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Rugged phones no longer look like rocks

rugged phones

Brian Cooley/CNET

It is 2020 and you are still placing a tacky $15 cowl in your $1,000 telephone, making a mockery of the thousands and thousands of {dollars} that Apple and Samsung spent to engineer it. Rugged phones that do not want circumstances aren’t new, however they normally look like elements that fell off a dump truck. Now a brand new breed of sturdy phones is right here with some mixture of slimness, class and distinctive options that can curiosity you in unsure occasions.

For instance, the Samsung XCover Professional and Cat S52 lay declare to being the lightest and thinnest rugged phones, respectively (although the Cat S52 is barely accessible within the US as a gray-market system). The larger however modern Cat S61 affords distinctive sensors for temperature and distance. The diminutive UniHertz AtomXL writes a brand new web page within the rugged telephone stylebook, whereas the Kyocera DuraForce Professional 2 and Sonim XP8 make no apologies for the rugged strains that envelop these apocalypse-ready gadgets.

Ruggedness and water resistance

These phones chortle at being dropped on a tough flooring, dunked in water and even immersed in liquid cleaner — that first one being a fairly neat trick at a time after we’re disinfecting every little thing. The ruggedness credential for many phones is Army Customary 810-G, which encompasses a variety of specs however is usually described as the power to face up to a 1.5-meter (4.9-foot) drop with out harm. All of the phones in our checklist are 810-G-rated.

A telephone’s resistance to overseas matter is signified by an IP code, sometimes IP68. The 6 in IP68 means the telephone is closed to mud and grit, whereas the Eight means the telephone is protected in opposition to water immersion “beneath circumstances…agreed between the producer and person“, in accordance with the Worldwide Electrotechnical Fee, which oversees the usual. Which means not all IP68 rankings are the identical. It might probably denote immersion resistance starting from 5 toes for 30 minutes for the Samsung XCover Professional, 2 meters for 30 minutes for the Kyrocera DuraForce Professional 2 or as a lot as Three meters for 60 minutes for the Cat S61. Learn the tech specs before you purchase, however all of the phones on our checklist have some stage of IP68 safety. The Sonim XP8 and Cat S61 obtain an IP69 ranking, indicating that they will additionally resist direct sprays of liquid.

Among the phones on this roundup have a tethered cap that seals their USB-C jacks. These are tedious in every day use and complicate putting the telephone in a desktop charging stand. Since most phones on the checklist do not use a cap to attain water and dirt resistance, I would advocate protecting that in thoughts when searching for a rugged telephone.

Push to Discuss

With fires, energy outages, floods and different uncommon occasions turning into extra standard, many individuals are becoming a member of native neighborhood response teams or CERT groups, which depend on radio-style communications however not essentially with precise radios. Push to Discuss over Mobile apps comparable to Zello permit a telephone to work like a walkie-talkie with anybody else working the identical app. Dash and Verizon supply comparable providers as plan choices. 

Push to Talk apps

So some ways to have a walkie-talkie in your telephone. PTToC apps for each customers, enterprises and first responders have proliferated in recent times with the large unfold of 4G LTE that permits them to behave very a lot like an precise radio, however with much more smarts.

Brian Cooley/CNET

The entire phones on our checklist besides the Cat S52 have one or two devoted buttons that may be set to Push to Discuss, and all of them can map that button to Zello, the preferred PTT platform. It is a extra intuitive expertise than tapping a button on a display screen to speak, although PTToC providers do not work except you will have a Wi-Fi or mobile information connection.

Push to Talk button on Samsung XCover Pro

Many of the phones in our roundup have at the least one assignable {hardware} button that may be mapped to a number of features comparable to Push to Discuss, utilizing the digicam or sending out an emergency beacon alert by way of an app.

Brian Cooley/CNET

The Unihertz AtomXL can be a “real” radio, appropriate with the kind of radios (GMRS and FRS radios, to be extra particular) which are typically carried by neighborhood volunteers, in addition to with some ham radio frequencies. It might probably transmit and obtain on frequencies from 400MHz to 480MHz, although that capability remains to be pending FCC sort approval within the US. In addition they require an exterior antenna, which attaches to a small, threaded SMA antenna jack on the telephone.

Unihertz Atom XL is also a real radio

The Unihertz Atom XL can talk with FRS and GMRS radios, in addition to with UHF ham radios, although such use is pending US sort approval by the FCC.

Brian Cooley/CNET

The Sonim XP8 additionally has true radio functionality by way of an non-compulsory Xpand module that turns it right into a transceiver on the 900MHz ISM band. That is not possible acquainted or helpful to the common individual, although. The XP8 is not appropriate with the FRS and GMRS radios sometimes carried by emergency response volunteers.

Twin SIMs

Many of the phones on our checklist assist twin SIMs, giving them one other sort of ruggedness: community resiliency. For those who’re keen to spend the cash, having two carriers activated on a telephone can imply the distinction between having service or not throughout a disaster. Organising a pair of technically distinct carriers on a telephone can considerably scale back your odds of being offline when networks are jammed or broken. For instance, you would possibly activate each Verizon and AT&T on a dual-SIM telephone, or mix a Google Fi activation with both AT&T or Verizon for a digital three-network telephone since Google Fi faucets into each Dash and T-Cell.

Samsung XCover Pro dual SIM and removeable battery

The Samsung XCover Professional options each twin bodily SIM assist in addition to a swappable battery.

Brian Cooley/CNET

Three of the phones on our checklist can be found with LTE Band 14 assist to allow them to use AT&T FirstNet, a particular cellular community that may prioritize you and preempt different community customers at occasions of maximum community load, like throughout pure disasters. You may’t simply join FirstNet by having a appropriate telephone, nevertheless; you have to even be sponsored by way of a collaborating emergency providers organisation you are concerned with.

Entrance-facing audio system

Many of the phones we feature immediately make an enormous sacrifice within the title of design: Their audio system aren’t aimed toward our ears, however sideways from the telephone. A few the phones on our checklist rectify that with front-facing audio system that blow away the meek quantity ranges on mainstream phones. 

Sonim XP8 front speakers

The loudest audio system of any telephone on this group are the front-facing ones on the Sonim XP8.

Brian Cooley/CNET

That is helpful for PTT apps, particularly once you’re in a busy or out of doors location. However word my pet peeve: Speakerphone mode is means overused immediately, so blare sparingly. We do not need to hear your dialog or FaceTime. Get some earbuds when a speakerphone is not mission-critical.

The Sonim XP8 has a protracted historical past with skilled first responders and has developed the screw-down Safe Audio Connector to offer audio and energy to a variety of audio system, mics and mixtures of the 2.

Replaceable batteries

Keep in mind when many phones had these? They made cost nervousness much less of a difficulty. Simply pop in a spare battery and be again at 100% cost in seconds. The Samsung XCover Professional and Sonim XP8 have swappable batteries as a part of their ready-for-anything ethos. Even the quickest cost cannot compete with this straightforward answer.

Oh, yeah, actually good cameras and screens

Rugged phones used to deal with digicam and show high quality as elective, however these new fashions depart little missing relating to these options. They might not have the variety of cameras discovered on flagship phones like the iPhone 11 Professional or the Samsung Galaxy S20, however the cameras they do have are ample in megapixels and benefit from the Google picture processing constructed into Android. The gallery of comparative photographs beneath is outstanding principally in how unremarkable the photographs are: They’re barely totally different from the everyday snapshot taken with a flagship telephone. 

The Cat S61 takes digicam imaging a step additional with an built-in FLIR thermal sensor, which Cat says is correct to temperature variations of 0.1 levels Celsius whereas scanning as much as 100 folks a minute at a distance of 5 toes. That sort of thermal scanning operate could develop into extra common now we’re dwelling in a coronavirus pandemic.

CAT S61 FLIR image

Who knew the coldest a part of a cat is its nostril? The FLIR temperature sensor on the again of the Cat S61 is correct to 0.1 levels celsius.

Brian Cooley/CNET

All of the phones on our checklist use toughened glass. The 2 Cat phones have the most recent Corning Gorilla Glass 6, which is extra immune to repeated and better drops than its extra generally discovered predecessor.  

Measurement and weight

Whereas among the latest rugged phones are nearly indistinguishable from customary phones, some are nonetheless cumbersome and pleased with it. A couple of stand out within the stack beneath, however most are just like customary phones.

Rugged phones incognito

You may inform a few these are rugged phones, however the remainder mix in with regular ones. From high to backside: Unihertz Atom XL, Cat S52, Sonim XP8. Samsung XCover Professional, Samsung Galaxy S8 with cowl, Pixel 3A with cowl, Kyocera DuraForce Professional 2, Cat S61.

Brian Cooley/CNET

This chart reveals the load and have variations between the phones. General, the Samsung Galaxy XCover Professional and Cat S52 are standouts in skinny design with gentle, rugged building. And bear in mind: These do not want a canopy.

Worth, USD


$485 (est.)


$648 (Verizon)

$500 (unlocked)

$444 (Verizon)

Programmable buttons







Twin SIM



Y (varies by area)




Swappable battery







Entrance speaker








4-inch, 1,136×640-pixel, Gorilla Glass 3

5.6-inch, 1,440×720-pixel, Gorilla Glass 6  

5.2-inch, 1,920×1,080-pixel, Gorilla Glass 6  

5-inch, 1,920×1,080-pixel, Gorilla Glass 3  

6.3-inch, 2,340×1,080-pixel, Gorilla Glass 5  

5-inch, 1,920×1,080-pixel, Kyocera Sapphire Protect  









7.9 oz.

7.Four oz.

8.Eight oz.

11.Eight oz.

6.Three oz.

8.Three oz.


Notably small and an actual radio

Thinnest rugged telephone on the earth

FLIR and distance-measurement sensors  

Function-laden and difficult as nails

Candy spot for a brand new technology of robust phones

HD Voice and Qi wi-fi charging

Is rugged best for you?

If you need the most recent in superior video seize, computational images or a laptop-class CPU, these phones aren’t fairly prepared to exchange your present system. However should you’re bored with breaking phones, repeatedly use a PTT app comparable to Zello or are large on out of doors adventures or public service volunteer work, suppose past the same old suspects subsequent time you are available in the market for a telephone. These new rugged alternate options make phones excitingly distinct once more.

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