PROS / It sports a decent screen for its price point, and is one of the only water-resistant Android phones available from a U.S. carrier.
CONS / Aside from its rugged construction, the phone doesn't offer much else to entice buyers.
VERDICT / The Kyocera Hydro Elite is a great choice if you want a budget Android phone that doesn't mind getting wet. If you're looking for capability, however, look elsewhere.
Water-resistant and packing a sharp 720p screen, the Kyocera Hydro Elite is a budget phone that struggles to be impressive, but ultimately falls short. It has an aging operating system, a poor camera and the slowest processor of any Android phone we reviewed. It's also the most affordable phone you can own that won't mind being taken into the pool or bathtub.
For an Android phone, the Hydro Elite's screen is small at only 4.3 inches from corner to corner. It sports 720p resolution, but on a screen of its size, that equates to 342ppi pixel density – a crisp, sharp visual experience. Its AMOLED screen offers rich, deep blacks, but suffers in sunlight and can be difficult to read at off-angles. This only becomes a problem if you like to share your screen with friends, but it's something to consider.
The Hydro's camera is generally average, taking 8-megapixel photos and 1080p video. With an ƒ/2.6 aperture, however – a particularly small opening that lets very little light onto the camera's sensor – the photos it captures can be blurry or specked with artifacts in all but the best lighting conditions. Taking photos in sunlight will net you great shots, but as night falls, you may find the phone struggling to capture facial details.
Among the phones we compared, Kyocera's Hydro Elite has one of the slowest processors and serves up the lowest performance score, a rating we assign based on five different standardized benchmark tests. Its dual-core, 1.5GHz CPU will handle simple tasks, but expect noticeably longer load and unlock times than you'd find on a more powerful device. Likewise, you'll still be able to play games from the Google Play store, but plan on experiencing more than a little stutter, especially on newer titles.
Its camera may be mediocre and its processor dull, but the Kyocera nails water resistance. Whether you're browsing the web in the tub or taking underwater pictures of your friends in the pool, the Hydro Elite handles submersion with ease. The minerals in salt water will prove troublesome, and the phone is only rated to survive under up to 1 meter of water for 30 minutes. But the resistance makes casual use in wet areas a joy. Spilling your drink isn't a concern, because you can just rinse the phone off. Take it in the kitchen and cook with impunity; you can always clean the phone off if you get a little grime or goo on it.
The Kyocera Hydro Elite is one of the best water-resistant Android phones you can get from any US carrier. Put the water resistance aside, however, and you're left with a phone that would have been decent enough a year or two ago but is severely lacking today. Since you can get it for free with a two-year contract, it's worthwhile if water resistance is important to you. If not, however, there are better phones out there, even if you want something free with contract.