Nomu S30 review: The rugged phone that doesn’t compromise power for durability

The S30 is Nomu's flagship Android phone, a handset that matches decent specifications with a tough titanium alloy shell and rubber protection at the corners. It's waterproof, shockproof, dustproof and it can stand up to extreme temperatures, but is it for you? Also see: Best Chinese phones

UK price and availability

The Nomu S30 is a Chinese phone that you can purchase through Chinese sites such as GearBest, where it costs £201.42 ($251.24) in Black, as per our review model. If you're happy to get the Silver version, this is a little cheaper at £184.38 ($229.99).

You should note that upon arrival in the UK you may be asked to pay import duty, which is calculated at 20 percent of the value on the shipping paperwork plus an admin fee of around £11. Also know that your rights when buying goods in China differ to when you are buying products in Europe. You can read more in our article on buying grey-market tech.

How tough is the Nomu S30?

The Nomu S30 is IP68 rated, which technically means it can withstand being submerged in up to 1.5m of water for up to 30 minutes. However, the company claims it can actually handle up to 5m of water for up to two hours, and that you can take photos and videos underwater or use it with wet fingers (there's also a glove mode). 

In the video below you can see that the Nomu S30 survived our sink test.

However, we found it impossible to interact with the screen while it was wet, and upon close inspection we found droplets of water - not enough to cause damage but still concerning - under the back panel strip that conceals the two SIM and microSD card slots.

Although it's a relatively tight fit, there is no rubber seal here to keep out the water. That's also true of the Micro-USB charging port at the phone's bottom, which uses a small rubber flap to keep things dry rather than the more attractive and less fiddly approach of waterproof phones such as the iPhone 7 and Galaxy S7. The latter, for example, lines the inside of the charging port with rubber and coats the metal with an anti-corrosive substance. Also see: Best waterproof phones

If Nomu really wants its S30 to be seen as a waterproof camera phone it should consider adding a dedicated camera button, since interacting with the touchscreen is impossible without first drying it.

We like the addition of the waterproof speaker, which is found on the bottom edge and won't fire sound into a desk or the palm of your hand when placed down screen-up. This speaker is pretty loud at the best of times, with Nomu specifying the NXP SmartPA audio chip. 

As well as waterproof the Nomu S30 is shockproof. As you'll witness from the below test, in which we launched it twice across our patio, the resulting damage was merely superficial, with a few scrapes on the carbon-fibre-effect rear and some dents and scuffs on the rubber corners and plastic rim around the screen edges.

The screen itself, though, was absolutely fine. This is thanks to Gorilla Glass 4 screen protection, which is pretty tough but not unbreakable. Though the raised plastic rim running the circumference of the screen glass will protect it when dropped on to a flat surface, you will only need to drop it to on a stone or the corner of something hard to cause it damage.

Following the drop test we found everything worked exactly as it did before, so the Nomu S30 stands up as a rugged phone.

You can see the damage in more detail in the images below.

Nomu S30 damage

Nomu S30 damage

Design and build

It seemed a real shame to have to throw down the Nomu S30 and attempt to cause it damage, because as rugged phones go it's really not bad looking. It has the same angular rubber corners and chunky body as other tough phones, but the front is all glass and there is none of the garish coloured rubber adorning its exterior. Also see: Best phones 2017

In fact, the black carbon-fibre-effect rear is actually quite stylish, and the rubber is found only at the corners. The titanium-alloy frame is also visible from the sides, held together with small metal screws, which together give it a more premium look than most rugged devices.

Nomu S30

The button shown in the image above caused us some confusion at first. The Nomu S30 has a huge battery inside - rated at 5,000mAh - but in our tests we found that when switched off for a few days it wasn't always brilliant at holding its charge. So when presented with a phone that - unknown to you - has a flat battery, plus what looks to be a volume rocker and two other buttons, it can be difficult to work out how to turn it on!

For what it's worth the power button is the small circular button below the volume rocker. The other button, shown above, is an SOS button. The Nomu S30 can automatically call and send an emergency help text message to any contact you specify in the settings, though thankfully you'll need to press and hold the button a few seconds before this will work.

If you've no need for the SOS button it can also be used as a shortcut key to launch an app of your choice, though oddly pressing the button won't wake the screen. So although that app will be ready waiting for you, you'll need to unlock the phone before you can use it.

Given the SOS button, we're a little surprised to find such a weak flashlight. There's just a single-LED flash on the back of the Nomu S30, so even flashing in SOS mode it isn't going to be easily seen. See all phone reviews

LEDs aren't really the Nomu's thing, and you'll find there's no notification light either.

Nomu S30

Something missing from this phone is a fingerprint scanner. That's not at all unusual for a rugged phone, though increasingly it will be considered odd by many Android users. If you want to lock the screen you can do so via a pattern, PIN, password or use voice unlock.

So while the Nomu S30 is better-looking than most Android phones, it's a long way clear of the sexiest Android phones you can buy. There's no escaping the fact this phone is very large and very heavy, measuring 162x83x13.35mm and weighing 260g.

Part of the reason for the extra weight is the aforementioned huge battery, while the extreme size comes down to the 5.5in full-HD screen. This is a very large panel for a rugged phone - the more glass the more chance of them getting broken, of course. 

As you would expect there is a lot of space around the screen, helping to ensure any damage at the edges is kept away from the display. These bezels are even chunkier at the top and bottom, and not helped by the touch buttons under the display that could have so easily been placed on top of it. Worse, these buttons are overly sensitive, and we were forever accidentally pressing them.

Nomu S30

All that extra space adds up to a phone screen that's 5.5in on the diagonal sitting in a body that's 6.5in on the diagonal. As you can imagine you'll need big hands to manage this one, and we found nothing in the settings that could ease screen management - the Nomu S30 runs a near-vanilla version of Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Also see: Best phablets 2017

That the screen is so large is not necessarily a complaint, of course. Having a need for a tough smartphone does not automatically rule you out from enjoying luxuries such as videos and gaming that work better with more space in which to play, as as we'll discover in a moment core performance from the Nomu S30 is pretty good too.

Nomu has fitted a 5.5in Sharp IPS panel, which has a sharp full-HD resolution of 1920x1080 pixels. As we have come to expect from IPS the colours are very realistic and viewing angles strong. We also found the Nomu S30 sufficiently bright for use in all conditions, making that screen a definite point in its favour.

Our Nomu S30 review continues on the next page >>

Core hardware and performance

In the past buying a rugged phone has so often meant compromising on performance, but not here. The Nomu S30 is not the fastest phone money can buy, but with the Helio P10 chip inside it offers decent mid-range performance that should suit all but the most demanding of users. Also see: What's the fastest phone 2017?

The Helio P10, also known as MediaTek's MTK6755, is here clocked at 2GHz and has integrated ARM Mali-T860MP2 graphics running at 700MHz. This chip is paired with a very healthy 4GB of RAM, though you should note this memory is of the slower LPDDR3 variety than the LPDDR4 we so often see in flagships.

There's also a decent amount of internal storage, at 64GB, and you can bolster this with support for microSD. Unfortunately the Nomu S30 can accommodate cards only up to 32GB in capacity, but in total that's a not-insignificant 96GB, and we especially like the fact this dual-SIM phone doesn't force you to choose between adding a second SIM or removable memory.

Nomu S30

All in all that's some pretty decent core hardware for a £200 tough phone, and it shows in our testing. In real-world use we found no sign of lag in navigating menus and launching apps, and the Nomu S30 performed admirably in our benchmarks, with a similar performance to devices such as the Meizu M3 Max and Ulefone Future.

In Geekbench 4 we recorded 705 points single-core, and 2,851 in multi-core mode. We also ran the Nomu through AnTuTu 6, and recorded 51,827 points.

For graphics testing we use GFXBench, and in the T-Rex component the S30 managed a playable 17fps. In the more intensive tests it scored 7fps in Manhattan, 5fps in Manhattan 3.1, and 3fps in Car Chase.

The JetStream JavaScript benchmark also clocked the Nomu S30 at a pretty average 26.085.

Battery performance is where the Nomu S30 really excels, as you might expect given the 5,000mAh battery inside. You should easily get two days' use from this smartphone, and potentially more depending on your usage.

Nomu says the S30 can endure 30 hours of talk time and 70 days on standby. In our testing we found the battery struggled to hold its charge through extended periods switched off, though this may be an issue unique to our review sample.

Unsurprisingly there's no support for wireless charging, but the S30 does support fast charging. PumpExpress 3.0 can offers charging speeds up to 45 percent faster than traditional chargers, allowing you to obtain four hours of talk time from a five-minute charge.

Nomu S30

Connectivity

We briefly touched upon the fact this is a dual-SIM phone earlier, which is something very common in the Chinese market. The Nomu S30 will accept two Micro-SIM cards (you can use an adaptor if you're using a nano-SIM), and it will then operate in dual-standby mode.

This means both SIMs are active at all times, able to send and receive calls and texts, but only one can be used for data and, naturally, you can receive only one call at a time. Read more about dual-SIM phones in our buying guide.

The Nomu S30 offers 4G LTE Cat 6 connectivity, and in the UK it supports all three 4G bands - 800MHz, 2100MHz and 2600MHz. If you reside elsewhere, check out how to tell whether a phone is supported by your network.

The connectivity specs are standard-fare, with dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, GPS, A-GPS and GLONASS, and OTG. The phone also features a 3.5mm headphone jack and a Micro-USB port for charging and data transfer.

Nomu S30

Camera quality

The Nomu S30 might not be top of your list for devices on which to take beautiful photo masterpieces, but whether you're using it at work or during extreme sports you will likely find many occasions in which it becomes useful.

We have to say we're not massively impressed with the S30 in the photography department, but even if it isn't the best in the business it still does a better job than many phone cameras.

At the rear of the S30 you'll find a Sony IMX214 camera, which supports phase-detection autofocus and has a f/2.0 aperture. The camera also supports 1080p video recording, and it paired with a single-LED flash that makes the Nomu no good for night-time photography.

You'll notice in the couple of test shots we've published below (first in Auto mode and second with HDR) that detail is incredibly soft. You cannot make out a single brick on the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel when viewed at full-size (click to enlarge) and blurring is evident across the image.

Contrary to what we were expecting, the autofocus is very slow, which makes the issue even more obvious in our HDR shot.

On the plus side, we found the colours very true.

The Sony IMX214 is a 13Mp camera, but by default in the Nomu S30 it has been interpolated to 16.4Mp. You can switch this back to 13Mp in the camera settings, but as we take all our test shots in 'out of the box' fashion we did not.

It's a similar deal with the front-facing selfie camera, which is rated at 5Mp but boosted to 8Mp in the software.

The camera app preinstalled on the Nomu S30 is basic, offering Panorama and Picture in Picture modes, HDR, a selection of real-time filters and a 40-shot burst mode. There is no Beauty mode even for the selfie camera. Also see: Best phone cameras

Nomu S30 Camera Auto

Nomu S30 Camera HDR

Software

The Nomu S30 runs a vanilla version of Android 6.0 Marshmallow out of the box. Oddly, when we signed into our Google account we received a notification from Google asking whether we had just signed into a Cat S30 phone, but the two are different.

Almost everything looks and acts the way you would expect in standard Marshmallow, though there are a few additions to the Settings menu. The most notable of which is controls for the SOS button we covered earlier in this review, but you'll also find some gestures. Also see: Best Android phones 2017

These include options to wake the screen with a double-tap, and non-customisable quick launch controls for the camera and calculator, which can be accessed by drawing either a C or a V onscreen in standby mode. Though these are not customisable, you can set your own actions for the letters E, M, O, S, W and Z. We don't know what happened to the rest of the alphabet.

Also here are the ability to take three-finger screenshots, or to open the recent apps menu by sliding three fingers up the screen. You can also flip to mute

Read next: Best new phones coming in 2017

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Nomu S30: Specs

  • 5.5in full-HD (1920x1080) Sharp IPS display with Gorilla Glass 4
  • IP68 waterproofing
  • shockproof case
  • SOS button
  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow
  • 2GHz MediaTek Helio P10 (MTK6755) octa-core processor
  • 700MHz ARM Mali-T860MP2 GPU
  • 4GB LPDDR3 RAM
  • 64GB storage, microSD support up to 32GB
  • dual-SIM dual-standby (2x Micro-SIM)
  • 4G FDD-LTE Cat 6 800/900/1800/2100/2600MHz
  • dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • GPS
  • A-GPS
  • GLONASS
  • NFC
  • OTG
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • 13Mp Sony IMX214 f/2.0 rear camera with PDAF and single-LED flash, 1080p video recording at 30fps (software boost to 16Mp)
  • 5Mp front camera (software boost to 8Mp)
  • 5000mAh non-removable lithium-polymer battery, claimed battery life 30 hours talk time, 70 days standby
  • PumpExpress 3.0 Quick Charge
  • Micro-USB
  • 162x83x13.35mm
  • 260g
  • 5.5in full-HD (1920x1080) Sharp IPS display with Gorilla Glass 4
  • IP68 waterproofing
  • shockproof case
  • SOS button
  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow
  • 2GHz MediaTek Helio P10 (MTK6755) octa-core processor
  • 700MHz ARM Mali-T860MP2 GPU
  • 4GB LPDDR3 RAM
  • 64GB storage, microSD support up to 32GB
  • dual-SIM dual-standby (2x Micro-SIM)
  • 4G FDD-LTE Cat 6 800/900/1800/2100/2600MHz
  • dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • GPS
  • A-GPS
  • GLONASS
  • NFC
  • OTG
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • 13Mp Sony IMX214 f/2.0 rear camera with PDAF and single-LED flash, 1080p video recording at 30fps (software boost to 16Mp)
  • 5Mp front camera (software boost to 8Mp)
  • 5000mAh non-removable lithium-polymer battery, claimed battery life 30 hours talk time, 70 days standby
  • PumpExpress 3.0 Quick Charge
  • Micro-USB
  • 162x83x13.35mm
  • 260g

OUR VERDICT

The Nomu S30 passed our durability tests with only superficial damage to the rubber case, standing up to both dunking in water and a launch across our patio. It has a large, bright screen, and decent performance for most users, but falls down on its camera quality, size and weight.

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