Kyocera Brigadier review: An ugly, indestructible mid-range phone

Kyocera has produced some peculiar phones for the U.S., like the Kyocera Echo for Sprint back in 2011. Since then, the company has kept it simple and has largely focused on the mid-range market. One of it's latest offerings, the Brigadier, is a ruggedized Verizon-exclusive smartphone that will only cost you only $50 on a new two-year contract. 

When you think of a rugged phone, there are a few things that come to mind: It can take a beating, it's possibly water-resistant, and more than likely, it's ugly as sin. You can check all three boxes for the Brigadier, though it's not without noting a few tricks that make it a bit more interesting than your average mid-range smartphone.

A design only a manufacturer could love

brigadier 2 Michael Homnick

The Brigadier can handle a ton of environmental extremes, so a tumble in wood chips is a walk in the park. 

Why ruggedized phones seemingly need to be designed like a Transformer is beyond me. The Brigadier is ugly, and it didn't have to be. Samsung proved that rugged phones don't need to look bad with the S5 Active, which admittedly isn't gorgeous, but it's much more approachable than Kyocera's offering. 

When manufacturers make rugged phones, the term "seeing is believing" seems to heavily affect the design. The intentional choice to leave screws exposed and design a product with jagged edges has little to do with how sturdy it is. However, if you're looking for a rugged phone, this design is more likely to draw you to it.  

The Brigadier has more buttons than most smartphones, and offers up a few that you don't normally see. You'll find the 3 physical navigation buttons for back, home, and multitasking on the front of the phone, volume rocker on the left side, and power button on the top. It also features a dedicated camera shutter and speaker phone buttons. 

Like the Galaxy S5 Active, the Brigadier sports an extra button that you can customize to open any app, which can come in handy if you want quick access to the flashlight or dialer. 

Hardware hides a few surprises

brigadier programmable button Michael Homnick

On the left side of the Brigadier, there's a red button that you can program to launch any app.

The Brigadier comes with a 4.5-inch, 720p HD display, 1.4GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400 processor, 8 megapixel camera with single LED flash, and 2 megapixel front facing camera. While these specs are your standard, mid-range affair, the Brigadier also ships with a massive 3,100 mAh battery and Qi wireless charging support out of the box. The addition of the large battery and wireless charging really does help this phone stand out. 

The ruggedized smartphone carries an IP68 rating, which means it can be submerged in 6 feet of water for up to 30 minutes. It also sports a MIL-STD-810G rating (same as the S5 Active) to withstand exposure to many different environmental extremes, such as temperature, dust, and vibration, just to name a few. 

Sapphire Shield display is the cherry on top

As if the Brigadier wasn't sturdy enough, one of the most interesting features is that it has a Sapphire Shield display, besting the fortified glass found on most smartphones today. With a mineral hardness of 9, the synthesized Corundum is the second only to diamond, meaning that the screen on the Brigadier is ridiculously strong.

Essentially scratch-proof, I attempted to jab and prod at the display with keys and even a knife, but couldn't make a noticeable mark. The hardness of the display ensures that you won't need a screen protector with the Brigadier.

Slightly tweaked, unimpressive software

brigadier software

With the exception of the lock screen and a few widgets, the Brigadier offers up a familiar Android experience.

With the exception of a few tweaks, there's nothing particularly special about the Brigadier's software. It's slightly skinned Android that retains the familiar way to navigate, with no huge surprises.

The biggest deviation from the standard Android experience is found in the lock screen. A "launch" button sits at the bottom of the lock screen, and will reveal options for Camera, Start, and Phone when tapped. The Start option unlocks the phone, while swiping to the other options will bring you to the corresponding apps. Other than this, the user interface keeps a fairly standard Android home screen setup. 

It's nice to see the Brigadier ship with one of the latest versions of the OS, Android 4.4.2. With manufacturers paying most attention to flagship phones, the chances of it receiving more than one major update is somewhat low, but that's not to say it won't get some Android L love in its lifetime.  

A few standout additions to the Brigadier are a barometor app to measure altitude and atmospheric pressure, as well as a compass widget.

Good battery life that could get better with updates

We know the Brigadier can take a beating, but its built to last in more than one way. Packing a beastly 3,100 mAh battery, it'll get you through the day, and well into the night. While this is all you need, software optimization could extend the battery life even more later on.

The Brigadier lasted 9.5 hours in our battery test, which includes placing it in Airplane mode, setting the display to 100 lumens, and playing a HD video until the battery runs out. 

The phone's battery test results are nothing to scoff at, but here's something to think about: The HTC One (M8), Samsung Galaxy S5, and LG G3 all have smaller batteries and more powerful hardware than the Brigadier, yet all three lasted longer in the same battery test. While there are many factors that could affect the battery life on a smartphones, software optimization can help immensely, and I'm guessing that Kyocera could give the phone some love in this department to make it last even longer. 

A sturdy phone for the rugged lifestyle

brigadier Michael Homnick

Like most rugged Android phones, Kyocerca replaced the on-screen navigation buttons with physical buttons.

Like most heavily ruggedized phones, the Brigadier is a hyper-specific smartphone that caters to a small subset of users. Nonetheless, the mid-range phone performs well, has a battery that will easily last you all day, and is very affordable. Plus, you'll get a Sapphire Shield display and Qi-Wireless charging, which are pretty sweet features to have in a mid-range smartphone.

Given that there aren't many rugged smartphones out there, if you're on Verizon Wireless and need a phone that can take a beating, the Brigadier most definitely gets the job done. 

3.0

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