Do you want a phone that's sleek, svelte and sexy? Or do you want a phone that's able to withstand almost any type of abuse?
Most smartphones these days are designed for the former; they're objects of beauty built to look and feel good. The Kyocera Brigadier is not one of those phones. The Kyocera Brigadier is built like a tank.
The Brigadier, available now from Verizon Wireless (and Verizon Wireless alone) for $100 with a two-year contract, is all about durability. With a sapphire glass display, IP68-rated waterproof/dustproof construction and Military Standard 810G protection, this is no frail device.
I've been using the Kyocera Brigadier for the past several days. It's very different from the sorts of phones I typically review -- and depending on your needs, that could be a very good thing.
The warrior phone
Make no mistake about it: The Brigadier is not a sleek device. The phone is best described as rugged and utilitarian -- more construction worker than runway model. Its hard plastic casing wraps around its body like armor and is held in place with secure-looking visible screws.
At 5.4 x 2.7 x 0.52 in. and 6.6 oz., the phone is quite solid; for comparison, HTC's all-metal One (M8), which is meaningfully taller and wider, weighs a full ounce less. The Brigadier is also significantly chunkier than the M8 and pretty much any other recent flagship phone.
But if you're buying the Kyocera Brigadier, it isn't for its looks; it's for its strength. Frame sturdiness aside, the Brigadier's sapphire glass screen -- a technology that's gotten lots of attention lately thanks to its rumored presence in Apple's upcoming iPhone 6 -- is said to be "virtually scratchproof" and second only to diamond in mineral hardness.
Kyocera encouraged me to put those claims to the test -- and boy, did I. I gritted my teeth and dropped the phone on pavement, concrete and rocks. I forcefully scraped it with keys, rocks, sandpaper, steel wool and a sharp knife. And you know what? The Brigadier emerged every time without a single scratch on its face.
The phone's casing did get a little dinged up -- some scattered scuffs, scratches and dents from various points of impact during my many drops -- but it remained perfectly secure and usable, even after a day of concentrated abuse.
The Brigadier's waterproof rating means it can be submerged in up to six feet of liquid for as long as half an hour. I didn't go quite that far, but I did drop the device in a bucket of water and spray it with a high-pressure hose, and the phone didn't bat an eye. Even more impressive was the fact that the Brigadier's touchscreen actually works when it's wet (or when your fingers are wet), so long as it's not actively submerged.
According to Kyocera, the screen can be controlled with gloves on, too, but I had less luck in that department: With relatively thin winter gloves on my hands, I was able to swipe around and press things on the display, but only when I applied a lot of pressure -- and even then, actions were inconsistent and difficult to perform. With thicker industrial gloves on my hands, I was unable to get any response at all.
Kyocera says several factors can affect the phone's glove functionality, though -- including the material, texture and thickness of the glove as well as the way it fits your hand. So maybe that had something to do with my results.
The Brigadier is built to survive even more extreme conditions than I could test: According to Kyocera, the phone is certified to be used safely in hazardous work environments where flammable gases and mists might be present. It's also engineered to tolerate up to eight hours of heavy dust exposure, as much as four hours in temperatures as low as -4 degrees or as high as 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and up to 10 days straight in 95% humidity.
Behind the armor
So the Brigadier is tough -- that much we've established. But what it's like to use as a phone?
In short, it's okay. The device's 4.5-in. 720p display isn't at the level of the gorgeous screens you'll see on most current flagships, but it doesn't look bad, either. The glass does feel a little less soft and responsive than most screens, which makes sense given the hard nature of its material.
At a Glance
Price: $100 with a two-year contract from Verizon Wireless
Pros: Scratch-resistant screen; durable body; waterproof and dustproof construction; able to tolerate extreme conditions; safe for hazardous work environments
Cons: Clunky and heavy; plain, utilitarian design; somewhat jerky performance; dated-looking software elements; no guarantee of future OS upgrades
In terms of performance, the Brigadier does reasonably well but feels a little sluggish and jerky compared to other phones. The device has solid stamina, though, and should have no problem getting you through a full day.
Kyocera's software, meanwhile, is tolerable but not exemplary: The Brigadier runs a customized version of Google's Android 4.4.2 KitKat operating system that's best described as modern Android with a healthy dose of dated Gingerbread-like elements added in. It's usable but by no means beautiful -- and it's anyone's guess as to if or when the phone will receive future upgrades.
The Kyocera Brigadier isn't ideal for Android enthusiasts or anyone looking for the best all-around user experience. It is, however, perfect for people who need a durable device that's able to withstand a ridiculous amount of abuse.
The Brigadier was built with a very specific purpose in mind and it serves that purpose exceptionally well. The real question is whether you want a sleek phone with all the niceties or a rugged phone that's darn-near indestructible -- and that's a question only you can answer.