Kyocera Hydro Plus (Cricket Wireless) review: Inexpensive and waterproof, but glacially slow

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MSRP: $139.99

The Good The budget-friendly Kyocera Hydro Plus can survive a good dunk in the pool and comes with Cricket's signature music subscription service.

The Bad The Hydro Plus runs the dated Android 4.0 OS, makes mediocre calls, and clocks slow network speeds, even for 3G.

The Bottom Line Though the Kyocera Hydro Plus is an inexpensive water-resistant phone with an included music service, skip it for better and even cheaper splash-proof alternatives.

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6.0 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 6
  • Performance 6

With five Hydro devices currently under its belt, Kyocera is no stranger to making waterproof handsets. Ranging from entry-level to midtier, all the Hydro smartphones can be submerged under three feet of water for up to 30 minutes and keep on ticking.

The Hydro Plus, which is saddled with slow 3G speeds and a disappointingly dated Android 4.0 OS, sits at the entry-level end of the spectrum. And while both its specs and overall performance aren't impressive, the handset includes Cricket's unique Muve Music service that's ideal for music lovers, manages to take decent photos for its 3.2-megapixel camera, and won't bust your wallet at $139.99 off-contract (or $89.99, given current discounts and rebates).

This makes the device worth considering if you're on the lookout for a cheap smartphone and live or work in an area with a reliable Cricket Wireless connection. But if you want a faster handset with a newer version of OS or a better camera, there are other prepaid alternatives that are just as affordable, namely MetroPCS' Kyocera Hydro XTRM and Boost's Hydro Edge.

Measuring 4.53 inches tall, 2.44 inches wide, and half an inch thick, the Hydro Plus is an ultrapocketable device that's easy to maneuver with one hand. It also weighs just 4.16 ounces, so you won't have to worry about it being a heavy burden inside your jeans pocket.

On the left is a volume rocker, and the top edge houses a 3.5mm headphone jack and a Micro-USB port for charging. To the right, you'll find a small sleep/power button.

The back is textured with a ribbed rubber coating that lends an extra sense of durability (though the handset is not a rugged phone). The back plate is secured by a small toggle lock to ensure that water does not seep in. To unlock it, you'll need to push the switch to the right and pry the battery door off. This allows you to access the microSD card slot (which is expandable up to 32GB) and the 1,500mAh battery.

The 3.5-inch HVGA IPS screen has a 480x320-pixel resolution. The display has a narrow viewing angle, especially when seen in direct sunlight, and it appeared washed out when tilted slightly at any angle. Though text and icons were easy to read, I could see a noticeable amount of aliasing along the edges. Furthermore, default images looked coarse, and when I viewed a swatch of pure white, it looked speckled and grainy.

Waterproof construction Kyocera reports that you can submerge the Hydro Plus in up to a meter of water for 30 minutes. Though I was not able to find a body of water that deep, I did stick it under running water several times, and finally dropped the handset into a tall vase after making sure all the ports were appropriately sealed.

When half an hour had passed by, I took the device out. Not surprisingly, the phone was none the worse for wear: I browsed the Web for a few minutes afterward without a problem, and then successfully made a phone call. I also snapped some more photos with the camera. Overall, I didn't notice any damage from the submersion, and the device kept working fine.

Kyocera Hydro Plus (water)
With the waterproof Hydro Plus, an accidental dip in the sink is no problem. Josh Miller/CNET

Software features
The Hydro Plus runs on Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich, which is a really dated OS version -- even for entry-level devices. (I mean, the original Hydro predecessor launched with Android 4.0!) You'll still get your standard lineup of Google apps, however, such as Chrome, Gmail, Plus, Hangouts, Maps, portals to the Play Store services, Search, and YouTube.

As a Cricket Wireless handset, the phone features Muve Music, a music subscription service tied to your carrier plan. Users can play and download offline thousands of artists and songs. Menu options include Muve Mixes (formerly known as "My DJ" before the whole app got a much-needed UI facelift), which lets you access premade playlists organized by musical genres. There's also a New Releases section as well as Shazam, the popular music-identification app. Though I've seen this app have its own home-screen widget (on the ZTE Source, for example) wherein you can launch the Shazam tool directly, and pause and skip music tracks, this option appears to be missing from the Hydro Plus.

Kyocera Hydro Plus (Muve Music)
With Muve Music, users can check out mixes, look up songs on Shazam, and download full albums. Lynn La/CNET

The device has many other Cricket apps preloaded as well. This includes its own branded navigator; a My Account app to manage your phone payments; and MyBackup, which lets you store your contact information in the cloud. There's a Yellow Page-esque app called Cricket 411, where you can access information for the nearest pizza joint or grocery store; a shortcut app to the carrier's Web site; and a Cricket storefront that lets you purchase graphics and applications.

Finally, in addition to your basic tasks managing apps (like a native browser and e-mail client, a calculator, a calendar, a clock with alarm functions, a news and weather app, and a voice dialer), there are a handful of other goodies. This includes Eco Mode, a power-saving tool developed for Kyocera handsets that preserves battery life, a bill-management app called Evolve Money, two games, and an In Case of Emergency app that lets you input and store emergency contacts.

Other features include 2GB of ROM, 512MB of internal memory, and Bluetooth 2.1.

Camera and video
Understandably, the photo quality for the camera didn't exactly blow me away, but it was fair for a 3.2-megapixel lens. Digital noise, graininess, and blurred edges were apparent in all the photos I took, and dark hues were especially difficult to distinguish. However, objects were easy to make out, and focus did sharpen a bit more with well-lit images.

Video recording yielded similarly mediocre results. Though both moving and still objects were clear enough to discern, the lens took a noticeable amount of time to adjust for lighting. I also heard a subtle hissing sound during playback. Though it wasn't overly distracting, it was apparent nonetheless.

Kyocera Hydro Plus (indoor)
In this well-lit indoor photo, objects are easy to make out, but there is a notable amount of digital noise. Lynn La/CNET
Kyocera Hydro Plus (outdoor)
In this rainy-day outdoor photo, some flowers appear vibrant and bright, but the pink roses are washed out. Lynn La/CNET
Kyocera Hydro Plus (SSI)
In our standard studio shot, the white background is accurate, but the objects are blurry. Josh Miller/CNET

A few camera options include digital zoom, six scene modes, five white balances, a flash, geotagging, three picture qualities, five color effects, three exposure settings, and five picture sizes (ranging from 480x320 to 2,048x1,536-pixels). Video recording has similar options but includes only two size choices (MMS and long video), and four shooting qualities (ranging from 320x240 to 800x480p).

I tested the Hydro Plus at our San Francisco offices, where I found call quality to be mediocre. Though I was able to hear and understand what my calling partner was saying, audio sounded static-y and "crunchy." And though I was able to consistently make calls after it occurred, one of my phone calls actually dropped in the middle of a conversation due to a failed signal. Speaker quality also sounded tinny and thin when activated, and maximum volume could also stand to be louder.

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