Kyocera Hydro Icon review: Waterproof Icon fails to make a splash

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MSRP: $149.99

The Good The Kyocera Hydro Icon is a sturdy, relatively inexpensive smartphone that can stand up to falls and splashes.

The Bad Inconsistent call quality, humble performance and a sluggish camera drag this smartphone down.

The Bottom Line The Kyocera Hydro Icon might be inexpensive and waterproof, but a general lack of noteworthy features and a rather poor camera make this one tough to recommend.

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5.0 Overall
  • Design 5
  • Features 5
  • Performance 5

Kyocera seems hell-bent on cornering the waterproof phone market. The company has cranked out droves of Android phones with so-so performance and humble designs, phones whose primary claim to fame is the ability to withstand falls and splashes with minimal fuss. Available for a respectable $150 on Boost Mobile's no-contract service, the Kyocera Hydro Icon is every bit as unassuming as its water-resistant brethren.

The Hydro line of rugged, waterproof phones have proven fairly consistent. They're generally affordable devices, running a version or two behind the latest generation of Android and offering meager call and camera quality -- consider the Hydro Vibe , for example. The Icon is no different: this LTE-capable phone delivers packs a decent processor and it certainly doesn't fear the average fishbowl or shower, but inconsistent call quality, a sluggish camera, and a lack of any noteworthy features make this Android smartphone one to pass up.

The Hydro Icon can take a few bumps and splashes with ease. James Martin/CNET


To most of us, a ruggedized phone means rubber brick with a cellular radio stuffed inside. They're bulky, heavy, and fairly ugly -- consider the Casio G'zOne , with a chassis only a professional stuntman (or serial klutz) could love. So it stands to reason that the comparatively svelte Kyocera Hydro Icon wouldn't inspire too much in the way of confidence. The 5.1-ounce phone is 0.43-inch thick: that isn't quite as slim as the 0.35-inches thick Samsung Galaxy S5 Active , but not bad for a device that's built to military specs, and designed to take life's splashes and tumbles with aplomb.

The Kyocera Icon's 4.5-inch IPS display has a 960x540-pixel resolution -- I'll admit I've grown spoiled by devices with higher resolutions, but this is an expected tradeoff for smartphones at this price. It's actually a decent display; glare proves problematic with bright lighting in office environments and in direct sunlight, but I found I generally had to work to find the glare, tilting the display away from my eyes just so. Viewing angles are great, and no matter how awkwardly I held or tilted the phone, text remained crisp and clear, and there was little to no color shifting in images.

Behind that display is a 1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor coupled with 1.5GB of RAM, and 8GB of internal storage, though only 4GB are accessible for apps and the like so you'll want to get a microSD card in there. The Icon supports up to 32GB cards but you'll need to remove the battery to get to the microSD and SIM card tray, which is a bit inconvenient.

Really, who hasn't dropped their smartphone in the shower? James Martin/CNET

Many ruggedized phones use some manner of locking mechanism to guarantee that you've sealed the device correctly, whether it's a switch to slide or a screw to turn. With the Icon, you simply need to press down on the backplate to seal it -- my latent inner-worrywart will always second-guess how securely I've sealed it, but it's certainly feels rather snug, and requires a fair bit of effort to pry off. If you look on the battery-facing end of the backplate you'll also notice a rubber ring that wraps around the battery, offering up a snug last line of defense. The phone's military-standard 810G rating means it's also designed to resist drops and shocks, so the least careful of phone-owners can likely rest easy. As it stands, the phone stood up to the requisite "leaving it in the sink" and "dropping it on the ground" tests, in spite of my worries.

Software features

The Kyocera Icon seems absolutely slathered in bloatware, but there's little you can't uninstall -- most of the "apps" are actually links to the Google Play store, so you can get rid of those shortcuts. Swype comes pre-installed, which is a nice touch, and all of Google's stock apps are present and accounted for. You won't be able to remove the Boost Zone app, which serves as Boost Mobile's account management tool, as well as a third-party app marketplace. The phone is saddled with Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, but that still includes access to Google Now, you can still issue commands by way of "Ok, Google," and you can set up lock-screen widgets. You will of course be missing out on a lot of the new features introduced in Android 4.4 KitKat if the phone never gets upgraded.

A few of Kyorcera's own tools have also come along for the ride. EcoMode can tweak settings like screen brightness, haptic feedback, and vibration when your battery dips below a certain level. MaxiMZR lets you prevent certain apps from using background data when you're not actively using them, potentially saving you some battery life. Finally there's MagniFont, which lets you tweak text readability by increasing or decreasing the phone's font size. There are no game changers here, but they could prove useful to some -- if not, you can always disable (but not remove) them, and ignore them entirely.

The Icon isn't too heavily skinned, but there are a few minute differences from the stock Android experience. To start, you can choose between two user experiences: Standard mode behaves like your typical Android smartphone, while Easy mode transforms the phone into something like a souped-up feature phone. Icons become larger, and commonly used ones are automatically fixed to the primary home screen where they can't be moved. The app tray transforms into an alphabetical scrolling list of installed apps, and the notification shade (which you can still drag down to access) becomes accessible via an Alerts button running along the bottom of the phone. This is a great feature for the uninitiated, as it simplifies the smartphone experience without locking away any of the device's potential -- Samsung offers a nigh-identical feature on its own phones.

The other differences are largely cosmetic. The apps and widgets tabs that appeared in Android 4.3 Jelly Bean are accompanied by search and download tabs, while things like the dialer and camera and the appearance of folders have a decidedly different look and feel. One change to the lock screen is actually rather convenient. You can place up to three apps on a shortcut menu on the screen, and swipe for quick access to them. The defaults are the stock dialer and messaging app and the phone's camera, but you can add anything you'd like, which is incredibly convenient if you need to get to Twitter right this instant.

Camera and video

Kyocera equipped the Icon with an 8-megapixel rear shooter with an LED flash, and a 2-megapixel front-facing camera. It's a fairly sluggish shooter, taking about 2 seconds to startup, another few moments to focus, and then another second or two to capture your shot, for good measure.

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