Which rugged phone is best?

There are plenty of fancy new phones to choose from with varying levels of performance. The problem is that the fancier a phone, the easier it is to break.

To stop worrying about your phone breaking, consider a rugged smartphone. They’re outfitted with protection from all kinds of dangers, including shock, dust, foreign objects and being submerged in water.

The best rugged phone is the Nokia XR20 5G due to its premium performance and attention to detail. 

What to know before you buy a rugged phone

They’re not literally indestructible

Some advertisements show trucks rolling over phones in the middle of a call, only for the phone to come out unscathed. This is not recommended and will probably damage your phone in real life. For that matter, even waterproof phones aren’t technically waterproof past a certain amount of time. While a rugged phone can certainly take a lot more punishment than a razor-thin, high-end model, you should still take care of it.

They’re bigger and heavier than others

While rugged phones and regular phones use similar or identical components in most cases, the rugged ones are also dressed up in enhanced shock protection and waterproofing. Many of them also have significantly increased battery capacity compared to similar, nonrugged models. Combined, these factors ensure that your rugged smartphone won’t fit in your pocket or utility belt quite as easily. At least you can trust that once they’re secured on your person, they won’t break.

What to look for in a quality rugged phone

Release date

How recently a phone was released is a good indicator of its level of performance. Granted, the absolute cheapest phones still tend to use components that are a few years old, but once you step up into the midrange you can be reasonably confident that anything released in the last 18 months should give you decent performance or better for at least a few years.

Storage and RAM

System memory or RAM helps your phone to run multiple apps at once and store the most critical data in high-speed memory. Four gigabytes is the bare minimum for a smooth Android experience, and 6 or 8GB is even better.

Internal storage is usually between 64GB and 128GB. Most Android phones (including almost all rugged models) let you install a microSD card for storage expansion. This is especially important to consider if you’ll be in remote locations like the ocean or woods and want access to music or other files when you don’t have an internet connection.

Nice-to-have features

There’s a range of smartphone features that might not make or break a phone on their own, but combined can be very convincing. For example, NFC connectivity means you can leave your wallet at home and pay securely with your smartphone at an ever-increasing list of locations. Dual SIM compatibility lets you leave the country and add a foreign line without removing your old SIM card. Wireless charging is another helpful feature that more and more phones are including, even the reasonably priced models. Even 5G connectivity is becoming commonplace on affordable smartphones.

How much you can expect to spend on a rugged phone

The most affordable rugged phones that deliver a passable Android experience will run you about $200. Meanwhile, the most powerful rugged smartphones on the market are roughly $600.

Rugged phone FAQ

Do I need a case for my rugged phone?

A. No. Rugged phones are designed with drop-friendly and scratch-resistant materials on the back, sides and screen. In addition, they offer powerful waterproofing and may even have an underwater mode. Plus, there just aren’t many cases available for most rugged phones, which tend to have significantly different dimensions from normal phones.

Are there any rugged phones with a headphone jack?

A. Unfortunately, those are incredibly hard to find. Adding a physical headphone jack would make the dust and waterproofing significantly harder to engineer. So no, there are not rugged phones easily found that have a headphone jack. However, some do have Bluetooth capability, so you can hook up headphones that way.

What’s the best rugged phone to buy?

Top rugged phone

Nokia XR20 5G

Nokia XR20 5G

What you need to know: It’s a full-featured flagship from the historic leader in indestructible cellphones.

What you’ll love: It has impressive shock resistance and a full IP68 rating against dust and water ingress. It’s an especially great choice for international travelers as it’s one of the few US phones with dual SIM capability. It offers both facial recognition and fingerprint login. 

What you should consider: The only noteworthy issue with the XR20 5G is that it’s not exactly cheap.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top rugged phone for the money

Ulefone Power Armor 14

Ulefone Power Armor 14

What you need to know: There are quite a few features packed into this surprisingly affordable option.

What you’ll love: This is an impressive package for the cost, with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage space driving the Android 11 operating system. Probably the most impressive thing about it, though, is the incredible 10,000-mAh battery that can keep it running for days on standby. 

What you should consider: It’s big, it’s heavy and it won’t win any awards for high performance.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

Ulefone Power Armor 13

Ulefone Power Armor 13

What you need to know: This is an excellent all-around midrange smartphone for someone who wants a rugged device for everyday use.

What you’ll love: It’s not terribly expensive, fits reasonably well in a pocket and allows wireless charging at up to 15 watts. As far as performance, it’s one of the best rugged models available due to 8GB of RAM and a high-speed eight-core CPU.

What you should consider: While it does support 5G communications, in the U.S. it only works with the T-Mobile network.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon


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Chris Thomas writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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