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Kyocera Brigadier hands-on, first impressions and sapphire screen test

A rugged phone with a near-indestructible screen that doesn't compromise on performance and usability

Kyocera is probably best known for making "those rugged phones" for just about every carrier out there, but the just-announced Brigadier on Verizon has a few things special about it. The headline feature here is the all-new Sapphire Shield display, which the Brigadier uses instead of a traditional glass-covered display to provide drastically higher screen durability. It makes a traditionally-rugged Kyocera phone even more indestructible, all without compromising features like visibility or touchscreen sensitivity.

But a synthetic sapphire-coated display isn't the only worthwhile feature of the Kyocera Brigadier — this phone actually has much higher specs than your average mid-range phone from the manufacturer. It all adds up to a great combination for those who need a phone that can basically go anywhere and look no worse for the wear. Read along for our first impressions of the Kyocera Brigadier and a torture test of its Sapphire Shield display.

Hardware, specs and durability

Kyocera Brigadier

It's big, heavy and covered in rubber — but that comes with the territory.

The Kyocera Brigadier is a lot of things, but attractive is not one of them. That comes with the extreme durability that this phone brings, and of course Kyocera has a bit of branding to keep up as well. There are big hefty rubber bumpers all around the device, a handful of exposed screws, easy-to-press buttons and big flaps over all the ports, but that's why this phone is so tough. The Brigadier is Military Standard 810G compliant, meaning it's far more rugged than your average "rugged" phone — resistant to water up to six feet for 30 minutes, driving dust and sand, shocks, high and low temperature and dozens of drops from four feet.

With all of that extra protection the Brigadier is understandably larger and heavier than you'd expect for a 4.5-inch device, but it isn't completely unwieldy. The extra rubber along the sides actually does help you hold onto the phone, and while I could do without the physical navigation buttons at the bottom at least they're in the "proper" layout and easy to press. You also get a dedicated camera button and a "programmable key" on the opposite side that can be used to launch apps, bring down your notification bar or just wake the device.

On the inside, you're thankfully getting rather high-end specs for a phone like this — not the low-end stuff you expect. We're looking at a 4.5-inch 720 x 1280 display, a Snapdragon 400 processor at 1.4GHz, 2GB of RAM, 16GB storage (MicroSD expandable), 3100mAh battery, 802.11ac Wifi, Bluetooth 4.0 and an 8MP rear camera. The Brigadier also packs one of Kyocera's great technologies, a bone conducting speaker, which makes calls easy to hear in any situation. There's also Qi wireless charging, which is great to see on a phone with a flap over the USB port.

The Kyocera Brigadier isn't going to win any design awards or compete toe-to-toe with the latest flagships, but for someone who needs the extra protection it will be a drastically less-compromising device than previous models. It has enough under the hood to not have slowdowns, the external aspects are a bit on the ugly side by overall standards but aren't horrible, and the few extra hardware features are actually useful.

Sapphire Shield display

Though all of the "sapphire screen" talk has been circling around the iPhone 6 for the past few months, Kyocera is putting its expertise in synthetic sapphire to work with a "Sapphire Shield" covering on the Brigadier. This 4.5-inch display and bezels are covered edge-to-edge with synthetic sapphire, which is dramatically tougher than glass of any type, even the latest Gorilla Glass product. It's tougher against scratches, impacts and shatters — just what we all want in our phones.

I wish every phone's screen was this insanely durable.

I took the opportunity to put the Sapphire Shield display to the test, doing things to this phone's screen that I wouldn't dare attempt on any other device that I wanted to keep using. I took the Brigadier and dropped (or basically threw) it into gravel, dirt full of rocks, a manhole cover, pavement and brick, with a short stoppage to grind my set of keys on it. The result? Three dings on the screen so small that I wasn't able to actually pick them up on camera.

That's just incredibly impressive, and you wouldn't ever expect any phone with a traditional glass screen to survive even one of those drops without significant damage to the screen. Naturally the extra protection of a thick bezel and shockproofing helps out a bit, but there's no doubt that having this Sapphire Shield technology in a "regular" smartphone would dramatically improve its durability. We know the plastic and metal around the edges of our devices are going to get dinged up over time, what we really don't want to get destroyed is the screen we look at and interact with every day.

And as I noted earlier, all of that display durability comes at no cost, as the Brigadier's display looks absolutely fantastic. Sure it isn't 1080p but at 4.5-inches I have no real issues with 720p — it's the quality and technology that makes a difference. It's no stretch at all to say that this is the best display I've ever seen on a Kyocera phone, and there's a great chance it'll look this good for the life of the device.

Software and performance

Kyocera Brigadier software

Though Kyocera has put a drastically-improved display and specs in the Brigadier, it's still loading up some pretty atrocious-looking software. While I understand the necessity of having a rugged exterior to the phone, there's no real reason why the software needs to look this rugged. The fake chrome, drop shadows and neon lights remind me of the software of yesteryear, and really just doesn't have any place on a modern phone.

The Brigadier isn't sluggish like other low-end Kyocera phones.

Fortunately due to improved specs and possibly some optimization under the hood (it is running Android 4.4, after all) , the software is in no way sluggish like other lower-end Kyocera phones. Swap in the Google Now Launcher and you've gotten rid of a bulk of the badly-designed software, though the lockscreen and settings are still a bit like nails on a chalkboard for me. That's pretty easily sidestepped, but I still wish Kyocera would tone down the over-the-top rugged and macho software interface.

In terms of daily use, the Brigadier performed beyond my expectations. The software is smooth and capable, and I never noticed a slowdown in the days I've had it. The 8MP camera is also quite capable, but won't be producing many pictures worth framing — just like any other phone in this range. The Verizon LTE network (I refuse to call it XLTE) has seriously improved since my last time using it here in Seattle as well, which is a plus — I never had a speedtest under 20mbps down / 10mbps up, no matter the time of day.

Bottom line

Kyocera Brigadier

You probably already know if you're someone that needs an extremely rugged phone like the Kyocera Brigadier before you read a review of it. Few people out there are getting a phone this durable just for kicks, and most aren't willing to give up bleeding-edge specs found on today's flagships unless they really need their phone to survive everything they throw at it. If you're a Verizon customer and do need this sort of protection, at $99 on-contract ($49 until August 17th) (opens in new tab) you're getting a pretty great value in the Brigadier.

But the biggest takeaway from looking at the Kyocera Brigadier is likely the insane durability of the Sapphire Shield display. I hope that this technology is something that Kyocera will start to use on every phone it sells, and other manufacturers will have an opportunity to use this process as well. It's a serious leap over what we currently have in terms of hardened glass on phones, and is clearly the future in smartphone displays.

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

  • Yeah that is not winning any beauty contests in form or software but it will get the job done on a construction site, which is what it is meant for
  • I've had really bad times with their phones. I had a speaker just stop working on me. I never dropped it either. Posted via Android Central App
  • Ha.
  • When I went looking for a replacement for my HTC Thunderbolt, I was really hoping the Casio 4G phone would be better than it was, but after the disappointing user comments I saw, and the spces, I went with the Droid Maxx. Now that I have experienced all the Motorola features, and the near-stock experience, I doubt seriously I would look elsewhere. Unless Lenovo messes up the Motorola line.
  • Random. Posted via Android Central App
  • According to PhoneArena, if this phone was unlocked it could be used on T-Mobile. Working for an electrical distributor in Columbus and frequently making visits to job sites, this could be useful. Maybe I could buy it at full retail and get it unlocked? Any ideas?
  • It's probably already unlocked. All recent Verizon lte devices have been unlocked out of the box.
  • They are only unlocked to work with out of country carriers not in US.
    None of my VZW was able to switch the sim which was not foreign. Posted via Android Central App
    on VZW Moto X
  • Let me put my T-Mobile SIM in this one and see.
  • I get an error saying "This SIM card is from an unknown operator" and it won't work. I see LTE in the status bar, but also a "no SIM card" warning. Not sure about that.
  • Lol. Locked. Oh, VZW, never change.
  • Huh...thought they were not allowed to any more as a condition of that last spectrum buy...I assume that Andrew has it bought outright and there is no strings attached (I am positive it is not on contract just because it is him)...or that could be the issue...
  • You have to change your network settings to gsm, all Verizon 4g phones that support the gsm band you need will work domestically except the iphone .
  • Do you think kyocera will be licensing out their Sapphire technology for use by other OEMs on phones? Posted via Android Central App
  • What's I'm afraid is Apple suing them because Apple has some sapphire screen manufacturing patents.
  • Apple be suing everyone! I will get a letter for using the word Apple in this post without their permission. S##t I wrote it again. OK from now on I will call them "the company that cannot be named" case of a lawsuit. Posted via Android Central App
  • I think (and I could be wrong here) that Apple's significant patents regarding sapphire glass are related to processes for fusing pieces of sapphire glass together to create all-glass device casings, not on the sapphire glass production process itself.
  • Apple cannot sue Kyocera for this phone. Sapphire Crystal displays have been used by luxury phone companies for quite a while. I wouldn't worry about it much.
  • Hopefully other manufacturers will use this screen for their phones
  • I do, too. I've seen a couple of videos from people who have gotten their hands on production models of the iPhone 6's sapphire screen and put it through some torture tests. It looks absolutely phenomenal.
  • To be completely honest, I think more manufacturers will include it after Apple adds it than if Apple didn't include it.
  • I agree. They didn't invent most of anything but when they start doing it everyone else starts.
  • Drop it on something (like bigger, less uniform rocks) so the screen actually makes impact with the ground instead of the plastic edge.
  • Dropping it directly into a pile of gravel, onto uneven pavement and bricks, and sliding keys on it is all hitting the screen directly.
  • The physical buttons are totally necessary on a device like this. A significant portion of the people who would be interested in this kind of phone will be using it while wearing thick gloves.
  • Can't use gloves with a capacitive screen and can't run the phone with just the buttons. Kind of moot really, but I like having dedicated Home/Back/Menu regardless.
  • WRONG! Nitrile gloves work fine with a capacitive screen, even through a sandwich bag. Posted via Android Central App on my HP TouchPad (Schizoid PAC-ROM 4.2.2)
  • What floor do you live on Andrew? Extreme Drop test? Posted via a beautiful Ebony backed Moto X on Verizon or the amazing Nexus 10 using the Android Central App
  • I'd be dropping it from roughly 125 feet up — think that's a little too extreme ;)
  • Do it! ಠ益ಠ
  • I vote Do It!
  • The people have spoken, 100% of voters in the poll agree. Posted via Android Central App
  • Lol Posted via Android Central App
  • It looks pretty awesome. I wish more phones like this existed. Too bad its on VZW only. Posted via Android Central App
  • Why don't they make all high end phonesl like this? By the time we all put on our OtterBoxes or Liferoof cases, our phones are unattractive anyways.
  • Is this a real question? Posted via the 64 GB OnePlus One
  • Uh, duh.
  • This screen material it's now made affordable, so yes all new high end phones will be using this is the near future.
  • Well I'm up for an upgrade on the dreaded network and I'm also considering going on walkabout in the Smokies, so this will do just fine. In all seriousness though, nice to have a durable option in a field dominated by feeble "supermodels". Nice review Posted via Android Central App
  • Lol +1
  • If it doesn't have a corkscrew, it's not for me.
  • I actually kinda like how it looks. Posted via Android Central App
  • .....
  • Yeah, I get that a lot. Part of the reason I enjoy seeing things better than the majority. :P Posted via Android Central App
  • Seems like a great option for those who need very durable phones! I personally will stick to the G2 for now and wait and see how upcoming phones are. Posted via Android Central App
  • Should Andrew throw the Brigadier off the roof?
  • I'm gonna have to go with yes. Posted via My Ever-Bloated S4
  • Do it.
  • Haha middle yes not getting any love
  • Yes Posted via Android Central App
  • No all of the above option? ;)
  • Of course!!! Posted via Android Central App
  • Can we say droid charge LOL! Posted via Galaxy Note 3
  • I would like to see you I mythBusters approach to this, what would it take to scratch the screen noticeably? Working your way up incrementally until it compares with gorilla glass.
  • All and all nice review! Glad to see synthetic sapphire is what it says it is! Wonder if Corning will be doing anything to try to improve the new synthetic sapphire screens. The video made me cringe! I heard the stones and pavement scrapping and that makes me squirm! Stop rubbing the phone on things! My LG G3 is now crying in the corner!
  • Yeah, it kinda made me cringe doing that to a phone. Posted via Android Central App
  • I did a quick little review on it where I tossed it and kicked it around and dunked it in water. Have a look. It's pretty impressive as far as rugged devices are concerned. My quick review of the KYOCERA BRIGADIER: Posted via Android Central App
  • Vertical Video Syndrome is dangerous.. a PSA
  • It's seems like a decent Lil device.
    I would really like to see Kyocera make a high end device. With Gs5
    Specs Posted via Android Central App
  • If I were on Verizon and needed a heavy duty phone, i would actually buy this. I don't think it looks bad at all.
  • I'm from a different school of thought. I buy the best phone that I want. Pay Verizon/Asurion $8 a month. Use the phone however I want. If the phone gets damaged from a drop or a soak in water, call Asurion and pay $99 deductible for a replacement. That's the price of a few nice dinners... but then again, life is too short to waste my time on a phone that I don't really want, just because it has a super-tough screen.
  • That physical key array across the bottom screams Siemens M65
    Loved that phone... Posted via Android Central App
  • To prevent the plastic from damaging they should use the polymer that magpul uses in their firearm stocks. Posted via Android Central App
  • If my job included dropping or throwing devices to try to see if they would break...I would be a happy man. Is that weird?
  • Andrew, before you throw your Brigadier off the roof, would you please post a few unfiltered images from the camera? I am curious to see how mediocre it is, and drop them into Snapseed myself to see what I can make of them. Also, Kyocera claims that the peak volume for the speakers is 100db. Is it indeed crazy loud? I am considering this as a phone that can also sit comfortably on my handlebars while I'm cycling and give me clear navigation (or perhaps podcasts). Thanks!
  • Very nice phone but it looks like Verizon is not offering it on the 20 payment no-contract plan??
  • On the Verizon website, it's showing me $19.99/mo on the 20-payment plan.
  • @deparson, on the Verizon website it looks to be $19.99 on the 20-payment plan.
  • Will assume this will get awesome battery life, 3100mah battery with s400 and a 4.5" 720p screen. Posted via Android Central App on nexus 7 (2nd gen)
  • Impressed with battery 3100 mah for 4.5 inch screen that must be the biggest battery for that size i know of. Is the battery removable? I take it that it is. Very impressive if they sold it 300-400 unlocked for gsm i would get it just for its uniqueness. Posted via Android Central App
  • whether the touchscreen works under water\with wet hands?
  • oof, I've seen some ugly clock widgets, and I've seen some drop dead gorgeous clocks, but whatever the eff that is it'st off the ugly charts in a strange direction. But that's not the phones draw anyway, this is for the outdoors people who no doubt need the basics but need a phone to withstand the construction site, mountain trips or desert trips.
  • My son in college just broke his 3rd Android phone in 7 months. Even with a Otter Case on it, he's breaking them. The Brigadier sounds like the perfect student/college phone. These students need durability more than features and this phone should be pushed. I've already told my son about it and he's considering replacing the phone he just broke today (less than a week old) with a Brigadier!