Smartphones are always getting more powerful, but they aren’t getting much stronger. Cases help, but most offer only limited protection. If you work in a rugged environment, or just have kids that like to play with your stuff, it’s probably worth it to consider a more durable smartphone. But until recently, rugged smartphones have underperformed compared with their fragile counterparts.
Kyocera is helping to change that trend with the $99.99 Torque for Sprint, the first push-to-talk phone with LTE support. It’s got a rugged design, a booming speaker with innovative technology that makes it easy to hear no matter where you are, and enough power to run all the Android apps and games you please. It’s the best push-to-talk smartphone there is, and nabs our Editors’ Choice award for rugged smartphones on Sprint.
Design and Rugged Tests
The Torque measures 5.06 by 2.65 by 0.51 inches (HWD) and weighs 5.76 ounces. It’s one big piece of kit that may be tough to wiggle into tight pockets, but will fit fine on a tool belt or in a handbag. Encased in lots of black, grippy rubber, the Torque looks better suited for construction sites than soccer moms, though you can probably let your kids kick this thing around on the field without causing too much damage.
The 4-inch, 800-by-480-pixel TFT LCD is serviceable, but not particularly impressive. It gets very bright if you turn off the automatic setting, but color saturation and details are just average. It’s big enough that I had no trouble typing on the Swype-enabled on-screen keyboard, but it’s small enough that it’s easy to hold and operate comfortably with one hand. There are three physical function keys beneath the display. A covered 3.5mm headphone jack sits on top, flanked by Power and Speaker buttons. There’s a Camera button on the right and volume controls on the left, along with your Direct Connect button, which is outlined in yellow. There’s also a covered Power port on the bottom.
The phone meets U.S. military spec 810G for dust, shock, vibration, extreme temperatures, blowing rain, low pressure, solar radiation, salt fog, and humidity. It also meets IP67 for dust and water immersion, so when all of its ports are tightly closed, you can submerge the phone in up to three feet of water for 30 minutes.
The Torque survived our usual series of five-foot drops onto the rubbery material that makes up the floor of the PCMag Lab, as well drops onto the concrete outside. There’s a lock on the back cover of the phone, which helps keep the plate in place, but it’s so light you can unlock it with your fingernail. The cover did become somewhat dislodged, but not until after multiple drops, so it actually held up better than the AT&T Samsung Rugby Smart, which came apart much more easily. To test water resistance, I placed the Torque in a container of water for 30 minutes at a time with the screen turned on. After taking it out and drying it off it worked just fine.
Network, Call Quality, and Smart Sonic
This is Sprint’s first Direct Connect phone to support the carrier’s burgeoning LTE network. And while Sprint LTE is still dreadfully scarce, at least you’ll be able to tap into the drastically improved speeds when it’s turned on where you live. Sprint’s LTE is limited in New York City, where we tested the Torque, so all of our tests were conducted over 3G.
Direct Connect uses the same instantaneous push-to-talk of the old Nextel iDEN network. You can still make push-to-talk calls to Nextel subscribers, but Sprint is turning that network off in June. You get a lot more functionality with Direct Connect, anyway. Call Alert With Text, for instance, sends an audio alert and text message to another subscriber. Group Connect can connect 20 subscribers together at once. And you can also use the Direct Connect button to mass-message up to 200 Direct Connect subscribers in one shot, or send recorded messages to email addresses or handsets via text message.
For this review, I tested Direct Connect between the Torque and a Kyocera DuraXT. It only takes a second to start the connection, and after that transmissions are instantaneous. Voices sound very clear, and speaker volume is positively booming. There’s some crackle on the higher register when volume is set to maximum, but it’s not a deal breaker, and you probably won’t even notice it if you’re making a call from a noisy outdoor environment.
This is also an excellent phone for voice calls. Reception is average, and calls sound a little thin but crisp and clear in the earpiece. Again, the speaker function booms. Calls made with the phone are outstanding—clear, rich, and bass-y, with good background noise cancellation. Calls were also clear over a Jawbone Era Bluetooth headset and standard Android voice dialing worked without issue.
(Next page: Processor, Apps, Multimedia, and Conclusions)
Part of the reason calls sound so good in the earpiece is because of Kyocera’s Smart Sonic Receiver technology. If you look at the phone closely, you’ll see that there’s no speaker where you place your ear. That’s because Smart Sonic eliminates the need for a traditional speaker. It’s built directly into the glass display, and uses tissue and air conduction to transmit sounds directly to your eardrum. That means if you’re wearing a helmet or a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, for instance, and you touch the phone somewhere within the vicinity of your ear, or even to your headgear itself, you can still hear it. This makes the Torque a particularly good choice for those that work in loud environments.
Processor and Apps
Not quite a benchmark-scorcher, the Torque still has plenty of power for most users. The 1.2GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 MSM8960 processor turned in solid results in our tests. That’s probably helped along by the lower screen resolution, as well as the nearly stock version of Android 4.0.4 (Ice Cream Sandwich). You should be able to run all of the 700,000+ apps and games in the Google Play store without a problem.
As mentioned above, the Torque runs Android 4.0.4. Now, Android has already been updated to 4.2.2 (Jelly Bean), but in this case there’s a reason for the older OS. Jelly Bean doesn’t yet support Qualcomm’s QChat, which is the push-to-talk technology that Sprint Direct Connect runs on. As soon as that support is added to Jelly Bean, Kyocera claims the Torque will be on the migration path.
As it stands, you get five customizable home screens that come preloaded with apps and widgets. There’s very little bloatware. Sprint ID allows you to download and install customized theme packs for your phone. I don’t like Sprint ID, but you don’t have to use it. Better are Kyocera’s preinstalled power managements apps—Eco Mode and MaxiMZR.
Eco Mode appears in your Notifications window, and allows you to control a number of battery-hogging elements at a glance, like screen brightness and the sleep timer. MaxiMZR appears in the Settings menu, and limits background data based on your personal usage of applications. Without either of these setting turned on, the 2,500mAh battery is surprisingly average. The Torque turned in 7 hours and 15 minutes of talk time over 3G. A video rundown test turned in 6 hours and 40 minutes. Still, the battery is removable, so you can always carry a spare.
Multimedia and Conclusions
You get 4GB of internal storage, but only 1.90 available for you to use. There’s also an empty microSD card slot under the battery, in which my 32GB and 64GB SanDisk cards worked fine. I was able to play back all of our audio test files except for FLAC and WMA, and sound quality was good over both wired headphones as well as Altec Lansing BackBeat Bluetooth headphones. All of our test videos played back at resolutions up to 1080p except for DivX, which didn’t play at all.
The 5-megapixel camera is average, at best. Shutter speeds are fast enough, at 0.7 second, but there’s an additional pause to save the image. Colors look a little washed out, especially on photos taken indoors. Details are just average, and many photos have a grainy appearance. The camera also records 720p video at 30 frames per second; they look good, but a little shaky. There’s also a 1.3-megapixel forward facing camera for self-portraits and video chat.
Smartphones don’t get much tougher than the Torque, and most rugged smartphones don’t come with nearly as many great features. Like the Torque, the Motorola Admiral combines Android with Direct Connect, along with a BlackBerry-style keyboard you don’t see on many smartphones nowadays. But it’s not nearly as rugged as the Torque and runs an ancient version of Android. It also has a slower processor and doesn’t support LTE. If you don’t need Direct Connect and are willing to take your chances, the infinitely more fragile Samsung Galaxy S III starts at the same price as the Torque, and gets you a lot more power and features. But if you need a smartphone on Sprint’s push-to-talk Direct Connect network, the Kyocera Torque can’t be beat, making it our new Editors’ Choice.
More Cell Phone Reviews:
|Phone Capability / Network||CDMA, LTE|
|Screen Resolution||800 x 480 pixels|
|Dimensions||5.06 x 2.96 x 0.51 inches|
|Video Camera Resolution||1080p Rear|
|Battery Life (As Tested)||7 hours 15 minutes|
|Available Integrated Storage||1.9 GB|
|Processor Speed||1.2 GHz|
|CPU||Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 MSM8960 Dual-Core|
|Total Integrated Storage||4 GB|
|High-Speed Data||EVDO Rev A, LTE|
|Screen Type||IPS LCD|
|Operating System as Tested||Android 4.0.4|
|Camera Resolution||5 MP Rear|
|1.3 MP Front-Facing|
|Screen Pixels Per Inch||233 ppi|
|Bands||800, 850, 1900|
|Form Factor||Candy Bar|
|Screen Size||4 inches|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc