What's a rugged smartphone, and should I consider one?

What’s a rugged smartphone, and should I consider one?

For many people, the only protection their smartphone needs is a leather case, or a cheap plastic screen protector.

However, some phones lead tougher lives than others.

If you work on a building site or as a coastguard, the inherent flimsiness of some modern devices is unlikely to appeal.

Rubberised protective casings might protect a handset against drops, but what if your job (or hobby) involves salt water, extreme temperatures or noisy environments?

In these situations, rugged smartphones may represent a solution.

As tough as old boots

You won’t find rugged smartphones in your nearest Apple or Samsung concession.

These specialist devices tend to be manufactured by firms more commonly associated with other industries, like CAT and Kyocera.

They’re extensively destruction-tested prior to launch – being dropped from cherry picker cranes, and blasted for hours at a time with fine sand.

That helps them to meet an international standard of protection known as IP68, covering resistance to water, dust, sand and dirt.

(Some phones are IP69 approved, meaning they can withstand jets of water.)

The net result of this process is devices which shrug off the sort of treatment that might destroy a normal smartphone within seconds.

Rugged smartphones tend to meet military standards for protection against everything from vibration to sudden impacts.

Ports have rubberised covers preventing particle ingress, frames are reinforced to absorb the impact of being dropped, and extensive waterproofing resists hours of immersion.

Nor are these devices purely designed for robustness. Some have actually introduced new technologies into the smartphone sector…

  1. Thermal imaging cameras. CAT’s S60 was the first phone capable of identifying electrical faults and checking gas canister levels, or taking time-lapse thermal image videos.
  2. High-output speakers. The Sonim XP8 has speakers which output more than 100dB of sound – ideal for use in environments such as construction sites or airport runways.
  3. Barometer sensors. Kyocera’s DuraForce E6560 enables users to check atmospheric pressure, while other phones offer gyroscopes and even electrostatic coulomb meters.
  4. Mist protection. Being able to withstand light showers is very different to resisting salt mist or fine sand, which may be prevalent in certain working environments.
  5. Air quality monitors. High street phones won’t have air sensors, but some rugged devices are able to monitor carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide.
  6. Laser measuring equipment. If you’ve ever cursed inflexible tape measures, a laser measurement tool will be welcome. Some phones even have built-in spirit levels.
  7. Sound level analysis. Forget the unreliable decibel-o-meters available as free apps. A high-quality sound level meter could reduce the need for additional on-site hardware.

In the minus column

Of course, rugged smartphones aren’t without their drawbacks.

By definition, they tend to be considerably bigger, bulkier and heavier than their more fragile cousins.

Brands like Doogee won’t win any covetous glances in the office canteen, while many phones lack convenience features such as wireless charging capabilities or NFC (near-field communication).

On the bright side

In many respects, these handsets offer comparable specifications to normal phones. You can expect Android Oreo, octa-core CPUs, Gorilla Glass screens and fingerprint sensors.

Plus, it’s unlikely any mainstream phone could survive a 25-metre drop, as a Sonim handset recently did – setting a world record in the process.

You certainly don’t need to be a construction worker, Ironman participant or fisherman to appreciate the benefits of rugged phones.

Anyone who’s ever stared in dismay at a cracked screen, or found themselves pointing a hairdryer at a soggy phone will understand the true value of robust, rugged hardware.

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