Mobile Technology

Kyocera Brigadier review: Nearly unbreakable without breaking the bank

The Brigadier is dust and shock proof
The Brigadier is dust and shock proof
View 22 Images
The Brigadier is built to military grade specs
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The Brigadier is built to military grade specs
Kyocera's widgets are meant to be large for work in the field and with gloved hands
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Kyocera's widgets are meant to be large for work in the field and with gloved hands
The Brigadier's 4.5-inch display is ideal for one-handed operation
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The Brigadier's 4.5-inch display is ideal for one-handed operation
The Brigadier has more physical buttons than most latest-generation phones
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The Brigadier has more physical buttons than most latest-generation phones
A speakerphone button is a unique feature
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A speakerphone button is a unique feature
Front-facing speakers below the hard buttons deliver impressive volume
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Front-facing speakers below the hard buttons deliver impressive volume
The red programmable side button allows for additional customization
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The red programmable side button allows for additional customization
Military styling and an 8 megapixel camera on back
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Military styling and an 8 megapixel camera on back
The bottom USB port gets a waterproof cover
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The bottom USB port gets a waterproof cover
The Brigadier has one of the first mass-produced sapphire smartphone screens
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The Brigadier has one of the first mass-produced sapphire smartphone screens
The Brigadier has more physical buttons than most latest-generation phones
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The Brigadier has more physical buttons than most latest-generation phones
One of the few places evidence of rough treatment is obvious
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One of the few places evidence of rough treatment is obvious
The bottom USB port gets a waterproof cover
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The bottom USB port gets a waterproof cover
The sapphire screen remains pristine, but the rear panel reveals weaks of rough treatment
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The sapphire screen remains pristine, but the rear panel reveals weaks of rough treatment
The sapphire screen resists scratches from just about everything
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The sapphire screen resists scratches from just about everything
The bottom USB port gets a waterproof cover
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The bottom USB port gets a waterproof cover
A barometer and compass app are featured in the Brigadier skin
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A barometer and compass app are featured in the Brigadier skin
The Brigadier is dust and shock proof
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The Brigadier is dust and shock proof
The Brigadier is dust and shock proof
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The Brigadier is dust and shock proof
The Brigadier is dust and shock proof
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The Brigadier is dust and shock proof
The Brigadier is dust and shock proof
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The Brigadier is dust and shock proof
The Brigadier can with stand submersion in up to six feet of water for 30 minutes
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The Brigadier can with stand submersion in up to six feet of water for 30 minutes

Lately, smartphones are growing larger, lighter and thinner, making them increasingly frail to the point where we might have to worry about a $1,000 iPhone 6 Plus warping or bending in a back pocket. Amid this strange new status quo, the Kyocera Brigadier is the increasingly rare phone that need not be handled with care.

The Brigadier, the latest in Kyocera's line of rugged, Bear Grylls-endorsed, almost-indestructible phones, actually has the scratch-free sapphire screen that the iPhone 6 was rumored to get. It's also waterproof and resistant to dust, shocks and vibration.

I spent a few weeks using the Brigadier rather carelessly and it still performs like a champ for the most part. During the same period of time, my first-generation Moto X – which I actually try to take good care of as my primary phone – suffered a shattered screen after falling just 2 ft (60 cm) onto asphalt.

For weeks I've tossed the Brigadier around, including a few times in the pool, sauna and shower. I've taken it on bone-jarring mountain bike rides on the dirty and dusty trails of the American southwest's high desert, making sure to drop it several times along the way. After all this, the only evidence of my casual abuse are a few knicks in the phone's plastic shell and physical buttons. The sapphire screen is indeed about as shiny, scuff and scratch-free as the day it arrived.

One of the few places evidence of rough treatment is obvious
One of the few places evidence of rough treatment is obvious

However, what makes the Brigadier so burly will certainly be seen as one of its main downsides by those who have grown accustomed to the feather-light and razor-thin latest generation smartphones. Compared to the latest flagship phones like the iPhone 6, Galaxy S5 or new Moto X, the Brigadier feels like a brick.

With a 4.5-in 1,280 x 720 HD display and weighing in at 6.6 ounces (187 grams), this phone feels more like an earlier generation iPhone or Motorola Droid, especially considering that it measures over a half-inch thick, giving it almost twice as much girth as an iPhone 6.

Of course, if you're taking an interest in the Brigadier, it's probably safe to presume that a thin profile isn't your chief concern. There are other compromises that come with selecting a phone that's designed to be military grade and stand up to pretty much anything you might run into in the field. For starters, its Snapdragon 400 processor is decidedly mid-range and found in the likes of the LG G Watch Android Wear watch.

The Brigadier has more physical buttons than most latest-generation phones
The Brigadier has more physical buttons than most latest-generation phones

When I demanded a lot of the Brigadier, like tracking my jog with RunKeeper while listening to Spotify and attempting to take a photo, it would often suffer serious lag, non-responsive apps or crash the operating system altogether. This is an issue I've run into in the past with ruggedized devices and those from Kyocera in particular.

The 8 megapixel rear and 2 MP front cameras are also average – they wont wow but wont disappoint most looking for a basic smartphone camera either.

These few shortcomings become easily forgivable when the Brigadier's price is taken into account. With a new contract from Verizon Wireless, this phone can be had for only $99, or $399 off-contract. Consider that we've previously declared the Moto G to be one of the best smartphone deals at $179 off-contract. The Brigadier and Moto G both run off a Snapdragon 400, but with the Brigadier you get 4G LTE data, the first mass market sapphire screen, the aforementioned ruggedized treatment, physical buttons, and front-facing speakers capable of impressive volume, even in the shower.

The Brigadier has more physical buttons than most latest-generation phones
The Brigadier has more physical buttons than most latest-generation phones

Don't think this phone is so tough that you'll be able to take it scuba diving, however. It won't actually function underwater, but its IPX8 rating means it can withstand immersion in water up to 6 feet deep for as long as thirty minutes without being damaged or destroyed. That said, the sapphire touch screen has been designed to perform much better than the average touch screen when it's wet or while wearing gloves.

Following the theme of being the workman's phone, the Brigaider is compatible with a suite of enterprise features and has hard keys, including the regular Android buttons for navigation and additional keys for speakerphone, camera and an extra programmable side key.

The red programmable side button allows for additional customization
The red programmable side button allows for additional customization

Kyocera's skin takes a relatively light touch to Android 4.4 KitKat, adding a set of widgets also specifically designed with large icons for easy access to frequently used apps or settings with gloved fingers. Sticking with the outdoorsy theme, compass, flashlight and weather widgets also come standard.

The Brigadier packs a substantial 3,100 mAh battery, which I found to be more than adequate for a full day of use, if not two, between charges. It also takes advantage of Qualcomm's quick charging technology with the included charger and is compatible with Qi standard wireless charging units, something that, for some reason, neither Kyocera nor Verizon has made much of an effort to mention.

The sapphire screen remains pristine, but the rear panel reveals weaks of rough treatment
The sapphire screen remains pristine, but the rear panel reveals weaks of rough treatment

If you're looking for a tough phone on a budget and you're willing to sacrifice some of the bells and whistles and smoking speed found in the top phones of the moment, this is probably your best choice for now.

The Brigadier is available from Verizon and Amazon, but even the off-contract models, which have both CDMA and GSM radios, come locked to the Verizon network.

Source: Kyocera

9 comments
Erg
Actually makes me want to get a smartphone.
Joel Detrow
> locked to the Verizon network. ffffffffffff—
VoiceofReason
Looks like a great phone. Love the sapphire screen, which is very hard compared to glass, but more brittle. Will be interesting to see it in a few months. Also can it be viewed in direct sunlight?
Michael Flower
I wonder whether or not they actually use a Working, Fully-Fuctional Smartphone to perform the test, or is the just a "Smoke Screen" test...
flink
I wonder how easy it would be to root one of these phones? After that, it should be simple to take it to another carrier.
harm152
My Brigadier failed in 3 feet of water in under 20 minutes, well under the OEM specifications of 6 feet and 30 minutes. We were at a water park, I walked into the wave pool to take photos of my kids, and when I went to snap a shot, water was in the lens. Verizon was terrible to deal with, I am hoping Kyocera is better, I will find out monday.
MattEagle
One day, the SIM card decided it wasn't going to stay inside anymore. Behind said SIM card, there is a spring with approximately the same amount of force found behind a hydraulic piston on a backhoe. I remedied this problem by jamming a folded-to-size piece of paper and tying the latch shut with 550 paracord. I tried Gorilla tape first, but it was not strong enough. Aforementioned spring can drag a knot out of aforementioned paracord, so must be re-tied at least once a day. More recently, the little jelly-band that holds aforementioned latch to phone and provides one of two stable anchor points, broke, which has made the whole dilemma that much more interesting. I miss my Commando.
4x4_Welder
I liked this phone, but Verizon and Kyocera have ruined it for me. It lasted over a year of very rough use, then was bricked by an update. I still have nearly a year of payments left, Verizon is saying it's Kyocera, Kyocera says it's Verizon's fault, and both say just go get a new phone. Well, screw the both of them, I'm getting a new phone that isn't Verizon or Kyocera. I hate poor customer service. Nobody should buy this phone or use Verizon.
ksclements@yahoo.com
First phone I have had that is actually ok with water. ONLY PROBLEM I have had with this phone is the ear phone port cover (Never used as I have wireless earbuds) fell off. The phone was replaced and now the charging port cover has snapped off. I now have had 2 of these phones in 10 months. Kyocera is easy to work with and is repairing phone again, but for such a tough phone I think the port covers are VERY WEAK!