Silverace 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 call.

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 battery.

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 Mobile.

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 front buttons.

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 and quality.
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 (1.6MB, MPG)
Voice Recorder Slider V5 (1.2MB, MPG)

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 bitrate).

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.

Other notes.

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 area.
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 book hack.

Final comments.

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 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 as it has always been, it now displays either or (former for SMS messages, latter for MMS messages).  While replies to do return to my phone, replies to 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 wrong.
     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 ( and destroys the convenience of the VM service for convenient text messaging.
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 phone!
4) MMS messages that arrive at the phone can easily handle texts of a dozen paragraphs long.  You will have to message to the 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 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 of text).
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 casual photographer.