Rugged design; Ultra-bright display; Excellent battery life; Above-average performance
Limited 4G LTE availability; Runs older Android Ice Cream Sandwich; Camera needs improvement
Kyocera's $99 Torque is a rugged Android phone that can handle pretty much anything you can throw at it.
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?
DesignSamsung 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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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..
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.
|Form Factor||Candybar Touchscreen|
|Operating System||Android 4.0|
|CPU||1.2-GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor|
|Memory Expansion Type||microSD Card|
|Display (main)||4-inch 800 x 480 WVGA display|
|Bluetooth Type||4.0 LE+EDR|
|Front Camera Resolution||1.3MP|
|Camera Resolution||5 MP|
|Talk / Standby Time||18.9 hours of talk time|
|Size||4.44 x 2.38 x 0.56 inches|
|SAR Rating (Head)|
|SAR Rating (Body)|