Sudden downpours, puddles and the occasional toilet have all claimed their fair share of smartphones over the years. To help combat this liquid scourge, Kyocera has introduced the Hydro for Boost Mobile. Available for $129, this 3.5-inch Android phone packs enough rubber gaskets and seals to keep it running for up to 30 minutes in 1 meter of water. Even better than the price of the phone is Boost's $55 monthly plan that includes unlimited talk, text and Web. But does this handset really offer much more than the ability to hang out in the shallow end?
The Kyocera Hydro boasts the kind of tough-guy look you'd expect of a durable smartphone. The Hydro's face is covered in a glossy coating that, unfortunately, picks up a good deal of fingerprint smudges. Above the Hydro's 3.5-inch touch screen is a silver Kyocera logo as well as the device's earpiece and an LED indicator light. Below its display are capacitive Android buttons for Back, Home, Recent Apps and Settings. We much prefer this approach than on thePhoton Q, where the Android buttons take up part of the screen itself.
Just below the soft-touch buttons, the Hydro drops its glossy coating and takes on a ribbed black plastic covering that continues around to the back of the device. Despite the texture, we found the plastic coating to be a bit slippery. The back of the Hydro is also where you'll find its 3.2-megapixel camera and speaker. Like Samsung's Rugby Smart, the Kyocera Hydro's battery cover features a twist lock to help ensure that water can't reach the battery.
On the phone's right side is its power button, while its left side features a volume rocker. Up top are the Hydro's microUSB port (with port cover) and 3.5mm headphone jack.
At 4.5 x 2.4 x 0.5 inches and weighing 4.2 ounces, the Kyocera Hydro is heavier but slightly smaller than the 3.7-inch Rugby Smart (4.8 x 2.6 x 0.5 inches and 3.3 ounces). Of course, the Hydro's size advantage comes at the cost of 0.2 inches of screen real estate.
The main draw of the Kyocera Hydro is the fact that it can take a dip and shrug off the moisture. Kyocera says the phone can withstand up to a meter of water for upward of 30 minutes. It has an IPX5 certification for waterproofing against water jets and an IPX7 certification for waterproofing while submerged. To help ensure the Hydro keeps water out, Kyocera added rubber gaskets to the back panel that are clamped shut by a locking mechanism. A rubber gasket surrounds the phone's microUSB port cover.
We tested the Hydro's capabilities by dunking it in a vase filled with water for 15 minutes while still turned on. Sure enough, as soon as we wiped off the display, we were using the phone again without an issue. The phone cannot, however, be used underwater.
Also note that while the Hydro can withstand fresh water, Kyocera warns against taking it into a chlorinated pool or salt water. So if you're heading to the beach or the pool, we'd advise against jumping into the water with the Hydro in your pocket.
Display and Audio
The Kyocera Hydro's 3.5-inch 480 x 320 HVGA display offered excellent viewing angles, but while watching a 1080p trailer for "Looper," images were on the grainy side. Colors lacked vividness, too. Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character didn't stand out all that much from the cornfields and explosions. Text viewed on websites also had a distinct fuzzy quality to it, but was still legible.
Despite its 394 lux brightness rating, which beat out the category average by nearly 100 lux, the Hydro's display was hard to read in direct sunlight.
The Hydro's external speaker was loud enough to fill a small conference room. While listening to Florence and the Machine, we noted that the speaker was able to produce clear high notes, but more bass heavy or complicated sections created a significant amount of audible distortion.
The Kyocera Hydro comes with a standard Android Ice Cream Sandwich virtual keyboard as well as an optional Swype keyboard. Overall, the Android keyboard proved to be accurate, although we did notice that trying to press the Delete key with our thumb caused us to inadvertently press the Return button a number of times. With both keyboards, the Hydro offered gentle haptic feedback while typing.
Software and Interface
Kyocera outfitted the Hydro with a slightly modified version of Google's Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich OS. The main changes to the software have to do with the device's lock screen, which allows you to either swipe to unlock or swipe to open the camera app. Unfortunately, you can't change this to an app of your choosing.
The icons along the bottom of the home screen are slightly different than the standard ICS icons: From the left are icons for Phone, Contacts, Apps, Messaging, and Mobile ID. The Hydro does not have Android Beam and Face Unlock, a result of the phone's lack of an NFC chip or front-facing camera.
If you ever tire of the Hydro's basic interface, you can switch it up by using the device's Mobile ID app. Similar to Sprint ID, Mobile ID allows users to download different themes, or ID packs, that offer new home screen wallpapers and apps. The Boost Mobile ID pack, for example, provides users with a Boost Mobile-specific wallpaper, as well as several apps and website shortcuts.
The Hydro comes with the useful BoostZone. This app provides account information, the ability to add credit to your account, get help with your device, view suggested apps and get device tips and tricks.
Our favorite bundled app is Eco Mode, which allows you to change your device's power profile from a single interface to improve battery life. The app also allows you to set when Eco Mode activates, such as when the battery reaches 50 percent capacity.
The Kyocera Hydro features a single-core, 1-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor and 512MB of RAM. , While the CPU is on the slow side, we were able to listen to Spotify while browsing the Web via the Android browser without any hiccups. However, there was a 1- to 2-second delay when switching between portrait and landscape mode. Beyond that, performance was fairly stable throughout our time with the device.
On the CPU Benchmark, the Hydro scored a woefully low 1,950. That's far worse than the smartphone category average of 2,732, and nearly 1,000 points less than the 1.4-Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon S2-powered Samsung Rugby Smart's score of 2,919.
The Hydro redeemed itself on the An3DBench graphics test, scoring an impressive 7,380. That's better than the category average of 7,070 and just shy of the 7,392 scored by the Rugby Smart.
Web Browsing and 3G
If you're looking for a durable smartphone that offers 4G data speeds, you're barking up the wrong tree. That's because the Hydro can only connect to Sprint's 3G data network. As a result, we measured an average download speed of 436 kbps and an average upload speed of 729 kbps when we tested the Hydro using the Speedtest.net app.
Loading Web pages also took quite a bit of time, even with full signal strength. Loading The New York Times' mobile site took an average of 10 seconds, while Laptopmag.com took an average 34 seconds.
Camera and Camcorder
Photos taken using the Hydro's 3.2-megapixel rear-facing camera were sharp, but areas with more light, such as the sky at the end of a city street, were washed out. Video was equally mediocre; footage looked grainy, with numerous artifacts while panning along Fifth Avenue.
The Hydro's call quality vacillated between clear and crackly depending on whom we called. One cellphone caller said our voice sounded crystal clear, while another person we called on a landline said our voice sounded choppy. The speaker phone, while loud, was no better.
The Kyocera Hydro's 1500 mAh lithium-ion battery lasted just 5 hours and 9 minutes on our LAPTOP Battery Test (Web surfing over 3G with the display's brightness set to 40 percent). By comparison, the average smartphone lasts 5:59, and the Samsung Rugby Smart turned in an impressive 6:29.
Aside from its durability, the allure of Boost Mobile is the carrier's flexible coverage plans. You can, for instance, buy the Hydro for $129 and sign up for an Android Unlimited Monthly plan, which includes unlimited voice, text and data for $55 per month.
Don't want to pay by the month? Boost Mobile also offers a Daily Unlimited plan that allows you to pay $2 a day for unlimited talk, text and data. Boost also offers a pay-as-you-go plan that costs 20 cents per minute for voice, 20 cents per text and 50 cents per day for Web access.
So how does signing up with Boost Mobile compare to the big carriers? Well, for a $55 per month plan, you would pay $1,449, including the $129 for the Hydro itself, over the course of two years. If you pick up the Samsung Rugby Smart on AT&T with a two-year contract with unlimited voice and 300MB of data, you'll spend $1,969, which includes the $49.99 you'd pay for the phone.
The Kyocera Hydro is certainly a waterproof wonder, making it a good choice for people who are rough on their phones. We also like the affordable monthly plans Boost offers. However, the below-average battery life and low-res display are turnoffs. By comparison, the Rugby Smart for AT&T is much more durable and has significantly better battery life. But, if you're looking for a phone that can take more than a splash and you don't want to be tied down with a contract, the Hydro may just float your boat.