Review of the Kyocera Slider


The Kyocera Slider bares a striking resemblance to the Siemens SL55 that I reviewed a while back. It consists of a bottom and a top half that slide apart to reveal the keypad, and to make the phone physically longer during a call. This is an alternative to the flip/clamshell design for those people who donít like candy bar designs.

Last Updated: 21-Feb-2004

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

Thanks to Bryan Minhinnett for lending me his Slider for this review.

General

When closed the Slider has a smooth rounded contour that makes it easy to put in pockets and bags. The only detail that ruins the overall aesthetic is a protruding antenna. Fortunately the antenna design is much better than a number of other CDMA models Iíve tested in the past. When retracted the stub is held solidly in place and it feels as though itís permanently designed that way. When pulled up the antenna seems quite durable, though obviously I didnít try to break the one on my loaner phone.

The phone features a high-resolution color display that is not unlike the one on the Kyocera Blade, though itís a bit larger. My biggest gripe with the screen was how difficult it was to see in normal daylight. The display can be seen in direct sunlight, and it can be seen indoors courtesy of the backlight. However, when used outdoors not in direct sunlight the backlight isnít bright enough, and there isnít enough ambient light to reflect through the display.

I also found that like many color displays it suffered easily from facial oils (which inevitably got on the screen during a call). I found myself constantly cleaning the screen with my shirt to get rid of the annoying distortions created by the skin oils.

The keypad has a refreshingly traditional layout, devoid of those ridiculously artsy keypad designs that we are beginning to see on other phones. Unfortunately its traditional layout doesnít help make the keys any easier to use. The problem is that the keys are flush with the flat surface on which they lie, and so it is impossible to get a feel for one key from the next. This is definitely a keyboard you have to concentrate on to use, so be very careful when trying to use it while driving.

The keyboard problems didnít end at the flush keys found below the slider. I had a few issues with the navigation keys (the ones that are visible all of the time). The 4-way cursor key didnít have any clear feel for which direction was being pressed, but it was hardly the worst example Iíve run across. I would have to rate the cursor as middling in quality (though the OK button in the middle of the cursor keys was pretty good).

I also wasnít too pleased with either the placement or the close proximity of the softkeys and SEND/END keys. The placement of the softkeys was too far below the screen, and the natural tendency was to press a button immediately below the screen labels for each of them. The close proximity of the softkeys to the SEND and END buttons made it difficult to press the one you wanted without paying careful attention to what you were doing.

The menu system was almost identical to that of the Blade, and for the most part itís fairly intuitive and easy-to-use. However, it is a bit lacking in context menus, and much of what you can do with the menus has to be done by going back to less-than-intuitive starting places. It also lacks shortcuts, with the exception of a single key that can be defined to any of a number of primary functions. Beyond that there is no shortcut system at all, not even a simple numeric shortcut scheme as found on most phones. Just about everything you are going to do with this phone must be done using formal menu access.

The phonebook on the other hand is a joy. It starts by borrowing what I consider to be the best features of the Nokia phonebook, and then it expands upon that with some truly great search capabilities. Each entry 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 Nokia 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.

Aside from the usual alpha search, based on name, you can also look up an 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.

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 continue to type digits to dial any random number as usual. The Fast Find feature does not interfere in any way with standard digit dialing, though it does use a perceptible amount of processor time, and it might become annoying as your phonebook becomes quite full.

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 only drawbacks are the flush keypad and rather slow processor speed.

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 seemed quite good, as it took quite a bit of messing around with the Slider to drop the battery meter down to low. Unlike the Blade, the Slider seems to have substantially better talk and standby times.

Like many phones hitting the market these days the Slider includes a speakerphone feature, but unlike many of the other models on the market it does this quite well. Donít get me wrong, the Slider isnít about to win any speakerphone contests against likes of the Motorola i85 (or other iDEN models), but itís a very useable feature. The speaker volume is high enough (and clear enough) that you can hear your caller even when the phone is in a mildly noisy environment, and it boosts to the microphone sensitivity so that your callers can hear you better.

RF Performance and Audio Quality

Where the Slider really shines however is in the audio and RF departments. While RF Performance isnít as stellar as the Blade, it is still quite good, and slightly better than my old ST-7868W, which I use as the standard by which all of my CDMA phone comparisons are made. It manages to produce excellent sound reproduction right down to the weakest possible signal. This is both a good and a bad thing, in that you donít get any prior warning that the signal is getting horrendously weak. Personally, I prefer it that way.

Incoming sound quality is exceptional for a CDMA phone. It has terrific tonal balance (though it can sound slightly tinny at times) and it has excellent earpiece volume. This is helped by Kyoceraís excellent Smart Sound feature that tries to keep all incoming call volumes the same, and it boosts the volume when the background noise is very loud (ala Nokia). Sound reproduction is also very good, unlike the Nokia 3586i, which also has good tonal balance, but poor sound reproduction.

Outgoing audio is probably the best Iíve heard on a 1X phone to date. Even under extremely noisy conditions (on the highway with my window rolled down) the phone manages to generate very smooth and discernable audio. The outgoing tonal balance is a little bit muddy, but overall it sounds very good.

In fact, I found the Slider to be so nice overall that if there was a single phone that could convince me to return to CDMA, this one would be it. Throughout the 7 days that I had the Slider for evaluation I was generally quite pleased with the prolonged conversations I had on it. How much I can credit that to Bell Mobilityís network is unknown, but Iíve tested other Bell phones in the last year (such as the Nokia 3586i) that left me feeling glad that I wasnít on that network.

Itís a pity that the phone has so many user interface issues, since itís a great performer otherwise. If you are current a Bell Mobility user, or you are thinking of becoming one, you could do far worse than to go with this little phone. Iím sure that in time you could learn to live with some of the interface quirks, and in the process youíd at least know that you were getting a terrific-performing phone for your trouble.

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