Verizon recently let me spend a couple weeks with the Kyocera Brigadier. A Verizon exclusive, the Brigadier has been available for a little over a month now for $399 or $99 after rebate with a two-year commitment. It’s a very different phone from what I’m used to, so it was fun to put it through the paces on the farm.
The Brigadier is a rugged phone targeted at industry and outdoor enthusiasts. It has some great strengths on the external hardware side, while maintaining on-par performance internally. Let’s first look at the hardware, which is where most of the differences are. Others have listed detailed specs, so I’m going to focus on what makes this a great phone for the farm and what makes it challenging to be excited about as an Android software enthusiast.
This phone feels great in the hand. I haven’t held a phone that felt this good since the original Motorola Droid. It’s heavier and thicker than most phones I’ve seen in years, which, in an age of phones that are consistently too thin and light to feel good, is a big bonus. The only challenge I found with the size is the actual size of the screen, which I felt to be a little cramped at only 4.5 inches. The bezel also seemed a little larger than necessary, adding to the cramped feeling. However, if you’re coming from an iPhone or you haven’t been using a phablet for the last year, I’m guessing you’ll feel right at home with the screen size.
The display is sapphire, marketed as Sapphire Shield. It’s clear and bright, though it doesn’t seem different from other displays until you accidentally drop it. While the phone is descending, the display suddenly feels safe in that it’s highly unlikely that it will break like other displays. Apple is experimenting with sapphire, having added it to the recently released Apple Watch, but Kyocera sure beat them to market with sapphire the size of a phone screen.
Along with the phone, Verizon sent along a “destructo kit” for the phone, comprising a new Bear Grylls Gerber knife, steel wool, a bag of rocks, coins and basically dared me to try to scratch the screen. As you can see in the video, I wasn’t able to do it. Also included in the kit were gloves and a dunk tank to demonstrate the glove and wet touch operation as well as prove that the device is waterproof.
This phone has buttons. It’s a big departure from the current design trend of reducing buttons to a bare minimum. In addition to buttons for power and volume, which is all most modern phones need, the Brigadier has dedicated buttons for the camera, speakers, home, back and the application switcher. It even has an extra button that’s not dedicated, allowing the user to specify the function for that button.
This phone is loud. Years ago, when I wrote up my review of the original Droid, I marveled at how loud the phone was. It was a breath of fresh air compared to the Sprint phone I’d been using. The normal phone speaker on the Brigadier doesn’t seem much different from other phones, but the speakerphone is ridiculous. It’s the first phone I’ve had to turn down when playing podcasts or music because it’s simply uncomfortable listening at full volume. This, of course, is a great problem to have when most phones won’t make enough noise. It’s definitely a phone with a ring that you could hear over the roar of an engine or power tool.
I submerged the phone in water, as shown in the video above, and found it to work fine immediately upon removal. A phone that’s rugged enough to be waterproof out of the gate isn’t a phone that’s going to easily be put in a case. A waterproof phone requires flaps over the ports, which is an inconvenience, but no less so than the flaps found on many of the rugged cases.
It seems that Kyocera focused so much on the exterior – and they did an amazing job – that they neglected the same polish on the inside. They claim their software customizations were intended to make it easier to use with gloves, but, as with all manufacturer changes to Android, I found their enhancements clunky and frustrating compared to what a pure Android experience could be. The first order of business for setting up a new Brigadier, like all non-Nexus devices, is definitely to replace the stock launcher with the Google Now Launcher. I will note that, unlike Samsung and LG, Kyocera thankfully left the notification shade clean, which means that after swapping launchers the experience is quite close to stock Android.
While I’m farming, my phone is playing podcasts through Bluetooth all day, every day. My headsets, primarily the LG Tone, didn’t seem to work as seamlessly with the Brigadier as they do with other devices. I frequently had to go to the phone’s Bluetooth control panel and manually connect when I was moving from one device to another, where other phones usually connect automatically. I noticed about five spontaneous reboots of the Brigadier, though I don’t know if that’s a bug in the phone or the particular review unit I was using. Unfortunately, because the Brigadier isn’t as fast as the other phones I’m used to, the reboot time felt noticeably long while I was waiting to turn my podcasts back on.
The battery was okay, and certainly on par with other phones with stock batteries, but certainly not strong enough to last through moderate use for an entire day. I’m used to a phone that can handle moderate usage from 6 a.m. until after 10 p.m. In order to last so long, a phone needs a very large extended battery. Since the battery on the Brigadier isn’t removable, I’d have to carry a battery pack or keep it near a mobile charger at points throughout the day.
I found the camera to be sufficient for farm use, but low light performance certainly falls short of the cameras on other phones I’ve used recently. I will admit that the dedicated camera button, which doubles as a camera app launcher button as well as a shutter trigger, makes taking pictures more simple than phones which lack such a button.
The most important feature of any phone is the antenna. I’ve learned in the last few months that different phones perform very differently when it comes to signal strength and service level. When I’m at home, I’ve found Verizon’s coverage to be fantastic. However, my farm is on the fringe of coverage, and the differences among devices’ antennas is quite noticeable. Spending many hours in the same fields going back and forth, I have plenty of time to measure and compare phone signal. I found the Brigadier to be on par with the HTC One M8. The reception is not quite as good as the Moto X or even the LG G3, but it’s far superior to the Samsung Note 3, S3 and S4.
All in all, this phone features cutting-edge ruggedization and decent performance. It’s not the fastest phone nor does it have the biggest screen or battery, but its unique, rugged hardware makes it a great fit for anyone in a harsh environment like a farm or construction site who wants a simple, durable and loud phone.
Additional, unedited camera examples from the Kyocera Brigadier
Verizon recently let me spend a couple weeks with the new HTC One M8. Announced in March and available earlier this month, HTC’s new flagship phone combines beautiful hardware design and high end specs with the latest version of Sense, HTC’s Android overlay. Using Android with Google Voice makes it simple to transfer all my apps and phone calls from one device to another, so I’ve left my Galaxy Note 3 on my desk and carried the One exclusively for the last several days.
The phone is big. It’s not as big as the Note 3, but it’s certainly larger than most phones. The case is aluminum and it rivals the iPhone in build quality and hardware design. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a removable back, which means it’s stuck with the 2600 mAh battery. The One doesn’t have the physical home button that plagues most of the recent Samsung phones, HTC having opted instead for the soft buttons that are the mark of a good, modern Android experience. The power button and IR remote are on the top of the phone, a microSD slot sits above the volume rocker on the right side of the phone, while the headphone jack and micro-USB port are on the bottom.
The most noticeable difference between the One and other phones I’ve used is HTC Sense. The One is the first phone to ship with Sense 6.0 and the typography is beautiful. While it’s not as clean as the stock Android experience, the Sense enhancements don’t seem to get in the way nearly as much as Samsung’s TouchWiz. The most obvious change to the launcher is BlinkFeed, a social feed aggregator that puts highlights from Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and more on a screen to the left of the home screen where Google Now normally appears on stock Android devices. I found the default keyboard to be unremarkable, and quickly installed SwiftKey.
The cameras on the One are the most notable hardware feature. The 5MP front camera is capable of HD video capture, and while it’s not really my thing, the filters and editing abilities of the camera software will make this phone a popular choice for anyone wanting to take great selfies. Realizing that there’s much more to a good camera than the megapixel count, HTC has put what they call a Duo camera on the back, comprising a primary camera with an advanced sensor and a secondary camera used to capturing depth information. This two-camera approach allows for some very delightful effects and the ability to refocus parts of the picture after the picture is taken, like this picture of my son on the see-saw after the Easter egg hunt.
On the farm, the camera on my phone is one of the most important tools I have. I’m constantly snapping pictures of part numbers, handwritten notes, receipts and surveys of crops for instant upload to Dropbox and eventual archival in Evernote. The 360° panorama feature on the new HTC One makes crop surveys not only fun but beautiful.
It’s tough to prove with the time I’ve had, but I sure feel like this phone seems to get better service on the farm than my current and previous phones. The One can make calls and maintain data service in places where my Note 3 and Galaxy Nexus wouldn’t be able to dial out, much less be able to check email.
In the office and around the house, I’m always listening to podcasts with Doggcatcher and catching up on the news with the Press RSS reader. The large, bright screen and the loud, clear speakers make consuming this content a joy, but battery life will vary. A full charge lasted all day during my normal weekday work days, but it only lasted until about 6 p.m. on an active Saturday.
In summary, when I send this HTC One back to Verizon, I’m going to miss a few things. I’m going to miss the beautiful hardware. I’m going to hate going back to the physical home button on my Note 3. I’m probably going to double-tap the screen of my Note 3 to try to wake it up, a feature that I first found gimmicky but learned to love on the HTC One. Most of all, I’m going to miss the cameras.
I’m not going to miss the lack of expandability. There is no way to swap out an extended battery, which is a deal breaker for me. I won’t miss HTC Sense or BlinkFeed, as I still prefer the simplicity of the stock Android experience.
The new HTC One M8 is the most beautiful Android device I’ve yet seen. With snappy performance and amazing cameras, it’s the phone I’m going to start recommending to friends and family.
I tweeted that before heading to the airport yesterday. Upon arrival at Mid-Continent, I learned my flight from ICT to ORD had been delayed, shaving my layover from a nice 30 minutes from arrival to boarding down to -10 minutes. That’s right. My flight landed in Chicago 10 minutes after my connector to St. Louis began boarding.
After the successful fat man’s sprint to the connector, I figured I was home free. A nice layover in St. Louis at the Schlafly restaurant let me fill up on their fatty fish and drink their beer. I can drink a lot of hoppy beer at an airport.
As I approached the gate to board my final flight to Owensboro, I realized something was wrong. I’d not heard of Cape Air. There’s a reason.
A local carrier that somehow found a niche serving the related areas of New England, Florida, the Caribbean and St. Louis, Cape Air flies Cessna 402s. It’s the first time I’ve been asked for my body weight when flying commercially. I got to subtract a pound or two for the sprint in Chicago.
The ride from St. Louis to Owensboro wasn’t bad, except for the constant roar. Landing at Owensboro, I learned from another passenger that the guy with the orange glow-in-the-dark pom-pom sticks on the tarmac guiding us in was also the guy who ran security and baggage check. Sure enough, after he got us our bags, he took his hat off and came out from behind the counter so I could ask him to call a taxi.
The taxi took 30 minutes to get to the airport, at which time I learned they didn’t accept credit cards. No problem, I thought. There’s an ATM in the airport.
It was out of service. The nice sole-proprietor of the airport told me there was an ATM at the hotel. I convinced the driver that I’d pay him after I got cash at the hotel, intending full well to tip handsomely for trusting me.
The lady at the hotel told me the ATM was in the bar next to the DJ booth. I turned around from the hotel desk to see the bar, entering to find a very smoky room and a 50-year old waitress dressed in a get-up that looked like something from a casino. Running to the ATM, I saw immediately that it was out of service as well.
A taxi that doesn’t take credit cards…ATMs out of service at airport and hotel. Where am I? #docHollywood
The nice lady behind the hotel desk ended up giving me a dollar to add to my seven to make the eight demanded by the driver. So much for his tip.
I finally found a way to get cash – by buying something at the IGA with my debit card and asking for cash back…and buy something I did. Dinner. And forks.
I will say that the place I presented this morning was pretty grand. RiverPark Center in Owensboro is home to not only a large music and theater venue but also to the International Bluegrass Music Museum. The view from its north side this morning around sunrise was pretty swell.
As I finish my second microwave dinner of champions, I’m thankful for in-room microwaves. I might trade it, though, for MSNBC on their cable line-up.
Though unofficial, this is my last auctioneer education trip while a member of the NAA Speakers Bureau. It’s been a fun run, allowing me to go to Minnesota, Texas, Oregon, Iowa, Louisiana, Ohio, Alabama, New Hampshire and Oregon again. Other fun locations I’ve gotten to present auctioneer content outside of the Speakers Bureau include Florida, Missouri and, now, Kentucky. I’ll miss it.
It’s been nearly three months since my father left me with the farm. It was precisely one year ago today when he saw my newborn son in the hospital. While we were watching Nolan get passed from family member to family member in the birthing suite, he told me, “You have achieved immortality.” I thought about that a lot today as I sat today for 14 hours on the tractor, stirring up as much dust as the 1/2″ we received last week would allow.
I’m learning a lot, but I don’t know that I’ll ever feel that I’m learning enough. I’m particularly disappointed with the amount of quality agricultural audio content. KFRM is chalk full of commercials and religious and family content, Audible doesn’t have much in the way of quality nonfiction related to ag in any way, and the few podcasts I’ve found are valuable but they are too few. If you have any suggestions for high level and high quality content, let me know in the comments.
Brian Traffas, 59, died June 4, 2012, at Medicine Lodge Memorial Hospital, Medicine Lodge, Kan. He was born Feb. 24, 1953, in Medicine Lodge, the son of Vincent and Mary (Gulli) Traffas.
A lifetime resident of Sharon, Kan., he was a farmer.
He was a member of St. Boniface Catholic Church, Sharon, Kan.
On May 22, 1976, he married Marilyn R. Marcotte in Victoria, Kan. She survives.
Other survivors include his mother, Mary Traffas, Sharon, Kan.; a son Aaron (Diane) Traffas, Wichita, Kan.; two daughters Megan (Andrew) Piester, Goddard, Kan.; Erica Traffas, Wichita, Kan.; two brothers, Dr. Vincent Traffas, Kensington, Kan.; Shawn Traffas, Buhler, Kan.; two sisters Elaine Graham, Kansas City, Kan.; Joan Berman, Fayetteville, Ark.; and two grandchildren, Nolan Traffas and Kylee Piester.
He was preceded in death by his father Vincent.
Visitation will be 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Wed. June 6, 2012, at Larrison Funeral Home, 120 E. Lincoln Ave., Medicine Lodge, KS 67104.
Vigil service will be 7:00 p.m., Wednesday, at St. Boniface Catholic Church, Sharon, Kan.
Mass of Christian Burial will be 10:00 a.m., Thursday, June 7, 2012, at St. Boniface.
Burial will be in St. Boniface Catholic Cemetery, Sharon, Kan.
Memorials may be made to the Brian Traffas Scholarship Fund in care of the funeral home.
I was in Manhattan, Kan., waiting on my truck to be serviced about two years ago when the salesman at the service station brought me a brochure. It touted the benefits of filling my tires with nitrogen. I had never heard of such a practice, so I read the entire brochure with amazement.
It seems that there are companies that market nitrogen for use in automobile tires. The language on a brochure or a website from one of these companies reads just like that from any popular pseudoscience or scam. Phrases like “amazing benefits” and “high purity” could just as easily come from a vitamin supplement company. In the first couple of above-the-fold paragraphs on the website from one such popular company, it’s explained how the high cost of this technology – generating and delivering nitrogen – has kept it out of the hands and tires of the common folk until now. Lucky us. Seems it was the college kids with the nitrogen tanks for their kegorators who’ve had the secret this whole time.
Like any good skeptic, I’m not going to base an entire case against a product on poorly selected marketing tactics. Let’s think about what the product is trying to solve, decide if it makes sense and, if so, then decide if it’s economically viable.
The benefits for using nitrogen in tires comprise increases in fuel economy, tire life and safety.
Fuel economy The hypothesis is that because nitrogen gas molecules are larger than those of oxygen, the natural seepage is reduced. Because lower-than-proper tire pressure has a negative impact on fuel economy, nitrogen must be better.
Tire life The hypothesis is that the double bonds in the rubber of tires are susceptible to oxidation and that, over time, the anti-oxidants used by tire manufacturers to prevent this oxidation are degraded to the point that the oxygen in the tires begins to attack the rubber. Also, the moisture in air can cause corrosion on the rims. Because nitrogen doesn’t oxidize the rubber or corrode the wheels, nitrogen must be better.
Safety The hypothesis is that because the expansion rate of nitrogen is less than that of air. Because varying pressures in tires can lead to problems in the consistency of handling, steering and braking, nitrogen must be better.
Let’s look at the difference between oxygen and nitrogen. I’m not a chemist, but from what I can find the difference in molecular size between the gasses of oxygen and nitrogen is about 3%. Furthermore, the air we breath – the same air that is compressed to fill most of our tires – contains nearly 80% nitrogen anyway.
Under-inflated tires lowers gas mileage by 0.4 percent for every one pound of drop in pressure of all four tires. So, if you’re down by 10 pounds… you’re losing 4 percent in fuel economy… For every drop of 10° Fahrenheit in air temperature, your tires will lose one pound of pressure.
I believe that nitrogen-filled tire pressure does change with temperature, perhaps just not as much as tires filled with air. If nitrogen pressure didn’t change at all with temperature, then by this math, properly inflating your tires with nitrogen during the summer can prevent this 4% loss in fuel economy if the temperature drops 100 degrees. Or you can simply check your tires every few months and adjust the pressure accordingly.
What about leakage? Does the 20% of the air in the tires that is 3% smaller than the rest really leak out so much faster that there is a change in pressure over the course of the few months between checks? I believe it may be slightly measurable – if using a highly accurate gauge – but I don’t believe it would be noticeable or significant to either the handling or the fuel economy.
We don’t drive our cars in a pure nitrogen environment, so the outside of our tires and our wheels are constantly exposed to oxygen, moisture and other more nefarious substances. I’ve never heard of anyone who had to replace a tire or rim due to holes rusting through from the inside of the wheels. Again, I suppose that it’s something that could be measured in the lab over the course of a very long time, but the wear on the tires will cause the need for a new tire long before the anti-oxidants (if this claim is even believable) go away. Likewise, the failure of other components on the car will cause the need for a new car long before the wheels corrode to the point that they need replaced.
The biggest logical fallacy noticeable in nearly all advertising for nitrogen in tires is an argument from authority. Because NASCAR and the US military use nitrogen in their tires, we average consumers should do the same. The high performance requirements – taking a turn at 150 mph or landing a bomber on a runway – require consistent, reliable air pressure. Both the military and NASCAR have large budgets, and at these extremes the slight benefit – only a percent or two based on the math above – of the nitrogen is worth the price which they don’t really care about anyway.
In summary, tires filled with air contain roughly 21% oxygen and 78% nitrogen and small amounts of water vapor and other trace gasses. Filling tires with dry nitrogen replaces that 21% oxygen with a molecule that is 3% larger and reduces moisture inside the tire. Does this practice increase fuel efficiency, tire and rim longevity, and safety? My guess is that it may be slightly measurable but certainly not noticeable – and most definitely not worth the additional cost for anyone who properly monitors tire pressure.