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 for 2019 that are available unlocked. The following phones will work on GSM carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile but not CDMA carriers like Sprint and Verizon.
Ulefone Armor 3
Best Value Rugged Smartphone
The Ulefone Armor 3 is a 5.7-inch, dual-sim phone running Android 8.1 Oreo and is powered by an octo-core 2.6GHz Helio P23 CPU with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. With its IP68-rating, the Armor 3 can be submersed up to 2 meters underwater for 2 hours and is resistant to dust, dirt, and sand. The screen is 18:9 FHD+ (2160 x 1080 pixels) constructed of Gorilla Glass 5 and the massive 10,300mAh battery ensures operation for a week. The Sony IMX230 21MP-rear and 13MP-front cameras allow underwater shooting with the waterproof shutter button. Other features include a side-mounted fingerprint sensor, NFC+Google Pay, and a USB Type-C port.
PROS: Modern specs, very rugged, huge battery, affordable price
CONS: Heavy at 364.9 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 or 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 ruggedness, loud speaker, removable battery
CONS: Expensive, heavy at 335 grams
Rugged and Waterproof Smartphone With A Clean Design
The S41 is one of CAT’s latest models featuring significant upgrades over the previous S40. Featuring a full HD 5-inch screen with Gorilla Glass 5, the S41 is powered by a MediaTek P20 octa-core 2.3GHz CPU running Android 7.0 with 3GB RAM and 32GB ROM. It has a 13 MP camera with LED flash and a large 5000 mAh battery that can be used to charge other devices. The S41 is waterproof up to 2 meters deep for 1 hour and drop-proof to 1.8 meters. The S41 is compliant with MIL SPEC 810G standards and is designed to withstand thermal shocks and salt mist spray, making it one of the most rugged phones available. For a more affordable option, the CAT S31 offers a 4.7-inch 1280×720 HD screen, Qualcomm MSM8909 quad-core CPU, 2GB RAM, 16GB ROM, and 4000 mAh battery, but it lacks NFC like the S41.
PROS: Very rugged exterior and excellent water resistance, decent specs
CONS: No fingerprint sensor, more expensive than the competition
Rugged Smartphone with Thermal Imaging, Laser Measurement, Air Quality Sensor
The new CAT S61 has the thermal imaging camera like the S60 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 include a Qualcomm SD630 Octacore 2.2GHz CPU, Android Oreo, 4GB RAM/64GB ROM, 4500mAh battery (Quick Charge 4.0 compatible), shock resistance (1.8m 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, latest Android Oreo OS, big upgrades over S60
Older Rugged Smartphones To Consider:
Budget Rugged Smartphone with Wireless Charging
Like Ulefone, Doogee is another Chinese manufacturer that has made a name for itself with its affordable rugged smartphones. The S60 is the company’s flagship rugged phone featuring a 5.2″ FHD display with Gorilla Glass 5, Helio P25 CPU with 6GB RAM/64GB ROM, Android 7.0, and a 5,580mAh battery. One advantage that the S60 has over other rugged phones is the wireless charging capability (but the phone does not include a wireless charger).
Rugged Smartphone with Thermal Imaging Camera
The rugged CAT S60 was the world’s first smartphone featuring a thermal imaging camera. This technology by FLIR has many applications for work and around the home such as finding gaps in insulation, electrical faults, and monitoring the performance of machinery. It can also be used to check gas cylinder levels for barbecue tanks or to explore the outdoors at night. The thermal image camera is capable of taking photos, videos, and time-lapse footage. Like the rest of the CAT S series of phones, the S60 is rugged and waterproof can withstand drops up to 1.8 meters. In terms of water-resistance, the S60 has a Lockdown Switch that allows the phone to survive underwater up to a depth of 5 meters for 60 minutes. The S60 is also designed to take photos and videos underwater, and can be used with gloves or wet fingers. The phone is reinforced with a die-cast frame and other rugged features include extreme temperature resistance from -25°C (-13°F) to 55°C (131°F) and resistance to vibration. Other features include a large 3800mAh battery, 4.7″ 1280×720 Corning Gorilla Glass 4 touchscreen, 13 MP autofocus rear camera, 5 MP front camera, NFC, and GPS. The processor is a Qualcomm MSM8952-3 (4 x 1.5GHz + 4 x 1.2GHz) with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of flash storage. The 3800mAh battery combined with the 1280×720 screen gives the S60 excellent battery life.
PROS: First smartphone with thermal imaging camera, underwater camera, Android 6.0, 3800mAh battery, 32GB storage
The CAT S40 has an IP68 rating and is tested to withstand 6-foot drops and submersion in water up to 1 meter for 60 minutes. It is also dustproof and passes MIL-STD-810G endurance tests for shock and drop, operating temperature (-13°F to 131°F), and vibration (Category 4). The S40 has a quad-core 1.1GHz Cortex-A7 CPU with 1GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. It has an ultra-bright 4.7″ IPS display for viewing in the sun and Gorilla Glass 4 for scratch protection. The touchscreen can be operated with gloves on. The battery is relatively large at 3000mAh. Although its 540 x 960 qHD screen is not competitive with newer rugged smartphones, it will result in better battery life.
PROS: Gorilla Glass 4, 3000mAh battery
CONS: low-resolution display
The CAT S50 looks similar to the CAT S40 but it is slightly less rugged with an IP67 rating. It has the one of the highest resolution displays on this list at 720×1280 but its 2630mAh the battery is smaller than the S40. It has a slightly faster CPU and 2GB of RAM versus 1GB on the S40. The 8GB of internal storage is the most glaring inferior spec on this phone, but it does have a microSD slot. If screen resolution is important then the S50 may be worth choosing over the S40. The newly launched CAT S50c adds push-to-talk capability but is only available on the Verizon network.
PROS: 720p HD display, competitive ruggedness, 2GB RAM
CONS: smallish battery, only 8GB internal storage
Kyocera DuraForce E6560
The Kyocera DuraForce E6560 was a popular rugged smartphone on the AT&T network, and it is now available unlocked. The DuraForce is a great all-around choice featuring a 4.5″ IPS screen with 720×1280 HD resolution. Its IP68 rating allows it to handle water immersion up to 30 minutes and the touchscreen can be operated when wet or with gloves. It is MIL-STD-810G certified for protection against shock, vibration, extreme temperatures, blowing rain, salt fog, dust, and water.
The DuraForce is also designed for use in very loud environments such as construction sites or concerts. Its Smart Sonic Receiver technology sends vibrations directly to the eardrums and it has dual microphone noise cancellation, so you can use the phone even if the background noise is up to 100 decibels. The DuraForce also has a barometer sensor to measure atmospheric pressure, a useful feature for outdoor use to predict changes in weather. The DuraForce is surprisingly affordable but it doesn’t sacrifice features or durability for its lower price and it is a good choice for those who need a tough phone for work or those who enjoy spending time in the outdoors.
PROS: MIL-STD-810G, 3100mAh battery, barometer, programmable dedicated button
CONS: New model may be on the way
Samsung Galaxy Rugby Pro
The Samsung Galaxy Rugby Pro is a good choice for those looking for a small yet tough smartphone. The Galaxy Rugby Pro passes military tests for blowing rain and sand, high humidity and thermal shock. It is also shock and dust resistant and can handle submersion in up to 1 meter of water for 30 minutes. The 4″ screen is scratch resistant. The Galaxy Rugby Pro does not have the best protection or advanced specs, but it is one of the more affordable rugged smartphones. It should satisfy those on a budget, as long as expectations for performance are kept in check.
PROS: small and lightweight, affordable
CONS: low-res 800 x 480 display, only 8GB internal storage, camera only 5MP, dated Android 4.0