Kyocera DuraForce XD mini review: A rugged phone that doesn't break the bank

Rugged smartphones are often times in a league of their own, and odds are unless you have a specific need for one you aren't going to end up walking out of a retail store with one as your next phone. For those in the construction, trucking, and other more physically demanding fields, rugged smartphones are a no-brainer as the added protection is often times a necessity, not a want.

By nature, rugged smartphones are on the larger side, and generally much thicker than other smartphones, but that is to keep them protected. In the past, the trade-off to getting a rugged smartphone was general specs. You are looking at lower end specs on most of them, with the exception of Samsung's Galaxy Active line which is a high-end smartphone with added durability.

This time around Kyocera decided to push the limits of rugged smartphones a bit further, increasing the internal specs and offering an overall appealing package to those who need this type of smartphone.

DuraForce XD Hardware

Coming in at around the $450 price point off contract, the DuraForce XD falls between the budget and flagship smartphones when it comes to price, and internally it has mid-range specs. Between the 5.7-inch impact-resistant display and the added bulk from the ruggedization of the phone, there is no denying that it's on the large side here, weighing in at 10.8 ounces.

On the outside, the DuraForce XD is rather uninspired in terms of design but that isn't necessarily bad. All rugged smartphones have a rather industrial-style design, and this is no exception. Looking at the front of it, you've got two speaker grills at the bottom, which protect the dual-front speakers. At the top is the AT&T logo and the earpiece. Over on the right side of the smartphone is the power button, with the volume buttons on the right along with a customizable button. If you will be using the PTT functionality, this key will be mapped to bring up your PTT contacts to start conversations.

On the top of the phone is a headphone jack and a speaker button, which enables or disables the speaker when using calls and PTT. The micro-USB port is down at the bottom of the phone, and on the back you've got the camera at the top with the flash next to it, and down at the bottom is a screw that keeps the battery door locked in place to maintain its ability to be waterproof.

Inside the DuraForce XD, Kyocera has opted to include Qualcomm's Snapdragon 400 processor clocked at 1.6GHz and paired with 2GB of RAM. This combination isn't out of the ordinary, as you wouldn't expect a smartphone like this to come with a top of the line processor, nor a huge amount of RAM. As for storage, Kyocera has included 16GB of onboard storage that can be expanded by adding a microSD card.

But just how rugged is the DuraForce XD? Well, thanks to its Military-Standard 810G certification, it can withstand dust, shock, vibration and extreme temperatures with ease. The IP68 rating means that it can withstand being submerged in up to 6 feet of water for up to 30 minutes and still work normal after. You will need to make sure that when you aren't using the charging port or headphone jack that you make sure they are properly closed, or water may be able to get in either of these two places.

DuraForce XD Software

DuraForce XD Home Screens

For software, the DuraForce XD runs Android 5.1 Lollipop out of the box, with a slightly skinned user interface over the top. While we've previously said that the line was drawn in the sand for devices launching with the older software, odds are that people looking for these rugged devices value the durability more than the latest software. While that isn't an excuse for the software choice, it makes it a little easier to deal with here.

What is absolutely inexcusable is the amount of bloat that AT&T has packaged with this smartphone. The app drawer on this phone at first boot is fuller than my Nexus 6P with my own apps installed, and that is saying something. Besides the usual stuff like Chrome, Android Pay, and Google's other default apps, the DuraForce XD packs 25 additional apps with it — let that set in for a second.

DuraForce XD App Drawer

AT&T has included a suite of its own apps from AT&T EPTT (necessary if you are going to use the Push to Talk functionality), AT&T Family Map, DriveMode, Mobile TV and Usage Monitor to Uber, Outdoor Report, YellowPages and others, there is way more here than anyone should be subjected to. Of the included 16GB of storage, there is only 6.21GB available out of the box to be used for your own data. 16GB is not an acceptable starting point for phones these days, especially when you limit customers to one choice, then load it with apps that they can't delete to regain the space.

DuraForce XD Cameras

DuraForce XD Picture

When it comes to the camera, you've got an 8-megapixel shooter on the rear, which would have excited us years ago. Over the past year or two, we have seen a lot of progress with cameras in Android phones, and while not among the best in class the camera still works great. As expected, low-light shots are not the greatest, but you can still manage to capture an image that you'll later be able to look at and remember what was taking place in it.

For shots during the day with ample lighting you should be able to capture some nice looking shots. Motion shots are a bit trickier, as the shutter is a bit on the slow side. The camera has options for self-timers, touch shutter, smile shutter and blink detection to help aid in getting the best picture possible for you. On the video front, you'll be able to take some clips of the kids at the park, but you won't be using this to film weddings or anything you really want to show in high quality.

DuraForce XD Battery life

Kyocera DuraForce XD Battery

Packed inside the DuraForce XD is a 3700mAh battery, which is quite large in comparison to many other phones. The phone is said to get around 23 hours of talk time per charge, and in day-to-day use, I was easily able to get a full day worth of use with battery to spare. Since everyone's use of the phone will be different, it's hard to say how long it will last for you, but it should make it through the day for just about everyone.

Standby battery is astonishing. Android has been known to drain a battery when sitting idle, which was addressed by Doze in Marshmallow, but being on Lollipop you don't have Doze to rely on. Knowing that the phone isn't draining rapidly in your pocket is a relief, and if you need to leave it off the charger overnight or for an extended period of time, you should be fine.

Is this the phone for you?

DuraForce XD underwater

Unlike with other phones like the Galaxy S7 or LG G5, this phone is likely to appeal to a smaller audience. If you are in need of a rugged phone but don't want to miss out on all the benefits of how far Android has come, this is a great middle grounds. The display is nicer than other rugged phones, and the software doesn't get in the way. Sure, AT&T has loaded it with bloatware, but those things are more likely to anger the nerds than it is to the audience which this phone is meant to appeal to.

If you are in the market for a rugged phone, this is likely the one you should be looking at.

See at AT&T

Jared DiPane
Jared started off writing about mobile phones back when BlackBerry ruled the market, and Windows Mobile was kinda cool. Now, with a family, mortgage and other responsibilities he has no choice but to look for the best deals, and he's here to share them with you.