I am sure most of us saw or owned a phone before the smartphone era. The phones were a lot thicker and more compact than what we got accustomed today, but tough enough to handle a few drops and used mainly for calling and rarely for occasional basic gaming.
Then came the touchscreen phones (which were still tough enough) and later the smartphones took over the world, now with larger screens, smaller width, higher specs and, as expected, a higher price tag. This made choosing the best rugged phone a lot harder, since the smartphones came with a major disadvantage: if before, dropping your phone wasn’t the cause of great stress, smartphones are not as drop resistant as their predecessors.
Some screens won’t survive from falls even below 3 feet and there are stories on the web that some phones screens shattered simply by being carried inside the pocket.
For people who don’t want to treat their cell phones like jewelry and don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on a device that can shatter at any time, we have compiled a list of the best rugged smartphones that, although not indestructible (no phone can ever claim that), are as close as one can get to the perfect drop proof, shockproof and waterproof smartphone.
But, before that, you need to understand that the rugged smartphones are not really a homogeneous group and that, in reality, they are divided for two main audiences: the ones that work in an industrial environment or in constructions and need a fully rugged, durable and no-compromises phone (where the internal specs are not a high priority) and the ones that need a mid-to-high-end smartphone which will survive the occasional fall (even face first) and that can handle splashes or even full submerges underwater (usually, active people who regularly practice different types of outdoor sports).
1. CAT S41
It’s been a little over a year since the American corporation Caterpillar Inc. released the highly popular CAT S60 and now, it seems that the manufacturer decided to refresh its product line by releasing two rugged smartphones, the Cat S41 and Cat S31. The new series does not seem to continue the legacy of the S60 and, as the name choice seems to suggest, the CAT S41 is actually the successor of the CAT S40 and not the S60 (the S31 is also the successor of the S30), something that becomes more obvious when noticing the omission of the thermal imaging camera (which was a key element of the S60) and since the manufacturer seems to favour a ‘return to basics’ approach by reinforcing the qualities of the S40 (and S30) and porting them into the more powerful CAT S41 (and S31). As you’ve guessed by now, the device that I’m going to focus on is the CAT S41, which is both the flagship handset and the better equipped device (as opposed to the CAT S31).
From the design point of view, the CAT S41 does not bring anything revolutionary to the table, the smartphone retaining a similar look to the other CAT handsets, featuring a thick rubberised case (retaining the same octagonal shape), covered by a black finish and with narrow longitudinal canals on the rear and the lateral sides which will offer a better grip.
2. Panasonic Toughpad FZ-E1
The Panasonic Toughpad FZ-E1 is part of the fully-rugged ToughPad series from Panasonic and along with it’s Android-based Toughpad FZ-X1 sibling, these are some of the most rugged devices you can find on the market right now. At 5-inch, Panasonic calls the Toughpad FZ-E1 a handheld tablet that can make phone calls (compatible with 4G LTE data) which myself and a large majority of people may find odd, since 5.5-inch phones are very common and phablets are just below the 7-inch line which is (for now) reserved for tablets.
3. CAT S60
The Cat S60 is the next generation of rugged smartphones after the generally successful Cat S50. As the name suggests, this is indeed a smartphone coming from the Caterpillar Company that specializes into the construction equipment department, so this is a step further to give the construction workers a serious phone that can withstand even the harshest environments, while maintaining the elegant look of modern smartphones. There is also a twist: the S60 features a thermal imaging camera.
4. Sonim Xp7
Following up the Sonim Xp6, the new smartphone tries to aim at one particular type of customers, the ones who need the toughest smartphone on the market. People who work on a construction site, electricians, workers at chemical plants or just who undergo outdoor sports will definitely enjoy this phone.
The Sonim Xp7 is able to withstand a lot of abuse. It is IP68 and IP69 rated, so it can be submerged underwater up to 6.5 feet for as long as 30 minutes, it can also withstand extreme pressure, corrosive chemicals and oils and can survive a lot of falls before taking actual damage. So no, the phone is not indestructible but it is one tough piece of work!
5. Blackview BV8000 Pro
Because of their bulkiness, the rugged smartphones are considered somewhat niche, so the market isn’t exactly flooded by this type of devices and rarely do we get to see a rugged smartphone to be released by a popular company in the US or EU. At the same time, there is an abundance of Chinese rugged handsets to choose from, but if they’re not specifically targeted towards the public outside China, there may be some problems with the 4G LTE compatibility (such as the FDD-LTE), the warranties and the support.
6. Kyocera Brigadier
If you’ve been following the news, there have been some rumours that the next generations of smartphones may feature sapphire screens (even though Apple disliked the idea), which are considered to be better than the Gorilla Glass 4.
Funny enough, there are some phones that actually have this technology implemented for quite some time, like the Kyocera Brigadier.
So, is a sapphire screen better than the Corning Gorilla Glass? In a sense yes, sapphire is the second hardest crystal in the world, the screen would be scratch free, a lot harder to break or shatter.
7. Kyocera DuraForce Pro
The Kyocera DuraForce Pro is one of the latest handset from the Japanese manufacturer to join the rugged smartphones market and it clearly comes as an improvement in many areas over the older Kyocera Brigadier (at which I had a look not long ago). Lately, I have noticed that the line between rugged and non-rugged smartphones is getting thinner, especially since the latter started to become waterproof and dustproof (features that, sometimes, are used as a main selling point – the Samsung Galaxy S7 and LG G6 are a good example). But, that’s not all, because rugged smartphones are starting to look similar to the more elegant non-rugged flagships and the DuraForce Pro is the proof to show that both the tougher handsets and the normal, more fragile ones are converging towards a final product to feature both a rugged body and the flagship performance that we have become accustomed from the likes of Apple, HTC, Samsung or LG.
8. Blackview BV9000 Pro
A bit over half a year ago, Blackview released the rugged smartphone BV8000 Pro, which came as an overall improvement over the previous generation (a bigger battery, a better camera and more powerful internal hardware, as well as a more elegant case), but, it seems that the Chinese manufacturer decided to quickly release a new rugged handset and, while that may be a great thing for new buyers that get a larger variety of rugged smartphones to choose from, for those that already have a previous gen Blackview phone, it does seem like there may be a problem considering the future support of older devices.
9. Samsung Galaxy S8 Active
Another year, another Active version of the flagship smartphone from Samsung and this time, it’s the Galaxy S8 Active. Similarly to its predecessors, the S8 Active keeps pretty much all the internal hardware of the standard S8 (which should make it the best rugged smartphone to date, from a performance point of view) and, while the exterior has lost a bit in terms of elegance, it looks surprisingly close to the original model, especially because of the new increased display real-estate (both the S6 Active and the S7 Active failed to do so). The S8 Active won’t really survive an industrial environment, but it is the perfect device for active people, so let’s have a closer look.
10. Motorola Moto Z Force
I don’t think many of you would be surprised that a Motorola (Lenovo) smartphone made its way into a best-of list of rugged handsets, especially since Motorola went into the spotlight with the Droid Turbo 2, which attracted everyone’s attention with its advertised shatterproof display. As expected, the people rejoiced at the prospect of having their phones fall face-first and not shatter and, since the Droid Turbo 2 held true to the claims, the shatterproof protection has been implemented into future iterations, which brings us to the Motorola Moto Z Force. No, the smartphone isn’t suitable for industrial, harsh environments (it won’t survive this type of extreme conditions), but, it offers what every active person dreams of: a virtually unbreakable display.
11. LG X Venture
LG has been struggling for the past two years to remain relevant in the over-competitive smartphone market. The modular flagship LG G5 was heavily criticized and was generally disregarded by the general public, while this year’s LG G6 came a bit too early and was overshadowed by the Samsung Galaxy S8 (even though the G6 is a great improvement over the G5). To get out of this streak of bad luck, LG decided to have a try at building a budget-friendly rugged smartphone and this is a welcomed decision since there aren’t that many new durable handsets at an affordable price available. So, let’s see if LG X Venture managed to reach a proper balance between ruggedness and functionality or if it had to compromise too much to maintain a low price tag.
12. Samsung Galaxy S6 Active
There are rugged phones like Kyocera, Sonim or CAT and then there are rugged phones like the Samsung Galaxy S6 Active. The Samsung isn’t made for extreme conditions, as it won’t survive if used by construction workers, but if you are an active person, like to bike, climb, jog or any other type of sport, the S6 Active will provide a lot more protection than the S6 or S6 Edge.
Samsung claims that the S6 Active is IP68 rated, being resistant to extreme temperatures, pressure or humidity and it meets the US Department of Defence Military Standard 810G for water resistance (you can submerge the phone 5 feet underwater for 30 minutes).
13. Samsung Galaxy S7 Active
After the successful Active S6, the next natural iteration from Samsung is the Galaxy S7 Active, a much anticipated version of the original S7, that featured the fantastic 1440 x 2560 pixels AMOLED display, the 12-megapixel camera, the glass and metal case, a great performance thanks to the powerful hardware, less bloatware and a microSD card slot (a return to the basics!). The Galaxy S7 is considered to be the best overall smartphone of 2016 and the Active S7 takes it a step further, by adding protection to the weather elements and a much more rugged case (so you don’t need to use a protective cover).