Kyocera isn’t making headlines for their high-end Android smartphones, but they have quietly carved out a niche for themselves with their rugged phones. The Kyocera DuraForce on AT&T is basically the same phone as Verizon’s Brigadier, minus the sapphire crystal display. That doesn’t mean that the DuraForce isn’t a tough phone. It certainly is. It also offers decent performance and a price that is pretty attractive. The DuraForce is a mid-range phone that will take a beating. Let’s take a closer look and see what this phone has to offer.
The DuraForce is large, chunky, and covered in rubber. It’s IP68 and MIL-STD810G certified, and it shows. The certified ratings mean that the phone can withstand being in six feet of water for up to 30 minutes, and handle a fall of up to four feet without an issue. The top of the phone has a Power button and a Speakerphone button, as well as the headset jack hidden under a flap with a gasket. All of the ports and buttons have gaskets and rubber to keep the phone waterproof. The right side is smooth, but has a door that pops open to reveal the nano SIM card slot and microSD card slot. The left side has the volume rocker and a push-to-talk button that can be programmed to whatever you want, if you don’t want to use AT&T’s PTT. I’m glad that Kyocera and AT&T give you that option, in case you don’t have a need for PTT. The bottom of the phone has charging port, again with a flap over it. The back of the phone just has the camera and flash, with the phone’s speaker positioned on the front just below the hardware navigation buttons.
The 720p display is 4.5-inches and has pretty good viewing angles. At 4.5-inches, a 720p resolution looks just fine. Your eyes probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a 720p and a 1080p display at this size. The screen is not made of sapphire crystal like the Brigadier on Verizon, but it’s tough enough. Underneath the display is a row of physical buttons to navigate through the Android OS, and two front-facing speakers are positioned under the navigation buttons. Front-facing speakers provide a much better experience than speakers on the bottom or back of a phone. I’m happy with the speaker configuration on the DuraForce and the speakers are plenty loud.
The DuraForce runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 chipset that is clocked at 1.4GHz with 2GB of RAM. Performance is surprisingly good for a mid-range device. I should stop being surprised by these mid-range phones that perform well with the Snapdragon 400 inside. This is the norm now; it’s no longer surprising. The only time I’ve run into issues with the Snapdragon 400 is when it’s trying to push pixels to a 1080p or higher display. With the 720p screen on the DuraForce, most day-to-day functions are smooth and snappy. Some graphics-heavy games can get a little slow and stuttery, but that doesn’t happen much. Overall I was satisfied with the speed and smoothness of the DuraForce.
Call quality was fine. The DuraForce has Sonic Receiver technology that passes sound through the display glass using tissue conduction. This can sometimes lead to hollow or tinny sounding conversations, but overall calls were fine. The speakerphone is a monster. You can boost the volume and really have a loud conversation, which is perfect for people who need a rugged phone because they are outside in noisy, tough environments. Sound through the glass was plenty loud as well. For data, the DuraForce supports all of AT&T’s 3G and 4G LTE bands. You shouldn’t have any issues with high speed data on AT&T’s network. The phone also supports 802.11b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, and NFC.
The phone has 16GB of internal storage and there’s a microSD card slot to expand that storage. You’ll want to pop a memory card in the phone, for pictures and such, because the user-available storage is just over 11GB. Battery life was good, with the phone easily getting me through a full day’s use. The 3100 mAh battery is massive for a smallish screen device like this. The battery is great. Kyocera’s Android makes 4.4 KitKat look very different from stock Android, but underneath the visual tweaks it’s not much different. There are not a ton of extra features built in. It just looks different. I wasn’t a big fan of what Kyocera did with their overlay, but I’m somewhat of an Android purist. There are several widgets that you can add to the homescreen and a couple of power saving options in the Settings that might come in handy. You’ll also find all of AT&T’s bloatware pre-loaded on the phone.
The Kyocera DuraForce’s strong suit is not its camera. The camera has to be there because we’ve come to expect our phones to take pictures, but the 8-megapixel rear shooter on the phone isn’t all that great. If you’re outside and have good light, photos will be adequate. Inside or in low light, the story changes. That said, you’re not buying this phone because it takes great photos. Here are a couple of test shots for you to check out.
This is one of the toughest phones available today. The rubberized shell and waterproof certifications make it perfect for outdoor situations. The battery life is great and will keep you going all day. It’s priced right, too, coming in at $49.99 on-contract and $389.99 off- contract. Other rugged phones like the Galaxy S5 Active will cost you more, and some others that are waterproof like the Xperia Z3 aren’t ruggedized. The camera on the DuraForce isn’t great and I wasn’t thrilled with the skin that Kyocera slapped on top of Android. I also wish that this phone had the upgraded sapphire display that is on the Verizon Kyocera Brigadier. At the end of the day, though, this a solid option if you need a phone that will take a beating.