Rugged Phones: The Pros and Cons

by Dan Forster - , Last Updated on November 7, 2014, Buying Guides

Rugged phones aren’t the right choice for everyone, but for some customers they can be absolutely perfect. Whilst many top end phones these days are waterproof, dust proof or both (lots of the Sony Xperias, for example, or the Samsung Galaxy S5), rugged phones are much, much more than that. A good rugged phone is not just waterproof and dust proof, but often will be shock proof as well as shatter proof. Here we’re taking a look at the pros and cons of opting for a rugged phone, as well as giving you some good model recommendations should you decide to go this route.

The Good Points

Rather obviously, the biggest benefit of going for a rugged phone is that it’s simply not going to break as easily as a regular, touch screen smart phone. Drop it, bang it, take it out to the beach, river, mountains, chances are you’ll still have a working phone at the end of the day. Okay, these models aren’t completely indestructible, but they’re pretty close.

These are relatively specialised models, however, and as we’ll see in a moment they do have their down sides. But for certain kinds of buyers, rugged phones are a great choice. This includes not just those that enjoy outdoor activities (things like climbing, rafting, kayaking etc.), but also those that may work out of doors. Many building site workers, for example, can profit from a rugged phone. If you’re often in situations where there’s a solid chance that your mobile will get wet or damaged then you might want to consider a rugged phone.

The Not So Good Points

There are a couple of negative things that you do need to consider before investing in a rugged phone though. The first of these is that quite often you’re going to have to make sacrifices when it comes to features, power and high end specs. This is less true than it used to be, and more and more higher end rugged phones are being released, but as a general rule you’re going to get a lot less on a rugged phone than on your typical smart phone.

Which brings us to the other negative point. Not only will you probably miss out on high end performance, but you’re also likely to spend a lot more. Rugged phones don’t come cheap, and given that you’re paying more for a lower spec phone this can put many people off. In fact the majority of customers prefer to have two phones, a normal smart phone plus a rugged phone to use when necessary, which of course brings the cost up even further.

Having decided that a rugged phone is right for you (and let’s be honest, no matter how expensive they me be, if you’re constantly in situations where there’s a risk of damaging your phone it will probably end up being cheaper to go for a rugged phone than to consistently replace a hand set), which model should you go for? Let’s move on to some recommendations.

The Motorola Defy+ JCB Edition

Motorola Defy+ JCB Edition

Motorola Defy+ JCB Edition

One of the top rugged phone choices is this model from Motorola, a version of the Defy+ that was specially designed with builders in mind. There’s a 3.7 inch screen that’s scratch proof, it runs a 1 GHz processor, and even has a 5 MP camera on board. Okay, it’s not the fastest phone around, but its visco-elastic protective covering means that it’s pretty much impermeable to water, dust and even shock. You can kick it or tread on it, and it still keeps ticking.

Plus, there’s a whole bunch of handy man apps on board too, including a spirit level, a theodolite and a unit converter. There’s also a push to talk feature that lets you use the Defy+ as a walkie talkie if necessary. This is one of the most popular rugged phones on the market and it goes for a couple of hundred pounds SIM free.

The JCB Toughphone Sitemaster 2

The JCB Toughphone Sitemaster 2

The JCB Toughphone Sitemaster 2

Right, this is the king of tough phones (as you might gather from the name). General specs don’t look great, we’ll admit, but if you want something indestructible, this is your mobile. Basically, this is a low end touch screen phone, with a two inch colour display. That’s it. Oh, it’s got a little 2 MP cam attached. But you don’t buy this mobile for speed and performance. Just wait until you find out how tough it is…

The Sitemaster 2 can withstand up to 1 ton of pressure, it’s waterproof (in tests it has withstood a pressurised stream of salt water for more than 24 hours), it’s dustproof, it can be dropped from 2 metres. It’s military grade, meaning that it meets standards set by the military for use in the field. It’ll work in a freezer, in a sauna, anywhere you want. It also comes with a wind up charger, just in case you need more battery power and can’t find an electric socket. And that’s why you buy the Sitemaster 2. This is as close to unbreakable as you’re going to find, and it’ll cost you around a hundred pounds or so.

The CAT S50

The CAT S50

The CAT S50

Finally, CAT make some of the toughest phones on the market, and if you’re looking for a rugged phone that’s also a little more high end, then the S50 is going to be a great option. It’s running a quad core 1.2 GHz processor with 2 GB of RAM, plus it’s got a hefty 4.7 inch touch screen (complete with CAT’s wet finger tech that lets you use your phone even if the situation isn’t quite dry…). It’s also got a nice 8 MP camera and runs Android 4.4 out of the box, so you’re getting decent specs.

In terms of toughness, the S50 is military grade certified, just like the Sitemaster 2, and it’s waterproof and dust proof too. Basically, this is the kind of phone that you can use for business as well as when you’re up that mountain.

Rugged phones aren’t for everyone, but these three models are our top recommendations. If you need something that gives you a little more than the every day smart phone, then a rugged phone could be a great investment.