Amid all the high-end, superpremium devices, it's nice to see carriers like Sprint also offering free, basic phones for renewing customers and luring new recruits. While the Brio certainly isn't anything worth paying much money for, it's not a terrible free phone, either. Despite being incredibly basic, it does come with a QWERTY keyboard and supports e-mail services, Bluetooth 2.0, and a Web browser.
However, it also only channels 2.5G data speeds (that's right, there's no 3G), and doesn't support native mapping, hot spots, or GPS.
In the looks department, the keyboarded Brio resembles the Kyocera Loft and the Kyocera Torino, mostly because of that compact QWERTY-on-a-candy-bar design that also mimics the classic BlackBerry form.
It's made of smooth gray plastic all around, with a couple of metallic gray accents on the navigation and surrounding the camera lens. The shape is about what you'd expect, too--4.5 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide by a slightly chunky 0.6 inch thick. It weighs 3.7 ounces, which is on the light side, but the phone doesn't feel like it's going to blow away in a strong wind.
Like so many candy bar QWERTY handsets, the Brio's screen is on the smaller side. It's a 2.2-inch QVGA landscape display with a 320x240-pixel resolution and support for 65,000 colors. While bright enough and colorful enough, the small, blocky font is hard to read when in all-caps. Worse, it evokes an old computer typography best left covered with cobwebs. The lower-case font used more prevalently in the menus is also old-school, but easier to read.
Once you realize you have to press the OK button to reach the phone menu, navigating is a piece of cake. You can choose to either see your options in grid or list view, and it's pretty easy from there to navigate around. The display settings are fair--you can swap screensavers, change the backlight time and the screen brightness, and set the clock, but it's missing controls for font size and type. There are parental controls, however.
Navigation takes place with the four-directional D-pad, the central OK button, and two soft keys below the display. There are also the Talk and End buttons, the Back button, and a shortcut key that gets you to your messages. The Brio jazzes it up a bit by slashing sharp angles around the buttons, but frankly, the feeling of said buttons beneath the fingers was less responsive than I'd like, especially the soft keys. Likewise, the navigational square and OK button both have thin, sharp edges that worked fine but didn't feel good.
Below the navigation buttons, the four-row QWERTY keyboard is compact--those with larger hands would call it small. The buttons are ridged, which is usually a great idea for clearly defining where one end and the other begins, and for giving your fingers something to grip onto. In this case, I'm on the fence about them. Sometimes, I hit the buttons just right with my nails and typing is fine, albeit a little slower than on phones with better spring-back. Other times my fingers slip and I find myself frustrated. What is nice are the buttons for appending ".com," for emoticons, and for jumping to the call history.
As for the externals, Kyocera concentrates them on the phone's left spine. That's where the camera button, Micro-USB charging port, and short, narrow volume rocker live (bad design, Kyocera). Up top is the 2.5-millimeter headset jack. It should be the 3.5-millimeter standard, but since there's no music player on the phone, it's not as heinous a crime. On the back there's the lens for the 1.3-megapixel camera, and behind the back cover (which I initially had a hard time prying off) there's the microSD card slot that holds up to 32GB external memory. A red indicator light sits above the display on the phone face.
Although most people won't exhaust the 600-contact limit in the Brio's phone book, it's a shame that there's not enough space for the more common 1,000 cap. There's room in each entry for multiple phone numbers, an e-mail address, IM and a URL, an address, a birthday reminder, and notes. There are also a whopping 37 preloaded ringtones to choose from, not including any you might download, and also silent mode.