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The Kyocera Kona doesn't look like much, but for mobile users seeking a no-muss, no-fuss handset that can perform the basics, this is a phone worth considering.
The device is Cricket Wireless' latest offering, and is currently available for $29.99 with Cricket's contract-free service. It's also available on Sprint's network for free with a new two year contract. True, it lacks a lot of comforts you'll find in even midtier feature phones, like a camera flash or video capabilities. And while its extra features are rather paltry (a 2-megapixel camera and 2G data connectivity, for example), for people who want a bare-bones handset that's easy to use, it'll satisfy those needs.
Editors' note: This review was updated on October 9, 2013, to include analysis of the Sprint version of the Kyocera Kona.
The Kyocera Kona is a minimalistic, clamshell device that's simple and compact. It measures 3.94 inches tall, 2.05 inches wide, and 0.69 inch thick. It's quite light at 3.7 ounces, and it has no problem fitting into the front pockets of jeans or slipping into a small bag.
You can easily open the handset with one hand, using your thumb to push between the two folding parts. The hinging mechanism is sturdy, and like most flip phones, there's nothing like that satisfying snap that comes with shutting the Kona closed.
On the front, you'll see a 1.44-inch LCD color display. Its 128x128-pixel resolution suffices to display pertinent information quickly, such as the date, time, reception, and battery levels.
On its left are a Micro-USB port and a volume rocker, and the right edge houses a 3.5mm headphone jack. Below that are two holes you can use to loop a lanyard or charm through.
The internal display measures 2.4 inches and has a 320x240-pixel resolution. The screen shows simple menu icons and text clearly enough, though you can still see some aliasing with certain letters. In addition, oils from fingertips smudge the screen severely, and gently pushing against it warps it easily as well.
Beneath that is your usual alphanumerical keypad. Though the buttons are a bit too flush with the surface of the device for my liking, the keys are generously sized and spaced, and are easy to press. It also includes shortcut keys for the camera and audio speaker, a circular navigation button, a center select key, and two soft keys.
The matte-black back plate is smooth and features a subtle textured design. Located on the rear are a camera and a speaker. In addition, you can see Cricket's logo emblazoned on the back. Using a small indent at the bottom, you can remove the back cover and access the removable battery.
As a feature handset, the phone doesn't have much in the way of impressive specs, but then again, it is for people who are looking for a low-maintenance, easy-to-use device.
It can hold up to 600 contacts, which you can back up using Cricket's MyBackup service. You can choose to hide certain contacts so they don't appear in your contacts list, too. Just select them under "Set as secret" and then only if a PIN is entered will a list of all your secret contacts appear.
Applications include a WAP 2.0 Web browser, a navigator, a media gallery (for viewing downloaded and preloaded wallpapers and screensavers), a calendar, Bluetooth 2.1, a clock with alarm functions, a stopwatch, a countdown timer, a world clock, two voice services (voice memo and voice recognition), and a games and apps portal that includes two preloaded games (Bubble Bash 2 and Uno). You can view these apps either in a list view or as menu icons.
Some helpful features include hearing-aid compatibility, increasing the font size, airplane mode, switching the language to Spanish, and GPS location services. Furthermore, you'll get 256MB of ROM and 128MB of RAM.
The 2-megapixel camera doesn't have a flash and cannot record video. It has very few options, but it does include five picture modes (like night/dark and mirror image); a 12x digital zoom; a self-timer; and the ability to manually or auto-adjust the brightness, sharpness, and contrast.
Additional options include five white balances, three "fun tools" that give different color tones, decorative frames, and the ability to take multiple shots at once; four resolution options (from 240x320 to 1,200x1,600-pixel resolution); three qualities; and three shutter tones.
Photo quality was understandably poor, though in certain environments with ample lighting, it functioned adequately. Though objects were easy enough to make out, in general colors looked muted or washed out, pictures contained lots of digital noise, and objects had ill-defined edges or weren't in focus.
I tested the tri-band (800/1900/AWS) Kyocera Kona in our San Francisco office and call quality was good. Though voices did sound a bit static-y and maximum volume could stand to be a bit louder, overall, my calls did not drop, audio didn't clip in and out, and during times of absolute silence, I didn't hear any extraneous noises or buzzing. Likewise, my friend told me I sounded clear and easy to understand. Speaker quality for calls was tinny, however, and harsh. On max volume, you can hear the audio reverberating on the back of the battery door, but conversations were understandable and the voice's sharpness wasn't very distracting.
During a test call on Sprint's network in San Francisco, my testing partner said my voice sounded muffled, but still understandable. Likewise, her voice didn't sound clear to me, but I didn't experience any dropped words, which is a plus. On speakerphone there was occasional static on my end and when I turned the volume all the way up, my tester's voice sounded distorted.
Kyocera Kona (Cricket Wireless) call quality sample
Kyocera Kona (Sprint) call quality sample
When it comes to both data speed times and its processor, both are very slow. The device runs on Cricket's 2G network. On average, it took 20.84 seconds to even open the browser and land on Cricket's home page, and 25.04 seconds for it to load the CNET mobile site. It also took about 1 minute and 6 seconds to send a 209KB photo. It only took a few seconds for the handset to load up a Web site, but these sites were stripped of much of their coding and you're left with simplified, skeletal versions of these pages.
Using the Kona on Sprint's 3G network in San Francisco, it took on average 21 seconds to launch the browser and 23 seconds to load CNET's mobile site.
And as I mentioned before, the phone itself is slow. When I took photos, I could see a noticeable lag between my moving of the camera and the feedback I saw on the screen. It also took a few seconds for it to capture a photo after I pressed the shutter, and a few more for it to ready itself to take another picture. On average, it took 34.93 seconds for it to restart itself and 2.53 seconds to launch the camera.
During our battery drain test the device lasted 5.58 hours. Anecdotally, the Kona had very respectable battery life. With minimal usage, it could go a handful of days without a charge. Its 870mAh battery has a reported talk time of 4.2 hours and a standby time of 300 hours. According to FCC radiation standards, it has an SAR rating of 1.15W/kg on Cricket Wireless and 1.45W/kg on Sprint.
Despite not packing as much heat as other, more high-tech handsets, the Kyocera Kona remains a good choice if you're a Cricket or Sprint customer in the market for a simple feature phone. You may not be the next Annie Leibovitz with that camera or browse the Internet with lightning speed, but you'll be able to get online and snap photos when you need to.
Most importantly, the Kona is competitively priced compared with the carrier's other offerings. The Samsung Chrono, for example, is the same price, yet it has a smaller battery and only a VGA camera, thus making the Kona a better choice.