Looking for the best rugged phone? This guide will help you pick the one with the right features for you - and for the best price on the market right now. Whether you're an adventurer and thrill-seeker who climbs mountains and camps out each week, or a trader who works in areas of construction and electricals; you'll definitely benefit from the peace of mind of knowing that your phone is rugged enough to survive a fall or two, or maybe even withstand being dunked underwater.
The best rugged smartphones are designed to take risks, manage daily danger, and withstand serious outdoor usage, commonly manufactured with drop and shock-proof designs, and high levels of dust and water resistance to help you tackle adventure and a job in the field of trade, providing helpful tools and apps.
Durability is a feature that almost everyone looks for in smartphones – even the latest flagship phones from Apple and android competitors have started getting a little chunkier to give them a greater battery life – but for some, that isn’t enough.
In the clatter of manual work or extreme sport, smartphones tend to get dropped. Rugged phones however are usually drop-tested, and the higher they can fall without breaking, the better. Another measure of protection is military standards; the US has developed a series of standards in which devices are tested in appropriate and extreme weather environments.
You can download and read these standards of protection from the US government, but in essence, they’re essentially standards for acceleration, temperature (including rapid changes), shock, solar radiation, rain, fungus, vibration, and more. MIL-STD-810H is a newer version of the same set of standards, released in 2014, so that doesn't make it better than 810G per se, just a bit more recent.
We’ve assembled together a list of the best rugged smartphones on offer right now, steering toward those which will help get the job done; if some seem too pricey, it might be worth checking whether the handset includes a feature you don’t need, like thermal imaging. There are plenty of options to suit all budgets and lifestyles.
Best rugged phone in 2023
Why you can trust Digital Camera World Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out how we test.
Best AI Camera
This offering from Doogee is phenomenal with features that are top-of-the-range at such a low price of less than US$400. A rugged phone that makes no compromise on the camera quality, the Doogee S96 GT is packed with power and is very similar in build and design to the Doogee S98 Pro (number 2 on this list).
The camera system includes a 48MP AI Quad Camera, with Sony sensors that include the Sony® IMX350 Ultra-light Sensitive Sensor on its 20MP Night Vision camera. Even the selfie camera is a tank, with 32MP power combined with a 90° ultra-wide angle f/2.0 field of view. The extraordinary Samsung® S5KGM1ST sensor allows this device to also capture super-high-resolution footage in 4k.
If this hasn't already sold you, the S96 GT can perform and capture images underwater, is dustproof, drop-proof from up to 1.8 meters, can be buried in concrete, and is MIL-STD-810H Compliant. The device is also pre-installed with a handy toolkit that includes a compass, protractor, flashlight, and height meter.
• See our full review of the Doogee S96 GT
With a thermoplastic frame, this phone is built to take a good deal of punishment, while managing to achieve a kind of hybrid look. The display is protected by the latest Victus Gorilla Glass, hence the higher drop test than some on the list. For such a recent handset, it is a little strange to see ‘Android 10’ in the spec – an update is promised – and the Snapdragon 622 chipset is certainly nothing special.
Equally the 48-megapixel camera that is the key to the main array will not impress photographers, but will certainly do the job and has been recessed in the case for protection. We like this phone, and it’s built in partnership with Bullitt who also work on CAT’s phones, but we’ll feel a lot more confident when that promised Android 11 update is shipping.
Best for extremes
This 5G phone is built to handle temperature extremes and report back; it has an excellent 48MP thermal-imaging camera with an unusually high resolution and frame rate (25fps) as well as the ability to survive in Arctic temperatures (we tested one in the freezer). The G1 Pro’s styling makes no attempt to hide its rugged nature, using the 23mm thick protective frame to house a 33mm diameter 3.5-watt speaker which can put out 110db.
The 8-core system is nothing to write home about, but fast enough on the clean Android 11 supplied, while other useful tools – including fingerprint ID, NFC, Bluetooth 5, 18W wireless charging and a definable side key – are all there. Ruggedization hasn’t stopped microSD cards or 3.5mm headphones from being used if required, either.
Some key features of the AGM Glory G1 Pro include a cold-resistant battery, 20MP infrared night vision camera, booming loudspeaker with a 109dB loud sound, dual-torch design, and is drop-proof, dust-proof, and water-proof tested. Read our full AGM Glory Pro review.
Best Thermal camera
If you need to take a thermal imaging camera to work, this rugged 5G phone not only represents a well-equipped modern phone but one less thing to carry. The camera array isn’t just useful for assessing heat issues; there is a macro lens for examining close up flaws in visible light.
The slim profile, 7nm process and spec remains within touching distance of flagship phones which means you do get high end features like fingerprint ID, face unlock, and wireless charging. You can capture 4K video as well as 48-megapixel images, but you’ll need a case to beat some of the others in this list when it comes to the drop test.
Best night vision
If you're looking to save money on your electric bill this winter, then the Doogee S98 Pro is the phone for you. It has an exceptional battery life, night vision and thermal imaging cameras to help you see in the dark, and it's nearly indestructible - so you'll hopefully never have to get it repaired.
Other out-of-this-world specifications of this device include an impressive 8GB LPDDR4x RAM to support multitasking when combined with the very capable Helio G96 processor for uninterrupted mobile gaming. High-level performance is also guaranteed with the Mali-G57 MC2 GPU, and super long-lasting battery life.
As long as you're not too bothered about 5G and having the best main camera, the Doogee's other features are outstanding, especially for those who work in a trade. Check out our full review of the Doogee S98 Pro.
Best cheap phone
The XR20 is all about being an ordinary phone which just happens to be pretty tough; it’s designed not to look like a power tool and is even offered in ‘Ultra Blue’ as well as ‘Granite Grey.’ Like most rugged phones, the XR20 is a middle-of-the-road device as far as the spec sheet is concerned, but this is one you can drop 1.8m (5ft10) onto concrete without it breaking, and withstand being submerged in water.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of this phone, when so many will just sell you the handset and move on, is Nokia’s three-year commitment to updates (and one year to screen replacements) as part of its 3-3-3 promise. Other modern treats like wireless charging make this a great phone.
Spec-wise this is certainly not a gaming powerhouse, but it hits all the rugged notes and does so in a new way, and it's 5G compatible too. We found the camera unit to be pretty underwhelming, despite being equipped with Zeiss optics and boasting a main 48MP camera sensor. See our full Nokia XR20 review.
Best for medical
There’s no arguing with CAT’s reputation in the trades, but as the end of the pandemic slips from us like the horizon we’re chasing, the obvious benefit of a handset with permanent anti-bacterial technology is clear.
Every component is blended with Biomaster, an antimicrobial silver-ion technology which can inhibit bacteria replicating, and won’t be removed from the handset, even with bleach. It’s clear this phone isn’t built for speed, and nor will a single 13-megapixel camera impress photographers, but the 4,200mAh battery will last a little longer that way and this is a handset with a very specific purpose.
It’s also worth noting that, the Gorilla Glass is only version 5. Nevertheless this broadly equals its siblings on the ruggedness score, and beats anything on hygiene.
Samsung’s XCover PRO is rugged, sure, but it’s built with business in mind too, which means a removable 4050mAh battery (so you, or your staff, can go on indefinitely). Swapping batteries is achieved by sliding down a back cover to make the swap, but despite having a built-in case the handset’s Gorilla Glass 5 screen manages to cover a good amount of the handset’s surface and the device achieves the level of slickness associated with Samsung.
More practically the handset is mPOS and NFC ready, making it capable of taking card payments without additional gear. Samsung also speak proudly of their high-quality anti-hacking system, Knox, which should suit those running transactions nicely.
Best high-res display
FLIR’s tech is essential for many professionals, and the Lepton 3.5 sensor (160 x 120) is useful. It’s a shame that CAT don’t seem to be keeping pace with flagship handsets; Android 10 is now a year out of date and the single rear camera (except the thermal one) is a relatively paltry 12 megapixels.
Nevertheless CAT is a respected brand for a reason and the rugged handset does boast a programmable side button so this handset can easily become part of a workflow, surviving a good few tough days. In fact hitting the IP69 standard puts it ahead of plenty of rugged handsets, no mean achievement, and the casing’s mix of aluminum and non-slip rubber means you probably won’t be drop-testing it too often anyway! Read our full Cat S62 Pro review.
• The best camera phones you can buy today
• The best budget camera phone
• The best burner phones
• The best phablet
• Best dry cabinets for cameras
• Which is the best iPhone for photography?
• Best borescope
• Best laser level