Where have all the feature phones?gone? Virgin Mobile now has an impressive stable of smartphones, but pickings are slim when it comes to simple phones that work with the inexpensive payLo plan. The $39.99 Kyocera Brio will let you talk and text without breaking the bank, but not much more than that. If your needs are very basic, it'll suffice, but there are better choices available.
Editors' Note: The Kyocera Brio models on?Sprint?and Virgin are virtually identical, so we're sharing a lot of material between these two reviews. That said, we're testing each device separately, so read the review for your carrier of choice.
Design, Call Quality, and Plans
The Kyocera Brio measures 4.5 by 2.4 by 0.6 inches (HWD) and weighs just 3.7 ounces. Despite the light weight and entirely plastic build, it feels like a quality device. The back is matte grey while the front and sides are shiny. The 2.2-inch 240-by-320 pixel TFT LCD looks bright and sharp, though viewing angles are quite narrow.
A navigation pad sits directly beneath the phone's display, along with Send and End keys, and four function buttons. Below those is a four-row, physical QWERTY keyboard. Though the keys are tiny, they are raised and angled for optimal separation. They are also extra-clicky, which makes typing a breeze. Users that do a lot of messaging will be happy with the Brio.
The Brio is a dual-band 1xRTT (850/1900MHz) handset. That means it is not a 3G phone, and there is no Wi-Fi, so you can expect painfully slow data rates if you plan to use the Web browser. Reception is average, and voice quality is decent overall. Voices sound clear in the phone's earpiece, though they are extremely thin. Calls made with the phone sound clear and natural, and noise cancellation is just average. The Brio paired easily with a Jawbone Era Bluetooth headset and calls sounded very good. Nuance-powered voice dialing worked well over Bluetooth without training. Battery life was okay, at 5 hours and 14 minutes of talk time, but somewhat disappointing considering this phone doesn't even support 3G.
The Brio is available with payLo plans that start at $20 per month for 400 minutes, to $30 per month for 1,500 minutes, 1,500 text messages, and 30MB of data, or $40 per month for unlimited talk, text, and 50MB of data. With prices like that and the low upfront price, the Brio makes for a great backup line. But if you're interested in media, it's a little too barebones to be your only phone.
Interface and Apps
Menu design is extremely minimal. The phone's home screen has links to your messaging and contacts menus, but is otherwise empty. Pressing the center function key will bring up the rest of your options. A 12-icon grid is arranged with shortcuts to the Web browser, Photos, Settings, and Tools, among some other options you are less likely to use. App selection is minimal. The standards are there, such as an alarm clock, calculator, calendar, stopwatch, and world clock, but that's it. You can download more from Virgin, but the selection isn't compelling.
The Access NetFront 3.5.1 browser delivers decent WAP pages. Unfortunately, slow data speeds mean those pages load at a positively glacial pace. I certainly don't recommend this phone if you want to surf the Web.
The Brio excels at text messaging and email. As previously mentioned, the QWERTY keyboard is well-built and comfortable, making it easy to type long messages. The Brio's free built-in email capabilities can link up with AIM, AOL, Comcast, Gmail, Windows Live, and Yahoo Mail, as well as POP/IMAP accounts, alerting you when you have new messages. Gaining access to my email was fast and easy; I was signed into my Gmail account within seconds. It was also able to gain access to my Google calendar, which showed me a list of upcoming events I had scheduled.
Multimedia and Conclusions
Multimedia options are poor. You get 10MB of free internal memory on the Brio, along with an empty microSD card slot underneath the battery cover. My 32GB SanDisk card worked fine. But the thing is, you won't need to expand the memory on this phone?there's nothing you can do with it. The Brio doesn't support music or video playback of any kind. That means the nonstandard headphone jack isn't too much of a big deal, since there's nothing you can listen to.
There's a 1.3-megapixel camera on the back of the Brio, but the quality is terrible. Photos taken with it have some decent color, but mostly look soft and blurry. You can transfer photos to your computer via Bluetooth, email, or microSD card, but chances are you won't be saving them.
If you just want a phone to make calls and send messages, the Brio isn't a bad option. It's better than the keyboarded Kyocera S2300, which has shorter battery life and a nearly unusable camera. But I suspect that users who want a full keyboard for texts and email will want some additional features as well. If that's the case, you're better off with the Samsung Montage. It too is a simple messaging phone, but it has a larger, slide-out keyboard, a better camera, and you can listen to music with it. We haven't reviewed the Samsung M575 yet, but it looks like an updated version of the Samsung Restore. In that case, it should perform similarly to the Montage, though 3G support means it will hit faster data speeds.