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Hands-On with Kyocera DuraXE and DuraForce XD

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Jan 5, 2016, 1:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Kyocera kicked off CES with two new phones for AT&T. The DuraXE is a rugged flip and the DuraForce XD is a rugged phablet. Both are practically unbreakable and come with business and consumer-friendly features. Here are our first impressions of these two handsome handsets.

Kyocera is back with another pair of hardcore handsets. The DuraXE is a powerful feature phone, while the DuraForce XD takes the phablet form factor to an entirely new level.

The DuraXE is more or less what you expect from a rugged flip phone. It is thick, bulky, and formed by heavy duty plastics. You won't be shocked to learn the phone features gray, black, and silver colors inside and out.


The DuraXE looks like it would fit right in on Batman's utility belt, such is its take-it-as-it-comes approach. The puckish nature says "I'm tough as hell!" while also exuding a bit of no-nonsense, workman ethic.

I had no trouble holding and using the DuraXE. Flip phones are significantly shorter and narrower than modern smartphones, so it is easy to grip and hold tightly. It will be thick in your pocket, though, so it is best carried about in a pocket or clipped to your belt. The rugged plastics are course feeling against your skin, but there's a certain appeal to the way it rubs your palm.

The flip mechanism is spring assisted, so it pops open and close with just a little bit of coaxing. It makes a satisfying "thwap" sound when shut.

The external display is a monochrome job. I found it to be readable in bright light and in the dark. The internal display is larger and more colorful, though the resolution is only average.

The bottom half of the phone includes the standard physical keypad and controls. A round d-pad sits just below the hinge and includes the typical 5-way directional. The button is a cinch to find and use, with pleasing action. Soft keys and other buttons flank the d-pad, with a trio of buttons (send, speaker, end) forming a barrier between the d-pad and the number keys. All the keys are well defined and have excellent travel and feedback.

As is typical for waterproof phones, the rear panel is screwed on to help keep out liquid. The headphone jack and microUSB jack — both on the right edge — are protected by hatches. The hatches must be closed in order for the phone to go for a swim. You'll find a dedicated ePTT button and the volume controls on the left edge of the phone. I thought they were easy to find and use. These buttons have good feedback, too.

Believe it or not, the DuraXE runs Android, but not a smart version thereof. The underlying code may come from Google, but the user interface is rather typical for a feature phone with a grid-based menu system. (Android is necessary to handle the VoLTE and mobile hotspot features.) The included software apps are fairly typical for an AT&T handset and include utilitarian tools like navigation and phone book backups.

The DuraXE isn't for me, but there are plenty of people who want/need a rugged flip phone. Adding LTE, VoLTE, and mobile hotspot to the pie sweetens the deal considerably.

Kyocera announced the DuraForce XD last year, but the phone is making its first appearance at CES this week.

DuraForce XD  

You've never seen a phone this big before. It is simply monstrous. It's as though Kyocera wrapped a Galaxy Note 5 in an OtterBox. The DuraForce XD is enormous almost to a fault, and wickedly heavy. You can practically anchor a ship with it. It is not for the feint of heart. You have to want the biggest, most rugged handset on the market to go for the DuraForce XD, because that's what it is.

Hand fatigue may be a real issue with the XD. My hand cramped up after using it for just a few moments. I can't imagine spending a day with the XD. The 5.7-inch screen necessitates a rather large footprint, and the XD is formed by thick plastic to help protect it from shock, drops, and other types of abuse. That means there's plenty of bezel and extra material all the way around the screen. The XD did not fit comfortably in my pants pocket, not at all.

As you'd expect, the materials are tough-as-nails plastics and rubbers. The phone is well assembled — and it has to be to prevent liquids from seeping in. I thought all the seams were tight. The XD may not be classy metal and glass, but it'll survive abuse that would leave dainty flagships in a pile of rubble.

The front face is gargantuan. Kyocera opted for a 720p resolution screen, which is a bit low for a display this large. That said, I still thought the screen was plenty sharp and bright. Viewing angles are decent. There are no buttons on the front, but you'll see speakers above and below the screen for listening to calls through the earpiece and the speakerphone. The grilles are formed by hefty-looking metal mesh.

You'll find the ePTT button and volume toggle on the left edge of the phone. The buttons have nice physical profiles — easy to find with gloves on — and offer good travel and feedback. The ePTT button is colored red, which makes it highly visible. The screen lock button is high along the right edge. It has a chrome finish to stand out visually and a smooth texture to stand out physically from the otherwise gruff plastic materials forming the side edge.

The rear panel is held in place by a screw. You have to twist it open to remove the panel, which includes a large gasket to protect the innards. The headphone jack is on top and the microUSB port is on the bottom. Both are protected by hatches/gaskets that must be closed for the phone to attain its waterproof rating. There's a dedicated speakerphone button on the top edge, as well, but it is a bit small for my tastes.

Android 5.1 Lollipop forms the core platform and Kyocera left it mostly unmolested. Aside from several Kyocera-branded apps, such as Eco Mode and MaxiMZR, the XD is free from annoying UI skins and other bloat.

The DuraForce XD is the ultimate rugged phablet. If you're looking for the biggest, toughest phone around, you'll find it from AT&T beginning Jan. 8.


About the author, Eric M. Zeman:

Eric has been covering the mobile telecommunications industry for 17 years at various print and online publications. He studied at Rutgers Newark and University of Kentucky, and has a degree in writing. He likes playing guitar, attending concerts, listening to music, and driving sports cars.


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