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Kyocera Torque (Sprint) review: A rugged smartphone with the features you need

The Kyocera Torque isn't just a run-in-the mill rugged and waterproof handset; it also has Android 4.0, a 5-megapixel camera, and 4G LTE capabilities on Sprint.

Lynn La Senior Editor / Reviews - Phones
Lynn La covers mobile reviews and news. She previously wrote for The Sacramento Bee, Macworld and The Global Post.
Lynn La
5 min read

Unlike a lot of phones before it, the Kyocera Torque successfully combines full, military-spec toughness with Android touch-screen capabilities.


Kyocera Torque (Sprint)

The Good

The <b>Kyocera Torque</b> is a rugged, waterproof touch-screen phone that's equipped with 4G LTE,Smart Sonic audio technology, and excellent stereo speakers.

The Bad

The Torque is bulky, has a sluggish processor, and takes mediocre photos.

The Bottom Line

Sprint's Kyocera Torque stands apart from other rugged smartphones by delivering a strong durable design without sacrificing features.

Both the handset manufacturer and Sprint are no strangers to rugged devices. But Kyocera's Dura Series family of tough phones was always a little inaccessible to the mass market. Mainly because it was targeted for enterprise workers in the first place, but also because the line consisted of bulky feature handsets that had little or no characteristics of a current smartphone.

But the Torque is unique in that it's equipped with such modern fixings like a 4-inch touch screen, a 5-megapixel camera, and 4G LTE (the first for any rugged Sprint device). It's currently going for $99.99 after users sign a two-year contract and send in a mail-in rebate.

Let's face it, the Kyocera Torque isn't the sexiest phone to pull out of your pocket or purse. Its thick casing looks as if someone snugly fit one of those hard rubber steering wheel covers around its edges, and it weighs a hefty 5.54 ounces.

But whatever you think about its measurements (which, by the way, are 4.44 inches tall, 2.38 inches wide, and 0.56-inch thick), it's surprisingly not much bulkier than an iPhone sporting an Otterbox or LifeProof case -- though, admittedly, those cases are removable when need be.

Kyocera Torque (pocket)
The Torque's lack of a slim design is a trade-off for its waterproof, sturdy exterior. Josh Miller/CNET

On the left are a Sprint Direct Connect button, outlined in yellow, and a small volume rocker. Given that it's in the middle of the edge and quite big, I often hit the Direct Connect key accidentally. Be mindful of this, but also know that if you don't want push-to-talk, you can program the button to launch something else.

Up top are a speaker button, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a sleep/power key. The right edge houses a camera button, and at the bottom is a Micro-USB port. This port, as well as the headphone jack, are protected by small attached covers.

On the back is a 5-megapixel camera with flash. Below that is a lock for the back plate that requires a small coin to unfasten. Once unlocked, you can pry off the plate and access the 2,500mAh battery, NFC chip (located on the plate's underside), and microSD card slot that's expandable up to 32GB. Unfortunately, you need to remove the battery first in order to insert or eject the card.

Above the display is a 1.3-megapixel camera. It's important to note that you won't see an in-ear speaker nearby, or at all. That's because the handset is Kyocera's first U.S. phone to feature its Smart Sonic Receiver Technology. This means that in lieu of a visible in-ear speaker, the phone's equipped with a ceramic transducer inside. This transmits sound waves from the phone through the cartilage in your ear, boosting audio quality and clarity.

Below the touch screen are three physical buttons for back, home, and menu. There are also two stereo speakers that don't just play music loudly (because they indeed do), but the audio itself sounds full and robust. Music on max volume didn't sound tinny, harsh, or hollow at all, and these speakers are ideal for cutting through surrounding outdoor noise.

The 4-inch WVGA IPS display has a 800X480-pixel resolution and is made out of Corning Gorilla Glass 2.0. The touch screen is bright and sensitive, with responsive haptic feedback going off at every tap. Compared to higher-end devices, the display isn't the crispest I've seen. However, text and menu icons were sharp, and images (like default wallpapers) appeared perfectly fine.

The brawny, waterproof Kyocera Torque (pictures)

See all photos

The phone runs on Android 4.0 and comes with such Google mainstays as: Chrome, Gmail, Plus, Local, Maps with Navigation, Messenger, the whole array of Google Play apps, Search, Shopper, Talk, and YouTube.

Basic task management apps include a native browser and e-mail client, a calculator, a calendar, a clock with alarm functions, a flashlight module, a movie editor, a news-and-weather app, and a voice dialer.

Kyocera Torque (direct connect)
Sprint's Direct Connect service (outlined in yellow) can be managed and customized by an easy-to-use software app. Josh Miller/CNET

Sprint also loaded three of its own apps. One is Sprint Zone, a help portal that lets you check your phone balance and fees. Another is Sprint ID, which allows you to customize your phone with preselected apps, widgets, and other items depending on which ID profile you choose. So far, there are 40 packs available. Lastly, there's Mobile Sync, a service that lets the carrier back up your phonebook.

Under the Settings menu, there's also a software feature called MaxiMZR. This lets you limit the data connection of apps running in the background to conserve battery life.

Other apps include ICE, which stores emergency contact info; a hotspot app; a battery and location pinning app called Qualcomm Enhanced Location Service; Eco Mode, another battery- and energy-conserving app; and an app to take panoramic photos. I also really like the Direct Connect app, which lets you set up your push-to-talk contacts and settings in an incredibly easy and intuitive manner.

Camera and video
The 5-megapixel camera has six picture modes (including HDR, panorama, and "effects," which has 14 filters of its own), six photo sizes (ranging from 640x480 to 2,592x1,944), digital zoom, a flash, four focuses, six shooting scenes, geo-tagging, three image qualities, blink detection, three auto exposures, five ISO levels, five white balances, and grid lines.

The front-facing camera has two picture modes (normal and effects), four photo sizes (ranging from 640x480 to 1,280x960), digital zoom, geotagging, three image qualities, three auto exposures, four ISO levels, five white balances, and grid lines.

Video settings for the rear shooter include two video modes (normal and effects), six video sizes (ranging from a 30-second MMS to 1080p HD), digital zoom, a flash, time lapse, and the same auto exposure, white balance, and grid line options. Recording options for the 1.3-megapixel camera are the same, except there are only three video sizes (from MMS to VGA), and there's no flash or time lapse.

The camera was extremely slow, and I'd have to pause for several seconds after snapping a photo before the camera was ready to take another one. Flipping from both landscape to portrait mode and the rear to the front camera also took a seconds longer than usual. As for photo quality, it was respectable but not impressive. Though colors were true-to-life and accurate, the edges of objects were blurred. Understandably, dimmer indoor photos fared worse, but pictures came out with a lot of digital noise and pixelation.

Kyocera Torque (outdoor)
Though colors are vivid in this outdoor photo, edges are a slightly blurry. Lynn La/CNET
Kyocera Torque (indoor)
This amply lit indoor photo shows accurate colors, but some notable digital noise. Lynn La/CNET
Kyocera Torque (SSI)
Our standard studio shot shows heavy color and digital noise distortion with the white background. Josh Miller/CNET

Recording 1080p video looked much better. Audio was picked up well and images were sharp. Colors were accurate, and moving objects, such as people walking or passing cars, remained in focus. In addition, there was little lag between my moving of the camera and the feedback I saw on the viewfinder.

I tested the Kyocera Torque in our San Francisco offices. Call quality was great. Calls didn't drop, audio didn't cut in and out, and during moments of complete silence, I didn't hear any extraneous noises or buzzing. I did hear a bit of fuzz surround every word from the other line, but it wasn't overly distracting. Max volume was reasonable, and audio speaker, as I've mentioned before, was fantastic. It's loud, full, and robust.

I was told that I, however, came off tinny and harsh at times. When I stepped outside, I was told my voice sounded even more distant. But overall, audio quality from my end received a favorable response.

Kyocera Torque (Sprint) call quality sample

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The device is initially set for a 3G connection, so you'll have to go into Mobile Data settings to activate 4G LTE. (Note that turning on LTE will disable the Direct Connect feature.) Data speeds were fast and consistent. Loading the CNET mobile site took an average of 8 seconds, while loading our full site took 13 seconds. The New York Times' full site clocked in at 17 seconds, and its mobile site took 5 seconds to load. Altogether, ESPN took a shorter time to load, with its mobile site taking 6 seconds on average, and its full site loading in 8 seconds. Ookla's Speedtest app showed an average of 1.27Mbps down and 2.35Mbps up. It took an average of 3 minutes and 29 seconds to download the 32.41MB game Temple Run 2.

Kyocera Torque Performance testing
Average 4G LTE download speed 1.27Mpbs
Average 4G LTE upload speed 2.35Mbps
App download (Temple Run 2) 32.41MB in 3 minutes and 29 seconds
CNET mobile site load 8 seconds
CNET desktop site load 13 seconds
Restart time 41 seconds
Camera boot time 2.77 seconds

The handset is powered by a 1.2GHz dual-core CPU. As I previously mentioned regarding its camera, at times the phone can be slow. Tasks like switching orientations, launching games, and quitting to return to the homepage took just a hair longer on this handset. The graphic-intense game Riptide GP, for example, showed a markedly lower frame-rate compared to higher-tiered handsets. However, this doesn't mean you'll spend your days on the Torque chugging away. A majority of your tasks will be simple, and actions like scrolling, browsing through your app drawer, or pinch zooming were all executed smoothly. On average, it took about 41 seconds to reboot the phone, and 2.77 seconds to launch the camera.

As for its ruggedness, I will attest that it can withstand a good knocking. Because I didn't have a three-foot-deep pool around, I dunked it completely underwater in a small container for 30 minutes. Not only did it still work after its swim, it also received my call while submerged. I then stuck it in the freezer for 30 minutes and underneath a lamp quickly after that. After both trials, it still worked fine. Finally, I dropped it down a flight of stairs that consisted of 20 steps. The screen was intact after all the trips down, and having the doors to the Micro-USB and headphone jack pop open after a spill or two didn't bother me much. However, after one tumble, the back plate had opened slightly and the battery came loose. This turned off the phone, but when I rebooted it, no damage was done.

During our battery drain test for video playback, the Torque lasted 9.67 hours. Anecdotally, it has an excellent battery life. It has a reported talk time of 18 hours, and it survived several days on standby. In addition, after some heavy use, it had plenty of reserves leftover at the end of the workday. According to FCC radiation standards, the device has a digital SAR rating of 0.94W/kg.

Currently, there is no phone on Sprint that's quite like the Kyocera Torque. If you're on the carrier and you're looking for a rugged smartphone, this would be it. Not only does it perform reliably, but its respectable midtier specs are justified by its reasonable price.

If you're not committed to Sprint, AT&T's Samsung Rugby Pro is a similar device. With its vivid screen and better camera, I prefer the Pro when not accounting for toughness. However, the Torque would definitely be able to take it down in the ring. Its sturdier build makes it the better rugged phone, and if that's what you're prioritizing, the Torque is the more bulletproof choice.


Kyocera Torque (Sprint)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 7