Review: Kyocera DuraForce Pro
Kyocera's DuraForce Pro is a capable, rugged Android smartphone for outdoor types who demand a lot from their hardware. No rugged phone is without compromises, but the DuraForce Pro has fewer detractors than most. Here is Phonescoop's in-depth report.
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The Kyocera DuraForce Pro is a fully rugged smartphone for those who want power and protection all in one package. This handset is best suited to outdoor adventurers or field workers who need a phone that can handle harsh conditions and continued abuse.Body
The DuraForce Pro is smaller and smarter that many modern rugged handsets, and in some respects is even tougher. After using it for a week, I am convinced the DuraForce Pro is one of Kyocera's most well-rounded efforts in the rugged smartphone space.
Like the majority of rugged phones, the DuraForce Pro is made from a combination of plastic and hardened rubber, with a chunky profile. It is beset by angles, patterns, bulges, and edges. There's no question the Pro has more personality than your average Android slab, but if phones could feel, this one would feel uncomfortable on the table at a 5-star restaurant. The design borders on chaotic, but in a mostly good way.
As for size, Kyocera did an admirable job keeping the phone's girth in check. The Pro's 5-inch screen helped Kyocera maintain usable dimensions (less than 6 inches tall and less than 3 inches wide). The phone weighs more than half a pound, which is significant for a handset. I didn't have any trouble holding or using it, but some might feel it's too big. The 13mm thickness doesn't help when it comes time to jam the phone into your pants pocket. You're better off using a jacket pocket or (gasp) a holster of some sort.
You'll find no fancy polished metal nor any fine decorative glass panels here; this phone is covered in polycarbonate and rubber. Polycarbonate forms the bulk of the rear panel and side edges, while triangular rubber patches wrap around from the front, across the top and bottom edges. This is some tough stuff. The phone feels sturdy and strong, not high-end. The seams aren't as tight nor as even as I expected, given the Pro's claims to be waterproof.
The Pro's face has a lot going on. A Sapphire Shield (unique to the Verizon model) covers the display. A dimpled rubber patch forms a trapezoid above the display and holds the earpiece speaker. The user-facing camera is visible to the left. A larger, dimpled, rubber trapezoid fits below the screen along the bottom edge. This is where you'll find three hardware buttons (back, home, app-switcher) as well as additional speakers. The buttons are easy to find when not wearing gloves, but I thought they were rather difficult to tell apart with gloves on. Travel and feedback isn't the greatest, either. A distinct rim encircles the entire front to protect the screen when the phone is placed face down. You can smash the phone on a table or desk in a fit of anger and not worry about hurting the screen.
Kyocera put two buttons on the left edge, the volume toggle and the PTT / action key. The volume toggle, close to the top, is terrible. It has no profile to speak of, is far too small, and delivers almost no travel or feedback. It's just barely useable barehanded, and is completely useless with gloves on. Conversely, the PTT button, centered along the side, is absolutely huge and has crazy good travel and feedback. The red accent on this button gives the Pro its only flash of color.
The screen lock button is on the top right and is somewhat easier to find and use than the volume toggle. The button is saved by excellent travel and feedback. Further, the screen lock button doubles as a thumbprint reader. A teeny tiny camera button is placed on the lower portion of the right edge. It's a lot like the volume toggle: hard to find and harder to use, especially with gloves on.
Kyocera covered the two main ports with thick rubber hatches to help protect the innards from liquids and dust. The headphone jack is on top and the microUSB port is on the bottom. Both of the hatches are easy to interact with thanks to generous cutouts for your thumbnail. The dedicated speakerphone button on top is, unfortunately, in keeping with the theme of small-and-unusable buttons.
The rear panel is quite something, with its wild array of textures and surfaces. The polycarbonate that covers about three-quarters of the rear has a speckled pattern within that catches the light. There are also some carved shapes that run along each edge. The dual-camera module is placed near the top. A two-tone flash is plainly visible to the left. Two large copper contacts are exposed close to the bottom edge of the phone. These make the phone compatible with certain types of chargers/docks that businesses might buy, but it's also worth noting that the phone supports standard wireless charging (Qi).
Last, the entire rear shell can be removed, though it requires a bit of effort. I had to use a flathead screwdriver to get the necessary leverage to pry it off. Only with the shell removed can you access the SIM card and memory card slots, which are on the left side. The battery is sealed inside; sorry, folks.
Aside from some finicky buttons, the Kyocera DuraForce Pro is a solid piece of hardware that inspires confidence.Ruggedness
The DuraForce Pro carries the standard proclamations of toughness. That means mil-spec 810G for protection against drops, temperature extremes, fog, and such. It has an ingress protection rating of IPX8, too, which in this case means it can sit in up to 6 feet of water for up to 30 minutes.
The Verizon variant of the phone includes a Sapphire Shield to protect the screen. This goes above and beyond the AT&T and Sprint versions and means the screen is much less likely to get scratched up. Sapphire is incredibly tough, second only to diamonds. Moreover, the display supports gloved fingers and wet fingers, which may be common with the people this phone targets.
The Pro lives up to Kyocera's claims. I dropped the DuraForce Pro onto concrete from waist height repeatedly with no damage whatsoever. I let it sit outdoors in 8F temperatures overnight, and let it sit in the 32F river near my house for a while one afternoon. I dropped the phone face down onto rocks, threw it across my yard in the snow, and kicked it down my icy driveway. There's hardly a mark on it. I took a knife to the screen with no effect.
Yeah, it's tough.Screen
Screens that measure five inches across the diagonal and have full HD resolution typically look pretty darned good. I'm happy to report this is mostly true of the DuraForce Pro's screen. There's no question the Pro offers excellent pixel density and crisp on-screen elements. Text, graphics, icons, and images all look razor sharp. The Sapphire Shield means the LCD display has to work a bit harder to push the light through the additional layers of material. I found I needed to keep the brightness set higher (>50%) much of the time. You absolutely have to crank the brightness to use this phone outdoors. Colors tend to be a bit on the cool side, but viewing angles are good. The biggest problem is the lack of oleophobic coating; it takes about 30 seconds to cover the display in slimy finger oils, which make the Pro hard(er) to use outdoors. I wish it weren't so smudge-tastic. It's a decent screen, but could be better.Signal
The DuraForce Pro performed well on Verizon's LTE network. I was able to test in around New York City as well as around Las Vegas, which provided me with plenty of data. The Pro remained connected to LTE the majority of the time I tested the phone, though I saw it dip down to 3G several times in poor coverage zones. The Pro was able to connect calls no matter how weak the signal conditions, most of which went through on the first dial. The phone easily maintained calls at highway speeds, and didn't drop any while I tested it.
Data speeds were not the most impressive I've seen, but they should be more than adequate for people who buy this phone. Web pages loaded very quickly, and social networks such as Twitter and Facebook worked well. I did experience some slight, occasional buffering when streaming YouTube and Spotify, but it was never egregiously bad.
The DuraForce Pro is an excellent voice phone. Phone calls are loud and clear through the earpiece. You can keep the volume around 50-60% most of the time and face no problems hearing calls at home or the office. You'll notice a bit of speaker crackle if you crank the volume all the way up, but it doesn't impact clarity. With the volume maxed out, I easily heard and understood calls in bustling coffee shops, crowded casino floors with raging slot machines, and in moving cars. Those I spoke to through the Pro said I sounded "good."
The speakerphone is equally loud and clear. The Pro delivers a sonic blast that's enough to scare just about anyone not prepared for the noise. The speakerphone easily overcame the crazy din of the packed Las Vegas Convention Center during the recent Consumer Electronics Show. In fact, passersby were taken aback as I tested the speakerphone in Central Hall. It's freaking loud. Again, you'll notice some distortion at the highest volume setting, but it isn't bad.
Alerts and ringtones can be jarringly loud. The vibrate alert is acceptable, but could be better.Battery
Kyocera stuck a 3,240 mAh Lithium Ion battery into the DuraForce Pro's chassis. Over a week of testing, I found the battery consistently pushed through more than a full day. It often lasted from breakfast one day to lunch the next. That's despite keeping all the radios on and the brightness at about 60%, with moderate to heavy use.
Kyocera has wholly revised its EcoMode battery conservation tool. The tool was always good, but now it offers even more granular support for tweaking what is allowed to do what and when. The core dashboard lets you see exactly how much time the battery has left, (based on recent use,) and breaks it down by app. For example, EcoMode tells you how long you can use the camera, or how long you can listen to music or watch videos, before the battery dies. EcoMode lets you fine-tune when it comes on, and settings such as brightness, notifications, and so on. With EcoMode active, you can easily stretch the battery to three days if you use the phone sparingly.
Last, the phone supports Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0. This isn't the fastest, newest rapid charging spec, but it's better than nothing. With the appropriate charger, I found the battery powers up from 25% to 100% in about 90 minutes.Bluetooth, GPS, NFC, WiFi
The DuraForce Pro's secondary radios all performed well. The Bluetooth 4.2 Low Energy radio did a great job. I connected the Pro to a wide range of accessories, including headsets, PCs, speakers, and my car. Pairing was never a problem. Phone calls sent to mono headsets were very good, as were calls sent to my car's hands-free system. In the car, however, you may be better off using the Pro's own speakerphone. Music sounded okay via headphones, but I've heard better.
GPS is incredibly important for an outdoorsy phone such as the DuraForce Pro, and the phone's location abilities are second to none. The Pro pinpointed me to within 10 feet in just a few seconds. The radio worked hand-in-hand with Google Maps and was a fine navigation tool.
The Pro includes NFC to help with Bluetooth pairing. It's compatible with Android Pay, too, for mobile payments.
Last, the WiFi radio did its job with no hesitation.