Review: Kyocera DuraPlus for Sprint
The Kyocera DuraPlus can probably withstand the abuse of a tornado. Phone Scoop put this latest push-to-talk handset for Sprint though Boot Camp to see if it lives — literally! — up to Kyocera's claims.
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The Kyocera DuraPlus is not for the faint of heart, the fashionable, nor the average person. Nay, it is a specialized device for a defined set of users: He or she who requires an indestructible phone that swims as well as it connects. Phone Scoop puts the DuraPlus through the wringer so you don't have to in this full report.
The DuraPlus redefines the word "brick." It is hella-huge. The DuraPlus is a bar-style phone that brings rugged, push-to-talk devices to the next level of toughness. It's the type of phone you'd expect to see used by hard-hat wearing manly men sitting on bulldozers or in pickup trucks, sporting a 3-day shadow, and gnawing on an old cigar. It's the bulldog of cell phones.
The DuraPlus is as rectangular as they come. The materials are ultra-dense; strong plastics meant to withstand all sorts of abuse. Everything about the DuraPlus is angular and big. It's narrow from side-to-side, but lengthy from top-to-bottom, giving it an oblong look. The shape makes it easy to grip tightly in a gloved (or bare) hand. How does it feel? Tough as nails. The strength of the materials and quality of the manufacture give the DuraPlus a solid feel that is unequaled. Despite the size, it’s surprisingly light. Will it fit into a pocket? Ha. No, not comfortably, that's for sure. Since it has a flat bottom and can stand upright on a level surface, it's best left on its own, or perhaps attached to a belt clip.
The front of the DuraPlus includes the display, navigation cluster, and standard numeric keypad. The screen is tiny compared to most phones. All of the buttons have a pleasing, rounded shape to them and they offer excellent travel and feedback. I could easily tell when I was pushing the buttons with gloves on, though I do with they were just a bit bigger.
The navigation cluster includes two function keys, and separate keys for send, end, back, and (yes) the flashlight. The d-pad, which is about the size of a quarter, has a serrated rim that easily catches your thumb. The directionals all have good travel and feedback, as does the ample center button. I really wish the dial pad buttons were a hair bigger, but they worked well enough.
The volume toggle is on the left side of the DuraPlus. It's rather small, but it juts out from the side of the phone enough to make it easy to locate (yes, even with gloves on). Travel and feedback of this button is fantastic. The push-to-talk button is also on the left edge of the phone, right in the center. It’s a large button, has nubs on it for texture, and is rimmed in a semi-reflective yellow paint. There has never been an easier-to-find button on any device, ever. Travel and feedback is only OK, though.
The microUSB charging port is below the PTT button, and is covered by a watertight hatch. The hatch requires some digging to loosen. The same can be said for the 2.5mm headset jack on the right side.
There are two buttons on the top, one for the speakerphone and another to stop PTT sessions. These buttons are a bit nubbish (too round), but have good travel and feedback. Between them is the flashlight. It's not Bat-Signal bright, but it will help you navigate your way out of a pitch-black cave or dungeon-like basement should the need ever arise.
The battery cover is one of those screw-on jobs meant to help protect the DuraPlus from water ingress. It's not a problem to remove. The battery pops out easily and there's no microSD card slot to worry about, because the DuraPlus doesn't have one.
Does the hardware hold up to abuse? You betch'er behind it does. I sank it in my sink, kicked it down my street, jumped up and down on it, and drove over it with my car. It's tough all right; just the sort of phone you need if you’re doing hard work in unforgiving places.
The DuraPlus has a 2-inch display that has 240 x 320 pixels. The resolution is just high enough that most text, graphics, icons, and images appear to be relatively free of pixelated edges. After staring at smartphone screens measuring 3.5 to 5+ inches for years, it is hard to appreciate the DuraPlus's display, but for the guys used to carrying PTT phones, it does a fine job. It's best feature? It’s easily read out under the sun.
As with other, newer PTT-capable phones from Sprint, the DuraPlus uses CDMA-based technology instead of Nextel’s old iDEN technology. Its signal performance was on par with other Sprint devices I've tested in the greater New York City area. (In my home office, it held onto two bars. In my basement it lost Sprint's network entirely.) In midtown Manhattan, it held on the network just fine. During my tests, the DuraPlus didn't drop any calls, nor did it miss any. PTT calls went through in an instant, and there were never any delays even under the worst network conditions. Data was reasonably quick over 3G, but if the DuraPlus dropped to 1X, browsing sessions would come to a halt.
The DuraPlus's call performance was very inconsistent. I tested two different phones multiple times across multiple test points. Sometimes call quality was "ok" and sometimes it was poor. In-call volume performance was also inconsistent. Sometimes the earpiece volume was acceptable, other times it was too quiet — even though the volume was set to the maximum. Performance with the speakerphone was similar. At times it was skull-shatteringly loud, and other times it wasn't strong enough to overcome the noise made by strong winds. Kyocera said the DuraPlus was engineered to be extremely loud, and is investigating our devices to see if there is perhaps something wrong with them. It is possible we received units that had hardware or software bugs. Based on the my experience with the device, I'd rate overall cellular call quality at below average, and PTT calls as average. The vibrate alert is plenty strong.
The DuraPlus, at its core, is a feature phone. Sure, it has some apps that connect to the network from time to time to grab data, but it's nothing like a smartphone. Translation: the battery life of this device is kick-butt. It routinely lasted more than two full days on a single charge. Unless you plan to shine the flashlight all night, this thing will see you through days' worth of use before it needs to be plugged in.
The DuraPlus employs Sprint's years-old feature phone user interface. The home screen has links to your favorites and contacts via the soft keys. If you want to get at the main menu, press the center of the d-pad. The main menu is a 12-icon grid that can also be viewed in list form. Rather than make you jump through hoops to change the way the main menu looks, the right soft key does the trick. For my money, the grid view is easier to use on a day-to-day basis.
The 12 icons don't offer any surprises and are composed of the requisite mixture of phone tools and Sprint service offerings. Similar to other Sprint phones, it uses the My Stuff folder to centralize all your media and apps and games. The "Shopping" icon doesn't take you to an on-board apps store. Instead, it fires up the browser and loads Sprint's terrible web portal.
Once you move deeper into the menu system, the default view of the menus switches to endless lists of lists.
The DuraPlus uses Sprint's CDMA network - rather than the older iDEN network - for PTT calls. Most users won't be able to notice the difference between the two. Only the most seasoned veterans of Sprint Nextel's iDEN services might be able to tell the two types of PTT services apart, but I doubt it. That’s a good thing.
Once you've added some DirectConnect contacts, reaching out to them is a breeze. In my tests, the delay in the time it took to send/receive PTT messages was just as short as it would be with an iDEN-based handset. The system works with other CDMA DirectConnect devices as well as older iDEN handsets.
The quality of the calls coming through the PTT service was acceptable, but even via speakerphone, not quite as loud as they should be.
The DuraPlus doesn't offer any surprises in the phone call department. Press the green send key to get at a list of all your calls. The most recent call in the log is highlighted with enlarged text, so it stands out nicely. Use the left soft key or text key to automatically send the highlighted number a message. The in-call options range from the typical phone book access to 3-way calls. You can also set up to 98 speed dials if you wish.
The contacts functions are simple and straightforward. From the contact list, the left soft key automatically initiates a text message.
The DuraPlus's messaging features are as basic as they come. SMS is the only option pre-loaded.
The text messaging app is easy to decipher. There are 20 pre-loaded messages, and you can also control the behavior of the predictive text software and add custom words to the phone's dictionary. Thankfully, conversations are threaded.
Want more than SMS? You have to find it yourself.
There are no email nor IM clients pre-loaded on the DuraPlus. Instead, you have to download them from Sprint's content store. The apps themselves are (thankfully) free, and if you have a data plan, it doesn't cost anything additional each month to use them.
The email app is pre-configured to work with a number of webmail clients: AOL Mail, AIM Mail, Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail, Work, PCS Mail, and other IMAP or POP3 accounts. Setup is a snap. Once you're signed in, you have access to a mobile version of your email.
On the IM side of the table, you have AIM, Windows Live and Yahoo clients bundled into the one app that's available to download. The IM client is identical to that of other Sprint feature phones. Seeing your online buddies and sending them messages is no more difficult than on any other feature phone, but the experience is far from rewarding.
Where's the social networking integration? Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter are absent, as is any sort of catch-all social networking app. The best you can do is visit the mobile web sites of these services and hope that you have a good connection.
There is neither a music client nor a video client on the DuraPlus. It is not meant for consuming media. I can understand why it doesn't have an MP3 player, but why the heck isn't there an FM radio on this thing?
The DuraPlus doesn't have a camera or a camcorder, not even a basic one. Then again, this device's primary goal is to survive World War III, not document it.
The DuraPlus has EV-DO Rev. A connectivity and a WAP browser on board. The default home page is Sprint's portal, which is a disaster of links to content that costs you money. Beware this minefield. The browser is able to navigate Sprint's horrid content portal quickly, though, and it actually does a pretty good job rendering HTML web sites, too. You can choose to visit other web sites, but it's a serious pain with the 12-key keypad. I've forgotten how unsatisfying it is to use feature phones that don't have touch screens to surf the web.
The one thing I really like is the navigation toolbar that the web browser has. Press the left soft key, and you can quickly jump back and forward between recently visited web sites, as well as hop back to your home page, and a Google search page.
The DuraPlus only allows you to customize some of the really basic things, such as ringtones, ringer IDs, screen savers, etc. As noted, you can alter the main menu between grid and list views, but further customization to the way apps and folders are organized isn’t available.
You can also change the font size between normal and large. The size increase is just enough to make a difference, but it doesn't go far enough for those who need very large fonts.
The DuraPlus can download the simplest applications via Sprint's online portal. The apps available include things such as games, organizers, etc. Discoverability is a mess, and every step requires a page refresh — which adds agonizing time to any task.
The DuraPlus supports mono Bluetooth headsets and a few other profiles. Pairing was no problem, and call quality via mono headsets was good. Pairing with other phones to push contact data or photos was also a snap. I had no issues in testing out the Bluetooth at all.
There's no real lock screen on this device. The display is either on or off. When first woken from sleep, you have to unlock it before anything else. There's no content — not even a clock — visible on this unlock screen. The clock that appears on the home screen can be customized in a number of different ways, including large/small digital, large/small analog, world clock, and several different calendar views. It’s just plain dumb that you have to unlock the screen — which takes three key presses — to check the time.
The DuraPlus has GPS on board and Sprint's free mapping and navigation software. It works, but just barely. Maps took ages to load, and using it as a real-time turn-by-turn navigation device could be problematic. I would say that the DuraPlus's GPS capabilities will be best put to use in the great outdoors, where life doesn't travel at you at 60 miles per hour.
The DuraPlus is as simple as a modern cell phone gets. It offers the most basic calling and messaging features in a body that can withstand blows from Thor's hammer. Despite the insane strength of this phone, it didn't impress me as a an actual phone. For a device that is nothing more than a dedicated voice phone, cellular calls were below average quality, and both the earpiece and speakerphone exhibited uneven volume performance. The DuraPlus is only marginally better — perhaps "average" — when used for walkie-talkie conversations, and that's probably its saving grace.
If you need a tough PTT phone, the DuraPlus is the toughest of the bunch. It may not offer the absolute best PTT call quality, but with excellent battery life and the brawn of a thousand Hulks, it'll at least be able to make those calls after you tromp through swamps, marshes, oil fields, the Rocky Mountains, and Death Valley.
I was disappointed in the DuraPlus's calling capabilities. Phone calls sounded terrible. They were full of noise and interference. Worse, the earpiece was absolutely anemic. It barely produced any volume at all, even when set to the maximum volume. Hoping for the speakerphone to save you? Don't get your hopes up. It's awful as well. Given this phone's sheer size and bulk, there's no excuse for sub-par voice performance. Voice is this phone's meat-and-potatoes feature, and it fails badly." (end quote)
I tried two DuraPlus phones in a row, both had excellent sound quality in normal "phone-to-the-ear" conversations, but both failed miserably on speakerphone. Very weak sound, very "muddy" sound in...
Bad parking jobs?
You sir, most likely need lessons.