If you've ever used an Otterbox Defender case, you'll feel at home with the Torque.
If you've ever used an Otterbox Defender case, you'll feel eerily at home with the Torque. It's encased in a rubberized shell, and comes in at just a hair slimmer than an iPhone 4 wrapped in an Otterbox case, measuring in at 5.06 x 2.69 x 0.5 inches. While it's built to take a licking, the hardware isn't heavy -- in fact, it feels a tad light at 5.94 ounces (168.5g), considering the sort of beating it's designed to take. With IP67 and MIL-STD-810G ratings, the Torque can stand up to blowing rain, dust, humidity, shock, low pressure, salt fog, solar radiation, temperature extremes, vibration and being immersed for as long as 30 minutes in up to one meter of water.
When it comes to ruggedized smartphones, there's not much that can be said for style, but the Torque manages to keep a respectable profile despite the additional padding. Folks will know you mean business, but they won't wonder why you've stumbled out of a construction zone with an industrial walkie-talkie. However, when you want to keep it out of sight you'll find it slips comfortably in and out of jean pockets. In general, extracting a portly smartphone from your pocket can be a challenge, especially if it has a rubberized shell, but the Torque's plastic exterior is minimally gummy, which makes the whole affair an easy process.
Rather than relying on a specialized coating to make the device withstand the elements (see: the Xperia Z or Liquipel), the Torque uses seals and flaps to keep out dust and water. For example, the battery cover packs a rubber lining that locks up vital components and keeps the handset from being breached. The backside also sports a metal lock mechanism to keep the entire cover in place. Fortunately, it's easy enough to turn with your nail or the tip of a finger, but it's not so loose that it's likely to open accidentally. A 3.5mm headphone jack sits atop the headset, also hidden beneath a flap, and it's flanked by a pair of buttons: one for switching power on and off, and another to toggle speaker mode for Sprint's Direct Connect feature. The speaker mode button on one of our test units appeared to be somewhat stuck and didn't depress as it should have, but on another, it felt considerably more tactile. We suspect the damage might have been sustained during one of our drop tests.
Only a handy dedicated camera button occupies the right side of the Torque, but the left edge sports a volume rocker and a dedicated push-to-talk key. Pressing the direct connect button with the home screen up launches the Direct Connect menu. Another press initializes a session with the last phone contacted via push-to-talk. Of course, holding the button allows users to yammer away as if they were using an old-fashioned two-way radio. The addition is certainly helpful, but gripping the handset firmly means that you'll often push the button down without intending to go into DC mode. Luckily, push-to-talk will only be activated when the phone is on the home screen, so jamming the trigger when you're using other apps won't foul anything up. However, being able to hit the button without anything happening might feel a tad unnatural -- though we'll take that over being kicked unceremoniously out of an app. If you don't have DC flipped on, you can map the button to another function.
Underneath the screen, you'll notice the standard back, home and menu keys, along with a pair of chrome speaker grilles. Not only is this phone built to take a beating, but it also pushes out surprisingly robust sound. Everything from ringtones to speakerphone audio is fantastically loud, so it's easy to picture it excelling in a noisy construction zone, or making itself heard from the bottom of a hiking backpack. Even turn-by-turn directions were easy to hear over music we had playing on a car stereo. Unfortunately, that means your "I didn't hear the phone ring" excuse will be null and void once friends and family get an earful of its auditory force.
Something you may not notice at first glance is that the phone lacks a speaker slot where users listen to calls. Instead, Kyocera has baked in its Smart Sonic Receiver tissue-conduction technology under the hood, and the Torque is the first phone with this technology released in the US. Using a piezoelectric transducer, the system transmits sound through vibrations that can even find their way through on-ear headphones. Just touch the phone's earpiece area to the headset (or your ear, of course), and the sound will come through. We're not convinced this will have many practical applications, but we imagine it could be handy if some of your other headgear is getting in the way.
Like traditional speakers, however, your ear doesn't need to be pressed right up against the smartphone's body to hear what's being said. The quality and loudness of call audio is on par with other handsets -- in fact, it's difficult to tell the difference between Kyocera's newfangled setup and old-format speakers. Presumably, leaving out the speaker slot makes it so that there's one less breach point for the likes of water and dust.
Inside, the Sprint LTE-capable handset totes a dual-core 1.2GHz MSM8960 Snapdragon S4 Plus processor flanked by 1GB of RAM and 4GB of built-in storage. On the battery front, it comes loaded with a 2,500mAh pack that's rated for 18.9 hours of talk time. Visuals on the devices are served up by a 4-inch, impact-resistant IPS touch display with a WVGA (800 x 480) resolution. It's not a standout screen by any means, but it gets the job done. The hardware's auto-brightness feature fails to keep the display visible when in direct sunlight, but manually kicking up its brightness fixes the issue.
As for connectivity, the durable device boasts LTE over Band 25, a CDMA 800 / 1900 radio with support for HD voice, 802.11b/g/n and 4.0 + LE / EDR. The Torque also features NFC support that plays nice with Google Wallet, an accelerometer, proximity sensor, ambient light sensor, compass and barometer. When it comes to imaging, the smartphone sports a 5-megapixel, rear-facing autofocus camera accompanied by an LED flash and a 1.3-megapixel shooter in front.
Now, for the main attraction. Just how much of a beating can the Torque take? Quite a lot, it turns out. To put the phone through the ringer, we conducted our drop tests outside on a concrete floor next to a pool. To simulate a fall, we held the handset in mainly two positions: as if taking a picture or video, and making a call. For this editor, that translates into a range of roughly 5- to 6-foot drops. Drop after drop, Kyocera's mobile fortress clung to life. On some occasions, the battery cover lifted along the edges. If the battery unseated itself just enough, the phone would shut down, but fitting the cover back on revealed that the Torque was fully functional. This could be a serious problem if the handset lands in water, but it shouldn't spell doom for the smartphone otherwise.