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The Kyocera Verve feature handset may not be on the bleeding edge of smartphone technology, but as a starter device, it does deliver high marks on the basics.
Available at Sprint for $19.99 on-contract, or $49.99 prepaid on Boost Mobile, the Verve's inexpensive price is not without its drawbacks: you'll need a lot of patience to browse the Web with its basic software features, and the its physical buttons can be difficult to use at times.
But despite those issues, the device is still worth considering. Even with its design issues, the physical QWERTY keyboard will satisfy messaging enthusiasts. In addition, the device packs a surprisingly capable 2-megapixel camera, it performs all basic tasks well, and you can't go wrong with its simple and straightforward interface.
The Verve comes in grey and pink for Sprint users, and a deep blue for Boost Mobile customers. I reviewed Sprint's pink variant, which looked vibrant and stylish. Of course, the standout color is definitely not for everyone. For me, however, I liked the deep, saturated tone, and I thought it contrasted well with the lime green accents on the buttons.
The phone is ultra-pocketable, measuring 4.53 inches tall, 2.13 inches wide, and 0.59 inches thick (115mm by 54mm by 14.9 mm). With its compact frame and reasonable weight (it weighs 4.7 ounces or 132.5 grams), it's very comfortable to hold. You can slide the keyboard in and out with one hand, and when closed, it's still easy to navigate with one hand.
Located on the left edge are a volume rocker and Micro-USB port, and up top is a 3.5mm headphone jack. The right houses a shortcut camera button and a small indentation. Using the latter, you can pry off the subtly textured back plate to reveal the 1,100mAh battery. The rear houses the only camera on the Verve as well, and two slits for the audio speaker.
On the front sits a 2.4 inch QVGA display with a 320x240-pixel resolution. Obviously with these specs, graphics and texts on the screen will look pixelated and jagged. Images, like default wallpapers, showed noticeable color banding as well. The display also has a narrow viewing angle. A slight tilt from any angle can wash out the screen entirely. All that said, however, the display is still viewable nonetheless, and I didn't have any trouble looking, reading, or navigating my way through menus.
To the left of the screen are two pink soft keys that can be utilized when the QWERTY keyboard is slid out and in use. Because they blend with the rest of the phone, they are unobtrusive and don't add any clutter to the device's overall look. Below the screen is an alphanumeric keypad, complete with its own set of two soft keys, and a silver rectangular navigation control with a menu/OK button in the middle. This silver ring of buttons feels a bit sharp to the touch, but it's not a deal breaker. After using it a few times, I got used to the way it felt and hardly noticed it after a while.
At the bottom of the two shortcut keys are buttons for the speaker and back button. Altogether, these four keys are quite small and cramped around one another. The fact that they angle inwardly helps a little bit, but often, I still found myself pressing a couple of them at the same time, so you'll need to be precise when pressing these particular keys.
Next to those sit the talk, speaker, and end/power keys. Both of these keys are conveniently raised and bulge out a little from the surface of the handset, making it easier to feel for and to press. And finally, below that is the alphanumeric keypad. Like the talk and end buttons, they keypad also sits above the surface of the phone, so you can easily dial numbers without looking directly at the buttons. The keys arc slightly downward and are generously sized. In addition, if you longpress the star and pound keys, you can launch your In Case of Emergency information and contacts, and dial 911, respectively. This is especially useful for seniors who may want quick-access to either of these services.
The key feature of the Verve however, is its sliding four-row keyboard underneath. The sliding mechanism to open and close the keyboard operates smoothly, and feels snappy and secure. And of course, there's nothing like definitively collapsing the device shut after every use.
As for the keyboard, it includes four direction buttons for easy navigation, plus a function key for secondary entry input. You can also longpress the spacebar to insert a period punctuation mark. The buttons are responsive, and personally, I found them to be reasonably sized and space. I had no problems typing fast and accurately while looking at the keyboard. If you have small or medium-sized hands like me, this keyboard will feel comfortable. Another user with slightly bigger hands, however, might need to look elsewhere.
In general, the buttons lay flat against the surface of the device, making it a little difficult to feel for specific buttons on touch alone. In addition, even though the spacebar is wider than the other keys, you'll need to press it at a specific spot (someplace in the middle) to get it to register. The spacebar has some dead spots on either side of it, plus a thin section in the dead center. When I tapped on these areas, nothing registers. This slowed down my typing and caused me to miss spaces in my messages.
As a feature device, you won't find sophisticated software apps of any kind included. But you will get the bare-bone requirements necessary of any useful handset. The Verve's contact book is capable of holding up to 600 entries. With each contact, you can enter in several more pieces of information, such as a person's work number, email, job title, birthday, and more. There's also T9 texting (and e-mailing), 256MB of RAM, and 512MB of internal storage space.
The phone has a handful of basic task-management tools as well, like a calendar, an alarm clock, a stopwatch, and a calculator. There's also a world clock feature, a voice memo tool, and a countdown timer. A few other goodies include the ability to transfer media files through a USB connection, Bluetooth 2.1, Spanish language mode, and airplane mode.
To keep track of your plan minutes and balance, the device has a My Account feature. Sprint also threw in its Family Locator, which lets you pinpoint your kids or other family members on a map. A shopping portal for ringtones, games, screensavers, and apps has been loaded too; and the My Stuff folder keeps track of all these items you've purchased.
The handset has an elementary WAP 2.0 Web browser. When you use the navigation key to move through Web pages, the browser will first open to the Sprint Web portal, where you can choose to read the day's featured headlines, check the weather, or look for media files to download.
Given that the camera has a 2-megapixel lens, I didn't expect much of photo quality. But I was pleasantly surprised how decent some of the pictures turned out. True, lighting was washed out, you can see a noticeable amount of digital noise, and images didn't appear very sharp. But in environments with ample lighting, the camera functioned adequately. Center objects of focus were easy to make out, and particularly bright and vivid colors managed to stand out. For more on the Verve's camera quality, check out the photos below. And be sure to click on each picture to see them at their full resolution.
The camera doesn't have a flash and cannot record video. Though it doesn't have many editing options, there are some, like the five picture modes (such as 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 0.1 to 2 megapixels); three qualities; and three shutter tones.
At our San Francisco offices, I tested the dual-band (800/1900) device and call quality was passable. None of my calls dropped, I didn't hear any buzzing or extraneous sounds, and voices were continually consistent. However, volume range was particularly low. Even when cranked to its highest level, my calling partner sounded distant and far away. Audio speaker fared similarly, and I had to keep my ear close to the speaker just to hear the conversation.
On the other hand, however, I was told my voice sounded very clear, albeit a bit tinny. My calling partner had no issue with my audio either, and said I could be well understood.
When it comes to both data speed times and its processor, both are slow. The handset doesn't have Wi-Fi capabilities, so it runs solely on Sprint's 3G network for data. On average, it took 18 seconds to open the browser and finish loading the carrier's home page. It also took about 1 minute and 6 seconds for it to display the CNET mobile site. Keep in mind that CNET's site and other pages are stripped of much of their coding and you're left with simplified, skeletal version instead.
As previously mentioned, the phone itself is slow. When I took photos, I needed to hold the Verve still a few seconds after pressing the shutter to prevent motion blur. I also needed to wait a beat for the camera to ready itself to take another picture. On average, it took 47 seconds for the device to restart itself and 2.18 seconds to launch the camera.
Anecdotal evidence for the handset's battery life has been underwhelming so far. The 1,1000mAh battery didn't last a weekend on standby, and after a workday of medium usage, the phone displayed only 50 percent left of power. During our lab test for talk time, it lasted 6 hours and 12 minutes, and came close to its reported talk time of 6.3 hours. According to FCC radiation measurements, the Verve has an SAR rating of 1.29W/kg.
Sprint users in the market for a straightforward and inexpensive texting phone should consider the $19.99 on-contract, Kyocera Verve. True, it isn't perfect -- its volume levels should be several notches louder, and despite an overall satisfying typing experience, there are some awkward design issues. In addition, if you want a modern Web and media experience, it's best to look elsewhere.
But for less than what you'd pay for a pair of jeans, users can call, text, email, and take photos with little trouble. Plus, the fact that you can transfer your files with a simple USB connection (instead of relying on a spotty Bluetooth connection or waiting forever for the email attachment to send) is a useful goodie to take advantage of.
Its larger battery capacity and adequate camera gives it an edge over the carrier's other feature handsets, like the Kyocera Kona , the Samsung Array, and the LG Rumor Reflex . For Boost users, I prefer it over the cheaper Samsung Factor , given it lacks certain features and has a smaller screen than the Verve, and while the Kyocera Milano runs Android with the same price tag, its dated OS and meager specs won't supply that modern smartphone experience you will want.
In general, even if having a QWERTY keyboard isn't a priority, and you're looking for a simple feature handset, this device is an excellent starter phone that's reliable and easy to use.