This week, I dropped my smartphone on cement, threw it down a flight of subway stairs, and dunked it in a pot of water.
This wasn’t spurred by frustration, or accident-prone-ness. I’ve been testing the new Kyocera Torque from Sprint, a rugged, waterproof phone that’s meant to be banged around. Kyocera and Sprint have aimed this squarely at thrill-seekers, heavy lifters, those in the military, and anyone else who’s prone to dropping phones.
The Torque, which is only available through Sprint in the U.S., costs $150 but comes with a $50 mail-in rebate. Sprint’s unlimited data plans — which are required with the Torque — range from $80 to $110 per month.
It’s certainly not the first, or the only, phone out there that can take a few hits. Motorola makes the water-resistant, dust-proof Defy XT, available for $50 through a two-year contract with U.S. Cellular. Casio also makes a smartphone that, like its G-Shock watches, is water-resistant and can handle drops of up to 10 feet. And Sprint also sells the rugged Sonim XP Strike for $100 after a $50 rebate.
But the Torque is the first LTE-capable rugged phone from Sprint. And it also has a new-old feature that could potentially help you save your minutes: Direct Connect, the new version of Sprint Nextel’s old push-to-talk option for Nextel customers. So, in addition to throwing this smartphone around all week, at times I used it as I would a walkie-talkie.
Truthfully, I would rarely (if ever) use the walkie-talkie feature if I bought this phone. It’s really meant for people in noisy work environments — construction workers, for example, and truck drivers. I can’t imagine the squawks of push-to-talk going over well in quieter places.
And this phone, with its thick casing, is far from elegant. Lastly, its five-megapixel camera was surprisingly sub par.
But to its credit, the Kyocera Torque withstood a lot of the torment I put it through. It serves its purpose as a rugged smartphone for users less concerned with style and more interested in durability.
The Torque, which weighs a pretty hefty 5.9 ounces, is made of a combination of shock-resistant plastic and rubber, with a thick casing that’s screwed onto the smartphone. (The iPhone 5, for comparison’s sake, weighs 3.9 ounces.)
In a dark bar, this might pass as a plain black Android smartphone. Get closer, though, and you’ll see the stippled, textured back of the phone, the teeth of the speakers, visible screws throughout the casing, and yellow highlights on the push-to-talk button, all of which give it more of a tough-guy appearance.
It combines a capacitive touchscreen with a series of physical buttons, including volume buttons on the side, the push-to-talk button and home and back buttons on the bottom front of the phone. It comes with four gigabytes of storage, which can be expanded with a microSD card.
Android fans who want the latest and greatest operating system might be disappointed that the Torque runs Android 4.0 and not the newest, Jelly Bean operating system, although Kyocera says that an upgrade should be available in the coming months.
The four-inch LCD display on the phone is okay, but nothing to write home about. It is made of scratch-resistant glass, though, and its greatest attribute is probably its impact resistance.
Now for the fun stuff: the durability tests. I dropped the phone on the pavement multiple times while running in Central Park. The phone survived, and even had a little bounce to it when it hit the ground — not that cringe-inducing, glass-smacking sound you get with fancier smartphones.
I also tossed it down a flight of subway steps, ignoring looks from people who likely thought I was having a really, really bad day. When I picked it up, it was pretty much unscathed. I did have to wedge the back plate of the phone on again, but it still worked. Kyocera says the phone can be dropped up to 26 times from four feet and survive.
This phone can also be submerged in up to a meter of water for 30 minutes. I didn’t have a meter-deep tub available, but I did drop it in my go-to pasta pot and let it sit at the bottom for 30 minutes. I pulled it out, wiped the screen, and it was good to go.
I took a shower with it. Yes, I took my smartphone into the shower, reaching a new level of smartphone attachment. It was fine. But I couldn’t use the capacitive touchscreen while the phone was wet. I had to wipe it down first.
Kyocera boasts 18.9 hours of talk time with the Torque, and for those who really do spend most of their time talking and not browsing, that’s a good thing. The first day I used the Torque, I purposely didn’t run any apps, instead making a handful of phone calls throughout the day.
Call quality was good. The phone’s speaker is actually built into the glass display and offers direct-to-ear vibrations for improved sound, although at times, the audio was so loud it was harsh on my ears.
When I went to bed that night, the phone’s battery had drained by just around 15 percent.
The next day, I fired up some apps, including Gmail, Twitter, Google Maps, Instagram and RunKeeper. That night, the phone died.
Still, this is pretty excellent battery life compared to some other smartphones that require a recharge during the day under that kind of app load.
The biggest downsides of this phone were speed and the camera. The phone runs on a 1.2GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor — a chip that’s been around since 2010 and tends to show up in a lot of budget phones.
Although it is LTE capable — with Sprint now offering LTE in 67 markets around the U.S. — I pulled down 3G speeds in midtown Manhattan, with an average download speed of 1.93 megabits per second and an average upload speed of .88 megabits per second. In some previous LTE smartphone tests I’ve done, I pulled down an average download speed of 5.6mbps and 1.2mbps on T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network, and 9.6 and 2.4mbps on Verizon’s LTE network.
And the Torque’s five-megapixel, rear-facing camera was disappointing. It was slow to fire up. I took more than a dozen photos in various settings — natural light, indoor light, and darker scenes with and without flash — and all of the photos came out a little grainy. There’s also a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera on the phone.
The Kyocera Torque is tough enough to withstand some pretty brutal treatment, and will suit consumers who care more about durability and less about the fastest processor, the newest operating system and the best smartphone camera.
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