Kyocera Hydro Wave Review

Man in the shadows holding a Kyocera Hydro Wave

Kyocera are among the very best at producing low-prices smartphones with outstanding specs. The Japanese company came into smartphones in a roundabout sort of way. They took over the handset division of chip maker Qualcomm, and then did the same with Japanese competitor Sanyo.

This gave them a ready-made path to the US, and the North American market now provides a big chunk of their cell phone sales. Kyocera are truly a multi-faceted company. As well as smartphones, they also make photocopiers and ceramic knives, amongst other things.

Introducing the Kyocera Hydro Wave

Kyocera released a range of waterproof smartphones under the Hydro name. The Wave, although virtually identical to other models in design, offers a cost effective alternative to the slightly more expensive Hydro air.

That you can now get a smartphone for prices so low is remarkable. And not old, outdated and underpowered smartphones, but high-spec, high-performance models.

But, if that isn’t enough, the Hydro Wave also has other protective measures in the construction. Rather than just rest on the phone being waterproof, Kyocera increased the ability to take knocks and scrapes quite markedly. You can see what our testers thought of the Hydro Wave in more detail below.

The Kyocera Hydro Wave is available for just $59, unlocked from all networks and brand new.

Scores For the Kyocera Hydro Wave

A Hand holding the Kyocera Hydro Wave

The Kyocera Hydro Wave, after being thoroughly tested by our reviews team was awarded a score of 4.5/5. This is from an average of the following category scores:

  • Design (4.4/5)
  • Build (4.8/5)
  • Display (4.5/5)
  • Cameras (4.4/5)
  • hardware (4.5/5)
  • Software (4.3/5)

Try as we might, we just couldn’t find a problem with the Kyocera Hydro Wave. Are there better smartphones? Yes, but not for the money. You need to go up in price an awful long way to see enough improvement to justify the extra cost.

Full Specs

Size5.66 x 2.85 x 0.42 in
Weight5.11 oz
Display Size5”
Display resolution540 x 960 px
Cameras5MP / 2MP
Internal Storage8GB
Micro SD Card SlotYes – up to 32GB
4GYes
Battery Life18 hrs talktime / 600 hrs standby
Price$59

Design and Build

Kyocera Hydro Wave in a dark puddle

It’s not easy, these days, to get excited about smartphone design. This is doubly the case in this price range, where phone design is practical and functional rather than innovative and daring. If you want edge-to-edge displays, go and lay down your thousand dollars and there will be people willing to sell you one.

That doesn’t mean the Hydro Wave is an ugly phone, because it absolutely isn’t. It is neat, tidy and actually pretty stylish as far as phone design goes. It is, though, also pretty conventional. The upside of this is that there isn’t a lot of the budget spent on figuring out how to put it together. What this means, when all’s said and done, is that the component level rockets due to that being where the money is actually spent.

The Hydro Wave, like all the Kyocera Hydro phones, is dustproof, and waterproof down to 3 feet for up to 30 minutes. But so are many other devices nowadays. Where the Hydro Wave excels is in its shatterproof screen, and resistance to drops onto hard floors. Kyocera claim to test the build quality by dropping the phone onto a hard surface 26 times, from 4 feet. This, by anybody’s standards, is impressive. We dared to drop the Hydro Wave from 4 feet several times before we started to panic that our luck was running put. We even dropped it a few times from over head height, and there wasn’t a scratch on the case or screen.

This Mil-STD 810G standard compliance offers military grade toughness. Most smartphones die because of one or two things – water and impact damage. We’re pretty sure neither is a major issue for the Hydro Wave.

Display

A Man's hand typing on the Kyocera Hydro Wave

With most of the Hydro Wave’s competition offering a 480 x 854 px resolution, Kyocera upped the odds. At 540 x 960 px, the difference may not sound much, but it’s huge in display terms. It’s also beneficial due to the Hydro Wave display being 5″ in size. The higher resolution means that the display size isn’t exposed by trying to spread too few pixels across too big a screen.

Oh, and the end result is just fantastic. Sharp, bright, vivid, bold, use whatever adjective you like, but all will tell you how good the display of the Hydro Wave really is. Photos and videos look amazing and we just loved using the Hydro Wave because of it.

Cameras

Camera back of the Kyocera Hydro Wave

With a 5MP rear camera and a 2MP front camera, the Hydro Wave is well catered for. Pictures produced by both are excellent quality, aided by an LED flash on the rear camera. Believe it or not, having a flash on a $59 smartphone is not always the case. Kyocera, as we will never get tired of saying, do incredible things to produce such well equipped smartphones for such low prices.

The difference here, to the camera on the Hydro Air, is that the Wave is restricted to recording video at 720p HD instead of the Full HD of the Air. In practice, we didn’t really find this to be such a big deal. Quality is excellent, even at the slightly lower resolution which, by the way, still outdoes almost all the phones in this price category.

Hardware

We’re going to say it again, the Hydro Wave costs just $59. For that, you wouldn’t ordinarily expect much, but brace yourselves. There’s a quad core processor, 8GB storage, 2 cameras, huge battery, 4G, and the usual Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth comms options.

If you’d have asked us before we knew what the Hydro Wave really costs, we’d have put the price 3 or 4 times higher.

Software

The apps of the Kyocera Hydro Wave

The Hydro Wave ships with Android 5.1, which offered a big step up from the previous version. Android 5 created a platform which has been the core of all versions since. Kyocera have exploited its features by including both an ambient light sensor and a proximity sensor. These allow for automatic screen brightness and a glance-type feature to check notifications without waking up the phone.

Kyocera have also included a feature called Magnifont. In essence, it’s an app to instantly increase the on-screen font size rather than having to go through a ton of quite non-specific settings to get there. Although not an everyday app, it actually came in useful more than once. There is also a Core Home mode. This clears the home screen and reduces it to just a couple of essential apps. It’s a little bit like looking at a feature phone, but still with access to all the Android features on the phone.

Conclusion

Don’t even think about ignoring the Hydro Wave. It’s quite possibly one of the best sub-$100 smartphones we’ve ever seen.

Rachel C.
Rachel C.
Rachel is the researcher and blog writer for the Mr Aberthon website. She grew up in Brooklyn, New York and eventually made her way to Connecticut in order to become a part of the Mr Aberthon Team. She is passionate about technology and electronics, and nothing gives her more pleasure than discovering insights into the latest gadgets to hit the electronics market.