The 10 Best Rugged Mil-Spec Smartphones

Jan 13, 2020

Category: Gear

Over the last decade, smartphones have increasingly become a ubiquitous part of everyday life. But, while these high-tech gadgets afford us a wide array of luxuries and modern conveniences, the vast majority of smartphones tend to be on the more delicate side and typically don’t fare particularly well against water, dust, debris, and impacts. And with this in mind, a host of tech manufacturers have opted to introduce more rugged, hardwearing smartphone offerings engineered to suit the needs of those who demand a more enduring device that still offers the high-tech amenities and features we’ve come to expect from today’s smartphones.

With their unique requirements and ample number of personnel — and often deep pockets – military forces have become the primary demographic for these ruggedized pieces of tech and as such the industry has experienced a rise in military-spec smartphones. And while most of these units were designed with military use in mind, civilians can still benefit from the wealth of features mil-spec phones have to offer. Not all mil-spec phones are created equal, however, and with a growing number of offerings hitting the market on a near-monthly-basis, figuring out which model is right for you can feel a little overwhelming. So, to help you hone in on the rig, we’ve put together this guide to the best military-spec and rugged smartphones.

Photo: Ulefone Armor 3

Not Just For Soldiers

Though these mil-specced phones are most conducive to military life, these devices are nonetheless highly-conducive to a myriad of different activities and lifestyles. From construction workers and contractors to hikers and adventurers to motorcycle tourers and skiers, the rugged construction of these phones along with their ability to withstand extreme conditions and temperatures makes them stellar options for non-military use.

Photo: Doogee S90 Pro

Benefits Of Mil-Spec Smartphones

In addition to providing most, if not all of the standard smartphone amenities, mil-spec offerings also come with their own special features that separate them from your average iPhone and the like.

Rugged Construction: One of the main elements distinguishing mil-spec phones from regular smartphones is their ultra-rugged construction. Right out of the box (sans case), these phones typically are comprised of metal bodies fortified via built-in rubberized guards and top-shelf screen-protectors.

Unique Features: Military tasks often require unique tools, technology, and equipment, so mil-spec phone purveyors have bestowed many of these devices with advanced features that you won’t find on an iPhone or Android such as built-in thermal heat cameras, laser range finders, SOS beacons, and more.

Encrypted Software: Sensitive military intel falling into the wrong hands can endanger lives, so the lion’s share of mil-spec phones offer military-grade encryption built right into the software of the phone itself. This feature not only adds an extra level of security (to put it mildly) but also affords its user peace of mind knowing that their data won’t be compromised.

Ultra-Reliable Signal Service: If you’re on active duty and need to call in air support or a HeloEvac, the last thing you want is for your phone not to have any bars. Knowing being cut off from communication isn’t an option for armed forces personnel, many mil-spec smartphones offer incredible service signal and/or satellite phone connection, as well as top-shelf antennas and whatnot.

Bolstered Battery: When you’re stateside, gaining access to an outlet for charging is a breeze. When you’re on missions overseas in remote locations in developing regions, you don’t always have the luxury of juicing up your phone each night. With this in mind, many companies have opted to outfit their phones with batteries that can last days (if not weeks) without ever needing a recharge.

Everything Proof: Mil-spec phones have to be able to survive a large number of conditions and situations. From the desert to the tundra, these phones need to be able to take a beating without skipping a beat and therefore feature the highest ratings for things like dust, dirt, and waterproofness. Furthermore, many of these phones can withstand extreme otherworldly temperatures from either end of the spectrum. Some can even withstand things like solar radiation.

Samsung Galaxy S8 Active Smartphone

As one of the world’s leading smartphone purveyors, it should come as no surprise to learn that the Korean conglomerate makes one seriously solid mil-spec phone. Weighing 7.34oz, this device is built around a durable military-grade metal chassis and features a 5.8” shatter-resistant Super AMOLED display shielded a by Gorilla Glass 5 cover. An 8MP forward-facing camera is paired with a 12MP rear-facing unit with an 8X digital optical zoom and 4K video capabilities. A 4,000mAh battery offers 5 days of standby time, 32 hours of talk time, and up to 113 hours of music playback. Running Android 7.0 Nougat and sporting 64GB of internal memory, this phone also boasts Bixby Smart Assistant. With an IP68 rating for water- and dust-proofing, this phone is not only high-tech but can take a serious beating without skipping one.

Purchase: $280

Kyocera DuraForce Pro 2 Rugged Smartphone

Weighing just over half-a-pound (8.3oz), the DuraForce Pro 2 is a high-tech hardwearing mil-spec smartphone that rivals the latest non-mil-spec offerings. Sold with a two-year warranty, the device has a 13MP rear-facing camera and a 5MP front-facing unit — the former of which can record 4K video — both of which are protected behind Sapphire Shield glass and can function underwater. Meeting the MIL-STD-810G standard, the phone boasts a 3,240mAh Lithium-ion battery that’s Qi wireless compatible and provides 21 hours of talk time and 14 days of standby time. Other noteworthy elements include an impact and scratch-resistant 5” Dragontrail Pro touchscreen display, Android 8 Oreo OS, SDM630 Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, 64GB of ROM and 4GB of RAM, and a 13MP camera rear camera with a Super Wide View 4k Action Camera with 135-degree field of view, as well as underwater and time-lapse modes.

Purchase: $290

Sonim XP8 Rugged Smartphone

While Sonim is a tech outfit that you might not be privy to, it undeniably knows its way around building a rugged smartphone. The ally-named Sonim XP8 Rugged is fitted with a 5” puncture-resistant, wet hand and glove-compatible touchscreen sitting under Gorilla Glass 3 which is paired with speakers that cry out to 100db+ and a trio of noise-canceling microphones. Offered with a comprehensive three-year warranty, the XP8 draws energy from a 900mAh Lithium-ion battery that’s Quick Charge 4.0 compatible (via USB-C). Basic features include an FM radio receiver, 12MO PDAF rear-facing camera and an 8MP forward-facing cam, plus PTT capabilities. What earns this phone its spot on this list is its various rugged ratings: MIL-STD-810G, IP68, IP69, and non-incendive Class I, II, & III Div 2.

Purchase: $350

Ulefone Armor 3

The Armor 3 takes the idea of a mil-spec smartphone and runs with it. The phone’s housing is made from an ultra-hardwearing aluminum alloy and thermoplastic polyurethane-reinforced polycarbonate shell. Its 5.7-inch 18:9 FHD+ display boasts a Corning Gorilla Glass 5 screen. The back of the phone has an IMX230 21MP camera while the front features a 13MP unit that allows for facial unlocking. Computing power comes from a Helio P23 processor and Mali G71 GPU that runs Android 8.1 Oreo OS. With an industry-leading 2.5GHz frequency, the Armor 3 is helped along by 64GB of ROM and 4GB RAM. An enormous PE+2.0  fast charge compatible 10,300mAh Li-polymer battery affords 72 hours of music playback, 19 hours of video, 66 hours of talk time, and an unheard-of 1,300 hours of standby time. And not only does the Armor 3 sport waterproof buttons, USB port, camera, and speakers, but it is also good to withstand being in 2 meters of water for a full 24 hours or 1 meter in concrete. It’s also drop-tested to withstand 1.2 meters, work between -20 to 60 degrees C, and unsurprisingly is IP68 and MIL-STD-810G-rated.

Purchase: $360

CAT S41

With an MTK P20 MT6757 Octacore 2.3GHz Processor and Android Nougat OS, the CAT S41 is a high-tech phone in a rugged yet compact, 218-gram package. A potent 5,000mAh Lithium-ion battery allows for up to 38 hours of talk time, a whopping 44 days of standby, and a unique “Battery Share” feature that allows other devices to receive a charge straight from the S41. Its Super Bright 5” FHD display works with wet hands or through gloves and is fortified behind a Corning Gorilla Glass 5 case. Camera hardware consists of a 13MP forward-facing unit and an 8MP forward. MIL-STD-810G-rated, the S41 can withstand 6’ drop test, 2Ms of water submersion for a full hour, temperatures as low as -25 degrees C, and category 4 vibration.

Purchase: $370

 

Doogee S90 Pro

By far the most modular mil-spec smartphone, the Doogee S90 Pro builds on its predecessor’s platform with an even more hardwearing package that’s 13% faster thanks to a Helio P70 with (up to) a 2.1GHz octa-core CPU. Powering the phone is a 5,050Ah polymer battery with 10W wireless charging capabilities and 675 hours of standby time. Outfitted with a waterproof speaker, camera, buttons, and screen, the S90 Pro can withstand being underwater for 1.5M for an entire two weeks. The S90 Pro’s body is made from titanium alloy backed by soft rubber compound corners, anti-slip crocodile carving cover, and Corning Gorilla Glass 4 over its 6.18” FHD+ Screen. This MIL-STD-810G item is also good to take on temperatures as low as -30 degrees C, plus it is rated at 1.5M drop-proof, 3M waterproof up to 30 minutes, 99% dust-proof, and 100% shockproof. Utilizing Android 9.0 Pie OS, the S90 Pro also boasts facial recognition and fingerprint unlocking, and a 16+8MP AI-enabled dual rear Samsung cameras with quad flash and a shutter button, plus a front-facing 8MP Sony camera.

Purchase: $430

Blackview BV9800 Pro Rugged Phone

The BV9800 Pro may look like your average modern smartphone with its large display and minimal bezel, though looks can be deceiving. This Blackview phone manages to cram an impressive amount of tech into a decidedly rugged device. On top of a 6.3” FHD+ Waterdrop display, the BV9800 gets a 16MP FLIR Lepton thermal imaging camera, 16MP front-facing camera, and a rear-facing 48MP Sony camera that boasts an incredibly competent night mode. The thing also has a built-in barometer and fingerprint and facial recognition unlocking. Its wireless charging-compatible 6,580mAh battery allows for 27 hours of call time, 14 hours of video playback, 30 hours of music, and an insane 35 days of standby. And with GPS and GLONASS & BEIDOU triple modes navigation systems, you’ll never lose your way. Putting the smart in this smartphone is a Helio P70 Octa-Core processor, Android 9 Pie OS, and 6GB of RAM and 128GB of ROM. Tipping the scales at just 0.7lbs, this military-grade phone (MIL-STD-810G) phone is IP68 and IP69K rated and can handle half-an-hour of submersion to 1.5M.

Purchase: $550

Iridium GO! Global Smartphone

Unlike the rest of the more traditional smartphones on this list, the Iridium GO! Global Smartphone puts a rugged and modern twist on the classic satellite phone. IP65 and MIL-STD 810F-rated, this device affords satellite access to one to five smartphones a la a mobile hotspot for text, calling, and even SOS alerts which are monitored for free and linked to Iridium’s 24/7 Emergency Response Coordination Service which will summon the proper authorities for help. It also allows you to preprogram three contacts to receive SOS alerts in the off chance that’s needed. The GO!’s battery is good for 5.5 hours of talk time and 15.5 hours of standby, and it’s sold with a one year manufacturer’s warranty. Compatible with Apple iOS 5.1 (or newer) and Android 2.2.3, this 10.75oz device is far from your average sat phone.

Purchase: $694

CAT S61

The S61 is Caterpillar Inc’s top-of-the-line flagship rugged phone model. Born out of the American Fortune 100 corporation’s wealth of experience in the construction realm, the S61 is MIL-STD-810G-rated and can handle all manner of abuse including temperatures between -13°F and 131°F for a full 24-hours, extreme vibration, 6’ drop test on concrete, and 3M in water for up to an hour. It’s also category 4 resistant to humidity and sand, dust, and dirt resistant. Powering the phone is a 4.0 quick charge-compatible 4,500Ah Lithium-ion battery that affords 35 hours of talk-time and 37 days of standby time. Protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 5 is the S61’s Super Bright 5.2” FHD display which works with gloves or wet fingers. The phone also has a 16MP camera, Google Android Oreo OS, a Qualcomm SD630 Octacore 2.2GHz processor, 64GB ROM, 4GB RAM, and a 600Mbps maximum download data rate. Best of all, the S61 boasts an integrated laser-assisted distance measure and a FLIR Lepton thermal imaging camera.

Purchase: $739

Panasonic Tough Book T1

Part of Panasonic’s Tough Book range, the T1 is a MIL-STD-810G-rated phone that uses Android 8.1 Oreo and a Qualcomm quad-core processor. The phone packs a glove and wet hand-friendly 5” touchscreen that offers up to 16 hours of use thanks to a potent battery pack. The T1 also has an integrated 1D/2D barcode reader with an optional triggered pistol grip. Weighing only 0.61lbs and sold with a 1-year warranty (though the manufacturer offers an optional 3-year plan), this IP68 phone can be submerged in 5’ of water for half-an-hour and can withstand a 5’ drop. Despite its rugged properties, the T1 resembles your average smartphone and doesn’t come with the bulk seen on many competitors’ models.

Purchase: $1,000+

The 20 Best Pieces Of Military-Inspired Gear

Love you some rugged mil-spec gear? Well, it doesn’t have to end with smartphones. Add a little utility and durability to your EDC loadout with this guide to the best military-inspired gear.

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