Rugged mobile devices are what you get when mobile devices cross paths with rugged technology (or tough tech).

They were formerly confined primarily to fields such as police work, military, industrial settings, and other areas with jobs conducted under harsh conditions. But today rugged technology, especially rugged mobile devices, is making a big splash in the consumer market.

Rugged mobile technology allows for a device that is tough, reliable, and long-lasting and that can hold up under hard use and harsh conditions. And you don’t have to work in a warehouse or in the field to benefit from these devices. They are admirably suited to anyone who engages in outdoor or strenuous activities – or anyone, really, who just wants a device they can always count on.

So let’s dive in and take a closer look at this species of rugged mobile devices.

What Is Rugged Technology and Where Is It Used?

rugged mobile devices are great for construction

Rugged technology is first of all, well, rugged. But what exactly does “rugged” mean in this context?

Rugged technology, also known as tough tech, are rugged mobile devices “specifically designed to operate reliably in harsh usage environments and conditions, such as strong vibrations, extreme temperatures, and wet or dusty conditions. It is designed from inception for the type of rough use typified by these conditions, not just in the external housing but in the internal components and cooling arrangements as well.”

Rugged devices – rugged computers, laptops, PDAs, smartphones – are typically found in these industries, fields, and professions:

Warehousing

Retail is moving toward a blend of brick-and-mortar and online. This phenomenon calls for rugged mobile devices that “deliver enterprise-grade performance, enhanced security, flexible form factors and versatile mounting options help optimize workflows and improve efficiencies for retailers.”

Law Enforcement/First Responders

Life-and-death and emergency situations demand devices that can always be counted on to function and function well. “For those working in public safety, the availability of mission-critical communications and access to real-time data is a necessity for both the worker and the communities they serve. . . . Rugged devices are purpose-built to handle the drops, spills, dust, and extreme temperatures that occur when officers and first responders are on patrol or onsite in an emergency situation.”

Logistics/Supply Chain

This arena has to have accurate inventories and on-time delivery, and rugged technology helps ensure those needs are met. Rugged devices can withstand the typical adverse conditions here: hard use, drops, and dramatic temperature swings.

Oil and Gas

In the oil and gas industry, especially offshore drilling, the devices used absolutely must be rugged. “They must be built to withstand just about anything, including a rig’s harsh environment of salt, chemicals, machinery, and moisture.”

Utilities

Personnel in the utility sector deal with unexpected outages, “and customers expect dependable responsiveness and minimized restoration time now more than ever before. To meet this demand, companies are adopting rugged mobile devices to decrease the time it takes to recognize, respond to and resolve problems while offering the constant communication customers now expect.”

Military

Military personnel depends on rugged laptops and rugged tablets that are “purpose-built with military-grade design.” The work environments range from deserts to jungles and everything in between, and rugged technology provides the necessary “holistic, mission-critical solutions.”

But keep in mind that there’s a lot more to rugged technology and rugged mobile devices in particular than someone’s having slapped on a sturdy protective case. These devices are sui generis and must meet specific criteria to get the “rugged mobile device” label.

Ratings for and Features Rugged Mobile Devices

Devices aimed at the consumer market typically deploy a one-size-fits-all model, usually not meeting minimum industry-standard specifications. Rugged devices, on the other hand, are built to meet and exceed these standards. And that’s where rigorous testing comes in.

Test Ratings

There are two common test ratings for rugged devices, and these are. . .

MIL-STD

This is the method used by the U.S. Department of Defense to determine and gauge ruggedness.

MIL-STD-810G tests are designed specifically to gauge the performance levels of rugged tablets – and other mobile computers – in a variety of harsh environments. MIL-STD-810G testing ensures that rugged devices can withstand drops, vibrations, crashes, extreme temperatures, differing altitudes, and natural elements such as wind, rain, sand, humidity, and dust.”

IP Rating

The IP rating “denotes the effectiveness of a computer’s rugged casing at preventing solids and liquids from reaching its easily damaged internal parts. These ratings provide device users with an idea of what hazardous environments the devices can handle.”

A minimum IP rating of IP54 is required for a device to be labeled “fully-rugged.” This means the device has adequate protection and dust and water ingress and can stand up to most challenges in work environments.

An IP rating of IP65 is generally called for in industrial settings. A rugged mobile device with this rating “is completely protected against dust contact and ingress [and can] withstand the impact of low-pressure water jets projected by a nozzle (6.3 mm) from any direction for at least 15 minutes. This is often more than sufficient for most working conditions.”

For even more extreme conditions there’s the rating of IP 68. A device with this rating can withstand extreme water pressure and submersion at and below the one-meter-deep level for up to 30 minutes without risking a shutdown.

Rugged Features

manager and supervisor

Manager supervisor and industrial worker in uniform walking in large metal factory hall and talking about increasing production.

The main features you’ll find in rugged mobile devices that make them rugged are . . .

  • Magnesium alloy core
  • Brighter, anti-smudge, anti-reflective displays with heavy-duty glass
  • Better antenna design and placement to allow for reliable connectivity
  • Features and add-ons beyond those available consumer devices
  • Higher-quality components

Consumer Benefits of Some Rugged Mobile Phones

Rugged mobile technology, as we mentioned, is used primarily in industrial and military settings. Now, though, the average consumer is getting in on the action, and for a good reason: the many benefits of these devices beyond mere ruggedness, in particular the benefits of rugged mobile phones.

Drop and Water Resistance

How many times have you dropped your phone in the toilet or pool? Come on. . . you know it happens. With a rugged mobile device, that’s no longer a worry.

“These phones laugh at being dropped on a hard floor, dunked in the water, or even immerse in the liquid cleaner – that last one being a pretty neat trick at a time when we’re disinfecting everything. The ruggedness credential for most phones is Military Standard 810-G . . . commonly described as the ability to withstand a 1.5-meter (4.9-foot) drop without damage.”

Push-to-Talk Capability

In the face of growing natural disasters and an increasing crime rate, neighborhood response groups are a growing phenomenon. These groups “rely on radio-style communications but not necessarily with actual radios. Push to Talk over Cellular apps such as Zello allow a phone to work like a walkie-talkie with anyone else running the same app.”

Dual SIMs

Most rugged mobile devices and phones support dual SIMS, which allows for network resiliency. “If you’re willing to spend the money, having two carriers activated on a phone can mean the difference between having service or not during a crisis. Setting up a pair of technically distinct carriers on a phone can substantially reduce your odds of being offline when networks are jammed or damaged.”

Front-facing Speakers

Most consumer-grade phones have speakers on the side, which means the sound isn’t directed at your ears. Many rugged mobile devices, however, have front-facing speakers to allow for better sound direction and ease of listening for users. “This is useful for PTT apps, especially when you’re in a hectic or outdoor location.”

Replaceable Batteries

Mobile phones once had these, and it went a long way toward reducing users’ anxiety about remaining battery charge. Some rugged mobile devices now feature swappable batteries.

A Look at Rugged Smartphones

engineers need rugged mobile devices when out in the field

Now, let’s narrow our examination of rugged mobile devices to rugged smartphones.

Rugged Smartphone Features to Look For

“When it comes to buying a rugged smartphone . . . the landscape is very different from when you’re choosing your own personal consumer device – even though the phone will be used as your personal device. So if you’re considering buying a rugged smartphone, here are some things you should look for.

Ruggedness

Of course, your rugged mobile device must possess ruggedness. That means, first, the necessary rating to hold up under your intended use(s). Beyond that, you should look for these general rugged qualities:

  • Waterproof
  • Drop-proof
  • Correct design
  • Rugged features that promote long-term use

Battery Capacity and Longevity

A good rugged smartphone will have a battery that is up to the job. The standard today is 4000mAh, but bigger is always better.

In addition, your battery should last. It needs to hold a charge for extended periods and have a long life – to keep all your accessories running and available when you need them.

Security

Out of all the common rugged smartphone features, security may be the most important. Since mobile has become the norm, having a device that isn’t sharing information without your knowing about it absolutely critical.

Ease of Use

“[N]ot only does the product have to do what it’s intended, but the whole experience must be easy, simple, and just work for years and not a few weeks. A rugged smartphone “needs to be simple and easy to use and of great quality” and without an excessive number of extras that just make the device hard to use and confusing.

Quality LCD Screen

A five-inch screen is standard in the world of rugged mobile phones. But you also need to make sure that resolution and brightness are up to par for ease of reading outdoors.

Best Rugged Smartphone

smartphone rugged mobile device on a contraption

If you’ve come this far you’re probably wondering about the best-rugged smartphone for 2021. Here, then, are a few picks (some that may not even be on your radar) . . .

Ulefone Armor 9 FLIR

This smartphone has been hailed as “the best-ruggedized smartphone you can find right now, boasting a few top tools you’ll struggle to find on its rivals. The phone comes with both an endoscope and FLIR camera, giving you versatility for a range of tasks, as well as a big battery to ensure the handset lasts longer and enough processing power for most tasks.”

Blackview BV9900 Pro

Although no longer in the top position as the best-rugged smartphone, the Blackview BV9900 Pro is still very near the top. One thing that makes it stand out is the FLIR thermal imaging camera, “a rarity on rugged smartphones despite how useful it can be.” The only real drawbacks are a little less than the top-quality battery and a lack of 5G connectivity.

Doogee S95 Pro

Here’s another phone that, while not at the number-one spot, is still near the top of the list for the best rugged mobile device. “The handset is incredibly well protected with a metal and rubber frame that’ll protect it from lots of what nature (or people) can throw at it. It also has features like an SOS button, fingerprint sensor, and three rear cameras.” In addition, “[i]t packs the best Mediatek chipset . . . as well as 8GB RAM, which is more than some of the other best-rugged phones.”

Ulefone Armor 10

This is the first rugged smartphone to feature 5G compatibility. That alone, despite the fact that it falls down on a few rugged qualities, should make it competitive. The Ulefone Armor 10 also offers wireless charging and a top-quality camera.

When It’s Time to Purchase . . .

Motion Computing has been and is one of the top contenders in rugged technology, especially when it comes to the Motion Computing rugged tablet. These enhanced rugged mobile devices “are designed to increase productivity for on-the-go users while providing computing security, power, and versatility.”

But it is also a great place to find rugged mobile devices of all kinds and rugged smartphones in particular.

Motion Computing aims to provide the best in rugged technology for your mobile needs.