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Kyocera Hydro Edge review: Tepid phone buoyed solely by water resistance

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Unless you find you and your phone often drenched in water, consider skipping over the Kyocera Hydro Edge.

Kyocera_Hydro_Edge_35764858-3651.jpg
6.7

Kyocera Hydro Edge

Pricing Not Available

The Good

The <b>Kyocera Hydro Edge</b> is a waterproof handset that's reasonably priced and accepts microSD cards of up to 32GB.

The Bad

The handset has inconsistent 3G data speeds, mediocre call quality, and lacks a front-facing camera.

The Bottom Line

Consider the Kyocera Hydro Edge if you're looking for a low-price splash proof phone, but skip it if its water resistance isn't a main priority for you.

True, as the successor to the Hydro, the Edge can still survive a good dunking. But while this new iteration includes some welcomed improvements like a bigger 4-inch screen and a 5-megapixel camera (the original featured only a 3.2-megapixel shooter), the device still runs on 3G and has a a rather slow 1GHz processor.

If having an affordable smartphone that is able to survive multiple spills and dips is important (either from the water you encounter at the beach or simply the kitchen sink), the Edge is a good handset to consider. It's available on Sprint for $19.99 after users sign a two-year agreement, or off-contract under the carrier's prepaid arm, Boost Mobile, for $149.99.

But if that factor isn't a deal breaker for you and you can spare the extra cash, look into your carrier's other devices that sport better specs.

Design
The Kyocera Hydro Edge has a simple, matte-gray plastic construction that feels sturdy, but doesn't look at all chic. Like the XTRM, neither of the device's ports are covered. In fact, the only way one could even assume the handset is waterproof is by the toggle lock located in the rear, which keeps the battery door secured.

The phone measures 4.9 inches tall, 2.5 inches wide, and 0.39 inch thick. It weighs 4.5 ounces, and while the top half of the Edge is a bit heftier than its bottom half, it's still comfortable to hold in the hand.

Kyocera Hydro Edge (back)
To keep it watertight, the Edge sports a small toggle lock in the back for its battery door. Josh Miller/CNET

On the left is a volume rocker, and up top are a 3.5mm headphone jack and sleep/power button. The right edge houses a shortcut key for the camera, and the Micro-USB port is located on the bottom.

The device has a 4-inch IPS touch-screen display, with a 800x480-pixel resolution and 233ppi. Though HD movies won't appear as crisp as you might expect on it, text and icons still displayed clearly and smoothly for me. Furthermore, the screen has a rather narrow viewing angle outdoors. However, when you crank maximum brightness all the way up and you hold up the handset directly at eye level, you can make out the display very well.

Beneath the display are three hot keys that light up white when in use for back, home, and menu. Long-press the home key to access recent apps. You'll notice that above the screen, there is no in-ear speaker. Like a handful of other Kyocera smartphones, the Edge features Smart Sonic Receiver technology, which uses an embedded ceramic transducer to transmit audio via the hard tissue inside your ear.

The back features a dimpled rubber texture, and the top half of the handset's body is contoured to be thicker than the rest of its body. I felt that both these characteristics helped with my grip as I held it.

On the back you'll find the camera, with its LED flash right below it. To the left is a small slit for the audio speaker. To remove the battery door, you'll need to switch the toggle lock at the bottom and pry the plate off. There you can access the 1,600mAh battery and the microSD card slot (which can accommodate cards with capacities of up to 32GB) underneath it.

Splash away with the Kyocera Hydro Edge (pictures)

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Software features
The device ships with Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean and comes with a number of Google's services, like Chrome, Gmail, Plus, Local, Maps with Navigation, Messenger, Search, Talk, and YouTube. The Google Play stores for Books, Magazines, and Music are included as well.

Under the Settings menu, there's also a software feature called MaxiMZR. This lets you limit the data connection of apps running in the background to conserve battery life. There is also a MagniFont Mode option for those who want to improve text readability by increasing the font size one level larger than the "Extra Large" or "Huge" setting that is common on Android handsets.

Sprint loaded some of its own apps, one of which is Sprint Zone, where you can check your account information and balance. There's also a ringtone portal called Sprint Music Plus, as well as Sprint TV and Movies, and Sprint ID.

Kyocera Hydro Edge (top display)
The Edge runs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and feature's Kyocera's Smart Sonic Receiver technology. Josh Miller/CNET

ID enables you to customize your phone with preselected apps, widgets, and other items depending on which ID profile you choose. For example, if you select the E! package, you'll get apps and widgets pertaining to the celebrity news channel. Note that deleting an ID package won't uninstall the apps that you downloaded -- you'll have to remove those apps manually. So far, there are 40 packs available, and once you start up the handset, the Sprint Default ID pack annoyingly starts downloading automatically.

Other goodies include the Reddit browser, BaconReader; ICE, which stores emergency contact info; Eco Mode, a battery- and energy-conserving app; a panorama app that works with the camera, a video editor; Lookout Security, which backs up and secures your data; Qualcomm Enhanced Location app that zeroes in on your location and saves battery power; and the navigational app, Scout.

Of course, there are basic apps too, such as native browser and e-mail clients, a calculator, a calendar, a clock with alarm functions, an address book, a weather app, a voice dialer, and a audio recorder.

For the most part, the Boost Mobile model has all the same apps, give or take a few exceptions. However, instead of having apps like Sprint ID and Sprint Zone, the names have been modified to Mobile ID and Boost Zone. And as previously mentioned, the Boost model does not support hot-spot capabilities.

Camera and video
The 5-megapixel camera has six photo sizes (ranging from 640x480 to 2,560x1,920 pixels), digital zoom, a flash, six picture modes including HDR and continuous shooting, 14 photo effects, three focuses, six scene modes, geotagging, three image qualities, blink detection, three auto-exposures, five ISO levels, five white balances, and grid lines.

Video settings include five video sizes (ranging from a 30-second MMS to 720p), digital zoom, continuous flash, time lapse, two file format options, and the same white balance, image effects, geotagging, grid lines, and auto-exposure options.

Photo quality was adequate, though it wasn't very impressive. For the most part, main objects came out clear and were easy to make out, but colors looked muted, and images weren't as sharp as I would have liked them to be, especially along the outer edges. In addition, the camera is quite slow. It takes a few seconds for it to focus, and you'll need to wait a few more seconds after pressing the shutter for the camera to ready itself for another photo.

Kyocera Hydro Edge (indoor)
In this indoor photo, there's a slight vignetting effect around the edges, and the flowers don't look so sharp. Lynn La/CNET

Kyocera Hydro Edge (outdoor)
In this sunny outdoor photo, the chairs and the middle column of bricks are well-defined. Lynn La/CNET

Kyocera Hydro Edge (SSI)
In addition to objects being out of focus, you can see the vignetting effect more clearly in our standard studio shot. Josh Miller/CNET

Recording 720p video also yielded similar results. Again, main details and images were easy to make out, but objects (both moving and still) looked blurry, their colors looked dim, and when I recorded outdoors, I could hear a low but consistent "whooshing" type sound. Though it wasn't particularly distracting, it did, at times, prevent me from hearing other sounds as easily.

Performance
I tested the smartphone in our San Francisco offices. Because Boost Mobile runs on Sprint's network, I expected call quality to be similar, if not identical. And for the most part, this was true: none of my calls dropped and audio didn't clip in and out. Calls did come off a bit static-y, however, and I could hear a subtle crackling noise with every word my friend spoke. I was told that my voice on the other line gave off the same impression. Furthermore, while voices over speakerphone were easy to make out, there were times when the audio would get too loud and tinny.

There was a difference, however, that I noticed with Boost's Hydro Edge, specifically. During my phone conversations, I would hear a repetitive clicklike sound (similar to when you press down on a keyboard) every so often while my friend spoke. It was quite odd and distracting, and my friend said she could hear it coming from my end of the call as well.

Kyocera Hydro Edge (Sprint) call quality sample

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Kyocera Hydro Edge (Boost Mobile) call quality sample

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Both models run on Sprint's 3G network. On average, data speeds were rather slow. What bothered me most, however, was how inconsistent these speeds were. There were several times where both models stalled loading a simple Web page, and a site that, in the past would load in 15 seconds or so, would later take 2 minutes to load.

I took the fastest three times, however, and averaged them out. The Sprint model loaded CNET's mobile site loaded in 16 seconds and our desktop site in 56 seconds. The New York Times' mobile site took about 13 seconds, while its desktop version took 35 seconds. ESPN's mobile site took 12 seconds, and its full site loaded in 21 seconds. Ookla's Speedtest app showed me an average of 0.21Mbps down and 0.66Mbps up. Understandably, the Boost model clocked in with similar results.

As for downloading a game, I tried to install Temple Run 2 (which is 32.41MB) several times, but the app would rarely launch into download mode at the Play store. Instead, I'd see the progress bar spiral forever. On the rare occasions that it did, the fastest time the game ever completely downloaded and installed was in 15 minutes and 44 seconds. However, there were times when it took much longer than that -- one time 35 minutes passed and the game was only 75 percent completed.

Kyocera Hydro Edge Performance testing
Average 3G download speed 0.21Mpbs
Average 3G upload speed 0.66Mbps
App download (Temple Run 2) 32.41MB in 15 minutes and 44 seconds
CNET mobile site load 16 seconds
CNET desktop site load 56 seconds
Restart time 51 seconds
Camera boot time 2.85 seconds

The device is powered by a dual-core Snapdragon 1GHz processor. On the whole, the handset can be sluggish. It takes about 51 seconds to power off and turn on the phone, and it takes just a hair too long to do things like switch from landscape to portrait mode, launch the app drawer, or quit a simple app and return to the home pages. As I previously mentioned, the camera is also slow and on average, it takes 2.85 seconds to launch it.

Moreover, upon initial download, the graphics-intensive game Riptide GP did force quit. However, that only happened just once and after that, the app played smoothly and never stalled or froze again.

Waterproof testing yielded most positive results, and I can attest that the Edge is water resistant. It's advertised as being able to survive in up to a meter of water for 30 minutes. Our review units survived many dunkings, 30 minutes completely submerged in a cylindrical container, and sitting inside a running shower for 20 minutes.

The device's screen is also made out of impact-resistant Dragontrail glass. I kicked the handset down a couple of flights of stairs several times, and while the body itself accumulated lots of scratches and scuffs, the screen remained intact.

During our battery drain test, our Sprint model lasted 5.13 hours for video playback, while the Boost unit lasted slightly shorter at 4.78 hours. It has a reported talk time of 13 hours. According to FCC radiation standards, it has a digital SAR rating of 1.48W/kg.

Conclusion
Whether you're purchasing the Kyocera Hydro Edge on contract or off, you're getting a good deal either way. With that price, you'll get the Edge's waterproof capabilities, so you can breathe a little easier the next time you're at a large body of water or drop your phone in the sink.

But if having a waterproof handset isn't a huge deal for you, spend a little bit more for a faster, more powerful device. Sprint's LG Optimus F3, for example, has a better processor and 4G LTE. As for Boost customers, the LG Mach ships with an older version of Android, but it too has 4G and a faster CPU as well. True, you'll be paying $10 and $30 more, respectively, but given the Edge's 3G speeds and unimpressive call quality, you'll be glad you spent the extra money.

Kyocera_Hydro_Edge_35764858-3651.jpg
6.7

Kyocera Hydro Edge

Pricing Not Available

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 7Performance 7