$100 with two-year contract on Sprint
In smartphone vernacular, rugged is another word for ugly. Let’s not even get started on what ultra-rugged means. The new LTE Kyocera Torque certainly is built tough but it would be cruel to call it ugly. True it’s easily mistaken for a stud finder but it has a Dewalt-esque useful look to it that makes it endearing. Utilitarian is a better word for it.
Endorsed by friendly outdoorsman Bear Grylls, the Torque looks every bit the part of a phone that could survive in the wild on nothing but sticks and rain water. At first glance, the shiny, silver speaker at the bottom stands out the most and then draws your eyes to the physical keys below the display. Each one (back, home and menu) has a textured rubberized feel, but it seems odd that a rugged phone would even bother with physical keys when it would be simpler to weather-proof on-screen buttons.
The rigid outer shell is dotted with a camera button, microphones on the top and bottom, a top-right mounted power button, a volume rocker, a big yellow button for use with the phone’s push-to-talk capability and a speaker-phone button. True to its weather-proof standard, the headphone jack on top and USB port on bottom are both covered with big, plastic doors. The back of the phone is nicely minimalist, with just a small flash next to the camera lens and a big silver screw near the bottom holding in place the back panel, which is softer and easier to grip than the rest of the phone.
It’s clunky, weighty (5.54 ounces) and oddly shaped but darned if its toughness doesn’t overcome all its aesthetic shortcomings. To test out the water-proof claim, I filled the sink with water, started the video camera and stuck the phone under water. It kept filming the whole time—even though the microphone didn’t excel while being submerged—and came away soaked but unscathed. But my plans to play Fruit Ninja underwater were not to be as the capacitive touch doesn’t respond when the phone is in the drink. The possibilities seem endless but the novelty will wear off and when it does, will the Torque’s very mid-range specs be enough to make it an everyday phone?
Running on Android 4.0 is almost enough for instant rejection nowadays. But the mostly stock OS on the Torque put together with its 1GB of RAM and its 1.2 GHz dual-core processor makes for a smooth and friendly user experience. The 4GB of storage translates to about 1GB available, which is dreadful, but thankfully expandable via MicroSD under the battery. The 2,500 mAh battery performs great, lasting through the day and night with moderate to heavy use.
The 4-inch LCD screen only boasts an 800 x 480 resolution (233 ppi) and won’t blow anyone away but the viewing angle is much better than expected, staying fairly crisp at up to 50 degrees. Plus, the lower resolution contributes to longer battery life.
The 5MB camera performs fairly well in both low-light and brighter circumstances, as well as possessing the fun feature of being able to shoot underwater—the touchscreen controls won’t work when submerged but the camera button does just fine. The camera is a bit slow to capture but the interface is easy to use and includes some neat features like an image size adjuster, which helps in not bogging down your one precious gigabyte of storage, and some genuinely cool filters.
Call quality ranges from good to very good, which presents something of a mystery since the phone doesn’t have a traditional receiver; it has a Smart Sonic Receiver. Basically, a ceramic speaker vibrates inside the phone and transmits the sound to the user via tissue conduction. It sounds creepy to have your phone essentially leverage your skull as a speaker, but it works well especially in noisy environments.
End-users trying to stay on top of the spec war won’t see much value in the Torque and the kind of nature warrior that Sprint seems to be marketing the phone toward are probably more in the market for a direct satellite uplink. Besides, it could be a while before LTE makes it to the Amazon or the South Pole. But for anyone with kids, the Torque could be a nice alternative to a top-tier smartphone; one that can pull off most of the functions of those phones while also standing up to the spills, slams and general mayhem children tend to unleash.
It’s not pretty but it gets the job done and it does so in a lot of places that few other smartphones would dare to go.