Every time you drop your phone face down, there’s a slight 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 also have heard that the Cat S61 and the Land Rover Explore are on the horizon, but we can’t recommend them yet 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 salt. 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.
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 — feature is the built-in FLIR thermal camera. As the name implies, you can take thermal photos and videos, and it looks just like it 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 can be 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.
The DuraForce Pro’s exterior is a mix of polycarbonate and thick rubber, and its backside is conveniently curved so that it can fit comfortably in anyone’s hands. It’s only IP68 certified to be dustproof and waterproof for up to 30 minutes under 6.5 feet of water.
The DuraForce Pro also comes equipped with a really cool feature called Smart Sonic Receiver. While you’re on the phone, the receiver cancels up to 100 decibels of background noise by sending vibrations directly to your eardrum. If you’re constantly working around loud machinery, this feature is for you.
The phone doesn’t have a SIM card slot, and you can’t buy it unlocked, which means you have to go through a carrier, and that leaves the phone loaded with bloatware. The battery can last up to a day with medium use, which is actually on the low side for rugged smartphones. It does fortunately have a nifty Quick Charge feature that lets you charge up to 60 percent of the battery in 30 minutes.
The HT20’s biggest draw is that it’s the cheapest smartphone on the list, at just over $100, but that comes at a price.
Don’t get us wrong, this phone is still incredibly durable. It’s IP68 certified to be waterproof for up to three feet of water for up to 30 minutes, it has a heavy duty Gorilla Glass screen that prevents scratches and cracks, and its magnesium alloy frame and rubber bumps make it virtually shockproof.
Where the phone is really lacking is internally. It tends to run slow if you have multiple apps open thanks to only having 2GB of RAM. The 3,500 mAh battery holds a decent charge, but it lacks a rapid charger (which is uncommon for rugged phones). But on the plus side, it has dual SIM slots, and the 16GB of storage can be bumped up to 64GB if you put in a MicroSD card.
You’re losing some standard features that come with rugged phones, but the HT20 is durable enough, and its price point will be hard to pass up for some.
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 being constructed of metal with 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.
There’s also been extra care made to make the BV8000 Pro into a device that could easily pass as a more usual phone — barring the obviously rugged design. 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-rounder that can adapt to a variety of situations.
Believe it or not, flip phones are making a comeback, and if you really want to cut out any danger of breaking your phone, then you might want to consider getting one. 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 six feet of water for 30 minutes and endure shock, rainstorm, 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.