The Best Rugged Phones – Tough Smartphones for Outdoor Use

by Sandra Henshaw - , Last Updated on September 26, 2018, Buying Guides

Having a great smart phone is a necessity for many of us. But what happens if you frequently spend time in places where a normal mobile is just going to be too fragile? That’s where rugged phones come in. Designed to be more robust than the average smartphone, a great rugged phone shouldn’t have to mean making compromises on performance. But which rugged phone is right for you? We’ve got all you need to know, as well as some great model recommendations!

Why You Need a Rugged Phone

There are tons of reasons why you might be looking for a rugged phone. Perhaps you work on building sites, maybe you love rock climbing or kayaking, maybe you’re just clumsy and would prefer a phone that’s going to stand the test of time (and a few drops). A rugged phone will be exactly that, rugged. It should survive being dropped, falling in water, and being covered in dust or sand.

Having said that, up until quite recently opting for a rugged phone meant making huge compromises when it came to performance. Thankfully, this is no longer the case and there’s now a wide range of robust smartphones for every budget, and they can all take a beating and then some!

What Are My Options?

The nice thing about modern rugged phones is that you have more or less the same kind of choices as you do with regular smartphones. You’re looking at a touchscreen phone with full functionality. This means that your basic choice really does come down to budget more than anything else. So you’re getting three classes of phone here.

Top End Phones

A top end phone is going to run you over £500, but it’s going to be full featured and have tons of extras. You’re looking at getting a mobile that despite being rugged could still give regular top class phones like the Galaxy or iPhone a run for its money.

Pros: Plenty of extra features like infrared cameras, great performance, no sacrifices to be made here at all.

Cons: Price. Top end rugged phones are very pricey indeed. And some of those features might be cool, but for many people just aren’t necessary.

Best For: Those who need a rugged phone every day, people who work full time in things like the building industry or outdoors, those who spend a lot of time in more dangerous conditions (rock climbing and such).

Mid Range Phones

A mid-range rugged phone is going to cost you between about £200 and £500, which is a pretty wide price range. You’re looking at getting something that’s a full featured smart phone and yet is rugged, but missing out on a few of those top end features (like infrared cameras) and maybe compromising a little on performance.

Pros: A more affordable option that still gives decent performance and that won’t break the bank.

Cons: May not have some of the top end features that you’re looking for.

Best For: Those on a budget, those that perhaps don’t need a rugged phone every day, those that spend weekends outdoors but work in an office during the week. Basically, a mid-range phone is a good compromise between price and performance.

Budget Phones

Finally, there are budget options which should run you less than £200. Obviously, you’re going to be making a fair few compromises here and you’re not getting a lot of features. One of the compromises that are most common with budget rugged phones is that of an operating system, they do tend to run older versions of Android. However, with a very wallet-friendly price tag, a budget phone could be just what you’re looking for.

Pros: Affordability. You get the phone you need (and one that’s close to indestructible) without having to pay a fortune.

Cons: You’re likely to be making a big compromise on both features and performance.

Best For: Those on a tight budget, those looking for a “weekend” phone or a secondary phone that can be used for nature trips whilst keeping a regular smartphone for daily use.

Our Top Pick

The CAT S60

Our Top Pick

Caterpillar makes some of the best rugged phones around, and the S60 is no exception. It gets an IP 68 rating, is certified to be able to drop onto concrete from 1.8 metres without suffering a scratch, and is military grade shock resistant too. So if you work in construction or just need something that’s capable of taking a beating, the S60 is easily our top choice.

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What Do I Need to Think About Before Buying?

There are really four things that make a rugged phone rugged, so that’s four things that should be at the forefront of your mind when shopping:

  • Waterproof Rating: The fact that a rugged phone should be waterproof is a no-brainer. Rugged phones come with an IP rating (“ingress protection”) which looks something like this: IP 68. That second number (the 8 in this case) tells you how waterproof the phone is. You’re looking for at least a 7 (can be submerged in water of 1 metre for thirty minutes), but even better an 8 (can be submerged in over a metre of water for over thirty minutes).
  • Dustproof Rating: You also want your phone to be dustproof, since allowing sand, dust or dirt into your mobile is rather obviously going to affect performance. The first number in an IP rating (the 6 in our example of IP 68) tells you how dustproof your mobile is. You’re looking for a 6, nothing else. A 6 indicates that the mobile is completely dustproof and won’t allow any specks inside.
  • Shock Resistance: You want to be able to drop your phone, which means you’re looking for something shock resistant. Unfortunately, there’s no standard rating that indicates this. However, shockproof phones are generally advertised as such, look for something like “military grade standard” to indicate that a phone is really shockproof.
  • Shatterproof: A touchscreen phone can seem like a gamble if you’re looking for something rugged, but modern materials mean that in most cases that screen should be fine. You’re looking for a mobile that has Gorilla Glass (preferably Gorilla Glass 5, though 3 is also fine) to indicate that the screen is solid.

What Features Should I Be Looking For?

On top of the four big things above, there are a few other specialized features that, depending on your needs, you might want to keep an eye out for:

  • Glove Touch: A touch screen is pretty awesome, but not if you have to take off your work gloves every time you use your phone. Look out for mobiles that will register touch through gloves or material.
  • Bezel Style: A good rugged phone will have a raised bezel or “frame” around the screen, because this protrudes above the screen itself it helps to protect that display in case you drop your phone.
  • SOS Button: If you’re planning on using your phone out in the wilderness or whilst doing something like rock climbing, an SOS button may be an advantage. This connects directly to emergency services giving your location, meaning help will arrive faster should you need it.
  • PTT: PTT or “Push To Talk” is a setting or button that allows your phone to act as a walkie talkie. Depending on what you plan on doing with your mobile, this could be a features that’s a selling point for you.

And The Other Stuff

Finally, even though you’re shopping for a rugged phone you still need to keep in mind the basic specs of phone buying. You want a phone that does its job properly, which means you need to think about:

  • Power and Performance: The more powerful a phone is, the faster it will respond to your input. You might not be editing documents on your rugged phone, but you’ll still want enough power to ensure that there’s no lag and that your phone doesn’t freeze.
  • Camera Specs: Depending on your needs, a good camera might be essential or just a nice extra. Regardless, if you’re looking to take pics with your phone then camera specs have to be a concern.
  • Screen Size: The larger a display is, the easier it is to read and the easier it is to type. Bigger tends to be better, especially if you plan on wearing gloves when using your mobile.

How We Selected Our Top Models

Hold up a second, before we get to those recommendations, let us first tell you how exactly we went about choosing them. We had a few basic things that we were looking for. Firstly, we wanted true rugged phones, so those that were specifically designed to be rugged rather than “active” or “rugged” forms of more traditional phones (these tend not to be robust enough for the kinds of customers we’re helping here). We obviously looked at specs and price as well, looking to get a good balance of performance and affordability.

Once the basics were handled we looked at customer reviews and feedback so that we could be assured that there were no flaws we’d overlooked. Those reviews also gave us a better idea of how reliable a phone was over time. And finally, we spend most of our time around mobile users, developers, sales people, tech developers, and the kinds of people that use and test mobiles every day, so we took some professional advice into account as well!

Alrighty then, let’s get on to those recommendations. Which rugged mobile phones should you be considering?

The Top 8 Rugged Phones for 2018

Rank Product Features Pros Cons
1
CAT S60
CAT S60
  • 4.7" display
  • 223g
  • Lots of power
  • Great rugged specs and SOS button
  • Solid camera and thermal imaging system
  • A little pricey
  • Thermal imaging may just be a gimmick for some

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2
Doogee S60
Doogee S60
  • 5.2" display
  • 400g
  • Large Gorilla Glass 5 display
  • Lots of power
  • Lots of high-end features
  • Very heavy
  • Tons of bloatware

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3
Ulefone Armor 2
Ulefone Armor 2
  • 5" display
  • 270g
  • Good performance specs
  • SOS and PTT
  • Dual SIM
  • Plastic casing may crack
  • Older Gorilla Glass 3 rather than 5

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4
Nomu S30 Mini
Nomu S30 Mini
  • 4.7" display
  • 200g
  • Very affordable
  • Good IP rating
  • Solid performance specs
  • No SOS or PTT
  • Screen is only Gorilla Glass 3

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5
Land Rover Explore
Land Rover Explore
  • 5"
  • 232g
  • Top end rugged specs
  • Can be used with gloves
  • Great performance specs
  • Very pricey
  • No SOS or PTT and battery is smaller than other rugged models

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6
CAT S41
CAT S41
  • 5" display
  • 216g
  • Great rugged specs
  • SOS and PTT
  • Good performance and a few nice features
  • A little pricey when compared to similar specced models
  • Might be a little chunky for smaller hands

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7
Blackview BV7000 Pro
Blackview BV7000 Pro
  • 5" display
  • 223g
  • Very affordable
  • Solid specs
  • Dual satellite location service
  • No SOS or PTT
  • Charging cord length may be an issue

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8
AGM X2
AGM X2
  • 5.5"
  • 250g
  • Awesome specs
  • VOC
  • Military grade
  • No SOS or PTT
  • Glass back panel could be too fragile

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The Best Rugged Phones – In-Depth Look

So now you know more or less what you should be looking for. But that doesn’t exactly help you know which mobiles are good choices. That’s why we’ve listed a selection of our absolute favourite rugged phone models, the ones we truly recommend.

The CAT S60 (Top End)

CAT-S60-phone

 

Screen Size: 4.7 inches

Max. Battery Life: Unknown, but a 3800 mAh battery is big!

Camera: 13 MP rear camera, 5 MP front camera

Weight: 223 grams

Caterpillar makes some of the best rugged phones around, and the S60 is no exception. It gets an IP 68 rating, is certified to be able to drop onto concrete from 1.8 metres without suffering a scratch, and is military grade shock resistant too.

You get solid cameras, with the addition of a thermal image lens that allows you to see heat (handy on a building site). There’s plenty of power and RAM for solid performance, a high definition 4.7-inch display with Gorilla Glass 4, and a robust die-cast frame. There’s also a lockdown switch, which when pressed makes the phone completely waterproof in 5 metres of water for over an hour, and an SOS button. And it’s dual SIM too.

On the negative side, it is a little pricey and that thermal imaging camera might be a little gimmicky for some. There have been a few reports of camera issues, with the rear lens not focussing, but CAT are quick to offer replacements should this go wrong.

Pros

  • Lots of power
  • Great rugged specs and SOS button
  • Solid camera and thermal imaging system

Cons

  • A little pricey
  • Thermal imaging may just be a gimmick for some

The Doogee S60 (Mid Range)

Doogee S60

Screen Size: 5.2 inches

Max. Battery Life: Unknown, but there’s a massive 5580 mAh battery on board

Camera: 21 MP rear camera, 8 MP front camera

Weight: 400 grams

Doogee might not be the first name that comes to mind when you think of rugged phones, but this is the closest we’ve ever seen to a fully fledged smartphone that just happens to be rugged. You get an IP 68 rating with a solid polycarbonate shell around an aluminium frame. And this is a monster of a phone.

Cameras are excellent, there’s tons of processing power and RAM, plenty of internal memory, basically, this gets the specs of a regular high-end smartphone. There’s even wireless charging on board as well as 4G and a host of useful tool apps (like a spirit level and a sound level metre). There’s PTT and an SOS button too, and that massive 5.2-inch display has Gorilla Glass 5.

As for the bad news, well, this isn’t a light phone. Weighing in at a massive 400 grams, the Doogee S60 is very heavy indeed. And as with many Chinese phones there’s plenty of bloatware on the operating system.

Pros

  • Large Gorilla Glass 5 display
  • Lots of power
  • Lots of high-end features

Cons

  • Very heavy
  • Tons of bloatware

The Ulefone Armor 2 (Mid Range)

Ulefone Armour 2

Screen Size: 5 inches

Max. Battery Life: Unknown, but there’s a large 4700 mAh battery

Camera: 16 MP rear camera, 13 MP front camera

Weight: 270 grams

The original Ulefone Armor was a very well regarded rugged mobile, and this update gets upgrades in all the right places. The Armor 2 gets an IP 68 rating, is completely dustproof, and is certified to perform in temperatures from -40 degrees C to +80 degrees C, so there should be no worries here at all.

In terms of performance you’re again getting some top end specs. There’s octo core processing and tons of RAM, alongside some of the best cameras around on a rugged phone. That 5 inch display gets Gorilla Glass 3 and it’s high definition too. Plus there’s PTT, an SOS button, and a large assortment of useful tools from a compass to a barometer. And this is a dual SIM phone too. All in all, a great set of specs.

On the down side, the casing is plastic which could crack more easily than polycarbonate cases. Some customers have reported issues with Bluetooth losing its connection.

Pros

  • Good performance specs
  • SOS and PTT
  • Dual SIM

Cons

  • Plastic casing may crack
  • Older Gorilla Glass 3 rather than 5

The Nomu S30 Mini (Budget)

Nomu S30

Screen Size: 4.7 inches

Max. Battery Life: Unknown, 3000 mAh battery on board

Camera: 8 MP rear camera, 2 MP front camera

Weight: 200 grams

Just because you’re on a budget doesn’t mean that you can’t have a great rugged phone, as the Nomu S30 Mini just goes to show. You get an IP 68 certified phone here, and this is completely waterproof including the ports (no fiddly plastic covers for the charging port).

You’re not quite getting those high-end specs here, but performance is still good. There’s quad-core processing and 3 GB of RAM, which should be plenty fast enough. There’s also a solid high definition screen with Gorilla Glass 3. And those cameras are basic but are more than fine for simple snaps.

The real downside here is the lack of extra features. There’s no SOS button, and no PTT either. But if you’re looking for something firmly under £200 then this could be the phone for you.

Pros

  • Very affordable
  • Good IP rating
  • Solid performance specs

Cons

  • No SOS or PTT
  • Screen is only Gorilla Glass 3

The Land Rover Explore (High End)

The Land Rover Explore

Screen Size: 5 inches

Max. Battery Life: Unknown, but includes a 4000 mAh built in battery AND a 3600 mAh battery pack

Camera: 16 MP rear camera, 8 MP front camera

Weight: 232 grams

It should really come as no surprise that one of the world’s largest adventure vehicle companies also makes one of the world’s best rugged phones. The Land Rover Explore isn’t cheap (it’s well over £700), but it is awesome. It gets an IP 68 rating, can survive a drop of six feet onto concrete, is certified resistant for up to 30 minutes in salt water, and even the screen can be used with gloves.

Performance wise you’re getting killer specs, with deca-core processing and tons of RAM. There is a great camera set and plenty of memory too. The Explore is a dual SIM phone, and that high definition screen gets Gorilla Glass 5. There’s a special GPS antenna for more accurate location finding, and a special home screen that lists customisable outdoors stats such as tidal times and has an SOS torch.

The big downside here is going to be price, the Explore is very costly. And there’s no dedicated SOS button or PTT either, which is kind of surprising. However, the Explore does have some awesome specs.

Pros

  • Top end rugged specs
  • Can be used with gloves
  • Great performance specs

Cons

  • Very pricey
  • No SOS or PTT and battery is smaller than other rugged models

The CAT S41 (Mid Range)

http://geni.us/cats41

Screen Size: 5 inches

Max. Battery Life: Unknown, but large 5000 mAh battery on board

Camera: 13 MP rear camera, 8 MP front camera

Weight: 216 grams

If the CAT S60 is a little too pricey for your tastes, then the S41 is a great mid-range alternative. It’s super rugged. You get an IP 68 rating, it can be dropped on concrete unscathed from up to 1.8 metres, and that display works even with wet or gloved fingers. There’s no breaking the CAT S41, it’s just indestructible, and that thick rubber gripped casing doesn’t hurt either.

Spec wise we’re not seeing top end here. But there’s more than enough power with octa-core processing and plenty of RAM, and there’s expandable storage too. The high definition screen is Gorilla Glass 5, there’s an SOS button and PTT too. And the S41 is even dual SIM. Really the only big difference here is that you’re not getting the thermal imaging seen on the S60. It even has a battery share feature that lets you plug in another phone and charge it by draining some power from the S41.

The downside? Well, whilst the S41 is affordable it doesn’t pack the same level of specs for price seen on the likes of the Doogee model. It also might be a bit chunky for smaller hands. Other than that though, the S41 is a fantastic choice.

Pros

  • Great rugged specs
  • SOS and PTT
  • Good performance and a few nice features

Cons

  • A little pricey when compared to similarly specced models
  • Might be a little chunky for smaller hands

The Blackview BV7000 Pro (Budget)

BV7000 Blackview

Screen Size: 5 inches

Max. Battery Life: Unknown, 3500 mAh battery on board

Camera: 13 MP rear camera, 8 MP front camera

Weight: 223 grams

When it comes to value for money there’s just no beating the Blackview BV7000 Pro at well under £200. It’s IP 68 rated, and shockproof (though there’s no info on exactly how this was determined). It’s also certified to be used in extreme heat and extreme cold, so it should be fine no matter where you happen to be going.

You get solid performance specs too, with plenty of processing power and a good 4 GB of RAM. The cameras are extremely good for this price point too. That big display is high definition and it gets Gorilla Glass 3 as well. Plus there are some nice extras, like dual satellite location ability and somatosensory gestures (where you can hover your hand over the screen rather than needing to touch it). Finally, it’s also dual SIM.

However, there’s no SOS or PTT here. Also, some customers have complained that the charging port is so deep inside the phone that a regularly sized cord just doesn’t fit, meaning you’ll need to spring for a Blackview cord if you need an extra.

Pros

  • Very affordable
  • Solid specs
  • Dual satellite location service

Cons

  • No SOS or PTT
  • Charging cord length may be an issue

The AGM X2 (Top End)

AGM X2

Screen Size: 5.5 inches

Max. Battery Life: Unknown, but massive 6000 mAh battery built-in

Camera: Dual 12 MP + 12 MP rear camera, 16 MP front camera

Weight: 250 grams

Last but not least there’s the very impressive AGM X2. This is a pricey phone, though not quite as expensive as the Land Rover Explore, it’s certainly got the specs to warrant that price tag. The X2 is not only IP 68 rated, but it’s also certified military grade, so it’s shock proof as well. There’ll be no damaging this phone.

You get top end performance with octa core processing and huge amounts of RAM. There’s a top end camera set with dual rear cameras, so your shots will look amazing. The huge bright display is full HD and gets Gorilla Glass 5. And there are triple sensors, including optical and linear acceleration sensors. There’s even a VOC, a sensor designed to detect noxious gasses.

But there’s no SOS or PTT, which could be a deal breaker for some. Other complaints centre around a glass back panel which isn’t very practical and could mean you’ll need a case for true ruggedness. Having said that, if you want top end specs, then the X2 definitely delivers.

Pros

  • Awesome specs
  • VOC
  • Military grade

Cons

  • No SOS or PTT
  • Glass back panel could be too fragile