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Kyocera Hydro Elite (Verizon) review:

Kyocera's best waterproof Hydro to date

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However, the 8-megapixel camera also has four different types of focus (like macro and touch), a digital zoom, flash, a contrast meter, five picture modes (which included HDR, multishot, and eight color effects), six scene modes, and eight photo sizes (ranging from 640x480 to 3,264x2,448 pixels). In contrast, the front-facing camera only has the eight color effects for its picture mode, and it can take photos in only three photo sizes (from 640x480 to 1,280x960 pixels).

Kyocera Hydro Elite (indoor)
Though taken at a distance, you can still make out Jared's face in this indoor photo. Lynn La/CNET
Kyocera Hydro Elite (outdoor)
In this outdoor picture, the colors of the flowers look true-to-life. Lynn La/CNET
Kyocera Hydro Elite (SSI)
In our standard studio shot, objects are in focus, but the flash casts a blue hue over the white background. Lynn La/CNET

Video quality was also good -- though the camera had some trouble with keeping focus. You can see that the lens would go in and out of focus, and video footage would have a slight "pulsating" movement while this occurred. Once the camera locked in focus, however, objects were clear and easy to make out. Audio picked up well and colors appeared accurate.

As for video options, both cameras have audio muting, and they still retain the same brightness meter, white balances, color effects, exposures, image stabilization, and grid line functions seen in camera mode. Only the 8-megapixel camera, though, has both auto and touch focus, digital zoom, flash, a contrast meter, time lapse features, and five video qualities (from MMS for texting to 1080p HD). The highest quality the front-facing camera can record is in 720p.

I tested the Hydro Elite in our San Francisco offices (CDMA 850/1900). Though volume could stand to be higher, call quality on my end sounded good. Voices were clear, albeit a bit staticky at times, audio didn't clip in and out, and none of my calls dropped. The speaker yielded a bit more mediocre results: I could hear voices fine, but at times my colleague sounded tinny or harsh if the volume was turned up too loudly.

On the other hand, I was told that I didn't sound so great. My colleague reported that my voice sounded muffled and faint, as if I was speaking under a cloth, and that he could hear a lot of background noise. When he was put on speaker he could hear his voice unpleasantly echoing and I sounded far away.

Kyocera Hydro Elite (Verizon Wireless) call quality sample

Listen now:

Fortunately, using Verizon's 4G LTE network, data speeds were fast. Though I'm not complaining, I did notice that as I carried out each data speed trial, the handset performed just a bit faster than the last, despite my restarting the phone every time. Regardless, on average, CNET's mobile site loaded in 5 seconds and our desktop site loaded in 13. The New York Times' mobile and desktop site took about 8 and 15 seconds, respectively. ESPN's mobile site took 6 seconds, and its full site loaded in 9 seconds. Furthermore, it took about 2 minutes for the 35.01MB game Temple Run 2 to download and install. Oddly, despite these rather respective speeds, Ookla's Speedtest app consistently showed me unusually low scores, with an average of 1.64Mbps down and 1.79Mbps up.

Kyocera Hydro Elite Performance testing
Average 4G LTE download speed 1.64Mpbs
Average 4G LTE upload speed 1.79Mbps
App download (Temple Run 2) 35.01MB in 2 minutes
CNET mobile site load 5 seconds
CNET desktop site load 13 seconds
Restart time 47 seconds
Camera boot time 2.22 seconds

The device is powered by a dual-core Snapdragon 1.5GHz processor. In general, the Elite can carry out small but necessary tasks with no trouble. It never crashed or stuttered while I played Temple Run 2 or even the graphics-intensive game, Riptide GP. However, at times, it can be slow. Though it may not be noticeable to an unfamiliar eye, some actions take a hair longer than I'd prefer. For example, returning to the home pages, unlocking the lock screen, and switching between portrait and landscape mode seemed just a bit sluggish. On average, it took about 47 seconds to restart the phone, and 2.22 seconds to launch the camera.

During our battery drain test the 2,100mAh battery lasted 4.8 hours of continuous video playback. Anecdotally, the handset had a decent battery life and could last through the workday without a charge on low to medium use. It has a reported talk time of up to 13 hours and a standby time of 9.84 days. According to FCC radiation standards, it has a digital SAR rating of 1.39W/kg.

As one of two waterproof phones on Verizon (the other one being the Casio G'zOne Commando 4G LTE), the Elite won't let you down if you drop it in a pool or the kitchen sink.

But there are some important factors to consider. The Commando 4G LTE is free under contract, and at the sake of looking way less attractive, it has a more rugged build. This means that if you fear more than just water, the handset will be able to sustain more damage when it gets dropped down the stairs and the like.

In addition, Verizon also carries better on-contract phones, though they aren't water-resistant. For instance, the HTC Droid DNA, which is also $49.99, has a fast quad-core processor, and a bigger, sharper screen. Likewise, the Motorola Droid Mini boasts a newer version of Android and a better 10-megapixel camera, though you'll need to cough up $100 for it.

However, if you still desire a reliable water resistant device, and you don't need as much protection as the Commando 4G LTE provides, get the Elite. It has a slimmer design that an average person would hardly recognize it as a waterproof phone. Furthermore, at $49.99 on contract, you can still purchase this midrange handset without breaking the bank.

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