Best rugged phone in 2023: smartphones that can take a beating and more

Best rugged phone: Ulefone Armor 11T 5G
(Image credit: Ulefone)

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 MIL-STD-810H is a newer version of the same set of standards, released in 2014, so that doesn't make it better than 810G per se, just a bit more recent.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

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Best rugged phone: Motorola Defy  (Image credit: Motorola )
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1. Motorola Defy

Cheap rugged phone with strong screen and shell

Specifications

Display: 6.5 inch 720x1560px (Corning Gorilla Glass Victus)
Cameras: 48 MP + 2 MP + 2MP (front); 8MP (selfie)
OS: Android 10 / 11
CPU/GPU: Octa-core (4 x 2GHz & 4 x 1.8GHz Kryo) / Adreno 610
Memory: 64GB + microSDXC
RAM: 4GB
Dust/water protection: IP68 (1.5m for 30mins)
Drop test: 1.8m
Rugged: MIL-STD-810G compliant
Practical: Accelerometer, proximity, compass, fingerprint
Size: 170 x 78 x 11 mm
Weight: 232g

Reasons to buy

+
Cheap for this level of rugged
+
5,000mAh battery

Reasons to avoid

-
Coverage in USA uncertain

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.

(Image credit: Ulefone )
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2. Ulefone Armor 11T 5G

Thermal camera and flagship specs in a rugged phone

Specifications

Display: 6.1 inch 720 x 1560px (Olephobic coating)
Cameras: 48 MP + FLIR thermal + 5MP + 2MP macro +2MP depth (front); 16MP (selfie)
OS: Android 11
CPU/GPU: Octa-core 4x2GHz A76 + 4x2GHz A55 Cortex / Mali-G57 MP4
Memory: 256GB
RAM: 8GB
Dust/water protection: IP69K (1.5m for 30mins)
Drop test: 1.2m
Rugged: MIL-STD-810G compliant
Practical: Radio, Accelerometer, proximity, compass
Size: 164 x 82 x 14 mm
Weight: 293g

Reasons to buy

+
Flagship phone & camera spec
+
MSX thermal imaging camera
+
5G capable

Reasons to avoid

-
Drop test only 1.2m

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. 

DOOGEE S98 Pro (Image credit: Beth Nicholls)
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The best rugged phone with thermal imaging and night vision!

Specifications

Display: 6.3 inches IPS LCD
Cameras: 48 MP + 20MP (front); 16MP (selfie)
OS: Android 12
CPU/GPU: Mediatek MT6781 Helio G96, Octa-core CPU, Mali-G57 MC2 GPU
Memory: 128GB / 256GB + MicroSD & TF card slots
RAM: : 8GB / 12GB
Dust/water protection: IP68/IP69K dust/water resistant (up to 1.5 meters for 30 min)
Drop test: Drop-to-concrete resistance from up to 1.5 meters
Rugged: MIL-STD-810G compliant
Practical: Thermal imaging, night vision, compass, flashlight, protractor
Size: 17.2 x 8.2 x 1.55 cm
Weight: 320g

Reasons to buy

+
Thermal imaging Camera
+
Night vision camera
+
Side-mounted fingerprint sensor
+
Unbelievably long battery life

Reasons to avoid

-
Heavier than most smartphones
-
Not 5G compatible
-
Main camera quality could be better

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 (opens in new tab)

Editor's Choice

AGM Glory Pro (Image credit: Adam Juniper/ Digital Camera World)
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It's rugged, it’s loud, and it can see in the dark and survive temperature extremes

Specifications

Display: 6.53 inch 2340x 1080px
Cameras: 48 MP + Thermal + 20MP Infra Red + 2MP macro (front); 16MP (selfie)
OS: Android 11
CPU/GPU: 5G 4350-2 8nm 2GHz 480 Qualcomm Snapdragon
Memory: 128GB + microSD
RAM: 256GB
Dust/water protection: IP69K (1.5m for 30mins)
Drop test: 1.2m
Rugged: MIL-STD-810H compliant
Practical: Radio, Accelerometer, proximity, compass, thermal camera,
Size: 175 x 84 x 23 mm
Weight: 370g

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent thermal imaging camera
+
Resilient to temperatures from -40˚C and upwards
+
Speaker is nearly as loud as an external Bluetooth speaker

Reasons to avoid

-
Charging dock is sold separately
-
Weightier than most handsets

This 5G phone is built to handle temperature extremes and report back; it has an excellent 48MP thermal-imaging camera (opens in new tab) with an unusually high resolution and frame rate (25fps) as well as the ability to survive in Arctic temperatures (we tested one (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab).

Nokia XR20 (Image credit: Beth Nicholls)
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The iconic brand gets tough (discretely)

Specifications

Display: 6.67 inch 1080x2400px (Corning Gorilla Glass Victus)
Cameras: 48 MP + 13MP (front); 8MP (selfie)
OS: Android 11
CPU/GPU: Octa-core 2x2GHz 460 + 6x1.8GHz Kryo 506 / Adreno 619
Memory: 64 or 128GB + microSDXC
RAM: : 4/6GB
Dust/water protection: IP68 (1.5m for 60mins)
Drop test: 1.8m
Rugged: MIL-STD-810H compliant
Practical: Radio, Accelerometer, proximity, compass, barometer
Size: 171 x 82 x 10.6 mm
Weight: 248g

Reasons to buy

+
Tough without shouting about it
+
Three years of OS updates included

Reasons to avoid

-
A bit heavy 
-
No power adapter included
-
Not the best camera quality

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 (opens in new tab).

(Image credit: Caterpillar)
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6. CAT S42 H+

Best rugged phone for medical and hygiene-centric work

Specifications

Display: 5.5 inch 720 x 1440px (Gorilla glass 5)
Cameras: 13 MP (front); 5MP (selfie)
OS: Android 10/11 (released April 2021)
CPU/GPU: Quad-core 1.8GHz Cortex-A53 / PowerVR GE8320
Memory: 32GB + MicroSDXC (dedicated slot)
RAM: 3GB
Dust/water protection: IP69 (1.5m for 35mins)
Drop test: 1.8m
Rugged: MIL-STD-810H compliant, Antimicrobial protection
Practical: Radio, Accelerometer, proximity, compass
Size: 161 x 77 x 13 mm
Weight: 220g

Reasons to buy

+
Anti-bacterial
+
Chemical and bleach resistant

Reasons to avoid

-
Relatively low spec for a 2021 model
-
4G only

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.

Doogee S96GT (Image credit: Beth Nicholls)
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Best rugged phone with an impressive AI Quad Camera array

Specifications

Display: 6.22 inches, 720 x 1520, IPS LCD
Cameras: 48 MP f/1.8 (wide), 8 MP,f/2.2 (ultrawide), 20 MP f/1.8 (night vision), 2 MP f/2.8 (depth), 32 MP f/2.0 (ultrawide/front)
OS: Android 12
CPU/GPU: Octa-core GHz Cortex-A76 & 6x2.0 GHz Cortex-A55, Mali-G76 MC4
Memory: 256GB + MicroSDXC (dedicated slot)
RAM: 8GB
Dust/water protection: IP68/IP69K dust/water resistant
Drop test: 1.8m
Rugged: MIL-STD-810H compliant
Dimensions: 167 x 81.4 x 15.5 mm
Weight: 310g

Reasons to buy

+
20MP Night Vision Camera
+
4K ultra-high resolution videos
+
Waterproof, Dustproof And Drop-proof
+
Underwater mode

Reasons to avoid

-
Not 5G-compatible
-
A little bulky

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  (opens in new tab)

Best rugged phone: Samsung Galaxy XCover Pro

(Image credit: Samsung )

8. Samsung Galaxy XCover Pro

Verizon and AT&T-friendly handset designed to move work along

Specifications

Display: 6.3 inch 2340 x 1080 (Corning Gorilla Glass 5)
Cameras: 25 MP + 8 MP depth; 13MP (selfie)
OS: Android 11
CPU/GPU: Octa-core 2.3 GHz / 1.7 GHz
Memory: 64GB + microSDXC
RAM: 4GB
Dust/water protection: IP68
Drop test: 1.5m
Rugged: MIL-STD-810G compliant
Practical: Accelerometer, proximity, compass, barometer
Size: 170 x 84 x 14.2 mm
Weight: 218g

Reasons to buy

+
Built-in card payment tech
+
Two programmable keys
+
Thin and light

Reasons to avoid

-
Relatively low storage
-
Not as butch as some
-
Not 5G

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.

(Image credit: Louise Carey / Digital Camera World)
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A firm favorite with thermal camera and high-res display

Specifications

Display: 5.7 inch 2160x1080px (Gorilla Glass 6)
Cameras: 12 MP + FLIR thermal (front); 8MP (selfie)
OS: Android 10
CPU/GPU: Octa-core (4 x 2.2 GHz + 4 1.8 GHz Kryo 260) / Adreno 512
Memory: 128GB + microSD
RAM: : 6GB
Dust/water protection: IP68 & IP69 (1.5m for 35mins)
Drop test: 1.8m
Rugged: MIL-STD-810H compliant
Practical: Accelerometer, proximity, compass, barometer, fingerprint
Size: 159 x 77 x 12 mm
Weight: 248g

Reasons to buy

+
FLIR Thermal imaging camera
+
High pixel density screen
+
IP69

Reasons to avoid

-
Thermal tech is costly if you don’t need it

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 (opens in new tab).

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Adam Juniper

With over 20 years of expertise as a tech journalist, Adam brings a wealth of knowledge across a vast number of product categories, including timelapse cameras, home security cameras, NVR cameras, photography books, webcams, 3D printers and 3D scanners, borescopes, radar detectors… and, above all, drones. 


Adam is our resident expert on all aspects of camera drones and drone photography, from buying guides on the best choices for aerial photographers of all ability levels to the latest rules and regulations on piloting drones. 


He is the author of a number of books including The Complete Guide to Drones (opens in new tab), The Smart Smart Home Handbook (opens in new tab), 101 Tips for DSLR Video (opens in new tab) and The Drone Pilot's Handbook (opens in new tab)

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