- Water- and damage-resistant
- Solid performance
- Good battery life
- More expensive than comparable non-rugged phones
- Bulky design
Quick TakeThe Kyocera Brigadier is thick and far from pretty, but its durable build and ultra-tough sapphire display make it worth a look, even for those who haven't considered a rugged phone in the past.
Now sporting a $100 price tag with a two-year contract (or a $400 one without) and the ability to shrug off almost anything — including being dunked in water, dropped on concrete, and smeared with mud – the Kyocera Brigadier offers a highly durable smartphone with respectable specs to boot. Should you consider going rugged? Let’s take a look.
Build and Design
There’s no getting around the fact Brigadier isn’t tiny. Its footprint is comparable to a Samsung Galaxy S4, which has a half inch larger screen than what Kyocera offers here. At just over half an inch thick (0.52″), it’s also heftier than most other smartphones, regardless of screen size. But it has good reason to add a little bit of bulk — whereas most handsets aim to be sports cars, the Brigadier is an armored vehicle.
“Rugged” smartphones don’t get a lot of love either from average customers or the press; they’re typically considered a niche market for those with industrial or outdoors jobs. While they have value there, most people really don’t think of them as viable products. The question, then, is why not?
Ever accidentally dropped your phone into the sink or a mud puddle? The Brigadier is guaranteed waterproof for up to 30 minutes, even protecting against water jets and blowing rain. Dropped it on the pavement? That’s practically inevitable. The Brigadier has been tested against drops from four feet up onto concrete, 26 times, and it brushes off the impact each and every time. It’s dustproof, vibration proof, resistant against salt spray, extreme temperatures (from to 140 degrees down to -4 degrees Fahrenheit), and even high altitudes. (It can last in areas up to 15,000 feet above sea level, which is roughly the altitude at which the human brain needs supplemental oxygen to stay conscious.)
If you’ve ever been in a situation where breaking your phone would be a serious problem, you might start to see the appeal of one that’s protected against almost anything you could do to it. This isn’t to say that the Brigadier can’t be damaged, of course. But most of the things that could put it truly out of commission could also kill you, so you’d probably have worse problems at that point. The Brigadier’s heavy duty construction might keep it off the fashion runway, but it’ll also keep it out of the trash can, and then some.
All that said, the Brigadier’s design language is industrial yet workable. There’s a great deal of heavy rubberized plastic with ridges for gripping, complete with nice heavy duty screws. The USB port, SIM card, headphone jack, and microSD slot are all covered by watertight rubber doors to protect them. The side of the device has a large red “programmable key” that allows you to have a custom shortcut to any of your apps or a few standard actions. That includes turning the phone on and off, which is helpful given how small the actual power button is. It’s generally unremarkable and far from pretty, but that’s the case with most rugged phones, and the Brigadier well-made for what it is.
With a 4.5 inch, 720p display, the Brigadier isn’t close to having the sharpest panel out there, but it’s still no slouch, staying right in line with the screens of most other modern midrange devices. It’s not the pixel density that makes this screen noteworthy, though — it’s the build of the display itself. It’s protected against scratching and other forms of damage not by the hardened glass that dominates most smartphones, but by a layer of synthetic sapphire, a material whose hardness pales only in comparison to solid diamond.
This effectively puts the Brigadier’s panel in a league of its own in today’s market. Sapphire crystal is not only virtually impossible to scratch, it’s also roughly 10 times harder than steel, giving it truly top-notch protection against sharp impacts. Simply put, you will not scuff up this display. The catch is that it’s expensive to manufacture — hence why you don’t see it everywhere — but Kyocera has still managed to pump it out here.
Furthermore, the Brigadier’s touchscreen is designed with increased water tolerance. If you’ve ever seen your smartphone’s screen go wonky after a little bit of rain or sweat got on it, you know that moisture can freeze your touchscreen by making it think you’re tapping somewhere else until you dry it off. The Brigadier, however, is can tolerate more than a little bit of moisture on its screen and still function. It only works to a certain extent, though; too much water will still render it insensitive until things are dried up. It’s also capable of being used with thin gloves (only up to about a tenth of an inch thick) if you’re out in the cold, which is nice, but is becoming increasingly common with many phones these days.