Whether it was because your friend unexpectedly pushed you in the pool, or you got a little clumsy around your toilet (don't worry, I won't judge you for browsing the Web while in the bathroom), going through the dreaded I-dropped-my-phone-in-water scenario is no fun.
Fortunately, the Kyocera Hydro doesn't require a bag full of uncooked rice and a night of praying to the phone gods if it happens to take a dip, because it's waterproof.
That's not all it has going for it; it also ships natively with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. But though I'm excited to see even a midlevel handset like the Hydro run the still-elusive OS, not all ICS devices are created equal. With its 1GHz processor and 3G data speeds, the Hydro is slow. Still, as a prepaid, waterproof, $129.99 Boost Mobile handset, this phone is worth considering. It's also available on Cricket Wireless for the initial price of $139.99. However, it's important to note that Cricket's Hydro showed a poorer call quality and clocked in much slower data times than its Boost counterpart.
Editors' note: This review was updated on March 28, 2013, 5:50 p.m. PT, with additional information on the handset's performance on Cricket Wireless' network.
As many Kyocera devices cater to industrial workers, many of its designs are unfortunate-looking, albeit durable and practical. But because the Hydro is designed for the average user and isn't a rugged handset, its build is sleeker and more suitable for daily use.
The phone measures 4.53 inches tall, 2.44 inches wide, and weighs 4.16 ounces. At half an inch thick, it's not as slim as other smartphones, but it fits comfortably in front and back jean pockets regardless. Managing the touch screen with one hand is a cinch and it's lightweight enough to hold between your cheek and shoulder while talking without feeling uncomfortable.
On the left of the Hydro is a volume rocker. Up top are a waterproof 3.5mm headset jack and a Micro-USB port. Unlike the headphone jack, which doesn't need one, the Micro-USB port can be covered by an attached door to keep water out. On the right is a sleep/power button that's completely level with the rest of the device's surface, which made it difficult at times to locate by touch.
On the back is a 3.2-megapixel camera with accompanying flash. To the left of it are eight small holes for the audio speaker. At the bottom is a lock that keeps the backplate sealed. You can use a coin to unfasten it and pry the plate off to access a 1,500 mAh battery and microSD card slot.
The Hydro's 3.5-inch HVGA touch screen has a 320x480-pixel resolution. Though text appeared clear and menu icons crisp, high-resolution images like wallpapers were grainy and color gradients appeared streaky instead of transitioning smoothly. Colors on HQ YouTube videos looked a tad muted; however, intricate objects like confetti or fireworks displayed sharply despite the small screen.
The display is also responsive. Pinch zooming, entering messages with Swype (which the handset is preloaded with), and playing the swipe-heavy game Temple Run, all were a breeze. Above the display are an LED indicator light and an in-ear speaker. Below are four hot keys that light up when in use: back, home, recent apps, and menu.
A 1GHz Qualcomm processor powers the Kyocera Hydro. Though simple tasks like navigating through five home screen pages and scrolling through the app drawer were swift, more complicated actions like opening the camera and transitioning back to the home screen after opening a game took a few seconds. There was also noticeable lag when it came to switching between portrait and landscape mode.
The device runs the Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich operating system. So in addition to the more chic-looking UI, users will also get home screen folders, the ability to reject calls with a text, camera access from the lock menu, and much more. And of course the Google staples of Gmail, Google+, Latitude, Maps with Navigation, Messenger, Search, Talk, Places, Play Books, Movies, Music, and Store, and YouTube are included.
In addition to basic apps -- a Web browser, a calculator, a calendar, a clock with alarm features, a native e-mail client, a news and weather app, and a voice dialer -- a few other goodies have been thrown in, including a social-networking portal called AirG; BoostZone, which keeps you updated with Boost Mobile news; and an app called ICE in which you can log pertinent medical information and an emergency contact list.
The handset also comes with an EcoMode feature and a battery status app. The former allows you to customize settings like sleep, Bluetooth, syncing, and display brightness in order to conserve battery at a set battery percentage. The latter tells you your remaining battery power and what percentage of power each of your apps is using.
Lastly, with Boost Mobile ID you can 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 network. You can also choose a Professional package, which includes tools to aid with business travel plans, financial investments, and office communication. Note that deleting a Mobile ID package won't uninstall the apps that you downloaded -- you'll have to remove those apps manually. So far, there are 19 available packs.
Camera and video
In addition to a flash and a zoom meter, the 3.2 megapixel camera has six scene modes (auto, portrait, scenery, night portrait, night scenery, and action), five white-balance options, geotagging, five photo sizes, three picture qualities, five colors effects (aqua, negative, sepia, mono, and none), and three exposure options.
As for the camcorder, you're first prompted to choose between two video lengths, MMS (30 seconds) and long video (which depends on how much memory is available). With the exception of the scene modes and photo qualities, all features in the camera mode are retained.
Photo quality was perfectly adequate. In outdoor shots with ample lighting, colors were true to life and bright, and edges were well-defined. Due to a lack of touch focus, bright whites were washed out and it was hard to differentiate dark hues, but objects for the most part were in focus. Indoor shots with less lighting understandably fared a little worse, with more digital noise showing up in the photos. Light hues were especially grainy and objects were noticeably blurrier.
Video quality was satisfactory; audio picked up nicely, with no extraneous buzzing, and there was no lag between my moving of the camera and feedback from the viewfinder. Colors were richly saturated (though, again, it was hard to distinguish dark hues), and objects, like moving cars and people speedily walking down the street, remained in focus and clear.
I tested the quad-band (CDMA 800, 1700, 2100, 1900) Kyocera Hydro in San Francisco using Boost's services. Call and signal quality were both very strong. In calls taken outdoors and indoors, my friends sounded clear and loud, and were easy to understand. There were no extra noises or humming, calls didn't drop, and audio didn't clip and out. Speakerphone was also excellent, though maximum volume could have been louder. Likewise, my friend said that I sounded perfectly fine, and that my voice came off crisp and clear.
Kyocera Hydro (Boost Mobile) call quality sample Listen now:
Boost's 3G network (1xEV-DO rA) isn't the fastest on the market, but it isn't glacial enough to be incredibly irritating. Loading the CNET mobile site took an average of 13 seconds, while loading our full site took 51 seconds. The New York Times full site took even less time on average, clocking in at 36 seconds, and its mobile site took 9 seconds to load. ESPN's mobile site took 17 seconds, and its full site loaded in 30 seconds. On average, the game Temple Run, which is 22MB, took 6 minutes and 38 seconds to download. And the Ookla speed test app showed me an average of 0.35Mbps down and 0.66Mbps up.
As for its waterproof status, the handset satisfies IPX-5 and IPX-7 levels of waterproof certification, meaning it can be sprayed with water and submerged in up to 1 meter of water for 30 minutes, respectively, and still keep working. I found the device survived a rest underwater in a glass vase for 30 minutes and a 10-minute dip at the bottom of a pool, and it continuously played YouTube videos while in the shower. After each one of these tests, I didn't notice any technical hiccups in performance or residual moisture at the edge of the screen.
During our battery drain tests, the handset lasted 9.72 hours. Anecdotally, I spent most of the day browsing the Web, talking on the phone, and watching videos, without making a huge dent in the battery's reserves. According to FCC radiation tests, the phone has a digital SAR rating of 1.14W/kg.
Unfortunately, call quality with Cricket Wireless’ network fared a bit worse. Like it was on Boost, maximum volume could stand to be louder, and none of my calls dropped. However, audio was noticeably clipping in and out. My friend heard it on both ends, but said it was not very distracting. I, on the other hand, found it happening every few seconds and I had to ask my friend a few times to repeat himself. Calls on audio speaker also sounded scratchy, and I could hear a subtle static noise. In general however, I could still make out what my friend was saying and calls weren't rendered completely senseless.
Kyocera Hydro (Cricket Wireless) call quality sample Listen now:
Cricket’s 3G network in San Francisco was also noticeably slower than Boost’s and in general, was frustratingly glacial. There were several times it dropped from 3G to 1X, and to load CNET’s mobile and desktop site, it took 35 seconds and 1 minute and 26 seconds, respectively. The mobile site for The New York Time’s clocked in at 28 seconds, and its desktop site took an average of a minute and 51 seconds. For ESPN, it took 29 seconds for the mobile version and 1 minute and 5 seconds for the full. The average speed for uploading and installing Temple Run took a nose dive, and it took a whopping 24 minutes and 14 seconds to download. Finally, Ookla scores topped out at 0.21MBps down and 0.35Mbps up. As for processing speed, it took an average of 45 seconds to restart the device and 2.45 seconds to launch the camera.
|Kyocera Hydro||Boost Mobile||Cricket Wireless|
|Average 3G download speed||0.35Mbps||0.21Mbps|
|Average 3G upload speed||0.66Mbps||0.35Mbps|
|App download||22MB in 6 minutes, 38 seconds||22MB in 24 minutes, 14 seconds|
|CNET mobile site load||13 seconds||35 seconds|
|CNET desktop site load||51 seconds||1 minute and 26 seconds|
During its battery drain test, the phone lasted 9.95 hours, and was on par with its Boost counterpart. Anecdotally, after a 10 minute conversation, the battery lost about six percent of its reserves, and after a full hour web browsing and downloading, it lost about 36 percent. The SAR rating for this model is slightly higher at 1.17W/kg.
If you can handle slow CPU and data speeds, the Kyocera Hydro is a solid handset. Not only does it run Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, but at $129.99 (or $139.99 on Cricket), it's reasonably priced and you won't be tied down with a contract. But, it's worth considering that the device performed worse, both in call quality and data speeds, on Cricket Wireless' network. Still, the fact that it's a waterproof handset, regardless of what carrier it's on, is a definite plus. So the next time your phone accidentally takes a dip in the pool, you'll have the peace of mind of knowing that it could recover without mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Or rice.