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Kyocera DuraForce Ultra 5G UW review: Verizon rugged smartphone built to get work done everywhere Review

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For the past month I have been in the woods of Washington State, on the beaches of Florida, and in the streets of New Orleans with a Verizon 5G UW (ultra-wideband) device in the form of the Kyocera DuraForce Ultra 5G UW. It’s the longest I’ve spent with Verizon’s 5G and my expectations have been exceeded.

My engineering job, fly fishing adventures, biking, and hiking take me into the elements and it’s nice to have a device that can handle the elements. The new Kyocera DuraForce Ultra 5G is designed for the harshest environments with a durable, rugged design, capable rear cameras, and an powerful mobile network to keep you in touch when you are out and about.

Also: Best rugged phone in 2021

The Kyocera DuraForce Ultra 5G is the first rugged device supporting Verizon’s high-speed 5G network and for those who need a dependable device in the field, the warehouse, or other location then this is a solid device to consider. Kyocera is known for making rugged devices and this one performed very well.

Kyocera DuraForce Ultra 5G UW specifications

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G
  • Display: 5.45 inches, 2160 x 1080 pixels resolution IPS LCD with Sapphire Shield
  • Operating system: Android 10
  • RAM: 6GB LPDDR4
  • Storage: 128GB with microSD expansion card
  • Cameras: 24MP rear f/1.8 main camera, 16MP f/2.2 ultra-wide camera (117 degrees field-of-view), and a ToF sensor. 8MP f/2.0 front-facing camera.
  • Connectivity: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS/Galileo/GLONASS, NFC
  • Durability: IP68 dust/water resistant rating, MIL-STD 810H
  • Battery: 4500 mAh non-removable with wireless charging support
  • Dimensions: 165 x 75 x 16mm and 278 grams

Hardware

The Kyocera DuraForce Ultra 5G UW is clearly designed to survive rough handling and is not designed to win any beauty contests with a thickness double that of most other modern smartphones and wide bezels designed to protect the display and support use with gloved hands. The following are the key environmental characteristics of this rugged smartphones:

  • Military Standard 810H: Blowing dust and sand, vibration, transit drop from 5 feet (1.5 meters onto concrete), functional shock, salt fog, solar radiation humidity, temperature extremes, thermal shock, high altitude, icing and freezing rain, blowing rain
  • IP6X Dustproof
  • IPX5/IPX8 Waterproof: Water immersion up to 6.5 feet (2 meters) for up to 30 minutes
  • Haz-Loc: Non-Incendive,Class I Div 2,Group A, B, C,D; T4
  • Ambient Temperature: -4° F to 140° F (-20° C to 60° C)
  • Charging Temperature: 32° F to 113° F (0° C to 45° C)
  • Storage Temperature: Less than one month: -4° F to 140° F (-20° C to 60° C) More than one month: -4° F to 113° F (-20° C to 45° C)
  • Hearing Aid Compatibility (HAC) Rating: – M4/T3 and RTT capable

I didn’t test the phone out in all of these locations, but I did drop it in the sand and expose it to salt fog, use it in the water, make calls in the pouring rain, and used it without considering the environment I was in. It has held up perfectly and continues to perform flawlessly.

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The screen is advertised as a Sapphire Shield display that is wet and glove touch capable while being resistant to scratches. I would have to use the device over a long period of time to test the scratch resistance, but even after exposing it to fine sand and dust particles, I have yet to see any scratches on the display. The display is well-lit, even in direct Florida sunshine, and fonts are crisp and clear.

There are dual front speakers, but they are positioned next to each other below the display where you see a plastic grill. The speakers are very loud, up to 106dB, so you can hear calls and other audio playing out of the speakers in various working conditions in the field. I was impressed by the volume of the audio for calls in the shipyard. A headset speaker is found above the display with the front-facing camera to the right of the speaker.

Along the upper right side we find the power key that also serves as the fingerprint sensor. I’m a fan of this design where your thumb easily rests as you pick up the phone. Further down the right side is the SIM/microSD card tray and below that is a programmable camera key. There are also two openings on this side, labeled tool anchors, for third-party accessories.

Another programmable button, colored orange and labeled a SOS button, is found on the top with a 3.5mm audio port and cover on the left side of the top. The USB-C port and cover are found on the center of the bottom.

The left side houses tactile volume keys and the third programmable button. This button is set as the Push to Talk key, by default.

Flipping the phone over reveals the Time of Flight sensor and main camera near the top with the ultra wide-angle camera centered below these two sensors. A dual LED flash is over to the left of the cameras. There are two charging contacts further down the back in case you have a charging bay or car kit that supports this form of charging. The phone also supports standard Qi wireless charging and that has worked very well as my primary means to charge up the phone.

Output from these cameras isn’t going to challenge the quality of photos and videos from flagship phones, but they did perform well and are likely to meet the needs of most people. The cameras also support AR, which may be important for field use now and in the future.

Four microphones are also positioned on the phone to support noise cancellation and quality phone calls. My test calls sounded great, especially when placed on speaker mode with those loud dual front speakers.

Also: Best 5G phone in 2021

Software

The Kyocera DuraForce Ultra 5G UW runs Android 10. While Android 10 is perfectly capable, Android 11 has been out for many months, and for about $900 I expect a phone to have a more current version of the mobile operating system.

There is no UI overlay present so it is a very stock version of Android with a few Kyocera hardware settings, such as options for the three programmable keys, and a few Verizon account utilities. It is nice to see a carrier-branded phone without a host of games and other unnecessary bloatware. This phone is clearly designed to help business users get work done.

By default, the traditional three-button navigation option is enabled, but I quickly switched to gesture navigation as I find that more user-friendly after I have spent months adapting to this form of user interaction.

Kyocera also offers an underwater mode that supports taking pictures and video in fresh water (avoid salt water). The phone has been tested, and is rated, to be immersible in water for up to 30 minutes at a depth not exceeding two meters. With underwater mode enabled, the touchscreen is disabled so you use the physical buttons to control the camera. This include switching between still photos and video and zooming in or out while using the camera.

Another interesting camera option is called Action Overlay mode. With this mode enabled in the camera you can take a photo or record a video with elapsed time, travel distance, speed, G-force, altitude, map, or weather showing on the image or video. This could be useful while mountain biking, hiking, or during another outdoor activity when you want to share some key stats.

Daily usage experiences

In the reviewer’s guide provided by Kyocera it states that we can take a knife to the display and try to scratch it since it has a scratchproof Sapphire Shield display and should not scratch. I tried it with keys, coins, and sand without a scratch on the display. It has also survived several drops onto concrete and immersion in water. I have to say it is a relief to use a phone that doesn’t break with every drop.

Since T-Mobile is my primary carrier, I’ve been using 5G with T-Mobile since 2019 and have been fairly happy with the experience. I took my T-Mobile phones and ran speed tests next to the Kyocera DuraForce Ultra 5G to see if there was much of a difference. I repeatedly saw double or triple the speeds with Verizon and I wasn’t even in a heavily populated area. I’ve read that Verizon’s UWB network was primarily focused in cities and I understand that the ultimate speeds will be in those areas, but I’ve been quite impressed with Verizon’s network performance in the suburbs and out in the field in Florida, Louisiana, and Alabama.

The Kyocera DuraForce Ultra 5G UW is available now from Verizon for $899.99 or $37.49/month for 24 months. If you need a phone that can handle the elements and rough handling in the field, while also providing fast 5G access then you should consider this latest model from Kyocera.

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