Kyocera DuraForce Ultra 5G Review: A Good Phone Housed in a Nearly Indestructible Package
Kyocera DuraForce Ultra 5G
At $899.99 the Kyocera DuraForce Ultra 5G delivers good basic phone features in a very well-engineered exterior. Better focus on business apps would help the phone focus on its core audience and avoid confusion about just who is the intended audience (hint: it is people who work outdoors and play hard outdoors).
Most people buy a case after acquiring a new phone. Those who buy a Kyocera DuraForce Ultra 5G need not make that stop. The DuraForce’s out-of-the-box experience includes not just survival underwater but enhanced functionality. Drop DuraForce 5 feet onto concrete and just pick it up and keep going. The Kyocera DuraForce was designed for the real world. It doesn’t need coddling, but a few basic fixes to its core software would make it an even more impressive work companion.
KYOCERA DURAFORCE ULTRA 5G AT A Glance
Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G
5.45-inch display, 2160 x 1080 pixels resolution IPS LCD with Sapphire Shield
Android 10 OS
6GB LPDDR4 RAM
128GB storage with microSD expansion card
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.
Facial and finger print biometrics.
802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS/Galileo/GLONASS, NFC
IP68 dust/water resistant rating, MIL-STD 810H
4500 mAh non-removable battery with wireless charging support
Dimensions: 6.5 by 2.95 by 0.63 inches (HWD) and 278 grams (9.81 ounces)
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.
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
What we like
If rugged leads the requirements list, look no further than the Kyocera DuraForce. This 6.5 by 2.95 by 0.63 inches (HWD) 9.81 ounce phone will take a beating. Much of its weight and size come from the bumpers and reinforcement that will keep it working in most harsh conditions.
In the case of the Kyocera DuraForce, the $899.99 premium price tag doesn’t derive from high-end cameras (though it does include a pretty good camera) or from using diminutive parts to fit inside a thinner profile. This phone states its price in dust and waterproofing. As noted above, it isn’t just made to survive water or dust; it is made to perform in harsh environments.
The DuraForce ships military standard 810H (MIL-STD-810H) certified to withstand drops of up to 5 feet directly onto concrete, water immersion (IPX5/IPX8*), dust (IP6X*), extreme temperatures, salt, fog, solar, shock, hazardous work environments and more. HazLoc certified, the device is protected Non-incendive Class I, Division 2 classified hazardous locations. That’s a good strong list, but it’s not all.
Unlike any other phone I have seen, the DuraForce includes wet finger and glove features the keep it providing value on hosed down job sites, on rainy days when the roof doesn’t protect yet because it hasn’t been installed, or when dust isn’t just a by-product of canned air, but the debris coughed up by a bulldozer plowing over desert pack rumbling to an abrupt stop inches from your face. That is the world this phone was designed to fit into.
For most reviewers, the DuraForce seems an anathema among the pristine, polished edges that fit the contemporary office, work-from-home, or rented workspace. And it is. It will take a 5G call in those environments, but it will feel lost. This is a phone that lives for the outside, for a world bent on building interiors without ever occupying them.
And that design ethic fills the roster of features, from a loud speakerphone aimed to penetrate the honks and horns, wind and thunder of a work site to working in extreme cold.
The camera is perfectly adequate. If you buy this phone for photography, you bought the wrong phone. If you bought this phone for photo support and occasional casual shooting, then it will work out just fine. The phone apps is a bit quirky, and it hesitates between mode changes, but the images and videos look good across its various modes, including a dedicated night mode.
Action overlay on images and videos that show elapsed times, speed, distance, altitude, G-force, and other information constitutes the most unique software feature on the DuraForce. Photos and videos received custom overlays at the time of shooting. Owners select measurements and units used for measurement at shoot time. As would be expected, location services play a key role in supplying information to the overlay software.
5G works well when in a 5G area. I didn’t experience any issues switching between Wi-Fi and cellular.
In another nod to business use, the phone includes contacts on the back for multi-phone charging banks on job sites.
Overall, the Kyocera builds a competent phone into a not so over confident package.
What could be improved
A phone built within its own design universe makes it difficult to suggest improvements. It isn’t like Kyocera copied the iPhone and did a few things less well than Apple as do so many others. Kyocera designed this phone for rugged use cases. So outside of the typical Android versus iOS debate, there is no Apple iPhone or Samsung Galaxy that lives through the kind of punishment the Kyocera can take without significant outside help.
That the camera, the CPU, and the hotspot don’t meet expectations compared to Apple or Samsung flagships should not be an issue for those buying this phone. While it would be great to have a latest generation phone that is thin and light, technology forward, and extremely rugged, the latter will override the earlier. Not only should a rugged phone meet durability expectations, but it should exceed reliability expectations as well. The latest tech always comes with risk for reliability and supply chain. That’s why ruggedized vehicles or appliances often skew more mechanical than electronic. The Kyocera DuraForce Ultra 5G isn’t a mechanical phone, but it does lean toward proven technologies.
That observation about design intent leaves a handful of suggestions. Many reviews suggest or demand that the DuraForce should be running Android 11. Perhaps. As noted above, a rugged phone may not be first-in on a new OS. Some reviewers complain about the vanilla Android UI. Some also complain about Samsung’s exuberant remaking of the user experience. I prefer a straight implementation that I have control over. Security patch updates to Android 10 should be a concern, however, and it appears from my phone’s lack of updates that it is likely behind the curve.
Choosing vanilla Android also comes with Kyocera’s choice to go light on bloatware, save a couple of apps from Kyocera and Verizon. For some reason, likely a monetary one, the phone does arrive with games, which moves it away from the business use argument. Sure, Kyocera would love this phone to be a runway consumer best seller. It will not be. They should remove Candy Crush, Farm Heroes, other games, and OfficeSuite, and load the phone with business AR apps and actual Microsoft Office.
For the hardware, the one annoyance I find in everyday use comes from the Push-to-Talk button which seems to get pushed even when I don’t want to talk. Since I just have the one review phone, I don’t have anyone to talk to anyway.
And some might complain about the weight, but this is a phone intended to be carried by people lugging backpacks, wielding sledgehammers, and riding steel beams. A heavier phone might not get noticed—it might even prove a comfort, knowing that leadership invested in reliable communications as much as they did other safety precautions. And that it won’t appear crush and inoperable if it drops to the ground, also offer solace.
Compared to my iPhone 12, I did find the adaptive display useless, and the altimeter completely inaccurate. I know the general elevation of my street. The DuraForce was off by 300 feet plus. I had to manually enter an adjustment as it read 147ft and the iPhone reported 466ft. That is inexcusable with access to GPS. As for adaptive brightness, I had to duck into the shade to turn off the feature so I could see the screen in full sun, which worked very well. Too bad the phone didn’t just turn up the brightness to compensate on its own.
The other downside of the Kyocera DuraForce Ultra 5G comes from the tight relationship with Version. I know there are all kinds of business reasons for Android phone makers to support single carrier models, but it forces business users to make suboptimal choices that don’t always hinge on business value.
The DuraForce doesn’t necessarily require improvements to its basic functions, but all of what the design includes should work. For a rugged phone aimed clearly at the outdoor market, its screen should not become unreadable in strong sunlight when adaptive lighting is on, and its GPS should be very accurate.
Kyocera DuraForce Ultra 5G: The Bottom Line
I have held a lot of devices over the last 30-years. Some more rugged than others. Kyocera DuraForce Ultra 5G incorporates lessons from across the spectrum and puts them into play, not with grace or elegance, but with a clear appreciation for the target audience through the entire experience. Kill the games though, and double down on working outdoors with software that benefits mobile workers. With a few updates, this could be the go-to phone for mills workers, farmers, construction teams, first responders, and delivery staff.
Kyocera provided the Kyocera DuraForce Ultra 5G for review. Where not otherwise stated, images courtesy of Kyocera.
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Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.