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 waterproof 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 are not immune to cracking, and drop test ratings do not guarantee you will always have the same results. Here are the best rugged smartphones for 2017 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.
Most Advanced Rugged Smartphone
Caterpillar is well known for its construction machinery and is now a major presence in the rugged smartphone market through a partnership with the UK-based Bullit Group. The rugged CAT S60 is 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 can use used to take 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. 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
Best Value Rugged Smartphone
The rugged smartphone market is growing and the new Ulefone Armor proves that you no longer have to sacrifice features or pay a premium for a high-quality rugged phone. The IP68-rated phone runs Android 6.0 with an octa-core MT6753 1.3GHz CPU, 3GB RAM, 32GB of storage, and a 3500mAh battery. The 4.7″ 1280×720 Gorilla Glass 3 touchscreen is operable when wet. The Armor can withstand immersion in water up to 1.2 meters for 30 minutes and is capable of taking pictures underwater with its 13MP rear camera. The dual-SIM phone is only 12.5mm thick and has physical navigation keys under the screen. The Armor can handle any outdoor environment with its operating temperature range of -40°C to 80°C. A unique feature for outdoor use is the SOS key which will send an emergency call and message with your GPS information to a designated contact. Other features include 4G compatibility, NFC, flash, and a compass sensor.
PROS: Full-featured, slim design, attractive price
CONS: Not widely available, unknown drop test results
Best Budget Rugged Smartphone
The Homtom HT20 has impressive features that belie its affordable price. It is also one of the thinner rugged smartphones at 12.99mm thick. The HT20 has a 4.7″ 1280×720 Gorilla Glass 3 screen, 16GB of storage, Android 6.0, and is powered by a MediaTek MT6737 1.3GHz quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM. The dual-SIM, 4G phone has an IP68 rating for protection against dust, dirt, and sand. It is also submersible and designed to take photos underwater. The magnesium alloy exterior and rubber bumpers protect the phone from drops up to 1.2 meters. The fingerprint reader offers convenient security and the removable 3500mAh battery limits the need for frequent recharging. Useful outdoor features include GPS and a flashlight.
PROS: Thin, fingerprint reader, Android 6.0, HD display, 3500mAh battery
CONS: Not as drop-proof as other models
Most Rugged Smartphone
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. The Android-powered Sonim XP7 features industrial-level toughness and is one the most rugged smartphones on the market. It offers excellent shock and water resistance and the 4″ touchscreen can be operated with gloves. The XP7 is rugged enough for industrial workplace use and is resistant to petroleum oils and cleaning solvents. It is also suitable for use in the snow or around saltwater. Operating temperature is -4°F to 131°F and it is also resistant to vibration. The XP7 has an extremely loud 103 dB speaker. It also has a huge 4800mAh battery that will last for days but some may have trouble accepting its low-resolution WVGA 480 x 800 display. The XP7 includes a 3-year manufacturer’s warranty that also covers accidental damage (requires product registration). The Sonim XP7 is the best choice when ruggedness is the first priority but it comes at a significant cost.
PROS: extremely rugged, 103 dB speaker, large battery
CONS: small low-res display, heavy (290 grams), expensive
Other Rugged Smartphones To Consider:
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
Compact Rugged Smartphone
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 performance expectations 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
Conquest S8 Pro
High-Spec Rugged Smartphone
The S8 Pro is one of the superior rugged smartphones on paper, but execution and build-quality may be another matter. It is MIL-STD-810 and IP68-compliant so it can handle drops from 3 meters and withstand immersion in shallow water up to 30 minutes. The display is a 5″ 720×1280 HD (300 PPI) screen with Gorilla Glass 4 that offers readability in sunlight. The S8 Pro has a quad-core 1.3GHz CPU, Android 5.1 Lollipop, 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage (plus microSD slot), and 13MP/5MP cameras. Other impressive features are its huge 6000mAh battery and dual-sim card slots with dual standby. It also has other unique features such as a power bank function to charge other devices, IR transmitter to use the phone as a remote control, and a push-to-talk walkie talkie function that operates on the UHF band (for up to 5 kilometers) so you can still communicate without network coverage. It also has useful outdoor functions such as an altimeter and barometer, thermometer, compass, and GPS. NFC, an FM radio, and Bluetooth 4.0 round out the list of features.
The S8 Pro is built like a tank. The trim around the display is all metal with titanium screws. As you can see in this video, it survived being run over by a car (display-side up), being submersed in water, and having the screen exposed to an electric power drill. The Conquest S8 Pro is limited in availability in the U.S. and has a worrisome amount of bad user reviews with some saying it will only work on the EDGE network. If shopping for the Conquest S8 Pro keep in mind that the 2GB version has only 16GB of storage.
PROS: HD display, huge battery, Gorilla Glass 4, 3GB RAM
CONS: Not readily available in USA, questionable reliability, has bad user reviews