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Kyocera Rise and Hydro hands-on: Android 4.0 smartphones for the budget crowd

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Kyocera released the Rise and Hydro today, two new budget smartphones for the US market.

Gallery Photo: Kyocera Rise and Hydro hands-on pictures
Gallery Photo: Kyocera Rise and Hydro hands-on pictures

Kyocera's presence in the US smartphone market tripled in size this morning, as the company launched the new Hydro and Rise phones. The two are virtually identical internally: 1GHz Snapdragon processors, 3.5-inch, 480 x 320 IPS displays, 3.2-megapixel rear cameras, and CDMA connectivity (no LTE). Both run near-stock Android 4.0, too, along with four capacitive buttons below the display. Each phone has but one unique feature: the Hydro is waterproof, able to withstand blasting water or immersion in up to a meter of water for up to 30 minutes. The Rise isn't waterproof, but it does have a full, four-row landscape QWERTY keyboard that slides out of the phone.

We tested out both phones, and though they're decidedly low-end devices both seemed to work pretty well. The Rise's keyboard is spacious and easy to use, and though the Hydro is heftier than many phones, it definitely feels solid. Both were surprisingly zippy, and Android 4.0 worked pretty well; the low-res screens leave a lot to be desired, but they'll probably be enough for anyone who hasn't laid eyes on a high-res smartphone display before.

Both devices are designed in direct response to consumer feedback, Kyocera reps told us. The two most-desired features were waterproofing and a full keyboard, so the company decided to make both. These phones aren't designed to compete with the Galaxy Nexus or the HTC One X — they're meant instead for people who may not already own a smartphone, and are looking to move up without spending a lot of money for specs they don't care about. The phones will be available on both contract plans and prepaid plans on a variety of carriers, though reps wouldn't specify which ones.

We're moving rapidly toward the day when the free-on-contract phone isn't a feature phone or a "messaging phone," but a smartphone. The Kyocera Hydro and Rise may not get us all the way there, but they're certainly at the beginning of a trend we expect to grow quickly.