Kyocera Brio (Sprint)

Not everyone wants an iPhone. Sprint may have finally landed Apple’s smartphone juggernaut, but that doesn’t eliminate the need for a simple cell phone that just makes calls and sends text messages, along with a few other features. Enter the Kyocera Brio (free with a two-year contract). It’s tiny, lightweight, has a comfortable QWERTY keyboard, and decent call quality—it sounds like a good deal. the only problem is, you can easily score a much better device on Sprint without having to spend an extra dime.

Design, Call Quality, and Apps the Kyocera Brio measures 4.5 by 2.4 by 0.6 inches (HWD) and weighs just 3.7 ounces. despite the light weight and entirely plastic build, it feels like a quality device. the back is matte grey while the front and sides are shiny. the 2.2-inch 240-by-320 pixel TFT LCD looks bright and sharp, though the design of the menus is dark and dreary.

A navigation pad sits directly beneath the phone’s display, along with Send and End keys, and four function buttons. Below those is a four-row, physical QWERTY keyboard. Though the keys are tiny, they are raised and angled for optimal separation. they are also super clicky, which makes typing a breeze. Users that do a lot of messaging will be happy with the Brio.

The Brio is a dual-band 1xRTT (800/1900 MHz) device. that means it is not a 3G phone, and there is no Wi-Fi, so you can expect painfully slow data rates if you plan to use the Web browser. Reception was average, and voice quality was fairly decent overall. Voices sound clear in the phone’s earpiece, though they are extremely thin. Calls made with the phone sound clear and natural, though noise cancellation is just average. the Brio paired easily with a Jawbone Era Bluetooth headset ($129, 4.5 stars) and calls sounded very good. Nuance-powered voice dialing worked well over Bluetooth without training. Battery life was average, at 5 hours and 20 minutes of talk time, but somewhat disappointing considering this phone isn’t even 3G.

Menu design is extremely minimal. the phone’s home screen has links to your messaging and contacts menus, but is otherwise empty. Pressing the center function key will bring up the rest of your options. a 12-icon grid is arranged with shortcuts to the Web browser, Photos, Settings, and Tools, among some other options you are less likely to use. App selection is minimal. the standards are there, such as an alarm clock, calculator, calendar, stopwatch, and world clock, but that’s it. You can download more from Sprint, but the selection isn’t compelling.

The Access NetFront 3.5.1 browser delivers decent WAP pages. unfortunately, slow data speeds mean those pages load at a positively glacial pace. I certainly don’t recommend this phone for users that want to surf the Web.

Thankfully, the Brio is a good phone for sending text messages and emails. as previously mentioned, the QWERTY keyboard is well-built and comfortable, making it easy to type long messages. the Brio’s free built-in email capabilities can link up with AIM, AOL, Comcast, Gmail, Windows Live, and Yahoo Mail, as well as POP/IMAP accounts, alerting you when you have new messages. Gaining access to my email was fast and easy; I was signed into my Gmail account within seconds. it was also able to gain access to my Google calendar, which showed me a list of upcoming events I had scheduled.

Multimedia and ConclusionsMultimedia options are poor. You get 10MB of free internal memory on the Brio, along with an empty microSD card slot underneath the battery cover. my 32GB SanDisk card worked fine. but the thing is, you won’t need to expand the memory on this phone—there’s nothing you can do with it. the Brio doesn’t support music or video playback of any kind. that means the nonstandard headphone jack isn’t too much of a big deal, since there’s nothing you can listen to.

There’s a 1.3-megapixel camera on the back of the Brio, but the quality is terrible. Photos taken with it have some decent color, but mostly look soft and blurry. You can transfer photos to your computer via Bluetooth, email, or microSD card, but chances are you won’t be saving them.

If you just want a phone to make calls and send messages, the Brio isn’t a bad option. but I suspect that users that want a full keyboard for texts and email will want some additional features as well. Your best bet is the LG Rumor Touch (Free, 4 stars), which features a well-designed touch-based user interface, five-row QWERTY keyboard, and a much better camera than the Brio. the Samsung Trender (Free, 3 stars) also features a slide-out QWERTY keyboard and a touch screen, along with much better media features.

Benchmarks Continuous talk time: 5 hours 20 minutes

More Cell Phone Reviews:•   HTC Radar 4G (T-Mobile)•   Motorola Electrify (U.S. Cellular)•   Motorola Atrix 2 (AT&T)•   Kyocera Brio (Sprint)•   LG Marquee (Sprint)•  more