Would you pay $30 for a waterproof Android smartphone?

By , Network World |  Mobile & Wireless, android phones, Kyocera

If you've ever dropped, broken or drowned your mobile phone, Kyocera Wireless has a deal for you: two new waterproofed Android phones, one of them ruggedized, aimed at first-time smartphone buyers looking for affordable handsets. The products were announced for the U.S market at this week's CTIA cellular industry conference in Las Vegas.

The new models are additions to Kyocera's Hydro line of water resistant phones. The rugged-designed Hyrdo XTRM is an LTE phone, for just $30; the Hydro Edge is for 3G networks. The specifications for both are those of a mid-range phone, for example with lower resolution, or a less sophisticated camera. And XTRM is initially available only on US Cellular, and Edge only on Sprint and its Boost Mobile subsidiary. But Kyocera is betting that waterproofing and durability will tip the scales on the buying decision for consumers who will see these qualities as added value.

[How do they design unbreakable mobiles? See our 2006 story "When devices just can't break-- Target practice with terminals; standing up to spilled lattes."]

Both phones also offer Kyocera's remarkable auditory technology, called Smart Sonic Receiver, which won three Best of Show awards when it was demonstrated at last year's CTIA show. Instead of using a conventional diaphragm-powered speaker, the phones use a small, embedded  ceramic transducer, creating vibrations that are transmitted directly to the eardrum when touched to the ear, face or even to ear protectors. The result is users can hear a call or soundtrack or recording with striking clarity even in very noisy surroundings. [Here's a 1.19 minute IDG News Service video from May 2012, when Kyocera demonstrated its first handset with Smart Sonic.]

At the high-end is the Hydro XTRM, 4.88 x 2.52 x 0.42 inches, weighing 4.9 ounces (the iPhone 5 by contrast: 4.87 x 2.31 x 0.30, and 3.95 ounces. It has a 4.0-inch diagonal screen, 800 x 480 pixels (vs 1136 x 640 for iPhone 5). It runs Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) on a 1.2 GHz two-core Qualcomm Snapdraon processor (MSM8960), with 4 Gbytes ROM, 1 Gbyte RAM, and microSD card support up to 32 Gbytes.

The 2000 mAh Lithium ion battery provides up to 12.4 hours of talk time, and up to 17 days of 3G standby and up to 12.5 days for LTE. It's equipped with 11n Wi-Fi in 2.4 GHz, Wi-Fi hotspot capability for up to eight devices, stereo Bluetooth (4.0 + LE/EDR).

It has 5.0 MP camera (iPhone 5 has 8 MP) with flash and video camcorder and a 1.3 MP front-facing camera. The phone supports Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync for corporate email access and POP3 & IMAP for personal use.

Where Hydro XTRM is really different is in its rugged design, offered at an affordable price. In the past, rugged design has been focused on specialized industrial and commercial devices and carried a steep premium. XTRM is certified dust proof and waterproof for IP57 protecting against dust and water immersion for up to 30 minutes in up to 3.28 feet (1 meter) of water. Kyocera notes that "phone will not operate under water and should be dried as quickly as possible when wet. To ensure that your phone maintains water resistance, make sure the connector covers and battery door are the properly sealed."

XTRM also is designed to Military Standard 810G for shock -- being dropped 26 times from 4 feet. 810G is actually a "test method standard." As the official document states: "This standard contains materiel acquisition program planning and engineering direction for considering the influences that environmental stresses have on materiel throughout all phases of its service life. It is important to note that this document does not impose design or test specifications. Rather, it describes the environmental tailoring process that results in realistic materiel designs and test methods based on materiel system performance requirements."

The test methods cover different conditions, among them low pressure for altitude testing, exposure to high and low temperatures, rain, humidity, sand and dust exposure and since it's after all a military standard, gunfire vibrations. Manufacturers can pick and choose among them for a given product and there is no requirement for the vendor to test the products and no independent certification.

XTRM will be available on US Cellular, for $30, with a two year contract.

Hydro Edge is the follow-on to the original Hydro introduced in 2012. Intended as a basic 3G smartphone, the Edge is 4.9 x 2.5 x 0.39 inches, weighing 4.5 ounces; a 4.0-inch diagonal IPS screen, with 800 x 480 pixel resolution. It offers improved performance over the previous model, with a 1 GHz processor, 1 Gbyte RAM, 4 Gbytes ROM, SD card slot (for up to 32 Gbytes), and Android 4.1.

It also has a 5.0 Megapixel camera with flash and video camcorder, and an array of enhanced features such as panorama, High Dynamic Range, facial recognition, smile/blink detection and burst mode settings. The phone is powered by a 1,600 mAh Lithium-ion battery.

Like the XTRM, the Edge is certified to the IP57 standards for dustproofing and waterproofing. But it lacks the ruggedized exterior and interior design of the XTRM.

Hydro Edge will be available under contract on Sprint, and off-contract on Sprint's pre-paid Boost Mobile subsidiary, in summer of 2013. Pricing has not yet been announced. The original Hydro launched on Sprint's Boost Mobile as a pre-paid phone, for under $100 without a contract.

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnwcoxnwwEmail: john_cox@nww.com

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