It's good to see Kyocera getting its name out there again. The recent kickoff of the Kyocera Echo dual-screen smartphone turned some heads, but the same can't be said for the decidedly run-of-the-mill Kyocera Rio for Cricket Wireless. There's nothing wrong with the feature phone per se, but there's very little to set it apart from the pack of touch-screen messaging phones. That said, it's not a bad option for Cricket's more limited lineup, and the combination of a resistive touch-screen phone with a fairly finger-friendly interface and e-mail capabilities will certainly appeal those in search of a perfectly functional handset.
Music fans perusing Cricket's wares would do better to try the Samsung Suede with Muve Music. We saw it at CES, but are still awaiting a review unit, which we hope to get in our hands soon.
The contract-free Rio costs $129 in stores or $109 if you buy it online. Since there's no two-year service agreement, you can pay for service month to month.
We hate to say it, but the Kyocera Rio looks and feels like a cheap phone. It isn't the black body or rounded corners--those furnishings are standard by today's mobile design aesthetics. Rather, it's the glossy plastic ridging of the back cover combined with overly shiny silver accents, and a weight that feels a tad lighter than it should (3.2 ounces). The dimensions are pleasing and pocket-friendly at 4.1 inches tall by 2.2 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick. The phone feels fine when flat on the hand, and it gave us no trouble on the ear. However, there's something about those back cover ridges that gives us the shivers when picking up and handling the handset--though we realize this won't be everyone's reaction.
The Rio sports a 2.8-inch resistive touch screen that's fairly bright and clear. The QVGA resolution supports 240x320 pixels and 262,000 colors. Although the display is resistive rather than capacitive, we could mostly get the phone to register normal-pressure finger presses. In some views, we needed to press harder to scroll up or down. We'd also say that the virtual QWERTY keyboard you sometimes see (like when adding a new contact) is a little small--it'll be best suited for those with more slender fingertips. At other times when the screen won't switch to landscape view, you'll be able to turn on predictive text or a half QWERTY keyboard (two or three letters per key). We'd prefer the QWERTY mode on demand, but the half QWERTY is better than nothing.
As with many touch-screen phones these days, you can drag and drop widgets and application icons around each of the three home screens, or delete them. To add application shortcuts, you open the app launcher and hold down on the app before dragging it to one of the screens. You likewise hold and drag to delete or move a shortcut.
There are four stationary onscreen controls that shortcut to your message inbox, pull up the phone menu, launch apps, and open your address book.
Below the display are four hardware buttons that surround a central select key. The buttons open the apps tray, go back, and start and end phone calls. The power button sits on the right spine; it also locks and unlocks the screen. The camera shutter and volume rocker are on the left spines. On the top of the phone you'll find the Micro-USB charging port and the 3.5-millimeter headset jack. There's a 1.3-megapixel camera lens on the back, and beneath the back cover, there's a microSD card slot that accepts up to 16GB expandable memory.
The Rio is your typical feature phone. Its address book holds 500 entries, with room in each entry for multiple phone numbers, a street address and e-mail address, an IM handle, a URL address, and a note. You can pair a contact with a photo and a calling group. You also can customize message tones and choose from one of five default ringtones.
Texting is straightforward on the Rio, though typing is less than ideal if you don't have nimble fingers or predictive text turned on. As for e-mail, there's a free app you can download, then add multiple accounts for Gmail, Yahoo, Windows Live Hotmail, AOL, or other Web mail. There's no unified inbox, so you'll need to read and respond to accounts separately. As it happens, that's what we prefer since unified inboxes tend to get overwhelmingly cluttered. However, the e-mail program doesn't appear to open attachments like photos. You should also note that though the app pulls e-mail announcements at intervals, it doesn't push notifications in real time.
Cricket's Web browser comes equipped with a search bar, two screen modes, bookmarking capability, and support for saving images. We weren't able to change the default home page, but a menu button makes it easy enough to navigate to a destination URL. Nor could we test performance with Cricket's 3G service since San Francisco is outside Cricket's territory. The 2.5G roaming network coverage we got took us to CNET's mobile-optimized site in about 39 seconds. Expect faster speeds within Cricket's markets.
Essential apps include a calendar, an alarm, a stop watch, a world clock, a calculator and tip calculator, a memo pad, a voice recorder, and a timer. There are also some preloaded apps and shortcuts waiting for you, including those for weather, news and sports headlines, and games (Uno, Bubble Bash 2.) Cricket has also thrown in a backup app, turn-by-turn navigation, and a shortcut to your account, plus Web links to Facebook, Hotmail, and Google Search.
With a microSD card, you can listen to the Rio's music player. However, it isn't enough to just have MP3s on your card; they also have to be in the right folder for the phone to find them. Kyocera has created a Facebook page spelling out how to create those folders. After a time-consuming hassle working through both methods, we still weren't able to load our songs. Oddly, there's no shortcut to an online music store for filling up your Music Player with full tracks you download, just ringtones and ringback tones.
The 3-megapixel camera took OK shots that were often dull and blurry, especially if the camera or subject wasn't perfectly still. Fiddling with the brightness and white balance presets helped. There are three photos resolutions ranging from 1,280x1,024 to 320x240. You can choose from five white balance settings, four color effects, and three photo quality settings. It can also handle multishot, set a timer for self-portraits, and change the shutter sound. A sliding scale adjusts brightness before a shot, and you can frame the photo in one of 11 mostly goofy designs. To the Rio's credit, you can modify the images after you take them--rotate, flip, crop, adjust the color, or add effects. When you're done, you can assign photos to a contact or group; set as wallpaper; or share in an MMS or via Bluetooth.
We tested the Kyocera Rio (CDMA 850/1900) in San Francisco on Cricket's roaming voice network. Voice quality wasn't perfect. Our callers sounded a tad flat to our ears, though volume was fine. We noticed their words buzzed, and on more than one occasion we heard some off-putting digital feedback of our own call. On their end, callers said we sounded pretty clear, with decent volume.
Speakerphone sounded fairly clear to both parties, though we had to strain to hear our callers, even with the phone held at waist level. Voices also sounded a bit hollow in addition to quiet and distant. Callers agreed we sounded far away, and added that the farther we held the phone from our mouths, the more they could make out a soft background echo.
Kyocera Rio call quality sample Listen now:
It's worth mentioning again that your carrier experience may differ within Cricket's coverage area. The same goes for Cricket's data network, which only supports 3G roaming for smartphones. As we mentioned before, since the Rio is a feature phone, Web roaming occurred on the 2.5G (1X) network instead and led to a slower experience than 3G users should have.
The Rio has a rated battery life of 5.5 hours talk time and up to 14 days standby time. In our tests, it has a talk time of 6 hours and 1 minute. FCC radiation tests measured a digital SAR of 1.06 watts per kilogram.