Why I'm Still Using a $40 Smartphone From 2014

The Kyocera Hydro Vibe, released in June of 2014, was never a top-of-the-line device. Featuring a lowly 1.5GB of RAM, 8GB of internal memory (a few gigs of which are permanently sucked up by mandatory apps and OS) and a so-so pair of cameras (8MP rear-facing camera and 2MP front, respectively), it was a phone with no noteworthy features, besides being waterproof and having a near-indestructible design.

I'm here to report that, in June of 2018, it remains a phone with no noteworthy features, besides its waterproofing and near-indestructibility. But it's not just any phone, it's my phone, and it'll remain by my side for as long as its tired little CPU can manage.

"Why suffer the technological humiliation?" you might ask. "Why champion a fossil?" Simply put, because this phone is great: it doesn't bend, or explode, or identify as a Windows phone. It's a gem of functional engineering — and possibly the best budget smartphone of all-time.

Feeling the Vibe

Well, "all-time" as far as I'm concerned, at least. And how could it not be? It's the only smartphone I've ever owned. Sure, I've toyed and tinkered with friends' cells and tangoed with a few others for work purposes, but four years ago, after discarding the Samsung T401G slider cellphone I'd somehow been brave enough to use throughout the majority of high school, I decided it was time for a switch.

I bought the Hydro Vibe based on two simple criteria: it claimed to be damage-proof (with regards to both water and general scuffage from drops and impacts), and was being sold for $40, thanks to a sale. These days, you can find me shamelessly enjoying that very same smartphone, one that's almost half-a-decade old and cost less than a pair of jeans.

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In my defense, I'm not the only one clinging to my phone for a substantial chunk of time. Many people are keeping their older smartphones for longer and longer; a phenomenon that can be evidenced by the IDC's roundup of data regarding the stagnation of annual smartphone sales. "In 2016, the market experienced its first-ever single-digit growth year with shipments up just 2.5% over 2015," it reports.

However, I'm not concerned about statistics, and couldn't care less if my technologically ancient Hydro Vibe makes a high school P.E. teacher with an iPhone 6S look like Tony Stark. Because, no matter how much anyone tries to justify their expensive iPhone X, Galaxy S9 or Pixel 2 XL, the reality is that the Kyocera Hydro Vibe can handle the essentials just as well as any premium phone, for an absurdly small fraction of the cost.

All the Essentials

Although it can't run visually intensive mobile apps like Fortnite (or even store them, for that matter) or take photos that will consistently impress, the Vibe can perform most standard phone operations without a hitch. I can play Sonic Forces: Speed Battle, a fairly hefty 2017 mobile game, online with reasonable load times and minimal frame dips.

I can, provided the right lighting and environment, take impressive pictures with the rear 8-megapixel camera. I can browse the web, use social apps, text with Swype, you name it. As far as a smartphone's utility as an actual phone and light entertainment device goes, the Vibe still rivals 2018's industry big boys.

Frankly, the only things I can't do are film half-decent videos and, in an ironic twist, make good phone calls without headphones. That's the Kyocera Hydro Vibe's biggest issue, by my estimates: its overtly crappy, virtually nonexistent speakers. The kicker is, that was an issue with this phone four years ago, so it's not like age has further soured the Hydro Vibe's biggest drawback. No, as far as time is concerned, this phone has aged beautifully.

Did I mention the Hydro Vibe is indestructible? You name it, and I've likely done it to this poor phone. I dropped it in a puddle once and it resuscitated itself after an hour on a towel. I've gotten it soaking wet in the rain on countless occasions, and it has consistently refused to give up on me. I've dropped it on concrete floors, thrown it against walls and punished it to a degree that would make Rocky Balboa cry uncle.

Yet, after all of that, across four years of exposure to the wild, it's accrued but a single scratch on its screen that's thinner than a strand of hair. And, honestly, I think that came from one of my cat's claws, as opposed to the years of wear and tear I imposed upon the device. Can your glass cannon of an iPhone X even come close to my Vibe's durability? Is your Galaxy S9 able to withstand the same beatings? I think not.

Looking Ahead

However, all good things must come to an end, and my Hydro Vibe is beginning to show its age. Its silver rim finish is starting to fade and chip, it lags and locks up every once in a while, and it's growing a little more finicky every day. However, it has managed to outlive its factory-included charger — for how long, though, is anyone's guess. We've officially entered the device's twilight years.

No matter its aging, the Hydro Vibe still has some quality time left in it to feed me music and games as I commute to work. So, for the time being, I remain a dinosaur who will unenthusiastically await the cold embrace of an inevitable technological ice age. One day, I often think to myself, I'll need to upgrade to a phone that belongs to the current era. One day, I'll forsake my trusty, ever-loyal Kyocera Hydro Vibe. One day, I'll be modern again. Not any day soon, though.

Credit: Shaun Lucas/Tom's Guide