Review of the Kyocera Blade


The Kyocera Blade is a stylish low-end model offered by Telus Mobility for both Pay & Talk and for monthly subscribers. For the money, it packs in quite a few features, but it isnít a perfect phone. Depending upon your requirements, the Blade is either a great bargain, or a phone to avoid.

Last Updated: 11-Nov-2003

Before reading this review, please read Some Thoughts on Phone Reviewing.

Also read Comparing performance of Telus PCS Phones.

General

Weíll begin with the styling, which is rather angular. Youíll probably either love it or hate it, but either way its appearance sets it apart from the other phones sold by Telus. Itís relatively small, but not tiny by any stretch of the imagination. The keypad is unique, in that the keys along the outer edge of the phone sort of fall off the edge. I thought I would have a problem with that, but I didnít find the outer keys to be problematic in any way.

I had mixed feelings about the keypad as a whole however. It works well most of the time, but I just couldnít bring myself to like the 4-way function key at the top. For starters, its odd shape and close proximity to other keys make it almost impossible to accurately use the left and right directions. I donít think I would be exaggerating when I say that it is among the worst 4-way keys Iíve yet tried. The rest of keys were fine though, and I had no issue with them. The only negative aspect of the other keys is their lack of finesse. They all felt just a bit too stiff for my liking.

The blade offers a fairly decent color display, but itís just too damned small. While I congratulate Kyocera for making fairly efficient use of such a small amount of screen real estate, the fact is that virtually no one is going to find the screen size appealing. Fortunately it makes up for that by providing bright colors, and fairly good resolution and sharpness.

The screen fonts were handsome enough, though the display of date and time on the standby screen wasnít very legible, especially because of the slashes used to divide the month, day, and year in the date. The date looked far too cramped, and itís not easy to read unless close attention is paid to it.

The screen can be seen in direct sunlight, with or without the backlight on, but in normal daylight I found the display rather difficult to see. Indoors however, the backlight provided excellent illumination, and the screen was easy to see.

In terms of features, the Blade has tons of useful touches that make it a truly friendly day-to-day phone. The white LED flashlight, for example, may seem like a worthless novelty, but in reality I found it to be a very useful addition. Itís certainly a lot more useful than the built-in TIP CALCULATOR. The single high-output LED is more than adequate to illuminate objects up to 10 feet away from the phone, and if you drop something in the dark, itís great for helping you find it. The light can be turned on momentarily by pressing the BACK key, or you can turn the light on for long periods of time by selecting a menu item.

Many of the phoneís most useful features are associated with searching the phonebook. Before we look at those features, letís look at the phonebook itself. It strongly reminds me of the Nokia system, in both the type of data it stores, and how it presents that data to the user. This is a good thing, since Nokia has one of the nicest hierarchal phonebooks around.

Each of up to 200 entries may contain up to 5 separate phone numbers, each with their own type designation, and up to 4 text fields that may contain a street address, an email address, a URL, or a plain text note. Like Nokia phones, each number and text entry can carry any of the standard designations, and you can repeat any designation you like. This is virtually the same description I used when I first described Nokiaís hierarchal system back in the days when they released the 7190. You can also assign a unique ringtone to each entry, as well as an animated icon that will appear on the screen when the person in question calls you.

But what about those search capabilities? Aside from the usual alpha search, based on name, you can also look up a entry based on a partial number. Say for example you knew that the number you were looking for contained 7113. All you have to do is type that string of numbers and select the search option. The phone will present you with a list of all phonebook entries in which that sequence of digits appears. I first saw this feature on the Samsung 8580, but Iíve not seen it much since.

You can also turn on a feature called Fast Find, which is a really innovative idea. As you type in digits on the standby screen the phone does a name lookup based on those key taken as letters. The more keys you press, the more refined the search becomes. Each found name appears on the top of the display as you type the digits, and when you see the name of the entry you want to dial, you simply press the TALK button. Or, you can simple continuing typing digits to dial any random number as usual. The Fast Find feature does not interfere in any way with standard digit dialing.

Another feature you can optionally turn on displays the top 15 called numbers at the beginning of the full phonebook list when you press the cursor down key. This ensures that the numbers you call the most frequently will appear at the top of that list, making them instantly available.

You can also classify your phonebook entries as personal or business, and then see a phonebook consisting of only personal or business contacts. This allows you to separate your phonebook into two distinct sections. I didnít try and use that feature personally, but I can see how other people might find it extremely useful.

All text entry on the phone can be done using a propriety predictive text entry system (not T9). Before you let that scare you away, let me assure you that this system is as good as any T9 implementation Iíve seen so far. It contains features found on only a handful of other phones, such as the ability to enter a full word once youíve typed enough characters to uniquely identify a that word, and an expandable user dictionary that remembers the case of each letter you used when defining the word.

The phone includes an alarm clock that works when the phone is off, as well as a timer, stopwatch, and tip calculator. It also includes a scheduler, but I can only assume this was done as an afterthought. Unlike many of the other well-conceived features on this phone, the scheduler is horribly simplistic, and not particularly practical. Thatís too bad, as it would have been a great addition to this phone.

Also included are a couple of lackluster games and an app called Doodler. With this app you can create relatively simplistic line drawings for use as wallpaper. The app allows you to stamp a few standard shapes (like boxes, circles, triangles, hearts, etc) in 3 different sizes, or you can draw lines like an Etch-a-Sketch using the numeric keys. There is no provision for color-filling areas of the screen, and so the app is of dubious value.

Battery life isnít too hot on the Blade. During my first day with the phone I managed to run down a fully charged battery in only 4 hours of extensive playing. You will realistically see about 48 hours of standby time, and 2 to 2-and-a-half hours of talk time. This isnít bad, but itís disappointing in light of the battery life provided by other phones offered by Telus.

RF Performance and Audio Quality

RF performance on the Blade is most likely the best Iíve ever seen in a CDMA phone to date. During tests at Square One the Blade performed so well that it put the Motorola ST-7868W to shame. Now there have been other phones that have better RF sensitivity than my StarTac, but none by quite such a large margin. I got an opportunity to test the Blade against the Ericsson T206, which up this time had been the clear winner for RF sensitivity in the Telus stable. The T206 still managed to acquit itself very well, and the difference between it and the Blade was slight. However, the Blade did seem to be a bit more sensitive, but not enough to warrant choosing it over the T206 if you are trying to make up your mind.

All is not rosy on the RF front however, as the Blade seems to make frame errors sound much worse than my StarTac. So much worse in fact that it had me wondering if Telus had trashed their network. I ran back-to-back tests between the StarTac and the Blade over identical sections of road, and the Blade consistently made the network problems sound markedly worse than they sounded on the StarTac. During my time with the Blade the over-the-road performance became a sore point with me.

Sound quality is a bit of mixed bag. Tonal balance on the Blade is exceptionally good, and most callers seem to have just the right balance of lows and highs and midrange. Unfortunately the sound reproduction is just not up to the level Iíve seen on other recent Telus offerings, including the Motorola T731, and the LG 5450. Now bear in mind that both of those phones have poor tonal balance, so it seem like you canít have your cake and eat it too. The Blade also seems to produce sundry background noises that donít seem to be there on other phones.

The earpiece volume on the Blade is excellent, and you have the option of turning on what Kyocera calls Smart Sound. With this feature activated two very useful things happen. First of all the phone implements auto-leveling, in which softer calls are boosted in volume, while louder calls are dialed back a bit. This gives you calls that all sound about the same volume as one another. Secondly, if the background noise gets really loud, then the earpiece volume is boosted a notch or two (ala Nokia) to help you hear your callers.

My only reservation with this feature is that the auto-leveling tends to cause varying volume levels when your callers donít speak much, or when their voices change in level during a sentence. I would have preferred to turn on the volume boost (in loud environments) separately of the auto-leveling.

Sadly, outgoing sound quality is mediocre, and pretty much what passes for normal on most 1X phones. Of the 1X models Iíve recently tested, only the Motorola T731 and LG 5450 have really decent outgoing sound quality. In noisy environments, like a crowded shopping mall or a car driving on the highway, the Blade subjects your callers to a punishment they just donít deserve.

In the end, what could have been the perfect Telus phone is sullied by poor frame error handling, less-than-stellar incoming sound reproduction, and poor outgoing sound quality. I never found myself able to warm up to the overall experience of using the Blade, despite its excellent RF sensitivity, bevy of great features, natural-sounding tonal balance, and killer low-price.

However, users who arenít quite as picky as I am may find it far easier to overlook the phoneís shortcomings, and find true happiness with the things it does so well. At the price Telus charges for this phone (even without signing a contract) you really canít get more bang-for-the-buck on their network. If you need a no-nonsense Telus phone, you really should give the Blade serious consideration.

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