Kyocera Hydro Edge (Boost Mobile) review

The Kyocera Hydro Edge is a decent Android smartphone for Boost Mobile customers, but aside from its rugged and waterproof design, it's merely average.

Kyocera has been making a comeback bid, largely with its lineup of ruggedized models. The Hydro Edge ($109.99 direct) on Boost Mobile doesn’t have the brick-like heft of some of its other damage-resistant phones. Only the sliding lock on the battery cover suggests its waterproof traits: Kyocera says it can spend half an hour submerged under three feet of water. It’s a good deal if your phone is likely to spend more time in the drink than on the Web, but an otherwise average smartphone.

Design and Durability
Was it really only three years ago that a four-inch screen seemed enormous on a phone? The Hydro Edge’s 4-inch, 800-by-480-pixel touch screen—made out of “Dragontrail” glass that ignored attempts to scratch it with a key but reflected back the sun from almost every pixel in certain angles—now looks compact next to anything but an iPhone. But at 4.9 by 2.5 by 0.4 inches (HWD), the Hydro Edge is thicker than many competitors.

Unfortunately, Kyocera elected to follow the unwise practice of other Android vendors by swapping out the standard Android recent-apps button for a menu key. This invites confusion for buyers switching from Android phones with Google-spec buttons; iPad owners may also find themselves invoking Siri by mistake once they get used to holding down the Hydro Edge’s home button to invoke the recent-apps list. And with Google pushing Android developers to move functions from menus to toolbars, the need for a dedicated menu key is diminishing.

Prying off the battery cover and removing the battery exposes a microSD card slot you will want to fill—with only 1GB of internal storage, of which a mere 0.88GB is available out of the box, the Hydro Edge is starved for storage.

The cheap-looking plastic exterior and uncovered USB and microphone ports didn’t suggest strength, but twenty minutes at the bottom of a pot full of water had no effect on the Hydro Edge. It did, however, reveal an interesting quirk with its “Smart Sonic Receiver,” which transmits sounds by vibrating the entire display: Under water, a silent phone call became an intense screech until I switched the phone to speakerphone mode.

Calls, Data, and Battery Life
Out of the water, I didn’t see an enormous benefit to Smart Sonic Receiver. A voicemail greeting didn’t seem any more audible than usual as a Metro train was pulling into a subway station—and had I been talking to another person, they still would have struggled to hear me over the noise of the train.

Maybe more than usual: When I tried whispering during a test call from a silent room, my voice dropped out entirely, and in another noise-free test call Amtrak’s usually reliable “Julie” automated assistant had a couple of issues hearing me. In quieter settings I also noticed a tinny hiss in the background, as if I were calling over AM radio.

This phone doesn’t speak LTE, which is a non-trivial problem given the sorry state of Sprint’s 3G service. With four of five bars of signal a couple of miles outside of Washington, D.C., the Speedtest.net app recorded a 300 kbps download speed—then 187 kbps in a second test. (I’ve had faster access 37,000 feet above the Arctic Ocean.) If you get this phone, stick to Wi-Fi. Unfortunately, the Hydro Edge only supports 2.4GHz frequencies, not the faster and less crowded 5GHz band.

Battery life was about what you’d expect from the relatively puny 1600mAh battery. It lasted about 9 hours, 14 minutes in a talk-time test (interrupted repeatedly by its habit of hanging up about every two hours, no matter how much I interacted with the phone), and showed 70 percent of a charge after 24 hours left idle.

Performance, Apps, and Camera
The aging 1 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor yielded predictably middling benchmark scores, although the phone looked zippy enough in operation—it’s the slow 3G that visibly holds you up. Kyocera elected to accompany last year’s chip with last year’s version of Android: The Hydro Edge runs Android 4.1, which Google debuted in June of 2012 and had replaced with 4.2 by last October

Boost throws in an odd set of third-party software. A MagniFont app puts the phone into large-type mode where only 12 apps fit on the screen instead of 20. Qualcomm’s IZAT location software, off by default, allegedly pinpoints your location better than Google. Neither seem likely to get any attention from most users.

The Hydro Edge has the same media-format issues as other Android phones: You’ll need to install third-party apps to play Windows Media files and QuickTime videos.

Photos taken with the Hydro Edge’s 5-megapixel camera reminded me of how bad phone cameras used to be. It had trouble selecting the correct focus in some shots, while even moderately brightly lit subjects had a hazy glow about them. It struggled with video capture as well, as its 720p footage became unbearably blurry when moving the phone while recording indoors. There’s also no front-facing camera, so Skype or video chat is out.

Conclusions
The Hydro Edge is a better deal than most of Boost’s other Android phones in the $100 price range, some of which still ship with the thoroughly obsolete Android 2.3 “Gingerbread” release. Its waterproofing is also a major benefit, especially for the action oriented out there. But without any 4G service and with so little room for add-on apps, you may not be able to use the smarts on this phone all that often. You’ll have to spend a good deal more, but doing so can net you better phones like the Boost Force or LG Marquee, both of which offer better performance and more features. If you don’t need the all the smartphone features, the LG Rumor Reflex is a keyboarded phone that’s great for texting and costs only $80. And if you’re willing to splurge in the other direction, the Samsung Galaxy S III is our favorite phone on Boost, but you’ll pay for the privilege. 

Specifications
Phone Capability / Network CDMA
Screen Resolution 800 x 480 pixels
NFC No
Dimensions 4.9 x 2.5 x .39 inches
802.11x/Band(s) 802.11 b/g/n
Video Camera Resolution 720p
Processor Speed 1.0 GHz
CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon
GPS Yes
Service Provider Boost
Total Integrated Storage 4 GB
High-Speed Data EVDO Rev 0, EVDO Rev A
Weight 4.5 oz
Screen Type TFT LCD
Operating System as Tested Android 4.1.1 (Jelly Bean)
Physical Keyboard No
Camera Resolution 5-megapixel
Screen Pixels Per Inch 233 ppi
Bands 800, 1900
microSD Slot Yes
Form Factor Candy Bar
Screen Size 4 inches
Bluetooth Version 4.0

Verdict
The Kyocera Hydro Edge is a decent Android smartphone for Boost Mobile customers, but aside from its rugged and waterproof design, it's merely average.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc