Should You Buy A Rugged Smartphone


In today’s world, smartphones have become an essential part of our lives. We rely on them for communication, entertainment, work, and so much more. However, our smartphones are also susceptible to accidental damage, especially when exposed to harsh environments or unexpected situations.

This is where rugged smartphones come into play, offering a range of advantages that could make them suitable for tough conditions. In this article, we will delve into the key advantages of rugged smartphones; highlighting their big battery, waterproof capabilities, no case requirement, dustproof feature, and drop resistance. Rugged phones have their drawbacks, and you should be famiiar with those before you even consider a purchase.

Big Battery

One of the standout features of rugged smartphones is their extended battery life. These devices are specifically designed to cater to the needs of professionals who spend long hours in the field, adventurers who embark on outdoor expeditions, or individuals who simply prefer not to be tethered to a charging cable all day.

With a larger battery capacity than regular smartphones, rugged devices offer extended usage time, ensuring that you stay connected even in remote locations without easy access to power outlets. Some phone batteries have capacities as high as 20,000 mAh. However, you will find a lot in this niche with 6000-8000mAh capacities.

Waterproof

The waterproof feature of rugged smartphones sets them apart from their conventional counterparts. Designed to withstand water immersion, these devices provide peace of mind when it comes to accidental spills, rain, or even underwater usage. Most phones in the niche are rated waterproof for about half an hour in several feet of water.

Whether you’re an avid swimmer, or outdoor enthusiast, a waterproof rugged smartphone eliminates the fear of damaging your device due to water exposure. This advantage allows you to capture memorable moments, stay connected, and perform tasks without worrying about water damage.

Constructions workers and landscapers may find these phone beneficial, since they are constantly exposed to water and dust. Some motorcycle riders mount these phones to their bike for navigation during a ride.

No case needed

Unlike regular smartphones that require additional protective cases to safeguard against drops and impacts, rugged smartphones are built to withstand rough handling without the need for extra protection. These devices are engineered with durable materials and reinforced designs that can withstand accidental drops, knocks, and even minor impacts.

By eliminating the need for a separate case, rugged smartphones offer a more streamlined and convenient user experience, while also saving users from the hassle and cost of purchasing and maintaining additional accessories. Some of the larger smartphones are more pocketable, since they do not have an additional layer that increases their size.

Dustproof

Another advantage of rugged smartphones is their dustproof feature. Many individuals work in dusty environments, such as construction sites, mines, or manufacturing facilities. These environments generate fine particles that can easily find their way into electronic devices, causing malfunctions and reducing their lifespan.

Rugged smartphones are specifically designed to combat this issue, with sealed ports and components that prevent dust particles from entering and damaging the internal circuitry. This ensures optimal performance, longevity, and reliability, even in the harshest dusty conditions.

Drop Resistant

Accidental drops are one of the most common causes of smartphone damage. Regular smartphones often suffer from shattered screens, malfunctioning buttons, or internal component damage due to falls from various heights.

Rugged smartphones, on the other hand, are built to withstand drops and impacts. With reinforced frames, shock-absorbing materials, and strengthened glass, these devices can survive falls from greater heights, reducing the risk of damage and ensuring that your smartphone remains functional even after an unfortunate drop. The manufacturers like to make torture tests of their phones, which clearly show the drop resistance feature.

Convenient Features

Some phones in this niche offer features that have been abandoned by other manfacturers. Some have a space for a second sim or SD card, while some offer two sims plus the SD card. Do you miss the headphone jack? This feature is still available on some phones, which enables you to hear better while exercising or doing yard work. Samsung’s X Cover Pro models feature the ability to swap batteries without disassembly.

A small number of phones in the niche offer thermal imaging cameras, as well as camera scopes. This would be an additional advantages for tradespeople, since they really need a durable phone for their harsh work environments. Their phone may prevent the need for bringing additional equipment to the job site.

The reality of smartphone ownership

So far, everythng you have read could be used a sales script for rugged smartphone manufacturers. However, there are some serious shortcomings that must be considered. The author has personal experience using a rugged smartphone, so take heed to these potential problems before you spend your money.

Lack of service centers and replacement parts

One of the major downsides of rugged smartphones is the limited availability of service centers and parts. Unlike mainstream smartphones, which have a wide network of service centers and authorized repair shops, rugged smartphones often lack this infrastructure.

This can be a significant inconvenience for users who encounter issues or need repairs. Finding a reliable service center that specializes in rugged phones might be challenging, and sourcing genuine replacement parts can also be difficult. Consequently, users might face longer downtime periods, which can be detrimental in certain situations.

The well known manufacturers have service centers in major urban areas, or utilize shipping services to repair and turn around in a short time period. Most of the rugged smartphones are made in China, and will have to be shipped back for service. These phones do not have high volume sales, so replacement parts have limited availability, or no availability, in most countries.

Some companies will send a phone to the USA, with a 30 day shipping window. Some phones will only ship with a European plug, so be sure you know what specific accessories come with your purchase.

Lack of operating system updates

Another drawback of rugged smartphones is the lack of frequent operating system updates. Most mainstream smartphones receive regular updates, including security patches and feature enhancements, to ensure optimal performance and security. However, rugged smartphones tend to lag behind in this aspect.

Manufacturers of rugged devices often prioritize their focus on durability and ruggedness rather than keeping up with the latest software updates. This can result in outdated operating systems, potentially leaving users vulnerable to security threats and missing out on new features and improvements. This may require purchasing a new device more often than would be necessary with other manufacturers.

Limited frequency bands

Rugged smartphones are primarily designed for global use, and as a result, they may lack support for certain frequency bands. This limitation can impact the device’s compatibility with various networks, especially in regions where specific frequency bands are used. CDMA technology may be limited. This is why a lot of phones in this niche will not work on the Verizon network.

Users may experience connectivity issues or limited network coverage, particularly when traveling to remote areas or using different carriers. Some wireless providers have an approved phone list. Any phone not adhering to the list may be banned, even if the phone is built to operate on the provider’s network. In the USA, most of these phones can only operate on the T-mobile network, which has some limited rural coverage (according to their own coverge maps).

Lack of accessories

Compared to mainstream smartphones, rugged devices often have a limited selection of accessories available in the market. This can include protective cases, screen protectors, car mounts, and other add-ons that enhance the user experience or provide additional functionality. The manufacturers do not want to make and distribute accessories in a low volume market.

The lack of accessories can restrict users from customizing their devices or finding suitable accessories that meet their specific needs. Moreover, the limited availability of accessories can also make it challenging to find replacements in case of damage or wear and tear.

Improvements in the market

The first item that rugged smartphone manufacturers should address is the lack of security and OS updates. They should calculate the costs of these updates, and determine if they can still profit with these increased costs. If so, they should promise certain time frame updates and keep that promise, so potential buyers know their device will be up to date for a few years.

Think outside the box

Parents may consider purchasing a rugged smartphone as a media device for their young children, insteading of frequently handing over their flagship or midrange phone.

A phone could be purchased exclusively for outdoor use, or as a media device for the gym.

Someone may be better off with a regular smartphone using a rugged and durable case. While user reviews vary widely on these products, this is the most cost effective and simple choice to increase phone longevity.

In my opinion, this is currently the best option if you want a “rugged” smartphone. The market must mature, improve, and build trust before mainstream adoption can occur.

The photo below shows the author’s Oukitel WP5 (right). This was used as a secondary phone for media consumption (YouTube and music) for almost 2 years, until if fell face forward onto concrete. The Iphone 6s (left) is still being used for media consumption.

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