Updated in October 2020
For those with a demanding job or lifestyle with constant exposure to environmental hazards, a rugged smartphone with military-grade protection may be the best option. A rugged smartphone is also a smart choice to use as a second phone when traveling. Ruggedized smartphone models meet military testing standards for protection against shock, water, dust, extreme temperatures, and vibration. They are water-resistant and can withstand submersion in shallow water for a limited time. When using a rugged smartphone, keep in mind that while these phones have been tested to military-specified standards, care should still be taken as glass screens can crack and drop test ratings do not guarantee you will always have the same results in the real world. Here are the best rugged smartphones that are available unlocked and ready to install a SIM card. The following phones will work on GSM carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile but not CDMA carriers like Sprint and Verizon.
Ulefone Armor 7E (2020)
Best Value Rugged Smartphone
With the rapid advancement of rugged models made by companies like Ulefone, buyers no longer have to sacrifice features for durability when it comes to owning a rugged smartphone. The Ulefone Armor 7E has features that are competitive with mainstream phones in the same price range, and it actually beats many of them on price. The Ulefone Armor 6E is a 6.3-inch, dual-SIM phone running Android 10 (Pure Android with no ads) and is powered by the octo-core 2.2GHz MediaTek Helio P90 Processor with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. With MIL-STD-810G testing compliance and an IP68-rating, the Armor 6E can survive a 1.2-meter drop, be operated in temperatures from -20℃ to 60℃, and submersed up to 1.5 meters underwater for up to 30 minutes. The Samsung 48MP Triple Rear Camera is designed to work underwater and also has a night mode, along with a bright flash with five LEDs. The 2340 x 1080 FHD+ IPS display is resistant to scratches and fingerprints, and the large 5,500mAh battery ensures all-day use. The Armor 7E offers convenience with the latest features like a fingerprint sensor, face unlock, wireless charging compatibility (Qi Standard), NFC, and a USB-C port. The Armor 7E is designed for global use with compatibility in most countries.
PROS: Modern and competitive specs, very rugged, affordable price
CONS: No headphone jack
Samsung Galaxy XCover Pro
A Versatile Rugged Phone from a Trusted Brand
The Samsung Galaxy XCover Pro is designed for businesses and frontline workers. It is MIL-STD-810G-certified, drop tested to 1.5 meters, and IP68 water-resistant. The touchscreen works with gloves, and the 6.3″ display is made of Gorilla Glass 5. The phone has two programmable buttons, which can be used for push-to-talk, scanning, or other business applications. The phone is powered by a Quad 2.3GHz + Quad 1.7GHz Octa Core processor with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. The 4,050mAh battery is removable and replaceable, a rarity in modern phones, but an essential feature for those who expect to use the phone for many years. The phone is also mPOS ready with NFC, and is capable of accepting credit card payments with contactless cards without using additional hardware. The phone is also equipped with Samsung Knox for protection against hackers.
PROS: Android 10, removeable battery, dual SIM, inconspicuous design
CONS: Not much storage (64GB) for the price
Best Budget Rugged Smartphone
The Oukitel WP5 proves that you don’t have to spend a premium price to get a decent rugged smartphone. The WP5 has some unexpected features at this price point: a massive 8,000 mAh battery, triple rear camera (13MP) with quad flash light, fingerprint sensor, and face ID unlock. The WP5 is sufficiently durable and is 810G-compliant and IP68-rated. It is drop tested to 1.5 meters and can withstand submersion 1.5 meters underwater for 30 minutes. It is also resistant to extreme temperatures (-55C to 70C). The WP5 is designed for industrial workers and outdoor enthusiasts, and at this price it is a good option as a second phone or a travel phone.
PROS: Very affordable, Android 10 (stock), dual SIM
CONS: Only 32GB storage (expandable with TF card in SIM slot), not full HD (720×1440 HD+)
Ulefone Armor 9
Advanced Rugged Smartphone with Thermal Camera and Endoscope
A more affordable alternative to CAT phones, Ulefone’s flagship rugged phone has advanced specs plus a FLIR thermal imaging camera and a detachable waterproof endoscope. (It is also available without the endoscope included.) The endoscope has a 2-meter cable and LED lights around the camera. Several attachments are included: a protective case, reflecting mirror, hook, and magnet. The phone is powered by a MediaTek Helio P90 processor with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. It has a 6.3″ FHD+ IPS display and a 6,600 mAh battery. The Armor 9 has all the rugged features one would expect from Ulefone, including MIL-STD-810G testing compliance (low pressure, humidity, acidic atmosphere, and solar radiation) with drop testing to 1.2 meters, an IP68 water resistance rating, and also an IP69K rating for protection against close-range high pressure and high temperature spray downs. The rear camera features Samsung’s leading 64MP ISOCELL Bright GW1 sensor with a 4-light flash, and it supports underwater photos and videos. A customizable side button can be set up for frequently used functions or apps.
PROS: Android 10, thermal camera, endoscope, dual SIM, headphone jack
CONS: Heavy (320 grams)
Industrial-Level Tough Smartphone for Professionals
Sonim is a serious player in the rugged mobile industry, holding the Guinness World Record for highest mobile phone drop (25 meters) with its XP3300 Force. Its rugged phones are often the go-to choice for professional use. Following the highly-regarded XP7, the Android 7.0-powered Sonim XP8 features MIL-STD-810G ruggedness and is a good choice for industrial workplaces and harsh outdoor environments. It is IP68 dustproof and waterproof and is also resistant to vibration, extreme temperatures, pressure, and oil and chemicals. It offers excellent shock and drop resistance and the FHD 5″ Gorilla Glass 3 touchscreen can be operated with gloves or wet fingers. Useful features include 100dB+ speakers, dedicated push-to-talk and SOS buttons, removable 4,900mAh battery, NFC, and Quick Charge 4.0 USB-C port.
PROS: Excellent durability, loud speaker, removable battery
CONS: Heavy at 335 grams, older model (2018) that is due for an upgrade
Rugged Smartphone with Thermal Imaging, Laser Measurement, Air Quality Sensor
The CAT S61 has a thermal imaging camera and also includes a laser-assisted distance measurement function and an indoor air quality monitor, making it useful for construction work and industrial settings. Other improvements over the S60 include a Qualcomm SD630 Octacore 2.2GHz CPU, Android 8 (Oreo), 4GB RAM/64GB ROM, 4500mAh battery (Quick Charge 4.0 compatible), shock resistance (1.8-meter drop tested), Super Bright 5.2” Display (Full HD 1920×1080), Corning Gorilla Glass 5, 16MP rear camera with dual LED flash, and 8MP front camera. The S61 features IP68 & IP69 dust and water resistance, extreme temperature resistance, vibration resistance, and MIL-SPEC-810G Category 4 Resistant to humidity and salt mist. The S61 offers significant upgrades over the S60 but comes at a significantly higher cost with a list price of $999 USD.
PROS: Unique specialty features, big upgrades over S60