Best Tough Phones for 2021-2022: The Nuffield Technologies Guide

Tough phones – or ‘rugged’ phones to use the industry terminology – should cope with the knocks, drops and general abuse handed out in a business environment. But, just as there are many business environments and requirements, there are many tough phones out there to choose from.

Our Best Tough Phones for 2021-2022 guide gives you a snapshot of what we think are among the most impressive out there right now. We’ve tried to highlight some of the key features, so you can quickly focus on a phone that might be a perfect fit for your workforce. We’ve also tried to include a broad price range to cater for different budgets.

Before continuing, here’s a little housekeeping on what we mean by ‘tough’ or ‘rugged’.

● All of our featured devices comply to at least MIL-STD 810g, which proves they have survived multiple drops from four feet.

● Most devices, apart from where indicated, comply to at least an Ingress Protection rating IP68, which suggests they can withstand dust, dirt and sand, and are resistant to submersion up to a maximum depth of 1.5m underwater for up to 30 minutes.

You can find out more about rugged classifications here.

Meanwhile, all devices run on the Android OS. We think it’s the best choice for business and you can find out why here.

Finally, we’ve indicated if a phone includes optional maintenance contracts and, where possible, the amount of time it takes for the manufacturer to guarantee a fix. Without these contracts, you may need to take your chances with a local repair.

Here’s the list of Best Tough Phones 2021-2022.

Samsung XCover Pro: the affordable all-rounder that’s great for outdoor workers

Samsung XCover Pro front and back
Image source: Samsung
  • Cost: £
  • OS: Android 10, upgradable to Android 11
  • Security support: At least four years from 2020 launch
  • Maintenance plan: Not available
  • Notable feature: Large, attractive display
  • Room for improvement? Processor lacks punch and minimal storage

Our review:

Measure the Samsung XCover Pro against any rugged or tough phones checklist and it ticks so many boxes. It has wet touch and glove mode, and can even be used with standard gloves. It features two programmable buttons, which you can use to quickly start up an app. There’s push-to-talk for challenging comms environments (although this needs to be combined with other software, for example Microsoft teams, to make it work). There are even pogo pins, which means it will support docked charging – always a bonus in busy environments. Add the sleek design, easy-on-the-eye 6.3in display and the fact it takes card payments and there’s a huge amount going for this affordable rugged all-rounder.

When you get under the hood, we would quibble – at least a little. The 2.3GHz processor powered by the in-house Exynos 9611 chip isn’t going to rock many worlds in terms of speed. Just 4GB of RAM and 64GB of onboard storage feels a bit on the modest side too. Also, a tired battery can be changed, but you do need to pry off the back cover to install a new one. Finally, the screen does struggle a little bit in bright daylight. That said, it’s a solid rugged performer at a great price.

CAT S62 PRO Smartphone: the thermal camera phone with a super tough profile

Front and back of CAT s62 PRO tough smartphone
Image source: Cat
  • Cost: ££
  • OS: Android 10
  • Security support: Up to three years from 2020 launch
  • Maintenance plan: Not available
  • Notable feature: Detects elevated body temperatures
  • Room for improvement? No replaceable battery feature

Our review:

The standout feature on this phone is the impressive FLIR thermal imaging camera. This will detect heat sources up to 10 feet away, to help you locate heat, draft hotspots and heatloss, making it an asset in industries from law enforcement and leak detection to electrical inspection and housing surveys. It will even screen people for elevated temperatures, helping to fulfill a very urgent need, given the pandemic. One other thing you’ve got to love is the sheer ruggedness of this tough phone. Manufacturers say it will survive six feet drops onto concrete and it is IP68 and IP69 rated, giving it superior ingress protection. Add a decent screen-size and excellent screen visibility and you have a great phone for the construction industry, for example, although other industries will like it too.

The camera is so-so at best – at least compared to similarly priced phones – and one thing we don’t love is the battery set up. You can’t take off the back cover and replace a depleted battery for a new one, which, in the worst-case scenario, could see work and productivity grind to a halt.

If this isn’t likely to be an issue for you – i.e. charging points will be available nearby – all in all, it is a great phone.

Point Mobile PM45 Ultra Rugged Smartphone – the entry level tough phone with great push-to-talk functionality

Point Mobile PM45 Ultra Rugged Smartphone front and back
Image source: Point Mobile
  • Cost: £
  • OS: Android 8.1 and upgradeable to Android 9
  • Security support: Seven years from release date
  • Maintenance plan: UK-based repair plans available
  • Notable feature: Convenient hard keys for quick access to apps
  • Room for improvement? IP rating lower than other models, OS is out of date.

Our review:

This tough phone anticipates even the loudest, most challenging industrial environment – and does everything it can to keep you talking. The PM45 brings ease to the push-to-talk experience with a large tactile side button, a powerful speaker, an external push-to- talk remote speaker microphone so you can talk without holding your phone, and headset support. It also features three hard keys for the standard Android buttons, which is increasingly unusual but can be useful when wearing gloves. The phone is billed as pretty snappy too, with a 1.8GHz Octa-core processor.

Businesses will be grateful for features that keep their tough phones working hard, such as options for dockable charging and replaceable batteries. You can also choose an extended-life battery.

Naturally, at this price point you won’t see the performance of more costly, powerful phones and its IP67 Ingress Protection rating lags a little behind (although this will be a high enough rating for most users). But it is a great entry-level buy.

Sonim RS60 Mobile Computer and Smart Scanner – the barcode reader with plenty more to give

Sonim RS60 Mobile Computer and Smart Scanner
Image source: Sonim Technologies
  • Cost: £££
  • OS: Android 10
  • Security support: Five years of support from 2021 launch
  • Maintenance plan: Not available
  • Notable feature: A HUGE battery capacity
  • Room for improvement? On the heavy side

Our review:

There are times when a barcode-reading app using a standard camera just isn’t going to cut it. Enter the Sonim RS60. Its integrated barcode scanner features quick-scan capabilities that will rapidly capture large amounts of data (30 scans per second, including degraded barcodes). But it’s more than a scanner. This smartphone-style device has a large 6in display that is readable in sunlight, making it ideal for calls and all your comms needs. Nice enterprise touches include the glove-friendly mode, anti-fingerprint coating, support for docked charging and a whopper of a battery – it’s 8000mAh, the largest we’ve encountered. It can be swopped too.

Our quibbles with this device is that the camera isn’t great and it is pretty weighty – of course, the huge battery and barcode scanner will see to that. It’s also IP67 rated, not IP68 like many of the other featured devices. Having said that, it’s a great enterprise scanner / phone that’s going to suit many in warehouses, logistics and manufacturing.

Zebra TC57 Touch Computer – our STAR BUY rugged device

Zebra TC57 Touch Computer
Image source: Zebra Technologies
  • Cost: ££££
  • OS: Android 10, with upgrade support to at least Android 11
  • Security support: Up to 8 years support with OneCare contract
  • Maintenance plan: OneCare maintenance plans offer guaranteed next business day, three-day and five-day repair turnarounds
  • Notable feature: Eco-system of Zebra software, accessories and support
  • Room for improvement? Other devices are prettier

Our review:

If we tell you that the Zebra series of tough phones are the Rolls Royce / Ferrari (take your pick) of the tough phone market, you’ll realise we are sold on these models. And for good reason. The phones are one of the most rugged devices in their class and the only with a unibody design, which provides extra impact protection for sensitive electronics. They feature next-gen Wi-Fi 6, for extremely fast connectivity and low latency, and the fastest processor in the enterprise market at 2.45 GHz, paired with 4GB RAM/32GB UFS fast memory. The barcode reader features a SE4720 scan engine for faster, easier capture of even the most challenging barcodes. The crystal-clear 5in fully HD touch screen can be used with gloves or a stylus. There’s push-to-talk functionality and impressive 14 hours of battery life with hot swappable batteries. Also, this device features Zebra’s Mobility DNA, which enhances Android’s system for tighter security, easier centralised management and seamless app development. We could go on…

However, it’s the ecosystem around the devices that will ensure they stand the test of time. There is a full suite of cradles and car charging accessories, and also very targeted devices such as pistol grip snap for barcode reading which can significantly increase efficiency. These are all forwards compatible, extending your investment when you need to replace devices. You can also rest easy with excellent, long-term security support and a OneCare maintenance plan that swiftly repairs and returns devices.

What don’t we like so much? The smooth finish can make the device feel a little less secure in the hand than its premium range counterpart, the Zebra TC7X series, but if it’s functionality and ROI that matter most to you, there’s nothing to see here in terms of negatives.

Zebra TC26 Touch Computer – ‘The Best Budget Device on the Market’

Zebra TC26 Touch Computer
Image source: Zebra Technologies
  • Cost ££
  • OS: Android 10, with upgrade support to at least Android 11
  • Security support: Up to 10 years support with OneCare contract
  • Maintenance plan: OneCare maintenance plans offers guaranteed next business day, three-day and five-day repair turnarounds
  • Notable feature: Eco-system of Zebra software, accessories and support
  • Room for improvement? You’ll need an add-on for heavy scanning

Our review:

Imagine you want to make a move away from low-cost, low-performing devices (and you definitely should) to a model that will be a gear change in terms of optimising efficiency. However, you can’t significantly increase your budget. Probably the smartest choice you could make is the Zebra TC26 Touch Computer. It offers more options than any device in its class in terms of battery, connectivity, RAM and scanning accessories, so you can almost certainly find something for your business and your budget. It has a great 5in HD screen you can use with gloves on, superior voice quality and functionality, and comes ready to use Push-to-Talk Express. You can scan with the hi-res 13MP rear camera or, for heavier scanning, add one of a range of scanners suitable for your needs. The battery is removable and there are 10 hour and 14 hour options.

The Zebra TC26 is a significant improvement on the previous generation model, the TC25, and is a seriously impressive device at this price point.

As with the TC57, the ecosystem around this device is exceptional. There are masses of accessories to boost productivity (check out the RS5100 Bluetooth ring scanner for a complete hands-free solution), single and multi-slot chargers, wearable carrying solutions and much more. Mobility DNA tools will enhance security and manageability, and Zebra’s exceptional OneCare plan will ensure your devices are repaired promptly and your people keep working.

Want to delve further into the tough phone market? Download our white paper ‘Consumer Vs Enterprise: Why choosing consumer devices for your business might cost you more than you think.’ It will lead you step by step through the rugged phone market, helping you decide which features should be crucial in your decision-making when choosing a device.