Review: Kyocera Jet for Amp'd
Mar 29, 2006, 5:21 PM by Jesse Lewin
In-Depth Review of the sleek Kyocera Jet EVDO phone for the new content-oriented MVNO Amp'd.
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Internet savvy teens (and tweens) have a tremendous appetite for entertainment, as well as placing a high priority on sharing their experiences with each other. The Jet is the first phone from Amp'd Mobile, the new service hoping to capitalize on the demands of today's youth. Amp'd offers cool cameraphones and affordable contracts that include data, voice, and Push-to-Talk service. The centerpiece however is the Amp'd Live service, which includes full-length music downloads and a large video library. The Jet is a great device for staying in touch with fellow young hipsters and accessing a wealth of entertaining online content.
The Jet is a very well-shaped handset, with rounded edges at all the phone's corners and lengths. The size allows the Jet to fill your hand without feeling too large or unwieldy. Gripping the Jet in either hand is easy and reassuring with the slide both open and shut. However, the same size that makes the phone reassuring in-hand makes it bulge in-pocket - like most low priced sliders, it is fairly thick.
The Jet's slider form factor does an excellent job of allowing for a large display and keypad without being excessively large. The slide action is entirely manual, without a spring or magnetic assist, which requires extra effort to fully open or close the phone. The action is smooth and there is a noticeable click when the slide is opened and closed, which helped to train us to use it effectively.
Holding the Jet while talking produces similar issues with any other slider or swivel form factor. With the phone closed, it feels too short and grows uncomfortable on extended calls. However when the Jet is used open, it becomes significantly more comfortable to hold and talk into. Having the slide act as the keyguard helped encourage us to talk with the phone open, though given this behavior, we would much prefer an assisted slide action.
The numeric keypad appears small, particularly with the miniscule letters labeling each key, but the keys are very ease to use. While the keys are flat and therefore lack significant tactile feedback, the spacing between the three columns of keys make dialing numbers and writing text messages quick and easy. The navigation buttons on the Jet are simple and well organized. The D-pad ring is raised around the center select button which leads to the Amp'd Live service from the home screen. The navigation keys have an awkward habit of randomly illuminating while the phone sits unused. When they do light up, the blue LEDs inside the phone change the red end call button to purple.
The Jet's display clocks in at 1.9 inches and 176×220 pixels, and it does a fine job of delivering Amp'd Live content. The bright backlight makes everything easy to read, and also has a secondary, lower-power setting in order to save battery. A few seconds after the slide has been shut, the backlight takes one small but noticeable step back in brightness. Another thirty seconds after that, the backlight shuts off entirely.
The display performed very well in all lighting conditions, providing good contrast and clean easy-to-read text. Only in direct sunlight was the Jet's display slightly washed out, but this is hardly an issue given that this is the case with most phones.
The Jet's signal strength allowed us to make and receive calls in all but absolute dead zones. Our steel-box Apple store barely impacted the quality or strength of calls. Although the signal quality was excellent and consistent, the indicator is not quite as reliable. The number of bars displayed would fluctuate and even disappear in some places. But as long as the EV-DO data logo was displayed, even when the phone displayed zero bars, we were still able to initiate calls, and once we had connected one or two signal bars appeared.
EV-DO network access was equal to, if not more reliable than when making calls. There were less than a half-dozen moments during our extended testing when the Amp'd Live service reported a network error. As mentioned before, there were times when data network access maintained while there were zero bars of indicated signal strength.
While the Jet provides superior network access for both calls and data use, the conflicting indicators does make things somewhat confusing. The visual feedback needs to more accurately reflect when the phone is able to make calls, and when it cannot.
One of the Amp'd Mobile selling points is the full length song downloads, and it is one of the highlights of the Jet. Music played back on the phone comes through in crisp stereo. The highest possible volume does produce noticeable distortion, but one step below maximum and songs come through loud and clear. While the music player is distortion-free at all but the highest volume, the sound that accompanies video suffered from a much greater amount of distortion. The conclusion drawn from this is that the hardware is capable of producing a higher quality of sound than any videos include.
The battery in the Jet proved to be the most disappointing part of the Amp'd experience. During a car ride, we watched a UFC fight streamed as it happened on Amp'd Live. The battery was exhausted in just under 90 minutes. This sort of life, while unfortunate, was somewhat expected as the constant connection to the EV-DO network requires a lot of power, not to mention the power necessary to render the video. Using the Jet only for occasional calls, texts, and a half-dozen photos, the battery was drained in less than 20 hours. This is extremely disappointing performance, as it wasn't possible during our testing to go a full day without having to recharge the Jet, even without making use of the Amp'd Live service. Given that the Live service is a major selling point of the phone, battery performance needs to improve significantly in order for Amp'd to be successful.
The main menu arranges all the functions on a ring, rotating clockwise by pressing down on the D-pad (and counter-clockwise by pressing up). The unfortunate part of this arrangement is that while the ring is rotating, the menu items momentarily disappear. This means that when you attempt to move quickly through the main menu, you can't tell what function you're going to stop on.
Thankfully the main menu can be changed to display a grid of icons or a simple list, which is the default for all the secondary menus. The menus also feature a total of nine different color themes, and the particularly nice feature of previewing a new color palette by simply scrolling to a different one, without having click an additional button to select it.
The Jet's menu system feels slow and out of date given the slick Amp'd Live online experience. We were upset with the difference in resolution and sense of quality in Live service compared to the phone's own menu system. Aside from the music player, which benefits from the Amp'd design, all of the Jet's other applications use Kyocera's traditional interface. This feeling of having two drastically different user interfaces in one device was really disappointing.
The contact format in the Jet is straightforward and simple. Each contact has support for six different phone numbers, two email addresses, two street addresses, two URLs, and a note. The contact system also features a secret number ability, which will mask the digits of any phone number when either browsing the address book or dialing a call. Sadly though, the secret is out when addressing an SMS or MMS message. At that point the phone number is displayed normally.
Voice dialing commands are trained by speaking your chosen command up to three times in a row, and then applied to individual phone numbers within a contact. Once this training was completed, pressing the call button from the main menu gave us the choice of speaking a voice command, or pressing the call button a second time to show the list of recent calls.
The contact listing on the Jet displays the contact name, with an icon for home, mobile, etc. to the right. Scrolling to a particular contact and then pressing left or right on the D-pad cycles through the icons similar to the list view on most Motorola phones. This let us quickly choose which number we wanted to dial. The Jet also features a fast find function, which will find a desired contact as you type their name from the home screen. This is an excellent way to find contacts from a large list, and it is something we've only seen previously on Windows Mobile phones.
Holding the down key on the D-pad launches the text messaging main menu, where clicking on the first option will launch a new message. Composing a new text message begins with addressing it, where there are options for recent recipients, selecting from the address book, as well as choosing from pre-configured group lists. Presenting this option directly in the text message window (as well as under the Amp'd PTT menu) is something we certainly think is implemented better on the Jet than on other phones. Composing the message utilizes EZI rapid text entry, which while different from the more prevalent T9 input method, proved to be no less accurate, as we were able to type quickly and easily.
The messaging application also provides a couple of exceptionally useful functions that we haven't seen on other phones. First, from the message compose screen, the Jet allows for a message to have a specified future delivery date and time. Second, the messaging application contains a block list, where offending numbers can be added, and any message from a number on that list will not be delivered to the phone.
The camera on the Jet is a simple and pleasant experience. Briefly holding down either of the phone's two buttons launches the camera, which comes alive after a 2 second load time. The screen maintains the top row of system indicators for battery and signal strength, while the rest of the screen is filled with what the camera lens sees. The two softbutton labels are displayed on top of the image, which is a more effective use of screen real estate than other phones, which crop the camera output along the bottom of the screen.
After pressing any of the multiple buttons to take a picture (center d-pad, left softbutton, or either physical camera buttons), the phone pauses for another two seconds before the final image is displayed. From there you have the option to immediately send the photo, or to move to the main imaging menu. Moving back to the imaging menu shows the gallery of images saved in the phone, where we could easily select images to be sent, deleted, or selected as wallpaper. Lastly, quitting the camera application after taking a picture does automatically save the captured image, which is certainly our preference over other phones that discard the photo by default.
While sharing photos and video with the Jet will certainly be a commonly used feature, unfortunately the picture quality leaves a lot to be desired. Even with the highest quality settings, our 640x480 pictures lacked overall quality, even compared to phones with similar VGA sensors. The Jet scored a mere 20/80 on the vision test, and could not produce enough resolution from close up to read the score. In addition to lack of detail, pictures viewed on a desktop PC were blurry and dark, with low color saturation across the spectrum.
Video recorded on the Jet was a more pleasant experience. The smooth motion proved to be more effective at capturing the moment, in light of the low color quality. Videos were also played back painlessly on a desktop PC, thanks to the standard 3G2 video encoding. We were also able to export video from our desktop PC using QuickTime Pro, and the video we tested played flawlessly.
3GPP2 / MPEG-4 format (viewable with QuickTime)
File size: 266 KB
The Amp'd Live service features excellent layout and design, with the requisite graphical flourish whenever a menu is rendered. There are video advertisements for Live content that play in the top of the screen while the various menu options are displayed below. Amp'd Live provides a large and growing library of streamed and downloadable content, including various types of ringtones, full music tracks, custom wallpapers, video clips covering news, sports, and entertainment. There is also a fair amount of exclusive content, such as live streamed UFC fights and AMA supercross races.
In our testing, there were only a few issues using the Amp'd Live browser. While watching a UFC fight, the phone did run into buffering errors where the video stalled. It was impressive that in the course of 70 minutes of viewing there were less than a handful of these moments, and none of them lasted more than five seconds. There were also times when we were unable to locate certain content within the Amp'd Live menus, even though the video or download in question was featured in the advertisement at the top of the display.
There is a web browser included under the 'mobile internet' heading of the Amp'd Live service. Instead of browsing WAP sites sized for the Jet's small screen, the included browser uses desktop websites and tries to render them for the small screen, however it does not do as good a job as opera mini or others. Because it is browsing desktop sites, it is slow to respond and load web content. It also lacks any control over the size of text on-screen, which when combined with the poor fit-to-screen view made our phone scoop homepage extremely long to traverse.
The options for customization on the Jet are focused more on media than on layout or design. The home screen layout is fixed save for the ability to enter a personal banner message in place of a normal network operator name. That said, the Amp'd Live service presents a number of options for home screen wallpaper, as well as allowing you to select a photo taken with the Jet's camera.
Ringtones and message alerts can all be personalized using Amp'd Live content, with different alerts for calls, PTT, MMS, and text messages. Individual contacts can also be assigned particular alerts. Multiple types of ringtones are offered, including polyphonic tones, spoken alerts (Dan...pick up the phone), and popular music tones. There is a distinction made between music ringtones and music downloads. Songs purchased for playback are not available to be used as ringtones. One feature that quickly became a guilty pleasure during our testing were the selection of sound effects offered for opening and closing the phone. They also proved functional, as the audio response helped train us to open and close the manual slider easily.
File management on the Jet is a segmented experience. Pictures and video are handled by the gallery application, and music downloads are essentially controlled by the media player. In addition, the Jet only allows music and video downloads to be stored on the transflash card. Therefore the file management controls only apply to photos and videos recorded with the phone, and the only option in this instance is to move those files from the internal memory onto the transflash card.
The clock features four different formats for date and time formats (3/28/2006 2:25pm, 28/3/2006 14:25, etc). The position of the clock on the main screen is fixed, and unfortunately the clock cannot be used as a screen saver. Even with the keyguard on, the screen lights up just long enough to check the time with any button press, but you cannot just glance at the screen to check the time.
The music player, which is found within the Amp'd Live's My Stuff heading, worked very well. From the first screen of the music player we were able to select to view music by artist, album, or playlist, plus a shuffle option, which was nice to find in the main music player menu. While playing music the phone maps play, pause, previous, and next functions onto the D-pad buttons, and displays these controls at the bottom of the screen. Above that it displays the song information.
We were able to move standard MP3 files onto the TransFlash card, and while the music player did recognize all of them, it had some trouble playing them consistently. Some tracks would play and others would not, and we could not determine a reason or pattern in this behavior. Also, the phone must find a transflash card present before it will download any music content, though we don't count this against the Jet as the it will almost certainly include a card.
The alarm clock supports a total of four independent alarms, with one of them labeled "wake-up". The phone will not sound any alarms while it is turned off. While this is unfortunate, the Jet did at least warn us when we turned the phone off that these alarms would not be activated.
The Jet also includes a basic calculator and calendar applications. Each of these applications provided simple functions, with no abilities beyond what we've come to expect with any handset.
A short video tour of the Jet:
Amp'd Mobile is one of the first content-drived MVNOs to come to market, and as one of the first phones to launch on it, the Jet is very exciting. The phone offers an unparalleled entertainment experience with the young user in mind - which is the primary goal of the Amp'd Mobile service. Unfortunately, the Jet proves that by focusing on this key online experience, other phone functions like camera performance, battery life, and user interface, can get lost in the shuffle. Ultimately the Jet does very well at what it sets out to accomplish... just don't leave home without your charger.
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Music Player Issues (and others, as it turns out)
The issue is that if the filename is too long, the song won't show in the list. I'm not sure what the limit is, but who cares? just make the name shorter until it works.
As far as battery life goes, what did you expect? This isn't a motorola v120. There is alot more going on here with about the same type of battery. So buy a car charger, and don't try to tell me that you will never use it, because I might be forced to smack you.
This goes for all EVDO phones. Everyone demands higher resolution and bigger screens, better speake...
Build quality compared to A800
Any idea on how it fares up to the A800 by Samsung? Is the flip solid? How are the plastics? Do they feel hollow? Is there a cheap feeling battery door?