We've all lost at least one smartphone to a watery grave, or dropped one only to pick it up and have a shattered display staring back at you. But the $99.99 Kyocera Torque can take that kind of punishment and more and shake it off. Available on Sprint, the rugged 4-inch Torque is meant for use in harsh environments, ranging from construction sites to the backyard pool. With a chassis that meets U.S. MilSpec 810G durability and IP67 water and dust resistance standards, the Torque is a beastly smartphone. But is it the ultimate survivor?
Kyocera markets the Torque as a rugged smartphone that can handle almost any situation, and it looks the part. Its chassis is constructed using Dura-Grip, a material that Kyocera says is made from a shock-resistant elastomer that's normally used in car bumpers. Despite its thick chassis, the Torque isn't especially heavy, measuring 4.4 x 2.4 x 0.6 inches and weighing 4.4 ounces. In fact, this handset is significantly smaller and barely lighter than the 4-inch Samsung Galaxy Rugby Pro (5.0 x 2.7 x 0.5 and 4.6 ounces). In each of the phone's four corners are small screws that ensure the front and rear portions of the chassis are watertight.
Up front is a 4-inch display surrounded by a thin black bezel, which is surrounded by a thin strip of chrome. Above the display is a reflective Kyocera logo and a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera. To accentuate the phone's ruggedness, Kyocera equipped the Torque with three physical Android buttons (Back, Home and Settings) along the phone's chin piece.
Just below those buttons are the Torque's stereo speakers, which are covered with zipperlike grills. The phone's right edge includes a physical camera button, while its left edge houses a volume rocker and large button that can be used to activate the phone's Direct Connect push-to-talk feature.
The top edge features the phone's power button, Direct Connect speakerphone button and a covered headphone jack. Each of the Torque's buttons are easy to press, even while wearing gloves. On the lower edge is a covered microUSB port. The phone's rear panel offers a 5-megapixel camera and a metal twist lock that ensures the panel stays shut tight.
Kyocera says the Torque meets MilSpec 810G durability and IP67 water and dust resistance standards. That means it can withstand temperatures ranging from minus 22 degrees to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, survive heavy dust, more than 25 drops from four feet and last for up to 30 minutes in a meter of water. The Torque can also be exposed to 24 hours of salt fog and still keep ticking, so bringing it to the beach shouldn't be a problem.
To put the Torque to the test, we dropped it from a height of above four feet multiple times while it was still running. We didn't even see a scuff. We then put the Torque in a pile of snow with all of its port covers closed and the back panel latched and kept it running for about 15 minutes, without the phone ever turning off. The device even survived cold water from a running faucet for 10 minutes without issue, though the screen was unusable at the time.
Display and audio
The Torque's 4-inch display is so bright, Kyocera should have named this phone the Torch. The phone registered 720 lux on our light meter, nearly double the average of 371 lux. The Samsung Galaxy Rugby Pro's 220 lux doesn't evne come close. With the display brightness set to its highest, the Torque's screen is easily readable even in direct sunlight.
With 800 x 480-pixel resolution, the Torque's display isn't the sharpest around, but it still provided clear visuals. The action-packed trailer for "Iron Man 3" offered varying shades of red and orange as explosions ripped through Tony Stark's lab. Text on sites such as Laptopmag.com and NYTimes.com was sharp and easy to read. Viewing angles were subpar, however, with images washing out at angles of 40 degrees or more.
Thanks to its stereo speakers situated along its chin piece, the Kyocera Torque packs quite the sonic punch. Unfortunately, audio wasn't very clear. The Alabama Shakes' "Heartbreaker" sounded hollow and tinny. Jack White's "Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy" sounded slightly better, but was still exceedingly tinny.
Software and interface
Google's Android Jelly Bean operating system has been out for the better half of a year, but Kyocera still chose to load the Torque with the older Android Ice Cream Sandwich OS. That means you don't get access to features such as Google Now and offline voice typing.
Still, Kyocera mixes its own ingredients into Ice Cream Sandwich to make it a little more user-friendly, including a modified lock screen which lets you swipe to unlock the phone or the camera app. The icons along the bottom of the Torque's home screen are also slightly different than the usual Android setup. From left to right, you get the dialer, Contacts, Apps, Messages and Sprint ID. Unlike Kyocera's previous rugged phone, the Hydro, the Torque includes Android functions such as Face Unlock and Android Beam.
Should you get tired of the Torque's standard interface, you can change things up with the Sprint ID app. This feature lets you download different ID Packs that change the wallpaper, home screen apps and more.
Powering the rugged Torque is a 1.2-GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM 8960 processor married to 1GB of RAM. Onboard storage capacity is limited to 4GB, but that's easily expanded via the Torque's 32GB microSD card slot hidden under the phone's battery. During everyday use, the Torque performed reliably with no discernable lag. We moved swiftly between home screens and the app menu, and games like "Jetpack Joyride" ran smoothly.
On the CPU Benchmark test, the Kyocera Torque scored a respectable 3,969, slightly higher than the smartphone category average of 3,294. The Samsung Galaxy Rugby Pro, which has a 1.5-GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8960 processor and 1GB of RAM, performed far better, scoring 4,643 on the same test. The Samsung Galaxy Nexus, which is decidedly less rugged than the Torque, but runs a more powerful 1.5-GHz Snapdragon S4 CPU, notched 4,324.
The Torque's graphics performance was slightly underwhelming. The smartphone scored 7,017 on the An3DBench test, just below the smartphone average of 7,111. The Galaxy Rugby Pro scored a higher 7,380. On the Quadrant test, which measures CPU, graphics and I/O performance, the Torque recorded a score of 4,403, while the Rugby Pro reached 5,141. The average smartphone gets 3,674.
Kyocera's Torque is just one of the latest phones to land on Sprint's 4G LTE network. Unfortunately, Sprint has yet to roll out LTE in New York, where we performed our testing. As a result, we had to rely on Sprint's 3G network. When we ran Speedtest.net, the Toque registered an average download speed of 374 Kbps and 697 Kbps uploads. Naturally, those speeds would be far higher over Sprint's LTE network.
When we timed website load speeds, ESPN's mobile site loaded in 19 seconds, while NYTimes.com loaded in 10 seconds. Image-heavy sites like Laptopmag.com, meanwhile, loaded in 32 seconds.
In addition to the standard cadre of Android apps (such as Gmail, Google Talk and YouTube), Kyocera loaded the Torque with a host of its own offerings. As with the company's previous smartphones, the Torque comes with Kyocera's proprietary Eco Mode app, which allows you to modulate various device settings to extend its battery life. When turned on, Eco Mode can automatically reduce the display brightness, prevent background apps from syncing, turn off vibrate on touch and change the wallpaper from animated to static.
Beyond Eco Mode, the Torque includes QuickPanorama, which lets you shoot panorama photos. When we shot one, however, the image stitching was rather poor. The remaining apps come by way of Sprint and include Sprint ID, Sprint Zone Mobile Sync and Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot.
Camera and camcorder
The Torque's 5-megapixel rear-facing camera offered sharp and colorful images, but it had trouble adjusting to settings with varying levels of brightness. When we shot a photo of Manhattan's 5th Avenue, objects in the foreground were crisp, but the background appeared blown out. A closeup of a mailbox revealed fine details such as small gouges in its paint. The Torque's camera apps includes special effects, white balance, blink and face recognition and more.
A 1080p video of 5th Avenue shot using the rear-facing camera was blurrier than our photos. Signs for nearby businesses were difficult to make out, and a crosswalk signal turned into an amorphous blob. The phone's 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera provided clean photos, though the fine details of our subject's face were difficult to distinguish. Low light settings were especially hard for the front-facing shooter to handle.
Take a look at the space just above the Torque's display and you'll notice the phone doesn't have a traditional earpiece. Instead, the Torque comes with Kyocera's Smart Sonic Receiver audio technology, which uses a ceramic transducer to send audio vibrations straight to your eardrum rather than through the air. The tech is meant to enable users to hear conversations in especially loud environments like concert venues. In fact, you can even hear a conversation with your headphones on and the phone touching the outside of the can.
During our tests, call quality was clear and loud when dialing both a landline and cellphone. When we tried listening to a conversation with the phone touching a pair of over-ear headphones we were wearing, we were struck by how clearly we were able to hear the person on the other end of the line. Since the Torque is a rugged phone marketed in part toward construction workers and the like, we can definitely see this feature coming in handy while making a call at a busy worksite. Better still, noise-cancelling technology kept background noise on a busy New York street to a minimum, ensuring callers could hear us clearly.
The Torque also offers HD Voice functionality, which promises improved voice quality, though that feature is only available when calling another HD Voice-enabled device. You also get access to Sprint's nationwide push-to-talk Direct Connect..
Power for the Kyocera Torque comes by way of a 2,500 mAh lithium ion battery. That's a relatively large battery for a phone of this size, and it pays dividends. On the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing on 40 percent brightness), the Torque lasted an impressive 8 hours and 8 minutes. With Kyocera's Eco Mode app active, battery life increased to 8:38. The category average, by comparison, is 5:53. For those looking for even more battery life, the Torque includes a MaxiMZR setting, which limits background data usage for apps you haven't used in more than seven days.
The Torque's impressive battery life isn't without qualification, however. Because Sprint still doesn't offer 4G LTE in New York, we performed our test over the carrier's 3G network, which uses less battery life than a 4G connection.
Pricing and value
Sprint offers the Kyocera Torque for $99.99 with a two-year contract or $349 without a contract. Sign up for Sprint's Simple Everything plan, which includes unlimited anytime minutes, unlimited push-to-talk, unlimited messaging and unlimited data, and you'll pay $114 a month or $2,736 over the course of your contract. Throw in the $99.99 for the phone and your total comes out to $2,835.
If you opt for Samsung's Galaxy Rugby Pro on AT&T's network, you'll pay an initial price of $99.99 for the phone and a monthly rate of $110 for unlimited talk, text and 4GB of 4G LTE data, which rounds out to $2,740. Although AT&T doesn't offer unlimited data like Sprint, you can access AT&T's 4G LTE network in far more places -- 153 markets compared with Sprint's 67.
With its battle-ready, armorlike chassis and impressive battery life, the Kyocera Torque is a beastly smartphone that can handle almost anything you can throw at it. But beyond its durability, the Torque is a solid smartphone, too. If you are in search of a rugged smartphone, the Torque is well worth the investment. Samsung's Galaxy Rugby Pro for AT&T offers LTE in more cities and faster performance, but the Torque offers a far brighter display and better call quality.