Many individuals have the perception that rugged smartphones are simply for those in physical professions like builders and lack the capabilities to compete with today’s tech. However, those people are wrong. With smartphones breaking pretty much after one drop, the demand for more rugged smartphones is on the rise, and with the advancements in technology, manufacturers have been able to create rugged smartphones that are powerful yet can survive a serious amount of abuse.
How We Picked
If you’re considering purchasing a rugged smartphone, you’re certainly looking for one that can handle the bumps of everyday life. Also, if you’re wanting to use it as your daily driver, you’re also going to want a solid camera, great battery life, and an updated OS that’s somewhat futureproof. You’re similarly going to want a decent amount of power for multitasking etc. so opting for a rugged smartphone that has a solid processor alongside a decent amount of RAM is essential.
So, combining all of these aspects we scoured the market for the rugged smartphones that excel in some or all of them, providing you with the top choices. We’ve also given out awards to three of our best rugged smartphones; best overall, best durability, and best budget which should help you even further, especially if you have a certain aspect in mind.
Best Rugged Smartphone 2020 & 2021
Military grade durability
128GB of internal storage
Impressive thermal imaging camera
Blackview is a brand that you may not have come across in your search for smartphones but while you may not have heard of them, they build one of the best rugged smartphones on the market today.
BV9800 Pro is an upgraded version of the base BV9800 variant and is built strong to withstand harsh conditions and rough handling. It sports the military standard [MIL-STD-810G] for dust proofing, waterproofing, and shockproofing making it an excellent choice for those on construction sites. For you daredevils, climbing mountains and exploring the world, you can similarly take advantage of the BV9800 Pro’s resistance to humidity, solar radiation, and temperature extremes.
The technology Blackview has opted to include in the BV9800 Pro is surprising but welcome. The Sony dual rear camera 48MP + 5MP has built-in FLIR Lepton thermal imaging which locates heat sources and translates them into a thermal image that you can see and measure. This thermal imaging can be utilized in a number of situations such as trying to determine how hot materials are on a building site if you’re wanting to see heat through smoke, and much more. A less ‘rugged’ piece of tech that’s also included is the quick wireless charging functionality. This is certainly handy and is only available in a smaller selection of the smartphones of today so the fact that it’s in a rugged smartphone is very impressive.
The BV9800 Pro is powered by a 6580mAh battery which is an extremely large capacity and far bigger than the run of the mill smartphone and can last up to two days of standard usage on a full charge. Taking a further look at the internals, it sports a Helio P70 Octa-core processor coupled with 6GB of RAM which makes this rugged smartphone fast, while also being more than capable of excessive multitasking. There’s also 128GB of internal storage which is more than enough for most, as many struggle to fill even 64GB of storage.
All in all, the Blackview BV9800 Pro is a rugged smartphone that encompasses not only fantastic durability but also extremely impressive internals that allow for a speedy experience that’s capable of extensive multitasking. The thermal imaging 48MP + 5MP dual camera is a nice touch and offers really crisp image quality while also allowing you to literally see heat. The battery life as well as the included wireless quick charging are also big pluses and will be somewhat necessary for those who are wanting to take their rugged smartphone on adventures.
Military grade endurance
Impressive thermal imaging camera
Incredible battery life
Air quality monitor
Not the latest Android OS
CAT, primarily known for its construction vehicles, has actually dabbled in smartphone tech to give you a rugged smartphone to partner your active lifestyle or all-weather job. While you might think a smartphone from CAT will just be your basic, run of the mill device, they offer a few different variants that sport exceptional durability and overall performance.
The S61 we believe is their best overall rugged smartphone and one that you’ll certainly be impressed with. Looking initially at the durability of the CAT S61, which offers IP68, IP69, and military spec 810G rugged credentials. This means that it is certified waterproof up to 3 meters (9.8ft) for up to 60 minutes, extremely impressive, allowing you to submerge the smartphone for a reasonable amount of time before having to rescue it. Moreover, it is also vibration, sand, salt mist, and pressure-resistant which is perfect for those who will be taking their rugged smartphone onto building sites or on the beach.
While being extremely durable, the S61 also boasts some really impressive features that can be utilized by explorers and those in the construction industry. It utilizes a FLIR lepton thermal imaging camera, allowing you to potentially track animals at night, see the heat of materials, and much more with it reading temperatures of up to 400°C. Moreover, the camera’s capabilities don’t stop there, it sports a 16MP rear camera with autofocus as well as an 8MP front camera with fixed focus. You can also take advantage of the dual-LED flash which illuminates your photos fantastically well. Alongside the FLIR camera, another couple of pieces of top tech are the inclusion of an integrated laser assisted distance measure as well as an indoor air quality monitor to alert you to high levels of indoor air pollutants (VOCs), while also measuring humidity levels. This can be useful again for you builders and adventurers.
Looking finally at its power, CAT has incorporated a Qualcomm SD630 Octa-core 2.2GHz processor as well as running off Android Oreo which allows for snappy usage as well as a decent amount of multitasking. Yes, Oreo is a couple of years old at this point but it’s still getting updates to this day and is widely regarded as the most secure Android OS. The battery life is also pretty great boasting up to 37 days standby time and 35 hours 3G talk time.
Overall, the CAT S61 is an extremely durable rugged smartphone that also incorporates some serious technology and packs a punch with that Qualcomm SD630 Octa-core processor. If you’re in the construction industry, the S61 has to be your go-to but also if you’re a bit of an adventurer, you can similarly reap the benefits of its military-spec credentials, almost ensuring that you will never break it.
Android 10 OS
Military grade durability
Only 2GB of RAM
A budget rugged smartphone that actually performs well is certainly hard to come by. Usually, with budget rugged smartphones you’ll get good durability and not good performance and vice versa but with the Ulefone Armor X7, you’ll get the best of both worlds.
The ‘ruggedness’ of this smartphone is of a similar standard to that of our best overall rugged smartphone pick – the Blackview BV9800 Pro with its military standard [MIL-STD-810G] for dust proofing, waterproofing, and shockproofing as well as resistance to humidity, solar radiation, and temperature extremes. This, therefore, allows you to use the Ulefone Armor X7 in all-weather conditions while also being tough enough to handle relatively large drops.
While being rugged, it also provides some interesting technology that can be beneficial to some. The first of this tech is underwater mode which enables you to conveniently take pictures and record video underwater. Moreover, you can even complete all these operations with a single hand, bringing you a unique underwater experience. The second piece of interesting tech is its glove mode. This allows you to keep gloves on while using the device, something that the majority of other smartphones don’t possess, helpful for individuals who wear gloves while working.
The internal components aren’t too shabby either, providing some pretty impressive performance, especially when considering the price of this rugged smartphone. It uses a MT6761 Quad-core processor coupled with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage all coming together to deliver a snappy overall experience and enough storage to keep you going. It also supports a micro SD card up to 128GB of storage so you can expand that 16GB limit if necessary. Surprisingly, it actually comes packaged with Android 10, the latest version of Android’s operating system which makes this rugged smartphone rank much higher than many other options out there while also being somewhat futureproof.
Finally, battery life. The Ulefone Armor X7 comes with a 4000mAh battery which is relatively long-life and can handle a day’s usage but it’s not too much to shout about. It also has quick charge functionality so getting a depleted battery back up to full charge isn’t a painstaking process.
To sum up, the Ulefone Armor X7 is really an exception when looking at budget rugged smartphones. It details some serious durability and performance while not breaking the bank making it a very attractive option. Moreover, with it sporting Android 10, it has the latest software and futureproof potential.
Top of the line camera quality
8GB of RAM
No thermal imaging camera
DOOGEE is yet another rugged smartphone manufacturer that you probably haven’t heard of but again, like Blackview, produce a top device. The S95 Pro was actually a strong contender for the best overall rugged smartphone so expect good things from it.
Initially focusing on the durability of the S95 Pro we can see that it details IP68 waterproof, dustproof and shockproof capabilities while also having IP69K high-temperature resistance. These, combined, have allowed it to pass MIL-STD-810G torment tests making it more than able to take multiple drops. To improve this even further, the body is made of industrial-strength rubber and metal making it somewhat impossible to actually break.
Taking a look at the camera, it is almost as impressive as its durability. The 48MP AI triple cameras have 4X sensitivity, 10X zoom and can allow for 120°super wide-angles which provide rich details and shocking quality, five times the resolution of a 4k TV. The front-facing camera is also impressive with its 16MP architecture alongside 15 different modes to create different looks. It, unfortunately, doesn’t sport the thermal imaging tech that our earlier picks showed and that’s why it didn’t make the cut for the best overall rugged smartphone.
The internals offer up some pretty impressive specs, making it extremely powerful. The Helio P90 Octa-core processor paired with 8GB of RAM and 256GB internal storage, you get 50% faster performance than the previous P60/P70 while also having enough storage to last you an extremely long time. The OS it runs is Android 9.0 Pie which isn’t the absolute latest variant but it’s still very relevant and will be receiving updates well into the future.
Moving to the battery life, it boasts a 5150mAh large-capacity battery which allows you to use this rugged smartphone for up to two days based on standard usage, more than you’d receive off most generic smartphones on the market. It also supports wireless charging, removing the need for any physical wires for a quick and easy charging process.
Overall, the DOOGEE S95 Pro is a solid rugged smartphone. It has military-grade foundations allowing it to take a bunch of stress without a chance of it breaking. Moreover, the internals are where this rugged smartphone really shines. It has that P90 Octa-core processor, 8GB of RAM, and a whopping 256GB of internal storage which all come together to provide you with a fast experience and enough space to last you for years.
IP68 standard durability
Screen may be too small for some
The Atom from Unihertz definitely stands out in this list of best-rugged smartphones and you can clearly see why. It details a much smaller form factor with a smaller screen size, which offers a bunch of advantages for some.
However, looking first at it’s ‘rugged’ features, it sports a rubberized body that has undergone stringent IP68 tests for protecting against vibration, shock, extreme temperatures, dust, and water making it more than capable of taking daily impacts and even under intense stress.
The internals won’t disappoint either with an Octa-Core 2.0 GHz marrying up with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage which makes for a relatively smooth experience, even when intense multitasking. Unfortunately, there’s no expandable storage but with 64GB of internal storage, it’ll keep you going for long enough and some are likely to not even fill that. The OS that’s bundled in is Android 9.0, similar to that of the DOOGEE S95 Pro. While again, it’s not the latest Android variant, it’s still a solid OS and is still being updated today and will be for the foreseeable future.
We’ve talked about some great tech that’s put into these rugged smartphones and the Unihertz Atom comes equipped with some of its own. The included GPS+GLONASS will allow you to easily locate yourself on the map and together with G-sensor, gyroscope, and compass, it could be the perfect phone for your outdoor adventures, business trips and daily life.
All in all, the Unihertz Atom is a smaller form factor rugged smartphone that really can compete with its larger counterparts. Yes, it has a smaller screen but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have solid internals and impressive durability. Actually, it excels in these aspects more than bigger rugged smartphones so it’s definitely worth considering, especially if you’re going to be using your rugged smartphone while on adventures or out on a construction site
Things To Consider
If you’re buying a rugged smartphone due to your job being hazardous or just need a rugged smartphone for those forest walks/hill-climbing, you’re going to want the battery life to match. Luckily, with most manufacturers making this a priority, you’re likely to receive a rugged smartphone that has a battery life that is far superior to the standard Apple and Samsung smartphones. You’re likely to receive two days worth based off a full charge which is far and above those aforementioned branded smartphones and perfect for adventurers.
With any rugged smartphone, you’re going to want it to be extremely durable and you’d expect most of them to be so. However, there are variations in how ‘rugged’ they are with some offering fantastic durability for drops but don’t make the screen that durable and vice versa. There are some on the other hand that excel in all-round durability and these rugged smartphones are the top picks and certainly the ones to go for, especially if they come with powerful internals.
With Android updating their OS all the time, you’re always going to be wanting a smartphone that’s running the newest update or close to. With the rugged smartphones of old, they lacked the same capabilities of the better smartphones on the market but with today’s tech becoming cheaper, the extra cost of their rugged capabilities has been balanced. This, therefore means that you’re likely to receive a rugged smartphone that has the later versions of Android such as 9 (Pie) or 10.
So, which of these is the best rugged smartphone? Well, if we were to choose, we’d have to opt for the Blackview BV9800 Pro. We think that it details the best overall specs both in terms of performance and durability while also sporting dual 48MP + 5MP cameras which have built-in FLIR Lepton thermal imaging, fantastic for adventurers and those curious about material heat. The DOOGEE was a close second however as it has a P90 Octa-core processor paired with 8GB of RAM and 256GB internal storage, while also having a military-grade body, making it a brilliant alternative if you don’t like the look of the Blackview. If you’re looking for a more budget rugged smartphone, the Ulefone Armor X7 is the way to go. It has an MT6761 Quad-core processor coupled with 2GB of RAM and military standard proofing which allow it to have enough power to get by as well as having the ability to take those bumps and drops. Unfortunately, it does only come with a 4000mAh battery, smaller than our other rugged smartphone picks but if you’re not going to be using it for hours on end on a daily basis, you should be able to make it last a good while before heading back to the charger.