Most of the cell phones that are made today feature beautiful touchscreens, luxurious designs, and slim bodies. For some people, that's great. For others, that kind of phone wouldn't last a minute in their life. To the latter group, we've got a phone for you. The Motorola Brute from Sprint is a super-rugged phone that is marketed as being water resistant, shock resistant, dust resistant, able to withstand temperature extremes, solar radiation, blowing rain, and more. This is one tough phone. Along with that, the Brute also features Nextel's Direct Connect feature for quick and easy communication.
Considering how durable the phone is supposed to be, I decided to put it to the ultimate test and see exactly how tough it is. I dropped it, dunked it, and took it up to a second-floor balcony to watch it fall. After all of that, I took the phone back inside to see what was left. Is the Brute rugged enough for you?
Design & Features
As expected, the Brute is a pretty hefty device. It weighs nearly six ounces and is over an inch thick. Other than that, the body style is familiar. The top panel contains the external 1.3-inch display as well as the 2 MP camera and a noise cancellation microphone, a nice feature to have since most people who buy this phone will probably be outside a lot. Flipping the phone open reveals an internal 2.2-inch display and the dialing pad as well as the navigation buttons. The buttons are large and have a rubberized texture making them easy to feel and press. The main internal display is clear and bright. Both displays are in full color.
On the right spine of the phone is a flap that covers the microUSB charging port and the left spine contains the volume rocker buttons and the Direct Connect button. The top of the phone is where you'll find the speaker button, 2.5mm headphone jack, and a Smart Button. The Smart Button is a pretty interesting and nifty feature. It basically anticipates the next action you are likely to perform and then performs that action when you press it. So if you have a particular menu item highlighted, pressing the Smart Button will select that item. If the phone is closed you can press the Smart Button to bring up the list of calls you last made or received. The phone does have a hot-swappable microSD card slot that supports up to 8GB of additional memory, but it does not come with a card. Additionally, the phone comes with a plastic holster with a belt clip.
Usability & Performance
Unlike most basic flip phones, the Brute actually has a somewhat interesting UI. Yes, you do still have the Main Menu with different categories and programs, but the homescreen has a useful feature that you typically won't see on a phone like this. The homescreen has an interactive carousel of shortcuts to certain tools and apps that you can customize and rearrange. This will make reaching your most-used programs very quick and easy. There are also two shortcuts at the bottom of the screen for Contacts and Messages. Additionally, the phone features a GPS locator, TeleNav Navigator, NASCAR Sprint Cup Mobile, and NFL Live.
As I mentioned in the introduction, I put the Brute through some pretty intense durability tests which you can see in the video review at the end of this article. After dropping it several times from varying heights, I am very impressed by how well the phone stood up under the pressure. There were a few minor nicks on the top of the phone, but that was pretty much it. The device essentially still looks brand-new even after dropping it several times, once from the height of a second-floor balcony. Very impressive. (All of the pictures in this article are of the phone that I used for the drop tests, excluding the above picture of the Brute's homescreen.)
I did, however, experience some problems with the device being glitchy and freezing a few times. In fact, the second time the device froze, I could never get it working again. The screen simply went white and hasn't worked ever since, even after taking the battery out and restarting it several times. This could be caused from dropping it so many times which makes me question the durability of the device, something I had praised it for up until this happened. If it was caused from the multiple drops, then that's unacceptable. My tests were reasonable and the phone should have been able to function properly despite the shock. After all, that's the point of the phone. If it was not caused from the drops and is simply a matter of glitchy software, then that too is unacceptable. I was given two of these phones and had the same problem with both of them even though I did not use the second one in my drop tests.
The Brute comes equipped with Nextel Direct Connect services such as the most popular Direct Connect feature that allows your phone to act as a two-way radio, as well as Group Connect which allows you to connect up to 20 other Direct Connect users at once, and more. In testing I had no problems with Direct Connect and found it very easy to use. The speaker on the Brute was loud and the microphone picked up my voice clearly.
I'm not entirely sure what to say about the Motorola Brute. On the one hand, it's the most durable "rugged phone" I've ever tested and on the other hand, it was glitchy, froze up and eventually bricked itself. I'm going to say that the actual "bricking" was an isolated incident that will not happen to every one of these devices; however, I can't excuse the glitchy-ness of it since that was the case with both of the phones that were sent to me. If you feel like taking the risk, this phone will definitely be able to handle anything you put it through. If it does give you problems, perhaps Sprint and Nextel will be willing to give you a replacement.
What's Good: Extremely durable; Direct Connect; useful features for those who work or spend a lot of time outdoors.
What's Bad: Glitchy; high price; iDEN device (iDEN will be phased out by 2013).
The Verdict: It may be the most durable phone I've ever tested, but the freezing-up is what's keeps me from recommending it.