Looking for the best rugged phone? This guide will help you pick the one with the right features for you - and at the best price.
Durability is a feature everyone looks for in smartphones – even the latest flagship phones from Apple and competitors have started getting a little fatter to give them better battery life – but for some that isn’t enough. It isn’t only important how long a phone will stay on, but whether it’ll survive a tough day on the job or a vicious trek into the wilderness.
The best rugged smartphones take risk, danger, and outdoor use really seriously, with drop and shock-proof design, high levels of dust and water resistance and perhaps even features which will help in the field.
This is proven by standards including Ingress Protection 68 (IP68), or higher – meaning your phone will be built to prevent water and dust getting in. The better the score here, the longer it resisted.
In the clatter of manual work, or extreme sport, phones get dropped. Rugged phones are drop tested, and the higher they can fall without breaking, the better – the measure is the drop onto concrete (drop test), and it’s also worth looking out for the screen material. Gorilla Glass Victus, the latest version of the legendary protected screen.
Another measure of protection is military standards; the US developed a series of standards in which devices are tested in appropriate environments. You can download and read them from the US government but in essence they’re 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 MIL-STD-810H is a newer version of the same set of standards, released in 2014, so isn’t better than 810G per se, just more recent.
We’ve assembled a list of the best rugged smartphones on offer now, steering toward those which will help get the job done; if some seem too pricey check whether the handset includes a feature you don’t need, like thermal imaging, and check another. There are options for all budgets.
Best rugged phone in 2022
This 5G phone is built to handle temperature extremes and report back; it has an excellent 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 or 3.5mm headphones being used if required, either.(opens in new tab)
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.
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 well as other modern treats like wireless charging. Spec-wise this is certainly not a gaming powerhouse, but it hits all the rugged notes and does so in a new way, and there is a 5G.(opens in new tab)
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!(opens in new tab)
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.
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.(opens in new tab)
Handy for any professional needing to make on-site measurements, the S97 Pro can measure length to 40m, and calculate area (including Pythagorean) and volume. On ruggedness it’s a solid performer, scoring well on the drop test and able to rest in shallow water up to a day too. Despite that, the main camera’s 48 megapixel sensor is part of a decent camera array and for flexible day-to-day use there is a fingerprint reader and two customizable buttons. The S97’s 8,500 mAh battery (nearly double the iPhone 13 Pro Max, more than double the CAT S62) means up to 26 days standby (or 40 hours call time) are available, topped up fast with a USB-C 35W fast charge, or 10W wireless. Sadly some of that extended time comes from the lack of 5G, but in terms of chip-set it’s a pretty nippy phone.(opens in new tab)
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.(opens in new tab)
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.
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