One of the most interesting products we saw at CES this year was a "Speaker-less Smartphone" prototype design from KDDI and Kyocera that relied on
bone conduction tissue conduction rather than a typical smartphone speaker; a boon for the hearing impaired, and people that use their phones in loud places. Well, "Speaker-less Smartphone" has been re-named "Smart Sonic Receiver," and today we were able to take a look at Kyocera’s first device using the technology, the Urbano Progresso.
Update: A rep from Kyocera contacted us to draw a distinction between the Smart Sonic Receiver and the kind of bone conduction that a cochlear implant provides. To be clear, the device's display conducts sound to your eardrum in two ways: through connective tissue, and through the air in your ear canal.
First and foremost, the phone sounds great. As far as we can tell, the Smart Sonic Receiver is unchanged from when we saw it in January, and while we didn't have an opportunity to test it in really challenging conditions, it was easy to hear in the noisy hotel ballroom. Like all of AU’s new Android devices today, the Urbano Progresso is shipping with Android 4.0, which is an enormous improvement over the prototype we saw in January, both in terms of looks and performance. The dual-core Snapdragon MSM8655 is overclocked to 1.4GHz and feels nice and snappy when browsing and multitasking. Given that it’s designed for the domestic market the phone is fully decked out with Japanese features like a 1seg TV tuner, infrared, water- and dust-proofing, and Osaifu Keitai (wallet phone) for things like making purchases and using the phone as a train pass. On top of that, it also includes a second NFC chip, presumably for use with Android Beam. For storing the 8.1-megapixel still photos and 720p videos you take with the device's camera, the Urbano Progresso comes loaded with 4GB of space onboard, which is expandable with a microSD card that’s accessible from the battery compartment.
Our initial impressions were that the 64 x 125 x 10.8mm (2.52 x 4.92 x 0.43-inch), 139g (4.9-ounce) device felt very tightly built and well-balanced, with a good amount of heft. It’s certainly not the thinnest device on the market, and felt noticeably thicker than the prototype we saw in January, but this could be due to a number of factors including the large-ish 1500mAh battery. Unfortunately, while the Urbano Progresso has a 4.0-inch OLED screen, Kyocera's decisions to go with a Pentile pixel arrangement and relatively low resolution (WVGA, or 800 x 480) are disappointing.
In a sea of 'me-too' devices, the Smart Sonic Receiver offers some genuinely useful innovation
The Urbano Progresso is being marketed squarely toward the business crowd, right down to the home screen, which features a metallic briefcase widget labeled "business applications." Inside you’ll find some high-value bundled software, including the Daijirin Japanese dictionary and encyclopedia, and the Genius Japanese-English and English-Japanese dicitonary. Together the two apps are worth more than $90 on the Play store, so their addition is a big deal. Overall, the few minutes we had to play with the Urbano Progresso left us very impressed. In a sea of "me-too" devices, the Smart Sonic Receiver offers some genuinely useful innovation. We hope to give you a more thorough look at the phone around its launch sometime near the end of May.