a respectable camera to boot.

7.0 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7

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.

A toggle switch keeps the Kyocera DuraXT's back plate locked. Josh Miller/CNET

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.