Doogee S40 product impressions: A super-tough phone for just $120

Tough as old boots, the Doogee S40 is a cheap, rugged phone for the outdoors

I love a good rugged phone, but getting your hands on a phone that’s tough enough to resist an outdoor life can be an expensive affair. Phones like the $1,000 Cat S61 and the $800-plus Land Rover Explore are excellent choices, but not everyone has a budget that can accommodate such extravagances. That’s where Doogee comes in. I previously tested the $300 Doogee S90 and found it to be a solid contender, if a little on the heavy side. But it’s not the only tough phone Doogee is offering — the Doogee S40 aims to offer a similar level of protection for just $120.

With a solid water-resistant build, Android 9.0 Pie, and a huge battery, does the Doogee S40 have what it takes to enter our list of the best rugged phones? While the protection is top-notch, slow performance and a poor camera mean it’s nowhere near a slam-dunk. However, it could still find a home with anyone who needs a secondary rugged phone on the cheap.

A tough design with plenty of strength

It goes without saying that a solid and strong build is key in a rugged phone, and thankfully, the S40 delivers that in spades. The S40 is made from a polycarbonate frame that’s reinforced with aluminum, and finished off with a coating of rubber. This combination of materials gives it some serious durability, and it feels extremely solid in hand. I dropped the S40 onto a variety of materials to test the MIL-STD-810G drop-resistance, and it came away without a scratch each time.

This isn’t a sleek smartphone by any stretch.

It’s also heavily resistant to ingress, with port covers for the Micro USB charging port and headphone jack, and an IP68/IP69K rating. That means it’s completely sealed against dust and particles, and can resist both high pressure water jets from close range, and total immersion in up to a meter of water.

All that protection means it’s on the heftier side though, weighing in at 240 grams — over 30 grams heavier than the iPhone XS Max. It’s not as heavy as the 258 gram Cat 48c or the 300 gram Doogee S90, but it feels every bit as solid. There’s a fingerprint scanner on the back, the power and volume buttons are on the right-hand side, and the left-hand side houses an SOS button — which can be personalized to call a trusted contact or the emergency services when held. I didn’t come across any situations where I needed to press it, but it could certainly come in handy if you come a cropper while adventuring.

doogee s40 review sos button
Mark Jansen/Digital Trends

There’s a 5.5-inch IPS LCD display protected by Gorilla Glass 4, and stretched out into an 18:9 aspect ratio. However, this isn’t a sleek smartphone by any stretch, and there are large bezels around the display and a raised edge around the outside. Those bezels add a buffer zone for the display and add to its chances of surviving a fall intact, making the design choice much more palatable. The display itself is acceptable, but it’s certainly not exceptional. In bright sunlight it can be tough to see, even at peak brightness.

Decent battery life

There’s a massive 4,650mAh battery in the Doogee S40, and it provides strong battery life. I ran it through our battery test and it managed over 8 hours on a single charge, which outdoes the larger 5,000mAh battery in the Doogee S90. However, it’s not a match for a variety of other phones we’ve tested, which provide stronger battery life with a smaller capacity. The Moto G7 Play‘s battery lasted over 9 hours with a much smaller 3,000mAh capacity. Really, the S40’s large battery should have lasted longer.

Still, it’s more than enough for a day’s worth of battery on normal usage, and it should last a while when shoved into a bag and taken outdoors. It’s disappointing to see a Micro USB port at the bottom of the phone, but perhaps not unsurprising at $120. There’s no fast charging advertised, and — as you’d expect — there’s no wireless charging either.

Android 9.0 Pie, but slow performance

Surprisingly for such a cheap phone, the S40 comes with Android 9.0 Pie. However, it’s certainly not stock Android, and Doogee’s own unnamed spin on Android Pie offers an iPhone-like lack of an app drawer. There are some black-and-gold themed system apps and a ToolBag app that includes a compass, spirit level, and some other handy tools — something that’s a common inclusion with rugged devices. It’s similar to the design we saw in the company’s other rugged phones, and while purists may be put off, it’s certainly not unattractive.

With a lack of real power, this is definitely not the phone for hardcore mobile gaming.

Future OS updates could be a problem with a phone this cheap, and I don’t expect to see Android Q on the S40. However, Doogee has done a decent job of pushing security updates to the phone so far, as the S40 has received a security update in the short time I’ve had it. But there are issues under the hood that aren’t linked to software. Simply put, using the Doogee S40 can sometimes be a chore. The phone frequently takes whole seconds to load an app, with Facebook and Twitter being particularly prone to slow performance.

The reason for this slow performance is below the hood. The S40 is powered by 2GB of RAM and the ARM Cortex-A53 processor — the same processor we saw in the rugged Unihertz Atom — but for some reason it’s far more disappointing here. There’s an upgraded version with 3GB of RAM available too, and it’s probably worth buying that one instead. With a lack of real power, this is definitely not the phone for hardcore mobile gaming — check out one of the best gaming phones instead. There’s only 16GB of storage, though a 32GB variant is also available, and both versions are backed up by a MicroSD card slot for expansion.

A lackluster camera

The camera often disappoints with cheaper phones, and the Doogee S40 isn’t going to challenge that trend. The paired 8-megapixel and 5-megapixel lenses around the back of the phone produce disappointing shots with poor contrast in anything but the most ideal of lighting. Detail is often lacking on close-up shots, and the less said about the abysmal portrait mode the better. Night shots are terrible, and you’ll find pictures taken in low lighting are riddled with noise and always poor quality. The 5-megapixel selfie camera produces decent results, but it’s similarly afflicted with a lack of detail.

However, the S40 can do a decent job if you only need it to take the occasional shot of a work document, or simply want to quickly show off where you’ve hiked. It’s not the camera for the up-and-coming Instagrammer — but in its defense, it’s not meant to be.

Is it worth it?

I put the boot into the Doogee S40 for its slow performance and shoddy camera — but there’s no denying it might be the perfect phone for a certain person. The Doogee S40’s solid build and IP68/69K rating for water and dust-resistance means it’s tough enough to survive most scenarios it’s thrown into. The large battery also provides long-lasting performance that should see a strong day’s worth of charge at the very least.

The Doogee S40 is available for just $120, and you can pick it up from Doogee, AliExpress, and BangGood. While it’s by no means perfect — the performance and camera being particularly weak — the Doogee S40’s extremely tough build, long-lasting battery, and bargain price could mean it’s a great buy for anyone looking for a cheap, but extremely durable second phone to take on hikes, or to lug around construction yards.

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