Kyocera Hydro XTRM (U.S. Cellular) review:

Despite waterproof capabilities, call quality sinks 

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The good: The Kyocera Hydro XTRM is competitively priced, waterproof, and has 4G LTE capabilities.
The bad: The Hydro XTRM has poor call quality, takes mediocre pictures, and its internal speeds can be slow at times.
The bottom line: If waterproof capabilities are an absolute must, consider the Kyocera Hydro XTRM. If not, skip this for some of the carrier's better alternatives.


Summer is the perfect fun season for barbecuing, tanning, and swimming in the pool. But if your friends are anything like mine, you may find yourself unceremoniously thrown into the bottom of said pool with your smartphone in your pocket. And that, rest assured, is no fun.
Fortunately, the Kyocera Hydro XTRM (pronounced "extreme") from U.S. Cellular isn't only dustproof and shock-resistant, it's waterproof as well -- meaning it doesn't have to spend a night in a bowl full of uncooked rice in case it accidentally takes a dive in the ocean.
But even with its splashproof features and low $29.99 contract price, the Hydro XTRM isn't exactly the Michael Phelps of phones. Given its less-than-desirable call quality and mediocre camera, you should keep your options open for other handsets if waterproof capabilities aren't a necessity.
Design
Because the Kyocera Hydro XTRM fulfills certain military spec standards for shockproof capabilities, it has a bulkier build than that of most smartphones. I like its dark, faux-metallic edging that encircles the body, and while the rear's dimpled battery door isn't too attractive, the rubber exterior provides more friction and helps with grip.
The handset measures 4.88 inches tall, 2.52 inches wide, 0.42 inch thick, and it weighs 4.9 ounces. Within a few moments of holding the device in my hand, its heftiness was apparent, but after a short while, I stopped noticing its weight and it wasn't distracting at all.
Kyocera Hydro XTRM (waterproof)
The Hydro XTRM's waterproof capabilities mean you don't have to worry about it around the kitchen sink.
(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)
Located on the left edge is a volume rocker. The top edge features a sleep/power button and a 3.5mm headphone jack, and the bottom edge houses a Micro-USB port for charging. Neither port is covered by any plug or small door.
It sports a 4-inch IPS WVGA display with a 800x480-pixel resolution. Obviously, this isn't the touch screen of a top-tier smartphone (for example, you'll see a noticeable amount of "speckling" when viewing a blank white field). However, I had no problem viewing images or text, the display was aptly bright, and the screen was sensitive and responsive to the touch.
Above the display is a 1.3-megapixel camera. You'll notice that there is no in-ear speaker next to it. That's because the XTRM features Smart Sonic Receiver technology. This means that it uses a ceramic transducer inside to transmit audio via the hard tissue inside your ear.
On the back you'll find the camera and accompanying LED flash below it. Two small slits for the speaker sit to the left of the lens. Using a small indentation, you can pry off the battery door to access the microSD card slot, which accepts cards with capacities of up to 32GB, and the 2,000mAh battery. Considering the back plate needs to be sealed tight to keep out water, removing and reapplying it does require a bit of muscle.

Software features
The phone runs on Android 4.1.2 and comes with such Google mainstays as Chrome, Gmail, Plus, Maps with Navigation, Messenger, several Google Play apps, Search, Talk, and YouTube.
Basic task management apps include a native browser and e-mail client, a calculator, a calendar, a clock with alarm functions, a music player, a news-and-weather app, a sound recorder, and a voice dialer.
Under the Settings menu, there's also a software feature called MaxiMZR. This lets you limit the data connection of apps running in the background to conserve battery life. There is also a MagniFont Mode option for those who want to improve text readability by increasing the font size one level larger than the "Extra Large" or "Huge" setting that is common on Android handsets.
Kyocera Hydro XTRM (transducer)
Instead of having an in-ear speaker above the display, the XTRM uses a ceramic transducer inside to transmit sound waves.
(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)
Other apps include several from Amazon (for its retail site, Appstore, Amazon MP3, Kindle, Audible, and Zappos), the game Oregon Trail American (which is disappointingly nothing like the original), Slacker Radio, Twitter, ICE (which stores emergency contact info), and Eco Mode, a battery- and energy-conserving app.
There are also several apps specifically from U.S. Cellular, like City ID, Daily Perks (which notifies you of deals from the carrier), Wi-Fi Now, apps for getting ringtones and games, and a navigator app.
Additional features include Bluetooth 4.0 and 4GB of onboard storage.
Camera and video
The 5-megapixel camera has six photo sizes (ranging from 640x480 to 2,592x1,944 pixels), digital zoom, a flash, three focuses, six scene modes, geotagging, three image qualities, three auto exposures, five ISO levels, five white balances, and four color effects.
The front-facing camera has all the same features except it only has four photo sizes (ranging from 640x480 to 1,280x960 pixels) and four ISO levels, and it doesn't have a flash or any scene modes.

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