In a world where the 4.7-inch Moto X is considered small, the Kyocera Hydro Elite ($49.99 with 2-year contract) is downright petite. It looks and feels like this year’s Droid Mini with its 4.3-inch display, but it performs more like last year’s Razr M. The big draw here is the completely waterproof design—the Hydro Elite is fully submergible up to 3 feet for 30 minutes, earning it the Bear Grylls seal of approval. The tight 720p display is also a pleasure to use, but the handset is held back by its less-than-stellar call quality. Still, the Hydro Elite is a solid Android option for those who shun big-screen phones and want a device that can withstand the elements.
Design, Ruggedness, and Display
At 4.82 by 2.38 by.43 inches (HWD), the Elite is around the same size as the Droid Mini (4.77 by 2.41 by .35 inches). That’s a good thing when it comes to usability, as the Elite fits comfortably in smaller hands. It’s made entirely of plastic with a rubberized, textured back panel that has the look and feel that you’d typically associate with ruggedized phones, but without all the bulk you’ll find on the Casio G’zOne Commando 4G LTE. Along the top, you’ll find the Power button and 3.5mm headphone jack, with Volume buttons on the left side. On the right, towards the top, is a micro USB port for charging and syncing. I’m not a huge fan of side-mounted USB ports, but it’s close enough to the top here that it doesn’t impede your grip if the phone is plugged in.
The Elite carries an IPX7 rating, which means it’ll survive full submersion into 3 feet of water for up to 30 minutes. It’s also worth noting that there are no annoying plugs or port covers to deal with here, which is a nice touch. There’s no mention of drop resistance, though, so if you’re planning your own Man vs. Wild adventure, remember that glass vs. rock probably won’t end well for this phone. If you want a tougher option, the Casio G’zOne Commando 4G LTE meets military standards for 810G certification. That means it can withstand drops, dust, shock, and water. We tested the Elite by dunking it in a pitcher of tap water for half an hour. After drying it off, the phone emerged no worse for wear. It was even able to run a few of our benchmarks and receive phone calls while fully submerged.
The 4.3-inch, 1,280-by-720-pixel LCD is sharp and vibrant. It’s the same resolution you’ll find on larger devices like the Moto X, but the smaller size here means a tighter pixel density—341 pixels per inch. The viewing angle is wide, though at the extreme angles colors begin to wash out. The display also gets very bright and colors look accurate, if a bit on the cool side. The smaller size also means you’ll be able to reach nearly all corners of the screen without adjusting your grip or stretching your hand awkwardly.
Connectivity and Call Quality
The Hydro Elite is global-ready and supports 800/1900MHz CDMA, 850/900/1800/1900MHz GSM, 850/900/1900/2100MHz UMTS, and 700/1700/2100MHz LTE bands. Also on board is Kyocera’s Smart Sonic Receiver technology that transmits audio using tissue conduction rather than a traditional speaker. You’ll notice there is no speaker, rather the system uses the glass of the display to send sound vibrations through the air entering your ear and through the tissue around your ear. In my tests it actually worked pretty well, providing clear audio even in noisy environments. And you can put your ear up to any part of the screen, not just the top edge, which on the Elite can be a bit sharp.
Call quality isn’t up to snuff. Voices sound clear and loud enough through the Sonic Receiver, but transmissions through the mic are subpar. In my tests, I noticed a persistent static popping in the background and muffled voices in calls made with the Elite. Noise cancellation is average and the speakerphone is pretty anemic through the single port on the back of the phone. The 2100mAh battery was good for 8 hours, 25 minutes of talk time in our tests, which is well below the 13 hours, 40 minutes of talk time we got with the Droid Mini.
There’s 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi on both the 2.4GHz and faster 5GHz frequencies. The Elite supports Bluetooth 4.0 + LE/EDR and easily connected to a Jawbone Era Bluetooth headset. There’s also GPS that locked on quickly in my tests for turn-by-turn navigation. NFC is also here if you need it, and the Elite supports Qi wireless charging.
Performance and Android
Powering the Hydro Elite is a dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8960 processor with 1.5GB RAM and an Andreno 225 GPU. It’s not necessarily bad, but it’s beginning to look a bit dated next to current generation processors like you’ll find in the Samsung Galaxy S4. That phone also costs four times as much, though, so it’s not necessarily a fair comparison. The Droid Mini is closer in price and uses Motorola’s X8 chipset, which is based on a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro dual-core Krait 300 processor running at 1.7GHz with an Adreno 320 GPU. The Droid Mini handily beat the Hydro Elite in all of our synthetic benchmarks, with a serious advantage in graphical tests. The Elite only managed 30 frames per second in the Taiji graphics test, to the Mini’s 60 frames per second. If you plan on using your phone for gaming, the Elite is not a strong option. Those performance deficiencies showed up in some real world scenarios as well, with frequent stutters when scrolling through app elements and just a hint of lag when switching between multiple running apps. It’s by no means bad, but this isn’t a speed demon by any stretch. It’s on par with the Casio G’zOne Commando 4G.
Kyocera loaded up a skinned version of Android 4.1.2, which is now two versions behind. There are obvious cosmetic tweaks, but beyond that there are some useful additions here. The notification shade houses multiple quick settings options, while the lock screen can launch straight into three customizable apps. There’s also a power saving feature called MaxiMZR, which limits background data connections for power hungry apps. Like Sony’s Stamina Mode, you can control which apps are affected by this feature. There’s also a Starter Mode that simplifies Android down to one home page with big icons and basic functions front and center.
Multimedia, Camera, and Conclusions
Of the 16GB of total storage, 7.4GB is allotted for system storage and apps, while 8.6GB is left for your files. There’s an open microSD card slot under the back cover, which supports 32GB cards—it could not read our 64GB SanDisk microSD card. The Elite played back all of our audio test formats without issue, including FLAC, WMA, and OGG. Video support is less robust, as the Elite played back MP4 videos at up to 1080p resolution, but could not play DivX, Xvid, or AVI video files. The rear speaker port doesn’t get all that loud, and at max volume it distorts heavily and sounds very harsh.
The 8-megapixel rear-facing camera is pretty average for a midrange handset. In my tests, I noticed a distinct softness to images, regardless of lighting conditions. Indoors under low light, the Hydro Elite actually did a good job of keeping image noise to a minimum, but this was at the expense of image detail—fine detail appeared smudged and colors looked dull. Outdoors in good lighting conditions, the Elite tended to overexpose images, giving them a washed-out look. The Elite captures 1080p video at 30 frames per second outdoors in good light, but a stuttering 15fps indoors in low light. Even in ideal lighting the Elite struggled to maintain focus and image stabilization is nonexistent.
The Kyocera Hydro Elite is a solid midrange Android smartphone that combines a sharp display and a waterproof build, without all the bulk typically associated with rugged handsets. It’s not without issues, however, as call quality is a big letdown and performance is more in line with last year’s phones. At $50 with a 2-year contract, though, it’s not a bad deal, especially if you need a phone that can keep up with your next outdoor excursion. Verizon is offering the Casio G’zOne Commando 4G for free with a 2-year contract, but that phone is much bulkier and uses a lower-resolution display. If your budget allows, a better option is the $99 Droid Mini on Verizon, which is similarly sized for one-handed use and comes with a lot of the features we liked from the Moto X. Just don’t get it wet.
|Phone Capability / Network||GPRS, GSM, CDMA, UMTS, LTE|
|Screen Resolution||1280 x 720 pixels|
|Dimensions||4.82 x 2.38 x .43 inches|
|Video Camera Resolution||1080p|
|Battery Life (As Tested)||8 hours, 25 minutes|
|Available Integrated Storage||8.6 GB|
|Processor Speed||1.5 GHz|
|CPU||Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 MSM8960 Dual-Core|
|Service Provider||Verizon Wireless|
|Total Integrated Storage||16 GB|
|High-Speed Data||GPRS, EDGE, EVDO, UMTS, LTE|
|Screen Type||TFT LCD|
|Operating System as Tested||Android 4.1.2|
|Camera Resolution||8-megapixel Rear|
|Screen Pixels Per Inch||341 ppi|
|Bands||850, 900, 1800, 1900, 2100, 1700|
|Form Factor||Candy Bar|
|Screen Size||4.3 inches|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc