Are you looking for a sturdy and durable smartphone that can withstand tough conditions and handle accidental drops? Rugged smartphones are purpose-built for reliability even in harsh environments.
In this comprehensive guide, we‘ll cover the top 5 best rugged phones available in 2023 and what you should look for when picking the right one.
What Makes a Smartphone Rugged?
Unlike regular consumer smartphones focused on slim and sleek designs, rugged phones prioritize:
Durability – Built to withstand drops, shocks, vibration, extreme temperatures, dust, dirt, sand and water immersion.
Waterproofing – Protected against water damage to varying degrees, with IP68 rating considered the gold standard.
Drop protection – Designed and tested to survive drops from heights of 5-6 feet onto hard surfaces like concrete.
MIL-STD-810H compliance – Meets a series of durability tests set by the U.S. Military for equipment, vehicles and weapons.
Large batteries – Packed with batteries over 4000mAh or more for longer life between charges, essential for remote outdoor use.
Rugged build – Reinforced corners, rubber bumpers and textured materials on exterior able to survive rough handling.
Glove friendly screens – Allows touchscreen use even while wearing thick work gloves, helpful in cold conditions or rain.
While rugged phones sacrifice slim profiles and sleek aesthetics, their durability and resilience to abuse make them the top choices for challenging work environments and outdoor adventures.
According to Counterpoint Research, the global rugged phone market is projected to grow from 27.2 million unit shipments in 2020 to over 50 million by 2025, indicating rising demand.
How to Choose the Best Rugged Smartphone
With so many rugged phone models and brands available today, keep these factors in mind when picking the right one for your needs:
Durability credentials – Check the IP dust & water resistance rating and MIL-STD 810 level. The higher the numbers, the more rugged it is. IP68 and MIL-STD 810H are excellent.
Features – Pick important connectivity (4G/5G), built-in sensors (GPS, thermometer, air pressure), or accessories (programmable buttons, barcode scanner modules) you require.
Operating conditions – Determine the environment it will be used in – indoors/outdoors, hot/cold, wet/dusty, rough handling expected. Important to pick appropriate durability.
Battery capacity & life – Look for large batteries over 4000 or 5000mAh for all-day use without charging. Removable batteries are a plus.
Carrier network compatibility – Ensure it‘s compatible with your mobile carrier. Factory unlocked models allow using any SIM.
Budget – Set a budget limit. Rugged phones are typically cheaper than flagship phones with similar core specs. Good deals available.
Warranty & support – Rugged phones take more abuse, so check warranty coverage, especially for defects and water damage.
By balancing these decision factors against your specific usage needs, you can zero in on the ideal rugged smartphone for your budget.
The 5 Best Rugged Smartphones of 2023
Based on design, construction, features, durability credentials and value, here are the 5 best rugged smartphones available in 2023:
1. CAT S62 Pro – Best Overall Rugged Smartphone
- IP68 and IP69K dust/water protection
- MIL-STD-810H shockproof rating
- 1.8m (5.9 ft) drop tested
- FLIR Lepton thermal camera
- Indoor air quality sensor
- Laser assisted distance measuring
- Air pressure sensor
- 4000 mAh removable Li-ion battery
- Up to 38 hours standby time
The CAT S62 Pro is the most versatile and feature-packed rugged phone currently available. The integrated FLIR thermal camera and indoor air quality sensor are specially useful features.
With best-in-class IP68 and IP69K ratings resulting in complete water submersion protection, it meets the MIL-STD-810H military standard for shocks, drops, vibrations, dust, humidity, and extreme temperatures. The rugged build, loud speakers, and flagship-level battery life provide reliability in the harshest environments.
According to TrustedReviews, the CAT S62 Pro scored an impressive 4 out of 5 in its review, establishing it as their top choice for the best rugged phone of 2022.
2. Samsung Galaxy XCover Pro – Best Rugged Galaxy Smartphone
- IP68 dust & water protection
- MIL-STD 810G shockproof standard
- 1.5m (4.9ft) drop tested
- Dual SIM slots
- User replaceable 4050mAh battery
- Programmable tactile PTT key
- Fingerprint sensor
- 4050 mAh removable Li-ion battery
- Fast charging: 50% in 30 mins
The Galaxy XCover Pro is Samsung‘s flagship rugged smartphone, packing the excellent build quality, displays and cameras that Samsung phones are renowned for into a tougher exterior.
With IP68 rating for dust and water protection and military-spec shock absorption, it‘s built for reliability in harsh environments. The programmable extra button provides quick access to apps like push-to-talk, while the replaceable battery ensures you aren‘t ever stranded without power.
According to Samsung, the XCover Pro‘s touchscreen works reliably with wet fingers or gloves on, and is usable even when underwater. It‘s designed to handle up to 30 minutes in 1.5m deep water.
3. Sonim XP8 – Most Rugged Phone
- IP69K ultra waterproof
- MIL-STD-810G shockproof rating
- 2m (6.5ft) drop tested
- 100dB+ extra loud speaker
- Dedicated barcode scanner button
- Toggle to enable walkie talkie mode
- 4800 mAh removable Li-ion battery
- 43 hours talk time on single charge
With the highest IP69K ingress protection and military-grade shockproof rating, the Sonim XP8 is built like a tank and meant for the most extreme conditions.
According to Sonim, the phone is resistant to complete water submersion, diesel fuel, dust storms, extreme shocks, blows, vibrations, and temperatures from -20oC to 60oC (-4oF to 140oF). These capabilities make it the most rugged phone meant for specialized outdoor use.
The super loud 100dB+ speakers, huge tactile buttons, toggle switches, and long battery life provide excellent reliability and usability with gloved hands or during storms.
4. Blackview BV9900 Pro – Affordable Rugged Option
- IP68 & IP69K waterproof
- MIL-STD-810G shockproof rating
- 1.5m (4.9ft) drop tested
- FLIR Lepton thermal camera
- 15W fast wireless charging
- NFC for contactless payments
- 4380 mAh removable Li-ion battery
- 18W wired charging
The Blackview BV9900 Pro offers an excellent mix of durability, features and value. With the FLIR thermal camera, fast wireless charging, side-mounted fingerprint scanner, and rugged IP68/IP69K build, it‘s a compelling affordable alternative to premium rugged phones.
According to GSMArena‘s review, the BV9900 Pro delivers excellent battery life, lasting over 2 days of average use from the large 4380mAh removable battery. The ability to swap batteries is a useful advantage while working outdoors.
5. Doogee S97 Pro Modular Rugged Phone
- IP68 & IP69K waterproof rating
- MIL-STD-810G shockproof compliance
- 1.5m (4.9ft) drop tested
- Modular design
- 10,050 mAh removable battery
- Night vision camera
- Customization options
- 10050 mAh removable Li-ion battery
- 552 hours standby time
The Doogee S97 Pro is a uniquely versatile rugged phone thanks to its modular expansion design. You can customize it by adding a battery, walkie talkie module, barcode scanner, or night vision camera based on your needs.
It combines extremely durable construction meeting IP68, IP69K and military specs with industrial-level battery capacity. According to Doogee, the huge 10,050mAh battery can deliver up to 21 days of standby time or 3 days of actual usage on a single charge.
With a tough build and high flexibility from modular add-ons, the Doogee S97 Pro is a compelling rugged smartphone option.
Key Factors to Consider Before Buying
To find the best rugged phone for your personal or professional needs while staying within budget, keep these important considerations in mind:
Level of Ruggedness Required
The IP rating indicates the level of protection provided against dust and water ingress. Look for IP68 or IP69K for maximum protection.
MIL-STD 810H is currently the highest military rating for resistance against shock, vibration, temperature extremes, and other conditions.
Drop protection onto concrete indicated by the phone‘s tested drop resistance (4-6 feet ideal).
Prioritize the rugged certifications and ratings that are must-haves depending on planned usage conditions.
Battery Capacity & Life
Look for large battery capacity over 4000 or 5000 mAh for longer battery life. Quick Charge and wireless charging support is also useful.
Rugged phones have up to 2-3 days of battery life from a single charge depending on usage. Useful when working remotely without chargers.
Replaceable batteries are an advantage for continuously swapping freshly charged spares, eliminating battery anxiety.
Operating Temperature Range
Check the allowable temperature range the phone can operate in. Basic models work down to -20°C (-4°F) while industrial models can operate in colder -30°C to -40°C (-22°F to -40°F) environments.
Heated displays and glove mode displays improve screen visibility and usability in freezing temperatures when wearing thick gloves.
Most models support all major 4G LTE carriers in the US and globally. Confirm compatibility with your carrier.
Unlocked phones that support SIMs from AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon etc. offer the most flexibility to switch between carriers anytime.
5G support is available on some models, but 4G LTE continues to be the mainstream connectivity on rugged phones currently.
Price & Budget
Set your budget range. Rugged phones are typically priced between $200 to $600 depending on features.
High-end models with specialised capabilities or modular designs can go upwards of $700 to $1000+.
Consider whether the extra cost is justified by specific features you require or hard usage you will subject the phone to.
By balancing these critical considerations against your needs, you can narrow down the ideal rugged phone for purchase.
Common Usage Scenarios
Rugged smartphones excel in these scenarios where regular consumer phones would struggle:
Construction, farming, forestry, mining, drilling, surveying, geology etc. Ruggedness provides reliability against dust, shocks, water exposure and accidental drops.
According to Juniper Research, over 50% of rugged phones are deployed in the construction industry. Their resilience makes them suitable for harsh job sites.
Technicians, inspectors, auditors, emergency repair personnel who are on the move. Rugged phones withstand work vehicle vibration, rain, dust and rough daily use.
According to Zebra Technologies, field technicians report an average failure rate of 10% for consumer grade phones in the first year, versus only 2% for enterprise-grade rugged devices.
Mountaineering, kayaking, caving, downhill mountain biking, trekking etc. Rugged phones easily handle splashes, wet weather and rain during extreme sports.
Outdoor enthusiasts no longer need to worry about damaging expensive phones. Rugged devices withstand splashes, rain and accidental falls into water or dirt.
Military & Law Enforcement
Army, navy, special forces, police, security services subject devices to extreme environments daily. Rugged phones withstand shocks, dust, water, extreme heat/cold during tactical missions.
According to Juniper Research, the government & public safety sector accounts for over 26% of rugged device shipments, second only to construction industry demand.
Emergency First Responders
- Paramedics, firefighters, disaster response teams operate in chaotic environments with dust, smoke, flames and extremely high stress on equipment. Rugged devices survive these scenarios.
Industrial Workplace Use
- Factory assembly lines, warehouses, commercial fishing, mining and transportation sectors involve dirty, wet settings with high incidence of accidental drops. Rugged phones outlive consumer models by years.
Ruggedness translates directly into lower failure rates, longer lifespans and greater return on investment – making them the smart choice for rough work environments.
With extra durability, rugged smartphones can withstand tough conditions involving dust, dirt, water, shocks and accidental drops that quickly destroy consumer phones.
The CAT S62 Pro, Samsung XCover Pro, Sonim XP8, Blackview BV9900 Pro and Doogee S97 Pro featured here provide the right mix of rugged certifications and real-world resilience to thrive in challenging outdoor environments and workplace usage.
When picking a rugged phone, carefully consider the expected conditions, your must-have features, battery needs and budget to make the right selection. With their tougher build and peace of mind, rugged phones deliver great value for demanding lifestyles and work usage.