How to choose ultra-rugged phones: certifications and standards

For people working in the field, having water and dust resistant or waterproof smartphones is fundamental. Rugged phones go under stringent tests to ensure they meet high standards, for protection against shocks, extreme temperatures, and, certainly, dust and water.

What is an ultra-resistant phone?

Ultra-resistant, rugged or simply off-road phones have been designed to withstand exposure to shocks, falls, particles and liquids higher than the rest. 

The international standard IEC 60529 classifies resistance to water and dust using the IP certification. To obtain this certification, granted by an external company, it is necessary to go through several tests. The IP code classifies and rates the degree of protection provided by mechanical casings and electrical enclosures against intrusion, dust, accidental contact, and water. 

IP literally mean international protection while the following codes indicates the level of protection. There are different codes to specific levels of protection. The first number refers to the protection against leaks of solid objects (colloquially dust), while the second ones quantifie the level of protection against leaks of water or other liquids.

Dust resistance

IP0X: no special protection.

IP1X: protected against solid objects> 50 mm in diameter.

IP2X: protected against solid objects> 12.5 mm in diameter.

IP3X: protected against solid objects> 2.5 mm in diameter.

IP4X: protected against solid objects> 1 mm in diameter.

IP5X: protected against dust; Limited entry (no harmful deposits).

IP6X: complete protection against dust.

Waterproof

IPX0: no special protection.

IPX1: protected against spilled water.

IPX2: Protected against spilled water when tilted up to 15 degrees from its normal position.

IPX3: protected against sprayed water.

IPX4: protected against splashing water.

IPX5: protected against water in pressure jets.

IPX6: protected against high pressure jets.

IPX7: protected against the effects of immersion at 1 meter for 30 minutes

IPX8: protected against submersion to a certain depth, specified by the manufacturer (typically up to 3 meters) and more than 30 minutes

In rugged smartphones, the minimum that we are going to find is IP68, which means that in theory, the mobile does not get dust and supports immersion in fresh water at 1 meter depth for a maximum of half an hour.

Shock, impact and drop resistance

If we talk about resistance to shocks and falls, we are going to find military certifications (MIL-STD) such as MIL-STD-810. These resistance audits are carried out by specialized external companies and involve different tests to check their reactions against impacts, vibrations, high and low pressures, humidity, corrosive environments, operation in extreme temperatures and thermal stress, among others.

MIL-STD-810G stands out for its comprehensiveness against shock and vibration resistance, a certification that requires the device to pass 29 tests.

One of the critical design elements when we talk about resistance is the panel, especially if we opt for a rugged smartphone-type with touch screen. We should check if it is a Gorilla Glass, from the Corning Company, and its generation. The “secret” of this type of resistant glass is its composition, since it is made from an alkali-aluminosilicate compound, also used by the Japanese firm Asahi Glass for its Dragontrail glass (a Corning competitor).

Although the ambitious Gorilla Glass 6 guarantees – according to the manufacturer – withstand up to 15 drops at a maximum height of one meter regardless of the surface, the previous generation Gorilla Glass 5 was also good and resistant against impacts.

Other characteristics of rugged phones

Ultra-resistant phones also have a number of peculiarities. The bezel less, for instance, protects the glass. In this type of cell phones, it is common to find a larger battery intended to guarantee autonomy in outdoor activities. The inevitable consequence of their robust casing and larger battery that the weight. They are heavier than other mobile phones.

With some exceptions, they are oriented for basic use, which is why there are many terminals with rather less powerful processors and a shortage of RAM.

If you are going to use it for snow sports or excursions to cold places, you will greatly appreciate the ‘glove touch’, which means you can manipulate it even with gloves. Some models, like the telephones for the elderly, have a quick access SOS button, that will allow you to connect directly – either through a call or message – with the contact you decide … in the event of an accident. The ‘push to talk’ function that works similarly to a walkie talkie, useful for communicating with people around you.

Best Rugged Phones in 2020

The following phones are designed to withstand the elements with high IP ratings for dust and water resistance, in addition to durability characteristics with phones that meet MIL-STD 810G standards.

HAMMER Bow+

It is an incredibly handy phone thanks to its small weight and compact size 111.5 x 57.2 x 21 mm / 4.4″ x 2.3″ x 0.8″. It is extremely easy to use even when you are wearing gloves because you can answer calls by opening the phone.

This model, IP68 certified and, according to the manufacturer, resistant to drops up to 1.5 meters has large buttons, an external screen to see who is calling and a charging base, which makes it very easy for users who are not tech savvy.

SONIM XP8 

This is the successor to the widely popular Sonim XP7, which was released more than 4 years ago. It seems that the new device has retained pretty much everything that made its predecessor great, but it has also enhanced some of its core elements.

The Sonim XP8 is not aiming at the general users, but at a very specific niche audience that includes construction workers, electricians and people that work at chemical plants. It is also aimed at those who are the first responders while working in hazardous and emergency-type conditions. This model has also kept the Push-To-Talk function (the AT&T proprietary EPTT), which can prove to be a reliable tool in case of emergency or when the user needs a walkie-talkie-type of service (such as while hiking).

It is not a very pretty phone, but it is waterproof and it has been designed to survive falling on all kind of surfaces and that it can be used in dangerous environments.

LAND ROVER EXPLORE

Very similar to the previous one in terms of specifications, this Land Rover Explore stands out for its robust design, good battery and balanced hardware for standard use. In addition to the iP68 and Gorilla Glass 5 certification, its screen can be used with wet fingers or with gloves and it is designed to be readable even with sun’s reflections. It comes with a hook to carry it attached to the pants buckle, a pre-installed app for remote control, a SOS flashlight and a red filter mode.

BLACKVIEW BV9800 Pro

This phone is IP68 compliant (you can swim with it), as well as IP69K and MIL-STD-810G. It uses a midrange Helio P70 octa-core CPU and comes 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, plus a card slot. The massive 6580 mAh battery means you will not have to scramble for a charger mid-project. The large battery and rugged casing contribute to the hefty weight of 322 grams.

It runs three positioning systems — GPS, GLONASS, and BEIDOU — so you should be in good shape anywhere in the world. The BV9800 Pro can charge wirelessly at up to 10 watts, or via USB-C, and is dual-SIM capable. The phone runs on Android 9.0.

CAT S61

This phone is not only ultra-resistant phone, but due to features such as its integrated thermal imaging camera, its laser distance measurement or its indoor air quality monitoring, it is also an effective working tool for some industries. It has MIL SPEC 810G, IP68 and IP69 certifications, as well as a panel with Gorilla Glass 5. It you are going to use it for outdoor activities, it has GLONASS and Galileo.

Regarding its specifications, it is somewhere between the entry and average range, with a Snapdragon 630 processor, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of ROM, a 16GB lens and FM radio.

DOOGEE S90 

This is a very attractive modular off-road smartphone, which can be used with four accessories such as a night vision camera, battery, walkie-talkie and a gamepad. At the hardware and optical level it is in the mid-range, with details such as NFC and fast charging, but the feature that stands out most is its ultra-resistant vocation, with specific software for outdoor use, it has IP68, IP69K and MIL-STD-810G certification.

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