Kyocera DuraXV (Verizon Wireless) review: Ultratough and packed with plenty of features
Verizon's waterproof DuraXV is a feature phone with a rugged exterior, expandable storage, Web connectivity and a decent 5-megapixel camera.
With its absence of a touchscreen or a robust Web experience, the Kyocera DuraXV is a basic feature phone to its core. But don't mistake this clam shell as a "bare-bones" device. In addition to nailing down the basics (clear audio quality, decent battery capacity, user-friendly interface), it also has other useful goodies like an adequate camera, external storage capabilities, and an Web browser that, while still rudimentary, is pretty easy to navigate.
The $100 on-contract handset also has a durable and water resistant construction. Though that adds bulk to its design, it also means the device will keep on ticking even after an accidental drop on hard cement or dunk underwater. When it comes to both protection and features, it's a top-notch choice for Verizon users.
Due to its durability (which I'll dive into more later), the DuraXV is a physically hefty device. It weighs 5.6 ounces, and stands 4.13 inches tall, 2.15 inches wide and 0.98 inches thick. As such, don't expect the handset to fit comfortably in your jean pockets or slip into a clutch bag too easily. Shoulder bags, backpacks, or tool belt compartments shouldn't pose a problem, however.
On the bottom left side is a Micro-USB port that's covered by a thick plastic door. Above that are a volume rocker. Unlike some rugged Kyocera phones , which sport a 2.5mm jack for PTT headsets, this one has a 3.5mm headset jack on the right side, meaning it's compatible with your standard pair of headphones you might have at home.
The plastic top lid of the DuraXV is equipped with a 1.08-inch black and white display with a 102x90-pixel resolution. If you press any of the control buttons, the screen will light up and tell you the time, date, battery life, reception, missed notifications and enabled features (like GPS or Bluetooth). The lid also hosts a 5-megapixel camera with flash.
When flipped open, you will see the device's main QVGA 2.4-inch screen, which is bigger than the usual 2-inch displays I've seen on previous Kyocera flip phones. The display can be difficult to see in direct sunlight, and its 320x240-pixel resolution is a bit low, meaning you'll see obvious aliasing in text and streaky color gradients. However, images, text, and icons are still very legible, easy to read and clear. It also helps that its user interface is extremely easy to navigate.
Above the display, you'll notice there is no in-ear speaker. That's because the handset, like many other Kyocera phones, uses Smart Sonic Receiver technology. In lieu of a physical speaker, this technology features an embedded ceramic transducer inside the DuraXV to transmit audio via the hard tissue inside your ear. It also means one less opening or seam on the device.
Below that is the handset's keypad. The first half includes two soft keys that flank a squircle navigation control with four directional keys and a select/OK button in the middle. Below that are shortcut keys for the camera and speaker.
Underneath this entire arrangement is a row of keys with the talk/send, clear/back and end/power keys. Below that is your standard set of alphanumeric keys, which are generously sized with ample space between each key. Each key rises just above the phone's surface, giving you more tactile feedback, and helps to make pressing and typing a breeze.
On the DuraXV's chin is a wide silver speaker grille (more on its quality later). Turning the device over, you'll see a small screw. Using a coin or flathead screw driver, you can turn the screw and remove the handset's backplate. There you'll find the removable 1,500mAh battery, and an included 4GB microSD card (you can insert up to a 32GB card, however).
Designed to military-grade specifications, the phone's bottom lid is encased in thick black rubber to shield itself against drops, scuffs and scratche. That means it's protected against shock, vibration, and extreme temperatures. It also satisfies IPX68 dust- and waterproof standards, so it can be submerged for 30 minutes in up to 6 feet of water.
Though I didn't have a 6-foot-deep pool to test the DuraXV with, I did dunk it in a long vase for 30 minutes after making sure all its ports were properly sealed. As expected, the device survived and was perfectly operational afterward. It even registered an incoming call during its time underwater.
As for its durability, the handset is tough. I threw and kicked it down several flights of stairs, and dropped it repeatedly from a height of about 6 feet. I was particularly worried about the plastic top lid since it houses the external display, and isn't fortified with rubber, but other than a number of visible scratches and scuffs all around, the phone survived and functioned fine afterward.
Though having a durable mobile device seems like a no brainer for those who have active and outdoorsy lifestyles, or for those who have messy jobs like field operators and construction workers, its benefits aren't limited to the niche. Having a rugged and water resistant DuraXV can bring peace of mind to anyone who don't want to worry about themselves (or others, like children) physically breaking their handset. Sure, you'll have to make sacrifices when it comes to looks and sleekness, but if that's not a priority, a rugged phone is ideal.
The DuraXV runs the Brew MP 1.0.4 operating system and has an easy-to-understand and intuitive user interface. The home screen has all the same info seen on the external display (time and date, battery indicator, etc.), and at the bottom center is the Menu button. Once selected, you can access your address book, messages, call log, Web browser, media files, tools, apps, Verizon's own brand of navigation called VZ Navigator (that you have to pay to use) and settings.
The device has limited Web and Internet options, but there are some useful features available. The Opera Mini browser version 6.0 is vastly easier to navigate and operate than previous versions. Tasks like entering a URL, clearing your browser history and bookmarking a page, take less steps and are laid out in a clear manner. You can even send screenshots to someone and find words or phrases on a page.
For users who have social media accounts, the handset lets you send tweets to Twitter and status updates to Facebook by text. The sign-in process is a bit tedious, and takes some back-and-forth texting, but once you've logged in, you can start updating your friends and family about your whereabouts. Unfortunately, there is no baked-in email support, which means you can't directly email photos from the gallery either. You can only access email through the mobile Web browser, which supports AOL, Yahoo, Verizon and Windows Live accounts, but no Gmail.
Under the phone's address book, you can store up to four numbers per contact, as well as their fax number, a few email and physical addresses, their company name and title, birthday, and a personal note. You can also assign a contact picture and ringtone. You can backup all your contacts using Verizon's Backup Assistant Plus, and there's an In Case of Emergency section where you can enter personal medical info and three numbers to call.
Other tools are a calculator (both for common equations and for tipping services), a unit converter, a calendar, alarm and world clocks, a notepad, a stopwatch and a timer. There's also a flashlight function, which leaves the camera's flash continuously on. You'll get a GPS sensor (which works with VZ Navigator that, again, you'd have to pay for), Bluetooth 3.0 and voice command too.
Camera and video
The DuraXV has a 5-megapixel camera with flash. There is a variant that doesn't have a camera included, for cases that having a cameraphone is prohibited. The camera can be slow at times, like when it saves a photo to the album, or needs to ready itself to take another shot.
Photo quality, however, was passable. It won't take the sharpest images, or have best color representation (indeed, pictures taken indoors without flash had a warm, yellowy hue), but objects can still be easy to make out. In addition, the camera has auto-focus (a rarity in feature handsets, which usually only have fixed-focus cameras), so photos were decently focus and clear. For more on camera quality, check out the images below and click on each individual picture to see them at their full resolution.
Video quality fared a tad worse than what I expected, given the good photo quality. Recordings were really blurry and pixelated, and lighting took a while to adjust as I moved the camera around. Because I was recording footage outdoors, the setting was overexposed and blown out as well.
Camera tools include a timer, six photo resolutions (ranging from 320x240 to 2,560x1,920 pixels), a brightness meter, six white-balance options and three color effects (sepia, black and white and negative).
You can record video in two sizes, QCIF and QVGA (with a resolution 176x144 or 320x240 pixel resolution, respectively); and in two lengths -- up to 60 seconds for video messaging, or 60 minutes, which gets saved on the device. The brightness meter and white balance tools are still accessible, as well as continuous flash.
The DuraXV supports both CDMA (800/1900MHz) and GSM (850/900/1800/1900MHz) networks, and I tested the device on Verizon Wireless' CDMA network in our San Francisco offices. Call quality was excellent -- my calling partner sounded clear and I didn't pick up any extraneous buzzing or static sounds. Audio was continuous with none of my calls dropping and volume was appropriately loud. On the other line, my partner told me I sounded good as well, and that I sounded like I was calling from a landline, and not a cell phone.
All in all, the handset is smooth, and launches and closes tools and tasks in a prompt manner. On average, it took about 49 seconds for the DuraXV to shut down and turn on, and an impressive 4 seconds to fire up the Opera browser. (I've seen it take longer than 10 seconds at least, in other feature devices.) It took about 16 and 5 seconds to load CNET's and ESPN's sites, respectively. Keep in mind, however, that the handset displays bare-bone versions of these sites, with much of the HTML stripped away, to accommodate the limited browser.
|CNET site load
|ESPN site load
|Shutdown and restart
|Camera boot time
Other things, however, didn't work so swiftly. It took about 3 seconds to load the camera, for instance, and certain Web pages caused the browser to timeout, such as The New York Times' website. After several attempts, I couldn't visit its site, and I always got an error message.
The phone has a 1,500mAh removable battery, which has a reported talk time of 7.7 hours and a standby time of nearly 18 days. Anecdotal observation showed that the DuraXV can indeed last days on standby, and could survive mild usage throughout several days without a charge. During our battery drain test for continuous talk time, it clocked in an impressive 11 hours and 24 minutes -- well above its estimated talk time. According to FCC radiation measurements, the device has a digital SAR rating of 0.48W/kg.
The Kyocera DuraXV is one of many feature phones that Verizon offers. If its bulky exterior and price point is a bit too much for your needs, the carrier has more affordable options, like the 99-cent (with a two-year agreement) LG Cosmos 3 and Revere 3. The LG Exalt , in particular, is one of the most well-designed basic handsets, and at $80 on-contract, is still cheaper than the $100 DuraXV.
However, if you're on Verizon and want a device with some extra peace-of-mind, the DuraXV is an excellent phone. Though we haven't reviewed the carrier's other durable clamshell, the Samsung Convoy 3, Kyocera's handset has a 5-megapixel camera compared to the Convoy's 3.2-megapixel shooter, is water resistant and has a larger battery. The DuraXV also has a smoother Web experience than what you usually see in basic handsets as well as expandable memory. All in all, it's a solid device (in both design and performance) that doesn't skimp on the features.