Kyocera Kona review: Bare-bones, but a dependable performer

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MSRP: $99.00

The Good The Kyocera Kona has a compact, easy-to-handle design and an intuitive interface, and it lets you hide certain contacts in your phone book.

The Bad The Kona is sluggish, and its camera not only takes poor photos, but also lacks both a flash and video-recording capabilities.

The Bottom Line Though it's devoid of even midlevel features, the Kyocera Kona manages to be an excellent flip phone.

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6.3 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 6
  • Performance 7

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.

Kyocera Kona (Cricket)
The Kona's external display shows pertinent information like the time and battery life. Josh Miller/CNET

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.

Kyocera Kona (Cricket)
The handset has an easy-to-read menu containing applications like a calendar and navigator. Josh Miller/CNET

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.