Rugged Smartphone Buyers Guide

Looking for a durable outdoor smartphone? Read our rugged smartphone buyers guide to find out what to look for. If you’re in the market for a phone that will last – through falls, bumps or water submersion – and still give you high level smartphone functionality, a rugged phone may be the way to go. 

Rugged smartphones are ideal for all kinds of situations and circumstances, including adventurous outdoor activity, physical work activity, pure clumsiness, etc. 

It used to be that you’d give up performance and functionality with a rugged phone. However, times have changed, and today’s market now offers smartphones with full features that can also withstand repeated beatings, bumps and falls. 

With increased battery capacity, the latest rugged smartphones can also make outstanding replacements for classic handheld or handlebar mounted GPS navigation devices.

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Rugged smartphone buyers guide - IP68 Smartphone

4 Features To Consider Before You Buy Your Rugged Smartphone

As a buyer, there are four principle aspects you need to know before you purchase a phone that claims to be rugged. These features include:

1 Dustproof Rating 

A rugged phone should be dustproof to ensure no dust, dirt or sand can get inside it and affect its performance. When looking at the IP rating, you want the first number to be a six, as it tells you the phone is entirely dustproof and the inside is protected. 

2 Shatterproof Rating 

Many people working in a construction job or participate in physical activity may be hesitant to purchase a touchscreen phone. However, today’s rugged phones are made of strong material that will protect the screen from damage. Still, look for a rugged phone that offers Gorilla Glass 3 or 5. The higher the number, the stronger the screen is.

3 Shockproof Rating

The last thing you want to do is drop your phone, but you want it resistant to the shock if it happens. There is no official shockproof rating, but manufacturers may advertise the phone as being military-grade. 

4 Waterproof Rating

Rugged phone manufacturers must ensure that their product is waterproof. The second number of the IP rating (such as IP 68) lets you know well it will do when submerged in water. When the IP rating includes an 8, the phone can be in one meter of water for more than 30 minutes. An IP rating of 7 means the phone can be in a meter of water for up to 30 minutes. 

4 Characteristics A Rugged Phone Should Include 

Rugged Smartphone Buyers Guide - sos and ptt button

There are four distinctive functional features a rugged phone may have that you should consider as well. 

  • Bezel Style – Consider a raised bezel (a frame). This kind of frame will protect the screen should you accidentally drop your phone, as the glass can be protected from making direct contact with the floor.

  • Glove-Touch – It’s great having a touchscreen phone, but if it doesn’t respond when wearing gloves, how good is the phone really? Find a rugged phone that recognizes touch through any kind of material. This is an important consideration for a cycling friendly smartphone!

  • PTT – The Push to Talk setting means the phone works like a walkie-talkie, which may be beneficial depending on wether you are riding with friends with similar devices and want PTT comunication.

  • SOS Button – If you’re the adventurous type (hiking, jogging, backpacking, etc.), the SOS button feature could be a life saver. This feature can connect you to the emergency service (911) and provide them with your location so you can get help quickly. 

4 Additional Rugged Phone Features To Consider

When you’re in the market for a rugged phone, you need to be mindful of the basic specifications the phones offer. This includes performance and power, camera and screen size. 

  1. Performance and Power – The more power the phone has, the quicker its response to your command will be. You don’t want the phone to lag or freeze in the middle of using it suddenly.

  2. Battery Capacity - This is a very important consideration if you plan to use your rugged smartphone for outdoor navigation or as a GPS replacement. We recommend phone with at least 5000 mAh for outdoor activities.
  3. Screen Size – The larger your screen is, the easier it’ll be for you to read and type. If your job or activity demands the use of gloves, a bigger screen size will help you when using your phone. 

  4. Camera – For some people, the specs of a camera isn’t a necessity. If it is for you, consider finding a rugged phone with top-of-the-line camera specifications to provide you with crystal-clear pictures.  



The right Rugged Smartphone for you

Similar to regular smartphones, rugged phones come in an array of styles and budgets. The kind of rugged phone you choose will often boil down to how much you prefer to spend and which features or specifications you value most. Our rugged smartphone buyers guide would not be complete without listing the best user fit for each type of rugged smartphone you can buy.


High-End Rugged SmartPhones 

Most high-end rugged phones will cost you a minimum of $500, but they offer an array of features and extras that you’d see on a flagship iPhone or Samsung Galaxy smartphone. Some of the features you’d have include infrared cameras and superior performance. 

A high-quality, high-end phone will run you into the hundreds of dollars, but if you don’t need or want all the extras, there’s no reason to spend the extra money. 

High-End rugged smartphones are ideal for:

  • People who work in construction or heavy industries.

  • People participating in outdoor activities or work.

  • People involved in dangerous situations.

  • People who need a rugged phone for daily use.


Mid-Range Rugged SmartPhones 

Expect to spend between $200 and $500 for a mid-range rugged phone. Rugged phones of this range are unlikely to have infrared cameras and may not perform like the more expensive models. Still, these phones have many of the features smartphones have and provide you with the strength you need.

Rugged phones of this price range are often within people’s budget and still perform excellently. However, they won’t have all the bells and whistles the $500+ phones tend to include. Mid-range rugged phones are considered a concession on performance and price. 

Mid-range rugged smartphones are ideal for: 

  • People on a budget.

  • People who don’t need to use their phone regularly.

  • People who spend most of their weekdays at a desk.


Budget Rugged SmartPhones 

There are very low cost rugged phones on the market. These phones don’t cost more than $200, but you might be surprised at the impressive features they offer at a low cost. But to be sure, budget phones do cut some corners to enable a lower sticker price.

Rugged smartphone buyers guide - budget rugged smartphone

Some run older Android versions, skimp on memory and pack a lower capacity battery. If you don’t mind an older operating system and fewer features on a budget-friendly rugged phone, this may be the right choice for you. 

Budget rugged smartphones are ideal for:

  • People who don’t want to spend a lot of money on a new smartphone.

  • People who need a secondary phone that the kids won’t break.

  • People who are looking for a replacement for their handheld GPS device.

These phones give you the protection you need but won’t offer the performance or specifications you see with more expensive phones such as those in the mid-range to high-end range phones. We have also written up a detailed review of our top budget rugged smartphones, perfect for outdoor use without breaking your wallet if the hit the ground!