Kyocera Brigadier (Verizon Wireless) review: Sapphire-sporting Android can take a tumble, but has a few stumbles

Camera and video

Photo quality for the 8-megapixel camera was passable. For the most part, objects were in focus and I didn't see much lag between my moving of the camera and the viewfinder. Understandably, when shooting in environments with dimmer lighting, photos had much more digital noise and graininess, and objects had softer outlines as well. I also noticed that light sources had a severe light blue tinge to them in the live feedback, which lightened up once the photo was taken. Still, however, a few of my pictures ended up having hints of subtle blue toneage that made pictures look colder than they really were. To see more about these photos, be sure to click on them below to view them at their full resolution.

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In this indoor photo, you can see a blue tinge on the windows and the walls near the upper left corner. Lynn La/CNET
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The buildings in this dim outdoor photo are sharp, but the bushes in the foreground look a bit blurred. Lynn La/CNET
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In another picture taken outside, colors look a bit cooler than they do in real life. Lynn La/CNET
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In this close-up picture, the flower petals are in focus, but have soft outlines. Lynn La/CNET
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For our standard studio shot, you can see a slight blue hue against the white background. Lynn La/CNET

Video quality was also solid -- the lens adjusted quickly when I changed the focus point and light source while recording. Both moving and still objects were sharp, and as I mentioned before, audio playback was loud and robust. And though I could still see the cold blue tint against white-colored objects, overall footage was clear and easy to make out.

Both cameras have several editing tools, such as three exposure options, a brightness meter, optical image stabilization, at least four ISO levels, and a timer. They also have three picture qualities, geotagging, optional grid lines, and can take pictures while recording. However, the rear lens has a few more features. These include four autofocus selections, a contrast meter, blink detection, time lapse, and audio muting. There are also eight photo resolutions (ranging from 640x480 to 3,264x2,448 pixels) and five video sizes (from MMS to 1080p HD). In contrast, the front-facing shooter has five pictures sizes (from 640x480 to 1,600x1,200 pixels) and four recording options (up to 720p HD).

Performance

Call tests carried out in our San Francisco offices were poor for the in-ear speaker. Although my call never dropped, and the connection remained stable and continuous, audio sounded thin and harsh. Every time my calling partner spoke, I could hear a high-pitched scratchiness surrounding every word. In addition to the crackling, my partner also sounded hollow and sharp. This didn't render her completely incomprehensible, but it was bothersome. On the other hand, I was told that my voice didn't sound so staticky as my partner's, and audio for her was clear and fine.

The external speaker, however, fared much better. In-ear calls that were previously muffled by static suddenly transformed into crisp, powerful, clear calls on the external speaker. At max volume, music, videos, and phone calls, were extremely loud without coming off as too harsh, and audio was rich and full of depth. It's surprising how varying the experiences were between these two sound systems, but I'd rather hear my calls better with the in-ear speaker (since I use it more often) than have such a rich audio speaker experience.

Kyocera Brigadier (Verizon Wireless) call quality sample

The Brigadier is 4G LTE-enabled and clocked fast and steady data speeds. On average, it took 7 and 16 seconds to load CNET's mobile and desktop sites, respectively. The New York Times' mobile page finished loading after 6 seconds and its desktop version loaded in 9. The mobile site for ESPN clocked in at 6 seconds as well, and 7 seconds passed for the full Web page. Lastly, the 48.61MB game Temple Run 2 finished downloading and installing in about 46 seconds.

Kyocera Brigadier (Verizon) performance times

Average 4G LTE download speed 7.45Mbps
Average 4G LTE upload speed 5.02Mbps
Temple Run 2 app download (48.61MB) 46 seconds
CNET mobile site load 7 seconds
CNET desktop site load 16 seconds
Restart time 47 seconds
Camera boot time 2.01 seconds

Oddly enough, given these impressive speeds, Ookla's speedtest app measured extremely low download and upload rates. After seven trials, and removing the highest and lowest scores, the device averaged out with just 7.45Mbps down and 5.02Mbps up. At its best, the handset had 18.38Mbps down and 15.63Mbps up. But at its lowest (which fell in line with most of the scores), it clocked a meager 0.55Mbps down and 0.39Mbps up. As previously mentioned, however, my Web browsing experience didn't reflect these measurements at all, since visiting sites, loading videos, and installing apps came very fast and timely on this phone.

The Brigadier's 1.4GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400 processor is capable and adequate. It never stumbled on daily and necessary tasks like calling up the keyboard, launching an app, or browsing through the home screen. I did notice that a few things -- like rapidly scrolling down a webpage or switching from landscape to portrait mode -- took a hair longer than I wanted them to, but overall the user experience was smooth. And while I've seen higher frame rates on other more premium devices while playing the graphics-intensive game Riptide GP2, the handset loaded up the game quickly, and didn't stall or force-quit once.

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The device's Ookla speed test results (left) and its highest Quadrant score. Lynn La/CNET

As for its benchmark results, its highest Quadrant score was a respectable 10,074 and its best multithread Linpack result was 308.913MFLOPs in 0.55-second. Lastly, it took about 47 seconds for the phone to shut down and restart, and 2 seconds to launch the camera.

Anecdotal observation for the 3,100mAh battery was underwhelming. Though it was able to last a weekend on standby, I noticed that the battery drained quickly with medium to high usage. After a using it for a workday, the Brigadier was already down at 30 percent. The battery lasted 19 hours and 37 minutes for continuous talk time during our lab test. According to FCC radiation measurements, the phone has a SAR rating of 0.79W/kg.

Conclusion

With its Superman sapphire display, rugged design, and water-resistant body, the Kyocera Brigadier can endure more abuse than most regular smartphone can. It also brings its own set of distinct advantages. Compared to the Kyocera Elite , for example, it has a bigger battery and a faster processor. And though the Elite is free with an agreement, it doesn't feature any durable protection.

As for the Verizon's other hydro-friendly handset, I'll admit that the Samsung Galaxy S5 beats out the Brigadier on almost all aspects aside from ruggedness. That's because it's simply a higher-tiered flagship designed to deliver a premium smartphone experience. This includes a brighter and sharper screen, a more powerful CPU, and a nimble 16-megapixel camera. But, it's far from being budget phone since it's twice as much as the Brigadier on-contract and $200 more expensive without.

If you're looking for a high-end handset decked out with the best tech available, this device won't satisfy. But if you want an affordable and rugged device, complete with a unique piece of display technology, than the Brigadier won't have any problem carrying its weight in the ring.