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

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The Good The Kyocera Torque 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.

7.3 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7

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

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 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.

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