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Kyocera Duraforce Ultra review: The premium flagship of rugged phones?
Kyocera Duraforce Ultra
Retail price: $899.00$899.00 at Verizon
What we like
What we don't like
$900 is a lot of money for a rugged phone. At that price, it’s nearing premium flagship prices, not the $400-$600 asking price we see for most work-friendly phones. So, is the Kyocera Duraforce Ultra the premium flagship of rugged phones? Find out in Android Authority’s Kyocera Duraforce Ultra review.
What you need to know about the Kyocera Duraforce Ultra
- Kyocera Duraforce Ultra (8GB/256GB): $899
The Duraforce Ultra officially sits at $899 and is the highest-priced rugged phone in the market. It’s available in just one option: 6GB of RAM with 128GB of storage, but that’s expandable up to 1TB via a microSD card. The unit currently ships with Android 10, and while Kyocera says it is planning an upgrade to Android 11 there is no current timeline for that update. The Duraforce Ultra is unique among other rugged handsets in that it includes wide support for 5G including mmWave bands, such as Verizon’s 5G network.
In terms of hardware, the Duraforce Ultra features a single covered USB-C port on the bottom, a SIM card tray, a power button that doubles as a fingerprint reader on the right side, and two additional programmable buttons both on the top and left side of the device. There is a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top as well as a front-facing speaker below the display. The Duraforce Ultra also includes support for wireless charging, and with the included 27W fast charger powers up from dead to full in a little over 90 minutes.
The Kyocera Duraforce Ultra is available to buy direct from Kyocera, through Verizon, or via third-party retailers such as Amazon.
The Duraforce Ultra is an absolute tank of a device. Its build quality is next to none in the rugged space (though it’s also one of the heaviest at 278g). Its combination of tough plastic, thick rubber sides, and Kyocera’s proprietary sapphire shield glass make the device incredibly durable. To say the Duraforce Ultra is built to last is an understatement. Every port is covered with a watertight seal and there’s even a spot to loop a lanyard, should you want to do that. Still, the design isn’t without its quirks. While the back plastic feels very durable, the coating on the plastic picks up a ton of fingerprints and feels greasy with day-to-day use. Also, the large speaker grill on the front may be an eyesore for some buyers.
The Duraforce Ultra is an absolute tank when it comes to durability
The Duraforce ships with an IP65 and IP68 water and dust resistance rating, and the latest MIL-STD-810H certification for protection against drops, pressure, and extreme climates. I wasn’t able to test the device in the most extreme conditions, but I did drop test it and ran it under high-pressure water. In all tests, the device held up. It should be noted that Kyocera includes a two-year warranty with the device, which should assuage buyers who are worried about the phone not holding up.
The good news is that you probably won’t have to make use of that warranty status, as the device holds up in other areas as well, specifically the display. The Duraforce Ultra comes with a 5.45-inch Full HD+ display with an aspect ratio of 18:9. This is one of the best displays on a rugged device to date, with maybe the Samsung Galaxy XCover Pro as its only competition. The colors, contrast, and sharpness are all good on this bright IPS panel. Even using the device in direct sunlight was no problem due to the bright display.
What’s not so good?
Even with the positives, the Duraforce Ultra is still a very expensive phone, which makes these next few points a little harder to swallow. While the Snapdragon 765G is a great processor and a step above other rugged phones, it’s still a mid-range chip from 2020. At this price range, performance on this phone really should be better. Day to day use sees a fluid experience for the most part but I did encounter occasional screen lag and stutter.
A device at this high price point needs a higher-tier processor to match it
Unfortunately, this less than stellar performance carries on over to battery life as well. Although the Duraforce Ultra ships with a 4,500mAh battery, standby time isn’t great. Leaving the phone off the charger for multiple days consistently resulted in a nearly dead battery. This doesn’t breed a whole lot of confidence for consumers who need to be away from their charger for long periods of time. Other rugged offerings such as the Doogee S96 Pro and the Ulefone Armor 11 both provide better battery life experiences at a fraction of the cost. That said, I did average about seven to eight hours of screen-on time, which is perfectly acceptable.
Although cameras tend to not be a considerable metric when it comes to rugged devices, the cameras on the Duraforce Ultra are lackluster at best. Images compete with other offerings in the rugged market, but keep in mind there are no thermal or night vision cameras present on this device, features often found in the competition (though like several other rugged phones you can shoot underwater in fresh water). In addition to this, the general sharpness is soft and the camera app is definitely buggy at times.
Finally, Kyocera’s software update situation is less than desirable considering the price. While it’s promising an update to Android 11 in the future (albeit with no timeframe), it’ll only get two years of promised security updates.
Kyocera Duraforce Ultra camera samples
You can find high-resolution versions of each image here.
Kyocera Duraforce Ultra specs
|Kyocera Duraforce Ultra|
2,160 x 1,080 pixels
18:9 aspect ratio
Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G 5G
128GB / expandable up to 1TB
Rear triple camera:
- 24MP main
- 16MP ultra-wide
27W fast charging
Qi wireless charging
IP65 / IP68, MIL-STD-810H
(Android 11 planned upgrade)
165.1 x 74.9 x 16.0mm
- FR1 – n2 (1,900), n5 (850), n66 (1,700)
- FR2 (mmWave) – n260 (39GHz), n261 (28GHz)
LTE CAT11: B12, B13, B5, B4, B66, B3, B2, B1, B7, B48
CA Combinations: 4CA
GSM: B5, B8, B3, B2 (850, 900, 1,800, 1,900MHz)
UMTS: B5, B8, B2, B1 (850, 900, 1,900, 2,100MHz)
Single SIM: nano-SIM + TF Card
Side-mounted fingerprint scanner
Kyocera Duraforce Ultra: Should I buy it?
At $899, the Duraforce Ultra is a tough sell. While the build quality and durability are excellent, you are definitely paying a lot for a rugged phone. Unfortunately, the near-premium flagship cost doesn’t stack up to what the Duraforce is offering. The mid-range chipset, mediocre battery life, and lackluster, feature-deficient cameras just can’t keep up with the high asking price. 5G mmWave support is great, but Verizon’s network is far too inconsistent to bridge the price gap here when compared to other, more affordable rugged phones.
You lose 5G support in both cases, but the Doogee S96 Pro ($389) provides a similar experience at a fraction of the cost, while the Cat S62 Pro ($649) matches and marginally surpasses the Duraforce Ultra on durability and adds a thermal sensor. At its current price, the Kyocera Duraforce Ultra is tricky to recommend unless you happen to live in a Verizon 5G hotspot and need rapid download speeds.