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Rugged Mobile Phones for the Outdoors

grand master

 

 

If you work outdoors or you spend a lot of time taking part in outdoors activities and sports, you may prefer not to carry an expensive, top-of-the-range smartphone such as the iPhone 4S, Galaxy Nexus or Nokia Lumia. Although some of these top smartphones include chemically toughened glass such as Gorilla Glass which provides some protection against drops and scratches, they are still at risk of being damaged by dust particles or contact with water (for example during heavy rain or dropping your phone in the toilet!).

 

For people who want mobile phones which are protected against impact, dust and water, there are a class of “rugged” mobile devices. These devices are certified to be waterproof and dustproof and often feature specially designed glass displays which are guarded against the force of drops and impacts. These rugged handsets can either be used as a replacement for your primary phone or can be kept as a secondary phone purely for use when outdoors. In this article, we look at the range of rugged mobile devices available on the market. We also look at how to assess the level of protection they provide against the elements.

 

IP Certification: Classifying rugged phones

 

Rugged handsets differ from normal mobile phones in that they are additionally certified by the level of protection that they offer against the elements.

 

The standard certification method is called the Ingress Protection Rating (an IP Rating for short). An IP rating consists of two numbers, the first of which measures the level of protection against dust and the second of which measures the level of protection against water.

 

Most rugged phones are IP67 certified. This means they score 6/6 on dust protection (they are fully dust tight) and 7/8 on water protection (they can be immersed in water up to a depth of 1m).

 

Rugged Android Smartphones: Motorola Defy, Samsung Galaxy XCover & Sony Ericsson Xperia Active

 

Almost all rugged smartphones available on the market run on the Android operating system. This is due to the flexibility of Android which allows it to run on a range of different form factors.

 

Popular rugged smartphones include the Motorola Defy+, the Samsung Galaxy Xcover and the Sony Ericsson Xperia Active. All 3 devices cost around £200 and are IP67-certified providing complete dust protection and water protection up to a depth of 1m.

 

Compared to mainstream smartphones, rugged handsets tend to feature slower processors, smaller amounts of memory and lower resolution displays. This means they’re not as good for web browsing and viewing multimedia, but it’s the trade-off that needs to be made for the phone to be rugged. All 3 handsets provide torch and GPS functionality, both of which can come in handy in the outdoors and all 3 handsets will run the majority of standard Android applications.

 

The three handsets compare as follows:

 

 

Motorola Defy+

 

Samsung Galaxy Xcover

 

Sony Ericsson Xperia Active

 

IP Rating

IP67-certified

IP67-certified

IP67-certified

Processor

1GHz single core

800MHz single core

1GHz single core

Display

3.7-inch TFT display

3.7-inch TFT display

3.0-inch TFT display

Screen Resolution

480x854

320x480

320x480

Operating System

Google Android 2.3 (Gingerbread)

Google Android 2.3 (Gingerbread)

Google Android 2.3 (Gingerbread)

Android UI

Motoblur

TouchWiz

Timescape

Storage

2GB internal memory & up to 32GB micro-SD

150MB internal memory & up to 32GB micro-SD

1GB internal memory & up to 32GB micro-SD

Camera

5 megapixel with LED flash

3.2 megapixel with LED flash

5 megapixel with LED flash

Battery

1,700mAh (6.8 hours talk time)

1,500mAh (11 hours talk time)

1,200mAh (5.5 hours talk time)

Text Input

On-screen software keyboard

On-screen software keyboard

On-screen software keyboard

Approx. price

Approx £220 SIM-free

Approx £200 SIM-free

Approx £230 SIM-free

SIM card size

Standard SIM

Standard SIM

Standard SIM

 

All three devices are compatible with giffgaff and some great savings can be had by buying these devices upfront and using one of our giffgaff goodybags.

 

Note that although these phones are designed to be used outdoors, their batteries have much the same capacity as mainstream smartphones. This can potentially lead to problems when constantly using GPS functionality as it can consume a lot of power. If you plan to use the GPS functionality on long hikes or runs through the countryside, it may be worth investing in a portable external power pack.

 

Basic Rugged Handsets: JCB Toughphone & Samsung Solid X-Cover

 

If you’re looking for a more basic rugged handset to be used as a second phone rather than to replace your main phone, it may be economical to opt for a more basic model such as the JCB Toughphone or the Samsung Solid Immerse. Although these phones lack advanced features such as GPS, the two phones are available for around £80 and can offer better battery life than their rugged smartphone counterparts. The JCB Tradesman Toughphone also has the unique distinction of floating on water.

 

 

JCB Toughphone Tradesman

 

Samsung Solid Immerse

 

IP Rating

IP67-certified

IP67-certified

Connectivity

2G only

2G and 3G

Display

1.4-inch CSTN display

2-inch TFT display

Camera

No

2 megapixel

Torch

Yes

No

Battery

650mAh (3 hours talk time)

1,300mAh (7.3 hours talk time)

Text Input

Hardware keypad

Hardware keypad

Approx. price

Approx £75 SIM-free

Approx £85 SIM-free

SIM card size

Standard SIM

Standard SIM

 

Both phones are compatible with giffgaff.

 

Can I switch my SIM card between a normal handset and a rugged handset?

 

Yes. With giffgaff, it is easy to switch your SIM cards between handsets at any time, providing both of your handsets are unlocked. This means you could use your normal smartphone in the office during the week and switch to a rugged handset when visiting music festivals or taking part in sports at the weekend. If both of your handsets run on the Android operating system, it is simple to keep your phone book, calendar and e-mail synchronised between your two devices through your Google account. For a basic non-Android rugged handset, you must copy your phone book between handsets manually.

 

Your thoughts…

 

In this article, we’ve looked at mobile phones which are designed for the outdoors and provide greater protection against the elements. For people who regularly spend time outdoors, rugged smartphones provide most of the features of standard smartphones whilst providing greater protection against drops, dust and water damage. For people who only occasionally spend time outdoors and are looking for a second handset, a range of basic rugged handsets are available for around £80.

 

Have you ever had an unfortunate accident with your mobile phone? Have you broken a mobile phone by dropping it on the pavement or flushing it down the toilet? Do you think a rugged handset would come in handy or would you prefer the technology to be built in to mainstream smartphones? We’d love to hear your thoughts: drop us a comment below.

 

Ken Lo writes about mobile technology and the mobile industry at Ken's Tech Tips.

 

17 Comments

I know when I was about 3 I saw that my mums new phone was a little dirty and so was my towel. I wrapped the new phone bought that day in the towel and put it in the washing machine. xD Me thinks my mum could have done with a rugged phone like one of these.

pioneer

For many years I used a Nokia 5210 which was also known as the Nokia Builders phone. Superb little phone.

Splash proof, dust proof and it bounces when you drop it! What every builder, brickie or joiner needs.

 

If I was going on a jungle expedition or crossing the Himalayas, this would be my phone of choice! IIRC, the battery lasted almost 2 weeks on a single charge!

No WAP, no MMS, no polyphonic ringtones, no 3G, no problems! You can keep your iPhones and Androids.....

beginner

ah good read d.. i so wanna get the samsung galaxy :D

beginner

I have a Motorola Defy but unfortunately my experience hasn't been all that great.  

 

In terms of specs, I have little to complain about.  At the time I bought it, the processor was not *that* much slower than much more expensive non-rugged phones, while screen resolution was even slightly higher and RAM was also fine.  Even if it wasn't rugged it seemed to me like good bang for buck, so add to that the utility as an all-weather hiking tool etc and it seemed ideal.

 

I was probably unlucky, but I had some hardware problems which lead to a lot of crashing / random rebooting etc and have found Moto support to be pretty poor. Actually, make that attrocious.

 

I've sent the device in several times to be repaired: the first time, they had it for over three weeks, sent it back and it was still exactly the same. Eventually, after a few months and a few times posting it back to them at my expense, they replaced the motherboard and it's been better (although far from perfect - perhaps degrading a bit again recently, then again I'm getting kernel panics on iPad too, so maybe mobile OSs just don't like me).

 

More recently, I had the common problem with the earpiece breaking.  I procrastinated for a while about sending it back to them as I was busy and after my previous negative experiences didn't feel like waiting a few weeks for them to mend it... so in the end I fixed it myself, which was easy enough (although I lost the volume control button in the process, and also the first earpiece I ordered was too fat to fit properly, guides I read apparently predated the easy availability of ones designed for the device).

 

It still looks good on paper, but I'd have a hard time convincing myself to go the same route again, or recommending it to anyone else. A rugged phone that is always crashing and ends up spending much of its warranty period being repaired is not really ideal.

contributor

must admit to getting a defy+ and for hiking with the right software installed is ideal. Can be a bit slow loading at times but then thats the tradeoff for having an IP67 cert phone. Theres a reason why motorola have been out of the market for years and in this phone there rustiness shows.

newcomer

I think rugged phones are definitely on the rise. One of the top 10 insights from MWC 2013 in Barcelona is that rugged phones are getting smart. There are more and more companies that have a rugged phone in their portfolio or some companies solely focus on rugged devices such as Caterpillar, JCB or Sonim. 

 

One of the best looking rugged phones is from Kyocera. The Kyocera Torque is definitely an impressive rugged smart phone, but unfortunately it'll only be available in the US for the time being. 

 

One company I came across is the UK based rugged specialist Toughshield. Their phone has all the ultra rugged ratings, it's NFC enabled and it's got dual SIM. It runs on Android so it looks like a really consumer friendly rugged smart phone. Definitely one to keep watching www.tough-shield.com

newcomer

I dropped an iphone 4 down the toilet one summer, put my hand straight into the bowel and hoiked it out ... then removed the SIM and left both the handset and SIM in a warm safe place  to dry for three weeks while I was on holiday.  On return service ressumed as if nothing had occurred!