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The best rugged phones

By Mark Jansen

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Unihertz Atom Review
Mark Jansen/Digital Trends

Every time you drop your phone facedown, there’s a brief moment of fear that overcomes you right before you pick it up to (hopefully) see that your phone’s screen didn’t crack. We’re accustomed to this feeling because we all know that smartphones have a delicacy problem. Some companies are aware of this, and they’ve spent years trying to make the best rugged phones they can.

Over time, smartphones have gotten more water resistant, and for most people, a protective case is all they’ll ever need. But a case and some water resistance isn’t enough for people who work in construction or engineering and need something that can survive rain, dust, and the occasional fall onto hard materials.

We’ve scoured the internet to find everything from a phone developed by a construction company to a flip phone that can hang with the best of them. You might have heard that the Cat S61 is on the horizon, not to mention the Land Rover Explore, but we can’t recommend them since, well, they’re not out yet. Rest assured that we’ll be testing those phones as soon as they’re available, and you’ll get our honest thoughts on whether they’re worth your money. For now, these are the best rugged phones on the market.

Keep in mind that not all of these phones may work for your carrier, but there are ways to fix that.

Unihertz Atom ($300)

Unihertz Atom Review
Mark Jansen/Digital Trends

Small and solid, the Unihertz Atom is atiny titan that should serve you well in a variety of situations. It’s a small phone, with the screen measuring in at a teensy 2.4-inches — for comparison, the iPhone X has a 5.8-inch screen — and the body isn’t much bigger. Chunky bezels surround the display, and you’ll find a tough TPU-style material encasing the body of the phone, some red accents for added style, and full IP68 waterproofing. It’s certainly not stylish, but it looks and feels like a tank.

Despite the small size, it doesn’t skimp on power. There’s an octa-core processor inside, along with 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, and Android 8.1 Oreo. It proved powerful in our review, holding its own against some of the best midrange phones in the world right now, like the Moto G6. It comes with a ton of mod cons too, like a fingerprint scanner, facial recognition, and support for NFC card payments.

It’s not perfect — the camera is unreliable, and the small display makes typing a nightmare — but thanks to the modest specs, the battery lasts a lifetime, and you can expect to get days out of this little device. With strong waterproofing, a durable body, and plenty of stamina, the Unihertz Atom is built to survive building sites, long hikes, and bike rides.

At the moment, the Unihertz Atom is only available at a discounted price as part of a Kickstarter campaign, but after that ends, it’ll be available from Unihertz’s website for $300.


LG X Venture ($280)

LG Venture X phone
Adam Ismail/Digital Trends

It can be tough to find a rugged smartphone that doesn’t break the bank, but the LG X Venture is one of the few tough phones that you can pick up for a bargain price. It’s rugged, with an easy-to-grip textured back that won’t slip out of your hand unexpectedly. The lower price doesn’t affect the build quality — the phone feels extremely solid and comes with an IP68-rating for water- and dust-resistance, as well as military-grade (MIL-STD810G) shock resistance.

It’s not the most powerful phone in this lineup, you may find some issues with speed and apps taking longer to load than usual, and Android 7.0 Nougat is now a bit dated. But it comes with a capable camera that provided good performance in our review, and a truly enormous 4,100mAh battery that should keep your phone going for a long time, which is especially useful if you’re away from the charger for a while.

It’s not the most powerful phone on this list, but it’s packed to the brim with useful features, including the physical QuickButton on the side, and a toggleable Glove Mode. It’s a long-lasting phone that won’t break the bank.


Cat S60 ($500)

best rugged phones cat 8 720x720

The Cat S60 is just as tough as any other Caterpillar product, but the S60 brings more to the table than just a smartphone wrapped in a metal and carbon fiber frame.

Its coolest — and most useless to 99 percent of the population — featureis the built-in FLIR thermal camera. As the name implies, you can take thermal photos and videos, and it looks just likeit does in the Splinter Cell games. The display is 4.7 inches and 720p, made from tough Gorilla Glass, with raised edges to ensure that your screen won’t crack.

The phone is also IP68 certified, so it canbe submerged in water that’s 16 feet deep for up to an hour, take a six-foot dive onto concrete, or be left out in below zero temperatures or 130 degree Fahrenheit weather and still work with no problems.

It comes equipped with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, and you can add more storage thanks to its MicroSD slot. Along with its SOS button and dual SIM card slots, the phone is a construction worker’s dream, but its $629 price tag is off-putting, especially when you can find the S50(which is basically the same, minus the FLIR feature) for hundreds of dollars cheaper.


Blackview BV8000 Pro ($306)

best rugged phones bv8000 pro

Another strong handset from Chinese up-and-comer Blackview, the BV8000 Pro certainly isn’t the cheapest device we’ve found, but it is one of most well-rounded. It’s as durable as you’d expect from a smartphone on this list, with metal construction and rubberized areas that provide extra grip on the phone. It’s fully IP68 certified, and although it doesn’t have any plugs to protect the ports on the phone, extra care has been taken to ensure the headphone jack and the USB-C charging port don’t let in water. That said, Blackview does recommend you ensure all water is out of the ports before you attempt to use them — a hair dryer is recommended.

The screen is a 5-inch IPS LCD that supports a full HD 1080p display, and a 16-megapixel camera from Samsung takes decent photos with a good f/2.0 aperture. Don’t get us wrong — it’s not going to get on our best smartphone cameras list, but it’s not bad for a rugged phone. A hefty 4,180mAh battery powers 6GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage — and it’s running on Android 7.0 Nougat as well, setting it apart from many other rugged smartphones.

NFC and a fingerprint sensor are bonus extras too, making this a good rugged all-arounder that can adapt to a variety of situations.

Amazon Blackview

Kyocera XV+ ($72)

Believe it or not, flip phones are making a comeback, and if you really want to reduce any danger of breaking your phone, then you might want to consider getting one. It sounds archaic at first, but the XV+ is an old-school phone with new-school features like GPS navigation and Kyocera’s patented Smart Sonic Receiver. which made the DuraForce Pro such a standout.

There’s obviously no touchscreen, and you won’t be able to play Angry Birds on it, but the XV+ is IPX68 certified to be submerged under 6 feet of water for 30 minutes and endure shock, rainstorms, extreme temperatures, and dust. The XV+ is specifically for Verizon, but you can find variants of the same phone for other carriers at Kyocera’s website.


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