counter hit make

The best rugged phones of 2024: Expert tested and recommended

The best rugged phones of 2024: Expert tested and recommended
0 27

Most of today’s top smartphones are built with glass backs to match the glass display, but glass makes a phone susceptible to damage if dropped. While phone manufacturers and wireless carriers are more than happy to sell you insurance in case of breakage, or a heavy-duty case, there may be a better option for you: A rugged phone. 

Rugged phones are designed to withstand the elements, with high IP ratings for dust and water resistance, and military-standard testing for durability — ensuring a better chance of screen survival when dropped. Many have extra battery capacity, or the ability to swap out batteries, so that you can continue working and playing instead of charging on the go. 

Also: The best rugged laptops

Plus, most rugged phones are more affordable than flagship phones, as they are not outfitted with high-end cameras and instead focus on providing a reliable phone for all environments without extra bells and whistles. Given their price and utility, these phones are perfect for field work or outdoor adventures, and can withstand harsh environmental conditions. (And you always can keep your iPhone or Samsung Galaxy phone at home to pop your SIM card into when you want the latest and greatest in mobile technology.)

What is the best rugged phone right now?

I chose the Doogee S100 Pro as the best rugged phone you can buy right now. Not only does it feature a 1080p LCD display with a 120Hz refresh rate, it also features expandable RAM and storage, night vision and macro lenses, and a mind boggling 2350-hour battery life. You can keep reading below to find out more about the Doogee S100 Pro as well as our other picks for the best rugged phones.

Pros

  • Bonkers battery life
  • Expandable RAM and internal storage
  • Night vision and wide-angle rear lenses
  • Affordable

Cons

  • Very bulky
  • Uses older Android 12 OS

The Doogee S100 Pro is probably one of the heftiest phones on the market, let alone the heftiest rugged model, weighing in at a whopping 569 grams. And all that weight houses some pretty impressive tech, like a 22000mAh battery which gives you up to 2350 hours of battery life. It lasts for about 97 days of use before you need to charge. 

Read the review: This is the most rugged Android phone I’ve tested, and it can last 2350 hours 

The rear of the phone houses a 108MP main camera for 4K video and photography, a 20MP night vision lens for dark environments, and 16MP wide angle lens for landscape photography. The front camera has a 32MP Sony lens for great selfies and group photos. With 256GB of built-in storage, you’ll have plenty of space for essential contacts, apps, and files. And the microSD card slot lets you expand your phone’s storage up to 2TB. 

ZDNET’s own Adrian Kingsley-Hughes got to go hands-on with the Doogee S100 Pro and was highly impressed with the improved battery over the S100 as well as the ability to add RAM in 8GB increments up to 20GB if needed. Verified reviews from Amazon and Newegg agree that the battery life is truly impressive and highlight that the 20MP night vision camera is perfect for taking photos with friends while out at night or shooting nocturnal wildlife. 

Doogee S100 Pro specs: Display: 6.58 inches (2,160 x 1,080-pixel resolution), LCD | CPU: Helio G99 Octa Core 2.2GHz | RAM: Up to 20GB  | Internal Storage: 256GB with microSD slot | Rear cameras: 108MP main, 20MP night vision, 16MP wide angle | Front camera: 32MP | Battery: 22000 mAh | Weight: 569g

Pros

  • OLED display
  • Reliable fingerprint sensor
  • Solid camera performance
  • microSD card and removable battery
  • Two-year warranty

Rugged phones are built to withstand the elements of field work, and with the new Kyocera DuraForce Pro 3, you get the additional support of Verizon’s 5G network. At first glance, its sleek design might have you wondering if it’s even a rugged phone, since it’s less bulky and awkward to handle than many others on the market.

ZDNET’s Matthew Miller spent a couple of weeks using the DuraForce Pro 3 while hiking, running, and exploring the outdoors. It withstood submersion in streams, drops on trails, and rough treatment as he tested its durability.

The Kyocera DuraForce Pro 3 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 7 Gen 1 processor with 6GB of RAM, 128GB of internal storage, three rear cameras, and a large capacity 4,500 mAh battery. If you plan to spend an extended amount of time in the field taking photos and video, you can swap out a microSD card with support up to 1TB. The battery is also removable so you can carry spares and not have to worry about finding a place to charge the phone. The DuraForce Pro 3 also supports wireless charging, so you don’t need to remove the bottom USB-C port plug to top it off.

Read the review: This ultra-rugged Android phone has every battery feature you can imagine

Three user-programmable buttons are available so that you can quickly launch your favorite app or perform key functions with the simple press of a button. This is useful when you want to open an app quickly without having to use the touchscreen. The phone also supports using the phone when you are wearing gloves. 

he phone is designed to endure rough handling with IP68 dust/water resistance, MIL-STD 810H shock test certification, and action overlay data designed to enhance your outdoor adventures. Verified customer reviews from Verizon are a mixed bag on the size of the phone, with some preferring the larger previous model over the smaller, sleeker DuraForce Pro 3.

Kyocera DuraForce Pro 3 specs: Display: 5.38 inches (2,160 x 1,080-pixel resolution), OLED | CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 7 Gen 1 | RAM: 6GB  | Internal Storage: 128GB with microSD slot | Rear cameras: 64MP wide angle, 16MP ultra-wide camera and 2MP macro | Front camera: 8MP | Battery: 4270 mAh | Weight: 237g

Pros

  • Low price
  • Rugged build and certifications
  • Large capacity battery
  • Slim form factor

Cons

  • No 5G support
  • Single rear camera

At a weight of just 240 grams and thickness of just 10.75mm, you may not think this is a rugged phone designed to withstand fieldwork. However, I’ve dropped it, submerged it, and went running in the rain with it and the device looks just about the same as when it came out of the box.

Survival is the name of the game with the AGM H6, thanks to its IP68 waterproof rating, IP69K dustproof rating, and 1.8m shock-resistant test certification. The frame around the display is raised 0.4mm above the screen to help protect it while extra corner protection (with a lanyard opening in the top left) is provided for drops. The USB-C port and headset jack are sealed with covers, which is a thoughtful touch.

Read the review: Finally, a rugged Android phone that doesn’t look and feel like a brick

The new AGM H6 is perfect for those who plan to ski, hike, fish, and explore the outdoors. It’s especially sleek for the rugged phone that it is, and at the sub-$300 price, its durability features are totally worth it. Verified customer reviews from both Amazon and Walmart love the price and value of the AGM H6, but are mixed on the phone’s fingerprint detection for unlocking the device.

AGM H6 specs: Display: 6.56 inches (1612 x 720-pixel resolution) | CPU: Unisoc T606 | RAM: 16GB  | Internal Storage: 256GB with microSD | Rear cameras: 50MP main and 2MP macro | Front camera: 8MP | Battery: 4,900 mAh | Weight: 240g

Pros

  • Slim and sleek design
  • dual SIM card slot doubles as storage expansion
  • 2MP macro lens has underwater mode
  • Affordable

Cons

  • Uses older Android OS
  • SIM card slot is finnicky
  • Somewhat flimsy rubber port covers

If you need a smartphone that can handle the outdoors and tough work sites but don’t want something that weighs a ton and looks like a cinder block, the Caterpillar S75 is a great option. Weighing in at just 268 grams, the S75 sports a design reminiscent of an early iPhone with a thinner body and sleeker design that’s easy to fit into a work pants or safety vest pocket.  

Read the review: This rugged satellite-enabled Android phone looks nearly as sleek as an iPhone 

The rear of the phone houses the 50MP main camera as well as an 8MP wide-angle lens and 2MP macro lens that also has an underwater mode that’s great for both nature photography and taking pictures of industrial issues. It has an internal storage of 128GB that can be expanded with the microSD slot that also functions as a second SIM card slot for international calling. 

ZDNET’s Adrian Kingsley-Hughes got to test out the Cat S75 for himself, and while he loved the slim and sleek design that still offered plenty of protection, he didn’t care for the somewhat flimsy rubber port covers and finicky SIM card slot. Verified customer reviews from Amazon and Walmart love the compact and slim design as well as the moisture resistance and drop protection. 

Caterpillar S75 specs: Display: 6.6 inches (2,160 x 1,080-pixel resolution), LCD | CPU: MediaTek Dimensity D930 octa-core 2.2GHz | RAM: 6GB | Internal Storage: 128GB with microSD slot | Rear cameras: 50MP main, 8MP ultra-wide, 2MP macro with underwater mode | Front camera: 8MP | Battery: 5000mAh | Weight: 268g 

Pros

  • Specialized features for niche professionals
  • IR and thermal cameras
  • Water and shock resistant
  • 3.5mm AUX and USB-C connections

Cons

  • Proprietary 4-pin charging dock
  • USB-C port may be too deep for some cables
  • Incompatible with some US cell networks and apps

Need a rugged phone but also need it to do some specialized tasks? The AGM Glory G1S is designed for just about any edge case (pun intended) you might need to put it through. The ruggedized phone chassis is IP68 and IP69K certified for water, dust, and shock/drop resistance, protecting your phone from up to a 4-ft drop and from being submerged in up to 5ft of water for 30 minutes. 

Read the review: AGM Glory G1S review: Superhero powers in a rugged smartphone 

The Glory G1S also has some pretty awesome, and highly specialized features for users who need them: a built-in laser pointer which comes in handy for presentations, work-site inspections, and survey projects. It also has a 20MP night vision camera that uses both infrared and thermal imaging to help you capture clear images and a host of important information. It also has a 2MP macro lens for close-up photography and 16MP front camera for video calls and selfies.  

ZDNET’s Matthew Miller was able to check out the AGM Glory G1S for himself, and while he loved the specialized features, he did note that the USB-C charging port may be too deep for some cables to properly connect with and that the 4-pin charging dock means you’re stuck with a proprietary system; which can prove a nuisance in a sea of civilian iPhones and Android smartphones that use Lightning or USB-C cables or wireless charging pads. 

Verified customer reviews from both Amazon and Walmart love the long battery life, tough chassis, and extra special features. But they do note that the phone is only compatible with T-Mobile networks in the US, and that some apps like WhatsApp have strange compatibility issues.

AGM Glory G1S specs: Display: 6.53 inches (2,160 x 1,080-pixel resolution), LCD | CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 480 5G | RAM: 8GB | Internal Storage: 128GB with microSD slot | Rear cameras: 48MP main, 20MP infrared night vision, 2MP macro | Front camera: 16MP | Battery: 5500 mAh | Weight: 315g

My choice for the best rugged phone is the Doogee S100 Pro for it’s incredibly impressive 2300+ hour battery life, 20MP night vision and 2MP rear macro lenses, underwater photography mode for the macro lens, and expandable RAM and storage. It also features a dual SIM card slot that can double as memory expansion with up to a 2TB microSD card. 

Best rugged phone Price Display size Storage
Doogee S100 Pro $300 6.58 inches Up to 2TB with microSD
Kyocera DuraForce Pro 3 $900 5.38 inches 128GB with microSD
AGM H6 $219 6.56 inches 256GB
Cat S75 $570 6.58 inches 128GB
AGM Glory G1S $470 6.53 inches 128GB

All of these phones are powered by Android OS, so there’s no choice on the operating system. If you are reading this list, you are probably interested in a rugged phone that can survive drops and water drunks when you’re working outside.

The first thing to look for is a unique element that may be specific to your work. For example, do you need a FLIR thermal imaging camera, a night vision camera, a large capacity battery that can be used to charge other devices, or a phone with a removable battery? Check out the unique features and see if any apply to your needs.

The next thing is to check the price, since these rugged phones range from just over $300 to $900.

Choose this rugged phone… If you want
Doogee S100Pro A beast of a rugged phone with a truly impressive battery life.
Kyocera DuraForce Pro 3 A rugged phone with an OLED display and 1080p resolution.
AGM H6 An affordable rugged phone under $250.
Cat S75 A rugged phone that has a sleek, iPhone-like design.
AGM Glory G1S A rugged phone with thermal and night vision cameras as well as a laser pointer and LED flashlight.

To determine the best rugged phone for your needs, you should consider the following: 

  • Price: The price range can vary wildly for these rugged phones with major brands charging a premium price for rugged features while minor brands offer rugged phones at very low prices. Rugged phones are great for your disaster recovery kit with long battery life and features that ensure the phone will handle any extreme conditions.
  • Size: Most of these rugged phones are large and heavy compared to standard smartphones. Sleeker models tend to be more expensive, but that is a trade-off you need to make as you choose the best one for you.
  • Uses: All of these rugged phones are built to survive the elements, but some have very special features. For example, the Cat S62 Pro provides a thermal imaging camera that is perfect for some trades. Identify your needs before you dive into the option that fits you.

To determine our picks for the best rugged phones, we did weeks-long real-world testing and research, and consulted colleagues who have hands-on experience with the phones. We considered the following aspects when creating this list: 

  • Durability: Perhaps the most important element of a rugged phone is its design and durability under harsh conditions. Most of the rugged phones we chose for this list are MIL-STD 810G-certified. 
  • Battery: Rugged phones often have larger batteries than traditional phones, and can last you longer in the field. Many also have removable batteries so you can swap to a new one without having to charge up. 
  • Features: While rugged phones lack some of the bells and whistles of your typical iPhone or Samsung Galaxy phone, they often still have impressive cameras and other features worth noting. 
  • Price: Rugged phones often cost less than flagship phones, but are still an investment. We want to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck. 

A rugged phone is a toughened version of a typical smart or flip phone. Rugged phones have undergone a rigorous design process to make them more resistant to liquids, dirt, dust, drops, shocks, and extreme temperatures. 

They’re often tested against military standards for durability, so you can rest assured that your new phone can handle just about anything you’ll encounter on an outdoor adventure.

If you’re someone who is rough on a typical smartphone, perhaps due to your job or your hobbies, a rugged phone is a worthwhile investment. Rugged phones are designed to last through harsh conditions, with high IP ratings for dust and water resistance, and military-standard testing for durability. Most have extra battery capacity, or the ability to swap out batteries, so you don’t have to spend time charging. 

If you’re an Apple brand loyalist and must use an iPhone, a rugged case is your best option to protect your phone, since the company has yet to make a toughened version of the iPhone. 

There are lots of options out there for weatherized and ruggedized cases, and OtterBoxUrban Armor Gear (UAG) are two of our favorites. Cases are available with multiple layers of protection against drops and shocks, as well as port covers that are designed to keep water and dirt out of buttons and charging ports. Some case models have kickstands to prop your phone up for hands-free use too.

More rugged phones to consider

View at AmazonView at AmazonView at Aliexpress

ZDNET Recommends

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.