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The last time Kyocera released a smartphone in the U.S., it bet big on the unusual dual-screen Kyocera Echo, with a design so wacky that the phone fizzled out due to lack of interest. The Japan-based manufacturer is ready to try again with Android, but this time it's starting out on the lower end of things with the Kyocera Milano. This adorable little messaging handset features Android 2.3 Gingerbread, Wi-Fi, and the usual smartphone goodies, but is hampered by a small and drab display and poor multimedia quality. Yet, the $29.99 price might make its negatives a lot more palatable for budget-minded consumers
You would be forgiven if you thought the Kyocera Milano was just another messaging feature phone. At 4.1 inches long by 2.4 inches wide by 0.7 inch thick, the Milano is a decidedly dull and bulky affair albeit with a few attractive touches. The front display is bordered by a shiny plastic bezel, while the back is clad in a soft-touch material curved slightly inward so the phone fits naturally in the hand. It may have a cute and compact form factor at first glance, but it's actually quite heavy at 5.6 ounces.
The real disappointment lies with the screen. Not only is the 3-inch touch-screen display a bit small for our tastes, it's also pretty low-res at only QVGA or 320-by-240-pixel resolution. Graphics look fuzzy around the edges and text looks quite choppy. Most Android apps therefore look quite unattractive with the display. We do appreciate that the display is capacitive, and it felt quite responsive when tapping and swiping.
The user interface is pretty close to vanilla Android, but it does have a few unique touches like a flick-to-unlock lock screen and Sprint ID. Sprint ID is a Sprint service that lets Android users swap between different thematic profiles or ID Packs. Each pack has a variety of different wallpapers, widgets, and shortcuts depending on the theme. The Eco theme will have environmentally-friendly apps, for example, while a minimalist one won't show any widgets at all. We don't really think ID Packs are that useful, especially since you can sometimes unwittingly install bloatware, but it's only as complicated as the user wants it to be.
Beneath the display are four physical shortcut keys for the Home, Menu, Back, and Search functions. Though the buttons are small, we like that the Milano opted for physical keys as an alternative to the usual touch sensor buttons. The volume rocker and Micro-USB port are on the left spine while a dedicated camera button sits on the right. On top of the phone is a 3.5mm headset jack, while the back is home to a camera lens.
The Milano slides open to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard. When it's revealed, the display switches orientation from portrait to landscape. The four-row keyboard is certainly one of the highlights of the phone. Even though it is compact, the individual keys are quite large. They're also raised and well-spaced, so it was quite easy to type out a quick message.
As we mentioned, the Kyocera Milano does ship with Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread, which is a great operating system for an entry-level smartphone. The user interface is a touch more refined than its FroYo predecessor, and the virtual keyboard is more intuitive as well. As you might expect, the Milano supports the whole range of Google's apps and services like Gmail, Google Search with Voice, Google Maps with Navigation, Google Talk, Places, Latitude, YouTube, and more.
The Milano has the usual smartphone connectivity features like Bluetooth, GPS, and Wi-Fi. It even has a mobile hot-spot feature that'll work with five Wi-Fi-enabled devices. It also ships with Android's default Webkit browser, which handles full HTML Web pages with aplomb. Aside from Gmail, you can configure the Milano to use your own POP or IMAP e-mail as well. Other pre-installed apps courtesy of Sprint include Sprint Hotspot, Sprint ID, Sprint Mobile Wallet, and Sprint Zone.
The phone also ships with the default Android music player, which isn't the greatest. It doesn't support FLAC or WMA file formats, curiously, and the audio quality was not great. We heard the occasional skip and pop in a few of the songs that we loaded. The video player supports H.264 and MP4 file formats, but audio again was an issue.
The 3.2-megapixel camera on the Milano is predictably poor. Photo quality was average, with OK colors and blurry edges. The lack of an LED flash also means the Milano takes bad low-light photos. The Milano also has a built-in video player that can record 640-by-480-pixel videos. It has 68MB of internal storage and a 2GB preinstalled card. It can support up to 32GB cards if you want additional storage.
We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900 MHz) Kyocera Milano in San Francisco using Sprint Nextel. Call quality was quite good on our end. Callers had good volume and their voices sounded clear as well. Their voices did sound a little bit hollow at times, however.
Kyocera Milano call quality sample Listen now:
On their end, callers said that the audio quality was excellent. We sounded loud and clear, with a natural sounding voice. They did detect quite a bit of static and environmental noise occasionally, however. Speakerphone quality was decent, and we did not encounter a lot of echo.
As the Kyocera Milano only has EV-DO Rev. 0, we didn't have the greatest data speeds. We loaded the full CNET page in 46 seconds and the mobile CNET site in 24 seconds. Even though the Milano is only powered by an 800MHz Qualcomm MSM7627T processor, we didn't think it was that sluggish. Performance felt on par with a lot of other entry-level smartphones, which is fine since you'll likely only be using the Milano for relatively basic functions.
There is no question that the Kyocera Milano is a basic entry-level smartphone. Even its curved and compact exterior couldn't save it from its bulky and cheap feel. The biggest sin was its small low-res display, which does not do justice to graphically rich applications. We do like that it ships with Android 2.3 Gingerbread and it does have a surprisingly good physical keyboard. We also commend it for its $29.99 (with contract) price. However, we recommend coughing up the extra $70 or so for the HTC Evo Design 4G or the Samsung Conquer 4G, both of which delivers true bang for the buck.