LAS VEGAS—AT&T and Kyocera have three tough new phones for three different tastes: one simple, one powerful, and one prepaid. We spent some time with two of them here at CES.
Waterproof and rugged phones have become a Kyocera specialty in recent years. There's still a lot of call for tough, push-to-talk phones for field workers in this post-Nextel era, and Kyocera's tight relationship with carriers gives it an advantage over competitors like Sonim and CAT with corporate customers.
The DuraXE certainly looks like a blast from the past. It's a rugged, flip feature phone. It has big buttons for gloved hands, a 2.6-inch 32-by-240 main screen, a 5-megapixel camera, dual front speakers for outdoor use, and push-to-talk capabilities. It's waterproof and resists dust, shock vibration, salt fog, and other nastiness.
There's something interesting going on under the hood here. The DuraXE is running a gimped version of Android 5.1.1 on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 210 processor with a gig of RAM. It has no touch screen, and it doesn't have an app store. (It does have music and video players.) But using Android lets Kyocera run AT&T's voice-over-LTE and push-to-talk applications, as well as bringing other features like running as an LTE hotspot.
I couldn't make calls on the DuraXE, but I played some ringtones, and they were loud. One concern: the loud ringtone made the whole keypad vibrate, which was a little odd from a tactile perspective. I also dunked the phone in a pint of cider and washed it off, which caused no problems.
Reflecting the DuraXE's corporate market, it will cost $270 up front. Yes, you can get a very nice Android smartphone for considerably less. But it won't be this tough. The DuraXE's major competitor, AT&T's Sonim XP5, costs $300 total, and the last-generation DuraXV+ on Verizon still costs $192.
The Duraforce XD is a large, rugged Android phablet. It has a 5.7-inch screen that works with wet or gloved hands, dual front speakers, and a large 3700mAh battery. While Kyocera doesn't seem to be calling it waterproof, it's ruggedized against dust, shock, vibration, blowing rain, and a bunch of other things, so it's probably effectively waterproof. It appears to use a 1.6GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor, which isn't fast by any means, but this phone is primarily about ruggedization. It'll cost $360.
This one goes up against the Sonim XP7, which is slower and considerably more expensive, but is even more rugged and has a three-year, no-questions-asked warranty.
The biggest hands-on impression of the XD is that it's comically huge. I could barely fit it in one hand; it's not only a 5.7-inch phablet, it's a phablet that's basically in an Otterbox. (The phone's case even protrudes a little over the front to protect it from face-on drops.) But the 1,280-by-720 screen was super bright and quite readable. You're not going to be getting this phone for the specs. You're going to be getting it because it's loud, and it can take a beating.
Those are Kyocera's "pro" models for this show, but ordinary people like rugged phones, too. I still remember my baby daughter killing a beloved Motorola E815 by drooling into it. For the tough mother/Tough Mudder demographic, Kyocera and AT&T's prepaid brand Cricket is rolling out the Kyocera Hydro View, an affordable waterproof, somewhat ruggedized phone for $79.99 up front.
Kyocera didn't have one of those to show us. The Hydro View isn't ruggedized to bullet-stopping levels, but you can wash it in the sink, and the touch screen still works with wet hands. The View runs Android 5.1 on a low-end, 1.1GHz Snapdragon 210 processor and has a 5-inch 960-by-540 screen. Like the other phones, it's about toughness and affordability rather than speed and specs.
All three new phones will be available Jan. 8.