The Smart Pig
Smart Information Column
Issue 6, 10/2005
Kyocera Slider Sonic cellphone for Virgin Mobile USA review
The Virgin Mobile Slider Sonic phone made by Kyocera shipped in two
days after the order was placed online with VM. You'll have to
order very early in the day to catch the FedEx Standard Overnight
shipping cutoff time for 1/next day delivery of the phone, otherwise,
expect to wait two days to receive the phone.
The phone itself comes in the standard annoying plastic anti-theft
packaging that is being used for most pre-paid phones sold today,
including the older Kyocera Slider V5 phone.
The linked photos below show the front and back of the packaging for
both the Slider Sonic (SS) and the original Slider V5 (SV5) phones.
The manuals included are similar to what came with the SV5 - User's
Guide, Terms & Conditions, Accessories, Start Here, and a few
miscellaneous cards of low significance.
The accessories that come with the SS are more numerous than the
SV5. The SV5 had only the AC adapter (right-most adapter in the
first photo below with the wider phone connector); the SS comes with an
AC adapter, PC to Phone USB cable, 32MB TransFlash card & SD card
adapter, and stereo headset that can be used to listen to the music
& videos on the phone as well as to make phone calls.
The new SS phone is larger and heavier than the SV5 it replaces.
Although it could have been made smaller if it were contained in a
metal shell and/or using tighter tolerances, the SS is still a medium
sized phone that will fit a shirt pocket well and palm without being
too bulky. However, it is certainly not one of the very smallest
sliding phones available. One such phone is the Samsung SGH-E635, which
is even smaller than the SV5. The sliding mechanism is similar to
the SV5, whereby two metal rails guide the two parts of the body as
they open and close.
Unfortunately, the slick black plastic surface picks up fingerprints,
grease, and markings as fast as the poorly encased Playstation
Portable, and users will find themselves reaching for the microfiber
cleaning clothes far, far more frequently than when with the SV5. The
phone itself simply looks tired and ugly after a few minutes of use,
especially when passed around. The SV5 did not have this problem
except on the screen area itself when pressed against the face during a
The SS uses a similar 3.7v battery as the SV5, but with the contacts
located on the side of the pack ratehr than the bottom. It is
also not integrated into the somewhat flimsy back panel, so you can
remove the back without the phone losing power. A slim plastic film tab
is the only thing you can grab with your fingers to pop the battery
out, so if it breaks, you'll have to shake or pry the battery
out. An extended battery than is fatter will be available, and
will naturally also require a new back panel to hold the thicker
The SS has a larger, brighter, higher-density LCD screen than the
SV5. As a result, it is much easier to view the display in indoor
conditions, and the extra brightness vs. the SV5 is instantly
noticed. However, the screen is dull but viewable outdoors, so it
is still not as good as the LCD displays on the better digital cameras
made today which have sunlight readable displays that are bright and
clear. The screen brightness is similar to a friend's LG VX6000
display indoors, perhaps a touch brighter, but definitely clearer due
to the higher-density display which allow graphics to look smooth.
The display of basic information on both phones are similar, but the SS
moves the time and date to the bottom, and uses an icon for times when
the speakerphone is activated rather than a text message across the
center of the display.
The larger, brighter screen on the SS allows for a more pleasant
wallpaper to be displayed without the feel of overcrowding. The
graphics are certainly smoother and more colorful than those that came
with the SV5. While the LIST menu mode is the same as before, the ICON
menu mode shows some signs of overdesign and suffers from having icons
that are not distinct enough vs. the older SV5 to be clearly
distinguishable upon first glance, or even after a few seconds of
viewing. This is a flaw on Kyocera's part and it is probably not
correctable without a firmware update. the SV5 icons are prefered
due to their clear shapes. The SS adds a WHEEL menu, which looks
good, but unfortunately, suffers from slow feedback due to the somewhat
sluggish processing of the CPU in this phone. The other menu
modes operate instantly and without delay when choosing an option and
selecting them. This sluggish response problem is also seen on
some phones made by others, such as the lower end Samsung phones with
3D icon menus that move forward and back in space along a row.
Phone makers should be barred from producing menu designs which exceed
the processing power of the phone itself!
Thankfully, Kyocera finally smartened up and added full numeric keypad
access to all functions in the SS, a feature missing in the older
SV5. You can easily remember and press a sequence of numbers to
enter a submenu, then pick a submenu item to execute. This works
in all menu modes, and is the prefered way to access frequently desired
menu items quickly - such as locking the phone. Unfortunately,
there is no way to program your own buttons to choose a frequently used
menu item, such as locking the phone, so actions such as this remains a
tedious multi-button affair. Phone makers should be barred from
making phones that, at the minimum, cannot be fully locked in one
button press for security and against accidental button presses (here,
keyguard is not enough against theft, misplaced phones, or access by
other people such as kids, ex-anythings, etc.).
The phone is fully operational in both open and closed mode, so you can
easily access all menu items and almost all features (those which do
not require a keypad button entry, such as phone lock, calculator,
etc.) are available for use in the closed position. You can make
phone calls, check messages, and so forth in the closed position -
however, the SAR (radiation) exposure is higher in the closed position
than in the open position. You can activate the keyguard by
pressing and holding the BACK button located on the lower part of the
front cover, which is later unlocked by pressing the left menu button
followed by the center OK button.
Like any sliding phone, you can accidentally keep depress a button on
the front of the phone while it is in your pocket long enough to fully
drain the phone within hours as the backlight always lights during a
button press. A proper case or holster is needed to prevent
this. I would recommend the SS Kyocera holster since the SV5
holster worked extremely well in keep the phone attached, and away from
accidental button presses.
Whether by choice or economics, the SS comes with far fewer ringtones,
wallpapers, and screen savers than the SV5. Thankfully, the SS does
come with one or two wallpapers that I do prefer, but unfortunately,
that cannot be said of the other two categories. The screen
savers are as dumb as those included with the SV5, and the ringtones
are far worse - there's only one traditional ringtone, Euro Phone, and
three musical ones. Phone makers should be barred from making
phones that ship without a full selection of traditional telephone
ringtones, especially when the musical ones are so bad (ie. not popular
at all) that one would not want to be heard with the phone ringing in
any business environment. They cannot be used in most quieter
environements, and are not recommended for use when sleeping and
wanting to wake without a start. The lack of even a few classical
or jazz ringtones demonstrate the poor decisions and taste of Virgin
At this time, the day after receipt of the new Slider Sonic phone, no
way has been found to load new ringtones or wallpapers manually through
the USB cable or the Transflash card to this phone =(.
Text messaging is one of the most basic, but vital features of any
modern phone. But sadly, the SS falls short of utilizing the
maximum potential the new, larger screen offers. One of the most
significant problems is that it displays half the number of lines the
older SV5 does when composing messages. The designers at Kyocera
should be severely punished for this mistake. Other well-designed
phones, such as many of those from Samsung, utilize the full area of
the screen to display multiple lines of text during the composition of
text messages, along with the use of both regular and small font
options, to maximize the text messaging experience. Quite sadly,
the SS is a step backwards in this respect.
The response of the SS processor is quick enough to keep up with
standard, super-fast text messaging keypresses most users are
accustomed to, and in this regards, the SS has fixed the sluggish
response problem then SV5 has. Most of the major elements remain
the same - T9 word input, etc. - so most Kyocera users will find it to
be an easy transition to the SS.
The keypad buttons are large enough and responsive enough to allow for
super-rapid text messaging, but a few drawbacks slow down the avid text
messenger - no raised bump on the 5 key to locate it (there are very
small bumps on both sides, but you really can't feel them), and a very
small Back button located not on the main keypad area itself, but
farther away on the faceplate. As a result, unless you've locked
your fingers into position, you will find it frustrating at times
having to reach for that small Back button and to recenter yourself on
the numbers during very fast text messaging.
Thankfully, the contacts, one of the other basic but vital features of
a phone, has been expanded to hold more fields than before, and even
longer entries, too. It remains a breeze to use, allows for quick
and easy addition of new contacts, and is a solid function of this
phone. Sadly, the carrier, Sprint, has not smartened up and moved
to the universal GSM network & use of SIM cards, so the migration
from older VM phones to the SS remains a tedious, long, boring,
unnecessary process of manually re-entering each and every contact by
hand. This process will take many hours for most cell phone
users, if not spread over several days. Providers should be
banned from ever releasing cell phones that are not based on a
worldwide standard (ie. GSM), and especially so if they do not support
SIM cards for easy transport of contacts from phone to phone. The
latter point is one significant drawback of this phone and provider,
and is one reason users with hundreds of contacts should consider other
providers such as Cingular and Tmobile in the USA (the only two main
providers that use SIM card & GSM phones in the USA; Verizon,
Sprint, Nextel, and others do not).
A third frequently used features of modern cell phones is the calendar
feature, and this remains a basic, but usable in the Slider Sonic.
Added are an expanded set of alarms, meeting types, and so forth.
Sadly, like the poor implementation of the text messaging feature,
Kyocera made another mistake by not utilizing the full capabilities of
the new screen by displaying only a few hours of the day at once on
screen at once. The screen can easily handle displaying more
hours per day, and much more information at once than what they've
designed. Pretty, but useless = almost pretty useless.
Here, both Kyocera and Virgin Mobile are missing an important and
critical grasp of their key users by not fully implementing features
that most other modern cell phones have today (eg. multi-line, dense
display of information on-screen at once to eliminate and reduce
scrolling through multiple pages of information; eg. no way to easily
load your own backgrounds & ringtones out-of-the-box, etc).
Other basic functions such as the alarm, calculator, and timer remain
the same or slightly updated. The alarm has been expanded from a
single alarm to four alarms, the calculator has been redesigned to
require no scrolling at all to select which of the mathematical
functions to undergo, and the timer is more colorful. Again,
Kyocera should be banned from ergonomic studies and design of cell
phones for their poor placement of the mathematical functions on the
unit - here, placing the addition key in the # position and the
multiplication key in the * position would have made this far nicer and
quicker to use for the majority of basic calculations, especially
one-handed. The current setup is awkward for super-rapid calculations
of such due to the placement of the addition and equals keys on the
Sadly, no thought was placed to adding a split mode to the stopwatch,
nor a count up & down timer - features which any basic electronic
wristwatch would possess and easily programmed into a phone.
Unfortunately as well, none of these features take into account the
needs of travellers, and none of these - alarm or calendar items - have
a settable local time vs. home time capability. You'll have to
reset all of your alarms and appointments for the correct time when
travelling. One misses the full capabilities of a PDA running a
powerful scheduler such as DateBk5 for the Palm PDAs which allows for
full local & home time adjustments.
One newcomer to the SS coming from the older SV5 is the addition of a
world time tool. You cannot use this as the background of your
main display, nor can you see the difference in hours vs. GMT time -
both sad mistakes on the part of Kyocera. Also, the tool does not
remember the last city you chose, so this tool is definitely not as
well designed as it should be for international travellers. That
said, it does provide the very basics of looking up the current time in
cities around the world.
The SS comes with a unique PC to phone USB cable that has a proprietary
connector you cannot easily find elsewhere and is not compatible with
the standard USB cables you will find in most stores. Besides
this failing, the phone does show up immediately on the PC as another
removable drive, and you can easily drag & drop MP3 and 3GP
(MPEG-4) files to the appropriate folders on the removable Transflash
card to use them on the cell phone. Unfortunately, putting the
phone into this mode takes it off the cellular network, and the phone
reboots once you've disconnected it from the PC to reenter the cellular
network service. This is a design flaw that should have been
taken out of this phone - no reason a phone can't continue to operate
on the cellular network while transfering files to and from a PC.
Videos of phone in operation.
The SS has a different startup sequence (as well as shutdown) versus
the SV5 - merely annoying for most power users who have to wait another
couple of seconds for the flashy animation to finish playing.
More useful would have been a full status display of inbox messages,
battery life, calls made, etc. It is loud, so keep this in mind
when you are trying to turn on or turn off the phone in a quiet
location such as the movie theater.
Power On Sequence (3.3MB, MPG)
Animation of the newly added Wheel menu mode. Notice the lag when
the menu items are being selected quickly - they simply blank out and
have no text. The SS processor is simply too slow.
Wheel Menu (5MB, MPG)
The very limited and doubtful selection of ringtones that come with the
SS. A very poor showing verus the older SV5, which had many more
ringtones, especially for a $250 phone.
Ringtones (12.3MB, MPG)
The even more doubtful screensavers that come with the SS. An
extremely poor selection given the price of this phone in both quantity
Screensaver 1 (1MB, MPG)
Screensaver 2 (1.2MB, MPG)
Screensaver 3 (1.9MB, MPG)
The minor differences in voice prompts in the voice recorder function.
Voice Recorder Slider Sonic
Voice Recorder Slider V5 (1.2MB,
The music playback feature of the SS is quite basic - simply drag &
drop MP3 files to the Transflash card, start up the music player, and
either play everything or create a playlist. Certainly not
feature packed, and the controls are limited to
Next/Prior/Stop/Play. Missing are the important FF/RW and
bookmark modes found in most MP3 players made today, and certain
features that are easily programmed into any cell phone.
The MPEG-4 (*.3GP filename) playback feature works the same - simply
drag & drop 3GP files to the Transflash cards, select a movie, and
play the video of your choice. Unfortunately, the video player is
also missing the important FF/RW and bookmark modes, and the critical
(for longer videos) Jump To mode found in most multimedia players.
You will have to wait through entire movies/MP3 to reach the point
you'd like to continue/start from, and this makes audiobooks and movies
especially painful to utilize on this phone.
The files used for the video player are standard MPEG-4 video files you
can easily create on any PC (Using Nero Recode, simply select MOBILE
profile, 176x144 video size, 50kpbs or so - unknown at this time what
the full range of valid values are, and under Advanced Settings,
Quicktime compatible mode - then take the *.MP4 file and rename it to
*.3GP. You can use the same filename as another video filmed by the
camera as a template.). You can rotate the video in all four
directions during playback, and zoom to 1/4 size, centered as well.
Here, you can see Gwen converted in seconds and playing on the phone
itself from the included 32MB Transflash card. You can expect
about 1MB of storage space required for each minute of video at the
50kpbs video rate (longer per MB if you chose a lower quality, lower
3GP (MPEG-4) Movie Playback (9.2MB, MPG)
The speakerphone in the SS is significantly louder than the SV5, but
can only be set during playback to 0%, 25%, 50%, 75% and 100%
loudness. This is a major drawback, and applies to headphone use
as well. You may need to reduce the sound volume of MP3 and video
files prior to use in the SS.
On the other hand, the speaker is loud enough even at 25% to be heard
across a room, and you can easily listen to music while walking down a
noisy streetside using 50-100% sound volumes. Distortion is
noticable in a few of the louder tracks at 100%, but typically, 25%-75%
is more than loud enough to enjoy whatever's playing back on the SS.
The volume keys on the side of the SS do allow you to go from full
silence through vibrate, then the 7 volume levels of ring volume.
Sadly, entering vibrate mode does not result in the unit vibrating to
confirm entering this mode, so you cannot easily set the phone to
vibrate mode without looking at it as you did with the SV5.
Oddly, if you enter the Sound submenu under Settings, the phone will
vibrate when set to this mode. More troublesome, you can
accidentally raise or lower or turn off vibrate mode when the phone has
been locked! This is a Significant drawback and Kyocera should be
banned from making cell phones that allow for critical settings changes
when the phone is locked. Locked should mean that short of making
a 911 call, or perhaps receiving an incoming call, all buttons and
features are locked against change. The current state of the
volume keys means you may accidentally miss calls if these buttons are
pressed while the phone is in a case, pocket, etc.
The camera lens does not have a cover to protect it, and dust easily
builds up in a few hours to a day of use. Very annoying.
The flash is not bright enough to take a photo of a subject five feet
away in darkness. No idea why they even bothered to put one in
that is so ineffective.
The headset is a 2.5mm jack, and to hear the music/video playback
requires the use of the included headjack. Wish it was a standard 3.5mm
jack for stereo headphones.
Like the SV5, the SS has a constant low level white noise present when
the phone menu is in use. Interference from the processor and
other electronics perhaps, but certainly a distraction given the
current, excellent audio capabilities of better phones out today, such
as the Sony Walkman W800 cell phone.
The strap hole in the back is not centered and the phone will not hang
vertically off a neck strap. Very annoying - such things should
be perfectly centered.
The phone has an external antenna - very antiquated when most modern
phones have eliminated this completely. Even competing sliding phones
such as the Samsung SGH-E635 have eliminated this completely in a
smaller phone design!
The screen is not the best nor the brightest out, but good for a basic
cell phone. About 45 degrees off horizontal, 20-25 degrees off
vertical is the most you'll go before significant color changes occur -
thus the viewing angle is limited somewhat, although it is still usable
in most situations and holding positions.
Unused space above the keypad - they should have used this space for a
2nd Back button, if not a quick access programmable button.
RF reception is about the same or a bit better than the SV5. Same
number of bars, same call capabilties that I've had with the SV5 in my
Speakerphone can be much louder and is clearer for voice calls than the
SV5. The clarity extends to music and video playback, and is 'pretty
good' for a cell phone. Those I've called were surprised that I was on
a speakerphone in terms of my voice quality.
Unlike the SV5, the SS cannot stand on it's end vertically on a
desk. This is a significant drawback of this phone for monitoring
incoming calls while at work. Also, the display goes completely (100%)
dark and you cannot see anything at all when the phone has been idling
long enough to enter power save mode. As a result, this phone is
less useful than the SV5 for monitoring the current time when used as a
desk clock substitute.
The WAP browser is usable for what it is as long as you realize that it
is running at modem speeds, and the text display will be limited as
such on the tiny screen - nothing as powerful as on a PDA phone, nor
equal in power or functionality as the graphical online experiences
currently provided by Verizon and other providers on their faster
networks and better phone browsers. Pretty much what was
available to SV5 users before VM cut them off from using the address
At this time, after one day of ownership, I would rate this phone a 4
out of 5 stars in terms of functionality for what it can do as a
multimedia phone. It will be rated differently if placed in competition
with a PDA phone, or other such, but as intended, it does do the basics
of music and video playback well.
However, due to the current $250 price tag, and the fact that you can
easily get a new phone with similar or more features with a new plan
and $100-300 back from amazon.com and local, 3rd party cellular stores,
this phone rates a 2 to 3 stars out of 5 in terms of value, especially
for those who are considering whether to upgrade. You can easily
buy an older fully functional Slider V5 phone and a small MP3 player
such as the Mobiblu cube (Size of a Quarter in all dimensions!) for far
less than this phone, and many of Virgin Mobile's other phones provide
a far better value for your money than the Slider Sonic.
Especially so when you realize that instead of spending $250 on a new
VM phone, you can sign up for any other provider on a plan and you will
get back in cash $100-300 along with a new phone!
Day 2 - additional comments.
1) The SS has messed up my text messaging. Rather than tagging
all FROM: fields of outgoing text messages as firstname.lastname@example.org
as it has always been, it now displays either
email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
(former for SMS messages, latter for MMS messages). While replies
to @vmpix.com do return to my phone, replies to
@messaging.sprintpcs.com are dropped completely (100% lost). I've
switched back to the SV5, but this has not corrected the problem.
Thus, I've called VM and they've opened a case to figure out what went
New SS users may continue to encounter this
significant problem until VM has the new SS figured out - but even
afterwards, the use of two outgoing email addresses (@vmpix.com and
@vmobl.com) destroys the convenience of the VM service for convenient
2) The SS crashed three times already - twice requiring a full power
down then power up to get it going; once requiring the battery to be
pulled to force a full shutdown of the unit. This occured after
playing MP3 and Video files. Apparently, Kyocera has not yet
fully debugged the SS for production release yet.
3) The keyguard does not remain active when the unit is slid
open! This is a significant failure on Kyocera's part - a phone
that was thought to be locked, but accidentally opened can now be used!
(not good when it's opened by accident in a bag, by kids, etc!)
Activating and deactivating keyguard should be a manually initiated
process, and at no time should it be overridden simply by opening the
4) MMS messages that arrive at the phone can easily handle texts of a
dozen paragraphs long. You will have to message to the @vmpix.com
address to receive such messages. SMS messages are limited to the
160 character limit imposed by the format and VM. Outgoing MMS
messages can be 1000 characters long.
5) The web browser is very slow versus the latest found on faster
network phones such as those from Verizon. Although it does
display images on Yahoo.com fine and shrunk down automatically, longer
pages results in a memory out condition, so some images will not
display on a longer webpage. Definitely modem speeds versus the
faster EDGE speeds found on the Verizon phones, or the Vision PCS
phones on the Sprint network.
6) The game demos included all require you to buy the full version to
access all features. The resolution of the game is high, and
sadly, the rest of the phone menus and text do not use this to their
advantage (ie. smaller fonts for text messaging and full screen display
7) The SV5 is truely in the compact category, easily fitting into the
palm of one's hands and feels 'small'. The SS does not and is in
the regular category of cell phones. Certainly not an 'upgrade'
for those comfortable or wanting a small cell phone.
8) Very annoying! If you press up or left on the menu pad, you will
automatically go online (to either VirginXL or Check Balance) without a
prior prompt asking if you'd like to spend money to do this. You
can easily and accidentally over-check your balance on this phone many
times in a day.
Overall adjusted rating: 2 out of 5 stars, due to the mess the SS has
caused with the text messaging FROM: address, the poor implementation
of keyguard, multiple crashes in the first two days of use, lack of a
well designed text messaging display, a slow web browser, and various
other problems. Certainly NOT a phone worth the $249 it lists for.
falloff and flare. Both produce generally nice 4x6" prints for the