The Hydro Edge is a waterproof smartphone with good features -- including Kyocera's Smart Sonic Receiver -- with a low price.
Waterproof devices have a lot to offer, but they frequently come with a downside.
Specifically, they often are bulkier than their non-waterproof counterparts, and more expensive as well. This has meant that, for the most part, people only purchased hardened models if they really needed them. But before long, most people will run into a situation where a little ruggedness might have otherwise saved a doomed smartphone.
That's why we were glad to test the Kyocera Hydro Edge, which combines a low price, solid performance and good features with waterproof protection.
First off, the Hydro Edge looks just like any other Android smartphone. It has a roomy 4-inch IPS touchscreen made of impact-resistant Dragontail glass. It was extremely responsive to the touch, allowing for accurate Swype typing, even at high speeds. Some of the interactive wallpapers that come with the phone include images like the surface of a pond that ripples when touched. Even with tapping all over the simulated pond, each touch accurately sent water out in all directions without missing even glancing blows. With the native resolution of 800 by 480 (WVGA display), images look really good given the size of the screen.
The Hydro Edge runs the Android 4.1 Jelly Bean operating system with all the advantages, such as Google voice recognition, that entails. It's driven by a powerful dual-core Snapdragon MSM8627 RISC processor running at 1GHz. That is more than enough to drive every application that a user might run on the phone, and part of the reason, along with the accurate touchscreen, that we were unable to overload the Edge with multiple tapping inputs.
In terms of technical features, the most impressive thing about the Edge is its Smart Sonic Receiver, one of the first we have ever experienced. Apparently only Kyocera has it. In a Sonic Receiver setup, there is no sound hole for a speaker. Instead, the entire touch screen becomes a sweet spot for audio, transmitting all sounds as vibrations that are carried by body tissue directly to the eardrum and inner ear. Bottom line: it means you can hear audio even in very loud environments.
We tested this out by heading over to a sports bar, the loudest place we could find on short notice. Sure enough, there were several games on TV, as well as music blasting over speakers and the din of conversations. Just talking with a person sitting at the same table required a raised voice. However, talking on the Hydro Edge was effortless. Once the phone was raised into position next to the ear, it was like everything else faded away. The maximum decibel level when using this technology on the Edge is 100, which is the equivalent of hearing a jackhammer from about six feet away. This also works with music too, so users could listen to their own tunes, without headphones. And although not designed for it, the sound-transmitting technology seemed more secure than calls on normal smartphones. A person across the table couldn't eavesdrop on what was being said by the person on the phone, even though the intended listener had no trouble at all.
As a final test of this sound technology, we put on a pair of shooter's ear plugs, the type worn at firing ranges. But the Smart Sonic Receiver was able to transmit through that protection, almost as well as if we were not wearing anything. As such, this might be a great phone for those who wear ear protection, or a lot of cold weather gear over their heads, because they could operate the phone more or less normally without removing that protection, which makes for a pretty cool little feature.
Our test phone was operating on the Sprint network, and it had no trouble making calls or getting data from a variety of locations in urban, suburban and rural test sites. The Hydro Edge can also become a 3G mobile hotspot for connecting up to five devices when using the Sprint network. And of course, it could also connect to wireless networks and also receive Bluetooth signals.
The camera on the Hydro Edge is good too. It faces the back, and is a 5 megapixel auto-focus model that can be used as a camera or a camcorder with features like panorama mode and the ability to recognize faces. It also has the new High Dynamic Range mode for still photography, with which three images are taken for each push of the snap button, one at high contrast, one normal and one low. The images are then stitched together to create a photo with perfect resolution most of the time. There is also a powerful flash, making photos in dim or even fully dark environments possible.
Finally, with a name like the Hydro Edge, it has to be waterproof. Kyocera has been advertising this feature quite a lot, including in some hilarious online videos featuring rugged outdoorsman Bear Grylls. The Hydro Edge has an IP rating of 57, which means that the phone allows some dust to pass through, but nothing solid such as a screwdriver, finger or even a tiny single millimeter wire. The 7 means the device is waterproof enough to withstand being fully submerged in up to one meter of water (3.28 feet) for up to 30 minutes. So it certainly can survive in any type of surprise rain storm or an accidental drop into water.
Truthfully, we were a little worried about the submersion test, because every other waterproof device we've tested was actually IP 67, meaning it was dust proof and waterproof. We didn't really know how something that was not fully dust proof could keep out water. But we gave it a try. The Hydro Edge was powered up and turned on. Then it was dropped into the GCN Lab's fish-tank waterproof testbed.
The phone sank to the bottom, as expected, and remained there for 28 minutes. We had set the sleep timer to shutdown after 30 minutes, so we knew it could remain powered during the entire test.
When fully underwater, we didn't even see any bubbles rising from the phone. Even the ambient light sensor seemed to work fine, giving just the right amount of brightness to let us see the screen, or to help find a lost phone in dark water. Once removed from the tank, we dried the Hydro Edge off, and it worked perfectly fine, having passed one of the most devastating electronics tests with flying colors.
For a waterproof phone loaded with lots of technical features, including the unique Smart Sonic Receiver, we expected to see the Hydro Edge priced pretty high. But it's just $19.95 (with a special $50 mail-in rebate) if purchased through Sprint along with a two-year contract. Without any annual contract, it costs $149 when connected to the BoostMobile network, which doesn’t have the ability to set up 3G hotspots, which is a feature on the Sprint network.
Either option is a great value for a powerful, waterproof Android phone that can be used in almost any environment regardless of noise or even water levels. It can do things that $400 phones can't and survive where most others don't dare to tread. As such, we feel the Hydro Edge is not only ready for government service, but a much better deal than most other smartphones available at the moment.