The days of resisting the urge to answer phone calls in the rain or shelling out the big bucks after dropping your phone in the toilet are over. The $19.99 Sprint Kyocera Hydro Edge promises to endure up to a half hour underwater, making it one of the most affordable choices for the accident-prone. Unlike other waterproof gadgets, the Hydro Edge is built with waterproof Gore Tex material to guarantee durability. Aimed at first-time smartphone users and shoppers on a tight budget, does the Hydro Edge perform well enough on dry land to make it your smartphone of choice?
The Kyocera Hydro Edge has been tested to endure aquatic abuse, but you wouldn't guess that by simply looking at it. The Hydro Edge looks just like your average budget smartphone, with a glossy black bezel surrounding its 4-inch display.
The top portion of the device's rear features a smooth metallic finish, while the majority of its back plate is made of a rougher water-resistant surface that uses Gore Tex technology. Kyocera says it prefers the Gore Tex material to spray-on alternatives such as Liquipel, HzO and p2i because they are not IPX5 and IPX7 certified. Gore Tex, rather, is a material that has been designed to withstand water and is more commonly used in fabrics and clothing.
The bottom of the device also features a lock slot to ensure that the battery door remains shut when submerged in water. The 5-MP camera conspicuously sits at the top of the backside.
Despite its semirugged design, the Kyocera Hydro Edge is lightweight and compact. At just 4.5 ounces, this device weighs about the same as the 4.4-ounce Samsung Rugby Smart. Measuring 4.5 x 2.5 x 0.39 inches, it's slightly shorter and thinner than the 4.8 x 2.6 x 0.5-inch Samsung device.
The Kyocera Hydro Edge is IP57-approved, which means it can be submerged in up to 3.28 feet of water for a half hour. This is similar to the water-resistance capability of both the Samsung Rugby Smart and the newly launched Galaxy S4 Active, which can withstand being submerged in 3 feet of water for the same amount of time.
After dropping the Kyocera Hydro Edge in a container of water for a half hour while it was turned on, the device functioned perfectly. Like we found with the Galaxy S4 Active and the Samsung Rugby Smart, though, we couldn't operate the touch screen underwater.
The Hydro Edge is also built to fend off dust and dirt because it's IP5X certified. Just keep in mind that this phone isn't truly rugged, so you can't smash it against a wall or stick it in an oven and expect it to work. In comparison, the Rugby Smart can endure drops from 6.6 feet.
While we'd prefer a 720p display, the Kyocera Hydro Edge's 4-inch 800 x 480 resolution display impresses for the price. When we watched the trailer for "Thor: The Dark World," colors in the outdoor shots and explosion scenes popped. Chris Hemsworth's piercing blue eyes looked bright and vibrant, although clips with deep blues and blacks seemed way too dark.
The Kyocera Hydro Edge's display measured 388 lux on our light meter, which is on a par with the 387-lux smartphone category average. This rating is also noticeably brighter than the 209-lux Samsung Rugby Smart.
When you look closely at the Kyocera Hydro Edge's face, you may notice a mysteriously absent feature: a traditional earpiece. That's because the Hydro Edge uses Kyocera's tissue conduction technology to transmit sound from the device to your eardrum instead of using a traditional speaker. The company placed a tiny ceramic motor inside the device that generates sound when it's placed alongside your face so that sound still travels, even if your ear is plugged. When speaking on the phone with a co-worker, we heard our caller loud and clear, even while wearing thick headphones.
The handset also comes with a back-mounted speaker for playing music and speakerphone conversations. When we blasted "King and Lionheart" by Of Monsters and Men, vocals and guitar melodies came through sharply and clearly. However, the tune was lacking when it came to bass and deeper sounds. Even when we blasted a more bass-intensive track, such as "Knights of Cydonia" by Muse, the lower tones were noticeably absent, while the vocals rang vibrantly. The speaker didn't get very loud when we turned up the device to its full volume, but we could hear the audio clearly across a small room.
Software and Interface
The Kyocera Hydro Edge runs a skinned version of Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean, which means it supports such features as Google Now and expandable notifications. The lock screen presents the time and temperature on top of an aquarium-style animated wallpaper, which we presume is meant to remind consumers that the Hydro Edge is waterproof.
From this screen, you can unlock to the Phone, Messaging or Camera apps, or to the home screen. Although this feature may seem convenient to some people, we found ourselves accidentally launching the phone dialer or camera when trying to unlock the device.
The Edge's home screen displays the time, the Google Now search bar, certain apps and shortcuts to messaging, contacts and more. This screen has the same animated wallpaper as the lock screen. Seeing fish swim behind the icons is fun, but some people may want to change to a static image to cut down on lag. The Kyocera Hydro Edge's app drawer is fairly straightforward and similar to stock Android's, except the animated fish background is still visible.
Sliding down from the top of the screen reveals the Notifications menu, and lets you toggle various settings along the top. You'll find shortcuts for Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, Sound and Eco Mode, which aren't available in the stock Android interface.
Kyocera also adds a widget for Eco Mode on the device's home screen, which lets you know whether the energy-efficient feature is turned on or off and lets you toggle settings. Eco Mode lets you enable settings aimed at preserving battery power, such as decreasing the brightness, setting the display to sleep after 15 seconds, and turning off Bluetooth and GPS features when not in use.
The Kyocera Hydro Edge comes with both the Android stock keyboard and Swype built in. We enjoyed using Swype's gesture-based controls while inputting text, but when it came to tap-typing, we preferred the more spacious haptic feedback Android stock keyboard. During the Swift Typing Test Lite app's Time Trial, we typed 18 correctly spelled words and two misspelled words in 60 seconds. This is close to our personal average speed of 20 words per minute with one error when it comes to typing on touch-screen smartphones.
The Kyocera Hydro Edge is a phone aimed at budget-minded shoppers, and that certainly came through during synthetic benchmark tests. The device's 1-GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8627 processor notched below-average scores in every benchmark.
During the AnTuTu test, which measures the general performance of Android devices, the Kyocera Hydro Edge scored 9,716, barely approaching the smartphone category average of 16,570. When running the An3DBench test, which is a benchmark based on the Android version of the jPCT 3D engine, the Kyocera Hydro Edge scored only 6,957, which is below the smartphone category average of 7,284. The older Samsung Rugby Smart's 1.4-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S2 processor with 512MB of RAM beat both this average and the Hydro Edge, with a score of 7,392.
We saw similar results during the Quadrant test, which measures CPU, Graphics, Memory and I/O performance. The Kyocera Hydro Edge scored a mere 3,766, which is below the 5,498 smartphone category average but still much better than the Samsung Rugby Smart's 1,451.
While the Kyocera Hydro Edge performed just fine during casual use, we did notice some lag when putting it through some real-world stress tests. The game "Super Monsters Ate My Condo!" was noticeably sluggish while the phone was running six other apps in the background. Levels took a long time to load, and we noticed a few hiccups when feeding colored condos to the monsters in the game. Still, for just $20 on a two-year contract, we weren't expecting stellar performance.
Web Browsing and 3G
Like its predecessor, the Kyocera Hydro Edge operates on Sprint's 3G network, meaning you won't get the quick data speeds you'll find on today's high-end LTE smartphones. Using Speedtest.net, the Hydro Edge notched an average download speed of 189 kbps and an average upload speed of 209 kbps, which is much lower than the MBps speeds you'll get on 4G.
We noticed sluggish performance when surfing the Web as well. It took an average of 11.7 seconds to load LaptopMag.com, 9.9 seconds to load ESPN's mobile website and 7.8 seconds to load CNN.com.
Sprint's version of the Kyocera Hydro Edge comes preloaded with Google's suite of apps, including Gmail, the Play store, Play Music, Google+ and YouTube. In addition to the standard utility apps, the Hydro Edge comes with some extras for managing your device's battery, editing video and more.
The Hydro Edge's Movie Maker app lets you record or import existing videos and edit them together to create one lengthy piece of footage. Enabling the Eco Mode app lets you manage settings that preserve your device's battery, such as setting the phone to sleep after 15 seconds, decreasing the brightness and turning off battery-intensive features such as auto-rotate, Bluetooth and GPS.
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The MagniFont app automatically enlarges the font on your phone's display -- which, when paired with Kyocera's Smart Sonic Receiver technology, could make this handset an optimal choice for the vision and hearing impaired.
The Kyocera Hydro Edge also comes with shortcuts to Sprint services, such as Sprint Music Plus and Sprint TV & Movies, which you can uninstall via the Settings menu if you choose to do so. Although we appreciate that the phone doesn't come preloaded with these bloatware apps, we'd prefer to get rid of these misleading icons. The Sprint Music Plus icon simply brings you to the app page in the Google Play store, rather than launching the actual app.
Camera and Camcorder
The Kyocera Hydro Edge's 5-MP camera takes clean and accurate photos. When we snapped a picture of a New York City street corner on an overcast day, our subject came out sharp and detailed. The colors and stripes on his shirt popped, and people standing in the background looked clear as well. Even when we zoomed in to get a better look at our subject, the photo still appeared sharp. It wasn't until we zoomed in all the way that our co-worker's face began to look pixelated. Even then, however, we could still make out facial details and the hairs in his beard.
When shooting 720p video, we noticed the same NYC street corner looked vibrant and sharp in our footage. We also enjoyed using the Kyocera Hydro Edge's Panorama app, which lets you take a panoramic photo and stitch the images together. Unfortunately, the Kyocera Hydro Edge doesn't have a front camera, so video chatting and selfies are out of the question.
The Kyocera Hydro Edge's 1600mAh lithium-ion battery didn't impress during our testing. The device lasted only 4 hours and 9 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test, which consists of continuously surfing the Web over Wi-Fi with the display brightness set to 40 percent. The smartphone category average for battery life is 6 hours and 8 minutes, which the Samsung Rugby Smart surpassed, with 6:39.
In addition to Eco Mode, the Kyocera Hydro Edge comes with a MaxiMZR feature that limits the device's background data connection. The app states that it will stop pushing notifications for apps that are not used for seven consecutive days or a specific day of the week for two weeks. For instance, if you use a transportation app to check train schedules every Friday, it will continue to send notifications unless you don't launch the app for two Fridays in a row.
Pricing and Value
The Sprint version of the Kyocera Hydro Edge costs $19.99 on a two-year contract. Sprint's Unlimited My Way Plan includes unlimited phone calls, SMS messages and data for $80 per month. If you choose to go with that plan, you'll be paying $1,939 over the course of two years including the price of the device. Sprint also lets you mix and match certain options -- such as a GPS locator, device protection and international roaming -- for varying prices.
The basic $50-per-month unlimited plan that amounts to $1,200 over two years is nearly the same as Boost Mobile's option. The Sprint-owned prepaid-cellphone carrier offers unlimited plans for $50 per month, but also shrinks this cost by $5 per month for every six on-time payments you make until it hits $35. If all payments are made on time, your total phone bill for the unlimited plan will amount to $1,020. Add the $149.99 cost for the unlocked Boost Mobile device, and that amounts to $1,170, which is $769 cheaper than Sprint's offering.
The water-resistant and dustproof Kyocera Hydro Edge offers semirugged capabilities for just $19.99 -- a value that is hard to match when it comes to waterproof devices. We also like the Smart Sonic audio technology. However, the Edge lacks a front-facing camera, and the battery life is fairly short. You'll also need to live without 4G LTE speeds, as this phone is 3G-only.
Overall, the Kyocera Hydro Edge is a solid choice for users on a tight budget who need a smartphone that can stand up to spills and a few raindrops. Between the Sprint and Boost Mobile versions of this device, the latter is a better value because you'll pay much less per month -- assuming you can stomach the higher $149 up-front cost. Just don't expect to travel too far without the charger.