Smartphones don't last forever, but while most of us hope to make it to the end of our two-year contracts others struggle to get through a couple of months.
Phones are increasingly sold with some level of waterproofing protection, and the best phones will be fitted with tough Gorilla Glass screen protection. Add a decent phone case and most of us will muddle along.
But for extreme sports enthusiasts, manual labourers and the downright clumsy this is just not enough. For these people there are ruggedised smartphones, tough phones that are waterproof, dustproof, drop-proof and shockproof.
Buying a tough phone no longer means you have to skimp on sought after features, and some of the best examples have all the bells and whistles such as fast processors, decent cameras and wireless charging.
Read on below our list of the best rugged phones for more buying advice on what to look for.
Best tough phone reviews
1. AGM X3
People hate being put in boxes. Just because you need a durable phone does not mean you don't also want flagship performance and an attractive design. AGM understands this, and as such its X3 is the most powerful and arguably best-looking rugged phone we've seen to date. It's also the most expensive, though not as pricey as many of the 2018 flagships that use the same hardware.
Two options are available via the AGM UK website. The entry-level X3 has 6GB of RAM and 64GB storage, retailing at £499.99. A second option has 8GB of RAM and 128GB storage, and that model costs £599.99.
Despite costing significantly more than the other rugged phones in this round-up, the AGM sits in top spot because it's just as tough and you get a lot more besides. For starters there's a Snapdragon 845 processor inside, which is last year's flagship processor of choice, so there will be no sacrificing speed for strength. It also has the best audio of the bunch, with waterproof JBL-tuned dual stereo speakers that pump out audio up to 98dB.
Photography is pretty decent thanks to the inclusion of a Sony dual-lens (12Mp + 24Mp) camera at the rear and another 20Mp lens at the front for selfies. And the screen is large, clear and incredibly bright, a 5.99in panel with a Full-HD+ 2160x1080 resolution and a tall 18:9 aspect ratio. This is pre-notch design, however, so the top and bottom bezels are still fairly chunky. There's no fingerprint sensor built-in either, though you will find one at the rear.
As durable phones go this is one of the best-looking we've seen with its 'Armored Madman' design. It's incredible that it weighs only 200g, and is just 10.5mm thick. Okay, so that's chunkier than most flagships, but compared to most tough phones it's a skinny little thing. It's quite usable in one hand, especially with the inclusion of dedicated buttons for calling up the Google Assistant and launching the camera.
Despite its slim design the X3 is pretty tough. We'd like to see a raised lip around the edge of the screen to help protect the glass from drops, but it does specify Gorilla Glass 5 as a fallback. There's a tough metal frame, protected at the corners with subtle rubber bumpers. The one thing you don't see here is a tough exoskeleton, which also means the smooth rear is less grippy than its rivals, but the X3 offers a nice middle-ground between tough phones and flagships for those who can't decide between the two.
AGM claims compliance with MIL-STD-810G and IP68, but the X3 lacks the IP69K certification of the Doogee and Ulefone examples below. IP69K is the highest standard in the current certification scale, and is concerned with high-pressure or high-temperature water ingress. IP68, on the other hand, means it is protected against submersion up to standards specified by the manufacturer, and in this case that is up to 1.5m.
An odd thing with respect to waterproofing, however: when we first unboxed the AGM X3 we were excited to find a rugged phone that doesn't have those fiddly rubber flaps to protect the USB-C port and SIM tray (there's no headphone jack, but a USB adaptor is provided). The USB port is indeed waterproof, but there is a rubber port cover in the box that the company recommends you use anyway to avoid USB port oxidising and short-circuiting when charging caused by water left in the port. It makes sense, but it's such a tiny little thing that we can't imagine it will be long before it is misplaced.
The battery is not as high in capacity as those seen in some of the tough phones here, but at 4,100mAh it's pretty generous. It charges fast with support for Quick Charge 3.0, enabling you to get from 0- to 100% in 130 minutes. The AGM X3 also supports wireless charging.
Read our full AGM X3 review
2. Ulefone Armor 7
Ulefone's latest rugged phone is the Armor 7, which is currently a few pounds cheaper than the Doogee S95 Pro when you buy from GearBest. The phone is also available at Amazon, but at the higher price of £369.99.
Aside from the modular aspect of the Doogee, these two rugged phones have almost identical specifications. We're favouring the Ulefone for its lower price, and the fact it does away with those fiddly rubber port covers that are a constant source of frustration. Here the ports are, in common with the rest of the phone, waterproof to the IP68 standard.
As rugged phones go, this is an attractive beast - at least from the front - with a metal and rubber outer shell that's as tough as it is good-looking. It is 2mm shorter, but thanks to a higher-capacity 5,500mAh battery it is a fraction chunkier and slightly heavier than before. We can look past its 290g weight for the fact it'll keep going a full two days away from the mains (at least in our testing).
Our one gripe with this phone is its design from the rear. There is what appears to be a sticker on the back that has legends for each of the buttons and sensors and provides the camera specifications, along with a large warning sign about charging the phone while water may still be in the port and a huge wireless charging symbol. This sticker does not come off, and it massively detracts from the overall design of the phone, especially as it starts to become scratched in use.
Update: The sticker does in fact come off, but not remotely easily. We had to make a hole in it with a sharp knife to try to get underneath and then pull it away.
Ulefone has improved pretty much every hardware specification here when compared to the older Armor 6, from swapping out the 2GHz Helio P60 processor with 6GB of RAM for a faster 2.2GHz Helio P90 chip and 8GB of memory, to upgrading the dual-lens camera to a triple-lens assembly and upgrading the Bluetooth to version 5.0. Storage is still set at 128GB by default, with the option of adding a microSD card up to 256GB in capacity or a second SIM, with both slots capable of 4G connectivity.
It's also added a heart-rate sensor and increased the size of the Full-HD+ display to 6.3in, with the new 19.5:9 aspect ratio and waterdrop camera design meaning the screen-to-body ratio is now an impressive 93.9%.
As before there is Qi wireless charging at 10W, but fast-charging over USB-C has been downgraded from 18W to 15W. That's still plenty fast.
The screen is of decent quality, and sufficiently bright. Though the Ulefone's durable nature means it can't quite get down to the virtually non-existent bezels of flagship phones, it does make the most of space it has available by housing the 16Mp selfie camera in a new waterdrop style notch. This makes it appear more modern than many rugged phones.
Round the back of the phone we find a triple-lens camera, with Samsung lenses rated at 48Mp f/1.7, 16Mp f/2.0 and 8Mp f/2.4, alongside a meaty looking flash with five LEDs. This camera can shoot 4K video, while the 16Mp camera at the front is good for 1080p. Unlike we see on some tough phones there is no removable rear panel here, with the dual-SIM slot/microSD tray instead located on the Ulefone's left edge.
As with its predecessor there is no 3.5mm headphone jack here. The inclusion of USB-C means the Ulefone does not need a separate output for audio. You'll find an adaptor cable in the box so you can attach your existing wired headphones. Various other accessories in the box include a Micro-USB to USB-C adaptor, a USB-C OTG adaptor, and a tempered glass screen protector.
The Armor 7 covers the usual connectivity bases with 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS and GLONASS, plus NFC that allows it to support Android Pay.
There is a preinstalled Outdoor Toolbox app, which also provides such extras as a compass, sound meter, protractor, plumb bob, barometer and other handy tools for labourers; aside from this the software is fairly standard Android 9.0 fare, but with no app tray in sight.
3. Doogee S95 Pro
Doogee has been in the rugged phones business for many years, and its latest model - the S95 Pro - impresses at just £339 from Amazon.
As with previous versions, various accessories are available, including a 3,500mAh battery pack, a wireless speaker, wireless earbuds and a wireless charging base. The battery pack easily snaps on and off, but do note that the accessories themselves are not waterproof.
A metal housing with a rubber cover around the edges feels reassuringly tough, and Gorilla Glass 4 is used to protect what is traditionally the most vulnerable element: the screen. The Pro comes with two screen protectors, with one already fitted to the device.
It's not surprising to see some chunky bezels here for added protection, along with a notch in which the 16Mp selfie camera is housed. But the screen is otherwise decent, a 6.3in IPS screen with a Full-HD+ resolution of 2160x1080 and a pixel density of 384ppi. The panel is also very bright - we measured it at 486cd/m2.
The S95 Pro is not only resistant to shocks and scratches (with a military classification of MIL-STD810G), it is also resistant to water (IP68) and high pressures and temperatures (IP69K).
You can immerse it in water at a depth of 3m for 4 hours, but make sure you have the SIM card and charging port covers tightly sealed first. It is also resistant to moisture, and in theory it should not break if you drop it from a height above your head up to 1,000 times.
Large and heavy, in common with most rugged phones, the S950 Pro is still relatively easy to handle in one hand, with all the buttons within reach. There's a fingerprint sensor on the right side and a customisable button on the left that can be used as an SOS key.
Performance is strong, thanks to a Mediatek Helio P90 processor and IMG 9XM-HP8 GPU, which are paired with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of UFS 2.0 storage. It's fast and responsive, but not quite as fast as the AGM X3 above. We recorded 6,807 points in Geekbench 4, and 49fps in GFXBench T-Rex (7.5fps in Car Chase).
Battery life is just as important here, and as standard the phone has a capacious 5,150mAh battery and is supplied with a 24W charger (it also supports 10W wireless charging), with which it can reach 36% in 30 minutes. We found it would keep going for a full weekend, but if your needs are greater there is always the bolt-on battery pack.
On paper the cameras are a highlight, but in use our impressions were not always positive - especially when you want to switch from the main lens to wide-angle to capture a landscape, or zoom in to capture an animal sitting on a tree branch.
The phone is equipped with a triple-lens assembly comprising the 48Mp Sony IMX586 sensor, an 8Mp telephoto lens (up to 10x zoom) and a 117-degree wide-angle lens. In good lighting the primary sensor is able to capture a good photo, but fares less well in low light. We found issues with the other sensors, and with the built-in AI.
Do note that the Doogee S95 Pro does not have a 3.5mm headphone jack, so must be used with its internal speaker or USB-C/wireless headphones for audio.
The software is largely standard Android, running Android 9.0 Pie, but with some customisations including the addition of a Tool bag that contains a compass, a level, a magnifying glass, a barometer, a plumb line and other useful tools.
4. Doogee S90
Doogee's S90 and S90 Pro are some of the most interesting rugged phones on the market today, though they have recently been updated with the £339 Doogee S95 Pro (above), which boasts a 48Mp triple-lens camera, 5150mAh battery and a Helio P90 processor.
The older S90 matches the previous-gen now-discontinued Ulefone Armor 6 on durability and core specs, but adds into the mix a modular design that lets you clip on accessories including an extra battery pack, a night-vision camera, a walkie-talkie and a gamepad.
If you want these mods you'll need to be careful which version of the Doogee S90 or S95 you purchase. You can buy the phone on its own, for example, or get the S90 Super Bundle for £399.99. The latter looks to include all the mods, although our review sample did not come with the gamepad, so double-check to be sure.
Battery life is a highlight of this phone even without the extra mod, with 5,050mAh as standard and an additional 5,000mAh available through the mod. Two days of power should be a given, not a dream. You can charge the phone over USB-C or wirelessly, both at 10W, but to also charge the mod you'll need to plug it in.
The other mods are less exciting to us - for example, we have little use for the Walkie-Talkie. The Night Vision camera is also not quite what you might expect, a 2Mp Sony IMX291 sensor that amplifies light by a factor of 12, making it easier to take shots in low-light (albeit with noise) but not in the pitch black. But if you think you'll use them, it could make the Doogee S90 worth choosing over other rugged phones.
Mods attach magnetically to the rear of the Doogee, easily clipping into place and holding tight, but are just as easily removed when required. They do make it even bulkier than it already is however, and this is not a phone you're likely to miss at 168.5x80.7x14.1mm and 300g in weight.
We don't expect any rugged phone to be dainty. In fact, for some users that's all part of the appeal. And this is mostly a good-looking smartphone, with a tough Titanium-alloy build, rubberised edge protection and a cool hexagonal design on the rear that goes some way to aid grip.
It also has a tall 18.7:9 Full-HD+ 6.18in IPS display that is said to be shatterproof and has very slim bezels and a notch at the top to house the 8Mp selfie camera. It's missing a notification LED and some sort of fingerprint protection, but the Doogee S90 still looks pretty good.
The S90 adheres to the IP68, IP69K and MIL-STD-810G specifications for durability. It's also fitted with tough Gorilla Glass 4 and has a plastic lip running the circumference of display to protect the screen from drops. Sadly less thought has been given to the 16Mp + 8Mp dual-lens AI camera that juts out at the rear.
Doogee claims this phone will withstand submersion in water up to 1.5m for up to two weeks. It is also shockproof, dustproof, and protected from extreme temperatures, humidity, mould and corrosion.
Rubber flaps protect the SIM slot and USB-C charging port from water ingress, and they're not as fiddly in use as some we've seen. The former is a dual-SIM slot with support for global connectivity, though you add a second SIM at the expense of microSD support up to 256GB. That shouldn't be too much of a burden, with 128GB onboard. There's no headphone jack, but a USB-C adaptor is supplied.
The software is Android 8.1 Oreo, with Doogee's own interface overlaid. You'll notice the app tray has been removed and some apps have been added, but aside from this it looks a lot like standard Android with a theme applied. Most notable among these is ToolBag, which includes a Compass, Sound Meter, Pic Hanging, Gradienter, Height Measure, Magnifier, Protractor, Plumb Bob and Barometer.
The S90 supports gestures, and there's also a Custom Key on the side that can do various things such as turn on the LED flashlight, take a screenshot, and launch the camera or SOS mode.
Hardware is as good as you'll find in this market, with the octa-core Helio P60 onboard. This is a 12nm chip clocked at 2GHz, integrated with 800MHz Mali-G72 MP3 graphics and paired with 6GB of RAM. That's the exact same setup as on the Ulefone Armor 6 below, and above anything else in this round-up.
Read our full Doogee S90 review
5. CAT S41
CAT phones are perhaps the best-known in the UK for durability. The S41 will be easier to get hold of for UK buyers, and with a 24-month warranty after-sales support should also be better than some of the Chinese phones listed here.
This isn't the company's top-end rugged phone (that's the CAT S61), but it's significantly more affordable with a £399 RRP. It's worth pointing out that it's currently available for less than this, listed on Amazon at £315.99.
Even so, it still cannot match the value for money of the phones that rank above it, which offer better hardware and high-end features such as fingerprint scanners and wireless charging. Which of these phones you choose will be very much based on what are your personal priorities.
The CAT S41 has real appeal as a rugged phone. It's housed in a tough rubber shell that's ribbed and textured for grip, angular in design like the other tough phones here, but surprisingly not overly big and heavy (152x75x12.85mm and 218g).
Flaps prevent water getting in to any important ports, there's Gorilla Glass 5 to shield the glassware, which works with wet fingers and gloves, and the phone is rated IP68 waterproof/dustproof and certified MIL-SPEC 810G.
Physical buttons are favoured over onscreen variants, making the S41 easily usable underwater. In fact you can switch off screen sensitivity altogether underwater using a programmable key that is differentiated from the others by its gold colouring.
This key can alternatively be used to quick-launch a given app with a short- or long press, or in common with the other rugged phones here to invoke PTT mode.
Core hardware includes a 5in full-HD IPS display, an octa-core MediaTek Helio P20 clocked at 2.3GHz, 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage (with microSD support up to 2TB). There's a fixed-focus 8Mp selfie camera at the front, and a 13Mp camera with LED flash and PDAF at the rear.
Connectivity-wise there's dual-band Wi-Fi, support for all UK 4G LTE bands, Bluetooth 4.1, NFC, GLONASS and GPS. There's also a 3.5mm headphone jack and bottom-mounted speaker, and while the phone charges over old Micro-USB it does support Pump Express 2.0 for faster charging.
The CAT S41 runs an almost stock version of Android 7.0 Nougat, with the addition of three apps: App Toolbox is an app store that offers only the type of apps a user of such a phone might want, such as fishing, farming and construction apps; CATPhones is simply a shortcut to the support site; and Share lets you use the S41's 5,000mAh battery to charge another phone low on juice over USB OTG.
What to look for in a rugged phone
If you are in the market for a rugged phone then you may be unsure of what to look for. The most obvious thing to start with is waterproofing (though if it's purely a waterproof phone you're after rather than a rugged device you should look to our round-up of these devices).
All the phones we've compared here are rated IP68, which means they can survive up to 1m of water for 30 minutes - potentially deeper and longer, but that is not guaranteed so do so at your own risk.
IP stands for 'Ingress Protection' and is used to define the sealing effectiveness of electrical enclosures against intrusion from foreign bodies and moisture.
The first number refers to how the device sealed against solid particles like dust; the highest you can get is '6' meaning total protection.
The second digit is for water protection and the best you'll see on most is '8', going by the original IEC standard 60529 (6K and 9K are not part of this).
A waterproof phone will either use a rubber flap to protect its ports, which otherwise allow water access to its internals, or it will waterproof the port itself. The latter is much more preferable, preventing any nasty accidents and proving much less fiddly when you want to charge the phone.
Next up is the design of the phone itself. You'll likely find a raised edge on the top surface of the phone to protect it when dropped face down, but sharp stones and pointy corners can still cause harm. So you'll want something tough to protect the screen glass - ideally Gorilla Glass 5 or 6 but, depending on your budget, you might find Gorilla Glass 3 instead.
Keep in mind that the bezels on a rugged phone are going to be larger than on a standard phone, because most damage occurs at the edges. Larger bezels mean you'll still be able to use the display even with a crack at the edge.
The phone itself is also going to be larger and heavier than most phones, with a more capacious battery inside that won't leave you high and dry in an emergency, and a tough, rubberised outer shell to protect it from drops and shock. On the upside you won't need to add a case.
Look around the sides of the phone: the best rugged phones come with dedicated SOS and PTT buttons, allowing you to quickly get help in an emergency or chat to your team mates while you're on an expedition.