If you work in an outdoor environment or enjoy going on hikes, you should think about investing in a smartphone that can withstand extreme conditions. Most modern phones can’t withstand continued exposure to dirt, dust, water, or extreme temperatures well, and could easily break as a result of such abuse. Thankfully, that’s not the case when the rugged phones come to town.
Some manufacturers offer rugged devices that are more suitable for an active lifestyle or outdoor work. These rugged phones are sturdy, reliable, and adapted to extreme conditions, thanks to features like waterproof designs and long-lasting batteries.
Best smartphones at a glance
- Best overall smartphone: Cat S61
- Best rugged smartphone for walkers: Land Rover Explore
- Best midrange rugged smartphone: Cat S48c
- Best small rugged smartphone: Unihertz Atom
- Best budget rugged smartphone: LG X Venture
Why you should buy this: It’s the best overall rugged smartphone, perfect for rough work environments, adventures, and more.
Who it’s for: Anyone who wants a phone that’ll feel at home in rough environments.
Why we picked the Cat S61:
Who better to supply your rugged phone than a company known for making construction vehicles and other equipment? The Cat S61 is the toughest in a series of tough phones from Cat, and as you might expect, it comes with the tools that make life easier for anyone who needs a reliable rugged phone for hardcore working conditions.
But before we get to that, let us assure you that this phone is tough. It’s made from a combination of thick aluminum and black plastic, giving the phone a great range of resistances, and making it supremely durable. It’s IP68 and IP69K rated, so it can survive being immersed in water for up to an hour and is resistant to high-pressure water jets. It can also resist drops up to 1.8 meters onto concrete. The 5.2-inch screen displays a 1920 x 1080-pixel resolution, and it can be used with wet fingers and with gloves on — though there are also navigation keys below the screen just in case.
The phone’s performance is average and it comes with 64GB of storage, but what really sets the Cat S61 apart is the massive range of tools you won’t find anywhere else. The integrated Flir camera gives the phone Predator-esque thermal vision, useful for finding hot water pipes, internal swelling, or people hiding in bushes. There’s also a built-in laser measurement tool for quick measurements, and an air quality sensor that lets you know when the air quality in the surrounding space has dropped to dangerous levels. Rounding all this up is a 4,500mAh battery that has the potential to last for two days.
All of these tools are unlikely to be useful to most people but they’ll be invaluable for anyone who requires them in their day-to-day. However, the Cat S61 is priced to match its range of tools, and it’ll set you back a cool $729. It’s not the most up-to-date phone in terms of software, and the performance isn’t going to be an exception, but if you want an exceptionally tough phone with some amazing tools, look no further. The Cat S61 is our best overall rugged smartphone.
Read more in our full Cat S61 review
Why you should buy this: It’s a solid rugged phone with an excellent GPS antenna.
Who it’s for: People who love to adventure in the great outdoors and need a phone that loves it too.
Why we picked the Land Rover Explore:
If the Cat S61 is the rugged phone for contractors and other similar professions, the Land Rover Explore is the ultimate rugged phone for adventures in the outdoors. It’s super-tough, coming with IP68 rated water-resistance, a durable build, and the protection of Gorilla Glass 5 and a glass screen protector on the 5-inch display. The display runs a Full HD 1920 x 1080-pixel resolution with midrange specs, so you’re looking at decent performance, even if it’s nothing earth-shattering. It runs Android 8.1 Oreo, which is far from being a modern operating system, so that’s a pretty big downside.
But the real charm of the Land Rover Explore is in the details. While it boasts an already hefty 4,000mAh battery, the Explore comes with modular options including the Adventure Pack, an additional battery pack that adds another 3,600mAh and a Ceramic Patch GPS antenna. That additional antenna boosts the phone’s GPS capabilities, making sure you always know where you are, even in the most challenging areas. The extra GPS capability draws even more power, but the additional battery is more than up to the task, and we saw the Land Rover Explore still last a day despite a persistent GPS connection and near-constant screen use.
The ViewRanger app also includes additional tools for hiking and cycling, displaying a compass, barometric data, distance traveled, and other details depending on your activity. The Land Rover Explore is meant for people who love to range into the wilderness, and who want their phone to be a big part of their adventures. It’s tough, reliable, and supremely well-suited to life outdoors. For a life spent loving the great outdoors, there’s no better option than the Land Rover Explore.
Read our full Land Rover Explore review
Why you should buy this: It’s just as durable as the Cat S61, but without the high price tag.
Who it’s for: Anyone who needs a tough phone, but doesn’t need the extra features the Cat S61 offers.
Why we picked the Cat S48c:
The Cat S61 isn’t the only Cat phone up for taking a tumble through some harsh environments. The Cat S48c comes at a lower $500 price point — which is perfect if the $700+ tag on the S61 is a bit too much.
Is it weaker as a result? Thankfully, no. Cat has stripped out some of the more outlandish elements from the S61 to slash the price, so the protective qualities are untouched. This is very much a rugged phone, with a tough rubberized body and a hefty weight of 248 grams. Protective flaps cover each port and raised edges protect the screen from surfaces. An IP68-rating means it can cope with drops into water with few issues, and the MIL-SPEC 810G and Non-Incendive Class1 Div2 certification mean the S48c can take multiple drops onto concrete and resist extreme temperature changes. There’s a customizable Push-To-Talk (PTT) button on the side, a 5-inch IPS LCD protected by Gorilla Glass 5 that can be used with wet or gloved fingers, and physical buttons at the bottom.
The low price shows in the internal hardware though, and while the Snapdragon 630 is more than adequate for most daily tasks it’ll struggle to keep up with other phones in this price bracket. However, we had no issues during use and it even ran Asphalt 9: Legends fairly well. Any issues you have will probably be offset by the huge 4,000mAh battery that lasted for at least two days during our tests. The camera is — as expected — somewhat disappointing. But it will take good enough pictures in strong lighting, and it takes photos underwater too.
But the price is a serious draw. $499 is a good price for a phone this durable, and if you’re looking for a phone that won’t quit at a price that won’t burn your wallet too bad, this is a great choice.
Why you should buy this: It’s a super-strong rugged phone in a tiny package.
Who it’s for: Anyone who needs a small but tough smartphone.
Why we picked the Unihertz Atom:
Who says tough phones have to be big? The Unihertz Atom is tough enough to hang with the best of them, while also being dramatically smaller than usual. Small and solid, the Unihertz Atom is a tiny titan that should serve you well in a variety of situations. The screen measures a teensy 2.4-inches — for comparison, the iPhone 12 has a 6.1-inch screen — and the body isn’t much bigger. Granted, the bezels are chunky, but that adds to the toughness. You’ll also 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, and 64GB of storage. It proved powerful in our review, holding its own against some of the best mid-range phones of the time, like the Moto G6, even if it’s less relatively powerful now. It comes with a ton of mod cons too, like a fingerprint scanner, facial recognition, and support for NFC card payments. Unfortunately, it’s still running Android 8.1 Oreo, which is dreadfully outdated. Despite that, it’s smooth and very useable despite the tiny display.
There are even more downsides of course — 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.
Read our full Unihertz Atom review
Why you should buy this: It’s strong without costing the earth.
Who it’s for: Anyone who needs a tough phone, but doesn’t want to pay over $300.
Why we picked the LG X Venture:
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.
Unfortunately, it’s getting on a bit, and it wasn’t the most powerful phone when it launched. As a result, you may find some issues with speed and apps taking longer to load than usual. It also runs Android 7.0 Nougat, which is incredibly dated these days. But it comes with a capable camera that provided good performance in our testing period, and a big 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, durable phone that won’t break the bank.
Read our full LG X Venture review
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