Some of our initial aesthetic judgments hold up, however. The display was fine for viewing menus, but it wasn't the best for games. Also, since the navigation keys are barely the size of freckles and are bunched together in an area a half-inch wide, they present a challenge to accurate menu surfing for anyone with above-average-size fingers. In fact, they are so tightly packed that the OK key is placed counterintuitively to the left rather than in the center (a Clear button is on the right). Our right thumb frequently moved instinctively to the Back/flashlight key to the right of the array before our logic center kicked into gear. We also had a couple of issues with the menus themselves. Oddly, primary menu sections such as My Account, Settings, and Tools are scrolled horizontally rather than vertically on the small screen, which took a bit of getting used to, especially since menus within these sections are laid out in more traditional vertical lists.
The dial-pad keys' backlighting, although unusual, is among the brightest we've seen. When you're using the phone, the numbers on the rice-shaped black keys are infused with a blue glow, while the four keys in the middle column light up completely, all of which makes dialing in the dark extremely easy. Though small, these dial keys are about the size you'd expect on a compact candy bar-style handset. And the rubber ring that frames the phone's face makes it easy to hold on to while walking and talking, regardless of how sweaty your fingers might get.
Disappointingly, there are no side-mounted volume keys, so you have to stick a finger into the array and feel for the tiny keys to raise or lower the volume. Then there's the flashlight--we found the widely dispersed glow illuminates objects more than 20 feet away in pitch darkness. The challenge is finding the tiny black Back key that doubles as the flashlight's on switch in the dark. You can further brighten the phone with an optional $10.99 faceplate, which, at 20 percent of the phone's cost, is a wee pricey.
With room for around 200 numbers, the Kyocera K10's phone book is surprisingly robust. There's room for an e-mail address, picture ID (although we were a little unclear on how to get pictures onto the phone since there's no camera and it doesn't support multimedia messaging), caller-specific ringer identification, and even voice dialing, which worked with no problem. Virgin has has also enabled text messaging. You get a calculator, a countdown timer, a stopwatch, and a tip calculator.
Downloading ring tones, games, and wallpaper from the Virgin XL Web store was surprisingly fast and painless, except for navigating menus that display only three lines of text at any given time. The Royale is packed with two demo games, Bejeweled and Jamdat Bowling, but the tiny buttons made play frustrating and would probably dissuade you from buying the full versions.
There are seven preloaded polyphonic ring tones, and you can download real superphonic music clips from the Virgin XL store. Any ring tone can be matched with the violent vibrate alert, but curiously, the phone vibrates for a good 5 to 7 seconds before the ringer actually sounds. There is no single key or key-combo shortcut to put the phone into silent vibrate mode until a call actually comes in.
Ringer volume is about medium and difficult to hear from a backpack or briefcase in any moderately noisy environment. The vibrating alert was far more effective at alerting us to an incoming call when the phone was in a pants pocket.
The Royale is rated at a relatively short 3.5 hours of talk time and 7.5 days of standby, but a major segment of the battery meter disappeared after less than 10 minutes of conversation and about an hour of futzing with settings and downloads. In our tests, however, we got 3.25 hours of talk time on a single charge and 5.5 days of standby time. According to FCC radiation tests, the K10 Royale has a digital SAR rating of 1.12 watts per kilogram.