The best rugged smartphones of 2018

Brace for impact: The best rugged phones can endure anything you throw at them

Unihertz Atom Review
Mark Jansen/Digital Trends

Every time you drop your phone face down, 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. 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.

Cat S61 ($1,000)

cat s61 laying on rock
Simon Hill/Digital Trends

Who better to supply your rugged phone than a company known for making construction vehicles and other equipment? The Cat S61 is the latest in a series of tough phones from Cat, and as you might expect, it comes with the latest tools to make life easier for anyone who needs a reliable phone for the toughest 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 IP69 rated, so it can survive being immersed in water for up to an hour and is resistant to high pressure water jets, and it can 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 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, which allows for quick measurements of distances, and an air quality sensor which lets users 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 should 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 $1,000. Still, if you want an exceptionally tough phone with some amazing tools, look no further.

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Cat  Amazon

Land Rover Explore ($840)

land rover explore with battery

If the Cat S61 is the rugged phone for contractors and other similar professions, the Land Rover Explore is the ultimate rugged phone for the great 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, and Android 7.0 Nougat (though an Android 8.0 Oreo update is on the way).

The real charm of the Land Rover Explore is in the details. While it runs 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 power 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 constant 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. The catch? It’s currently only available in the United Kingdom and would require importing to the U.S. In addition, it also has a hefty price, costing $840 for the phone and Adventure Pack. Still, for a life spent loving the great outdoors, there’s no better option than the Land Rover Explore.

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Land Rover  Amazon

Unihertz Atom ($300)

Unihertz Atom Review
Mark Jansen/Digital Trends

Small and solid, the Unihertz Atom is a tiny 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.

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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.

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Kyocera XV+ ($70)

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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