If you're rough on your phone and need one that can withstand the torture, then there are just a few options available to you. The Samsung Rugby Smart is one of them, and really, it's one of the most inexpensive phones in a category that tends to demand high prices due to the extra hardware. Aside from a few flip phones on Sprint, the Rugby Smart is a pretty good deal for those with an active lifestyle. It's water, dust, shock, and temperature proof, and is MIL-STD-810 certified. On top of that, it packs some pretty good hardware features, including a 1.4 GHz Snapdragon processor, a 3.7-inch Super AMOLED display, and a 5-megapixel camera that captures HD video. The Rugby Smart is also a 4G device and supports AT&T's HSPA+ network with peak theoretical download speeds of 14.4 Mbps. At $100 on contract, is it worth your money, even if it is a tempting deal? Keep reading to find out.
For a rugged phone, the Rugby Smart actually has a fairly attractive design. It's much thinner than I expected it to be (.35-inches thick) and doesn't have all of the extra bulk that most of these kinds of phones have. Now, there's a downside to that. In the long-run, this phone probably won't be as durable as those other phones that DO have a lot of extra bulk and padding. In fact, aside from the rubber sides and extra seal on the battery cover, I don't see anything that makes this phone any more durable than your average smartphone. It may not look pretty, but extra bulk means extra padding which generally means more protection. I would be worried about the long-term durability of the Rugby Smart.
The phone measures 4.93-inches tall, 2.6-inches wide, and .35-inches thick. It weighs 4.2 ounces. The back cover features a rough, texturized finish with some accent nodules in each corner, possibly for theoretical shock absorbance. All ports are covered and the battery cover features an extra screw seal to keep it from popping open when you drop it. As a note, the battery cover seems flimsy for a rugged phone. The Power/Screen Lock button is on the right side of the phone, the microUSB port is on the bottom, the volume rocker buttons are on the left side, and the 3.5mm headphone jack is on the top. Underneath the battery is the microSD card slot. The phone does not ship with a card but has 4 GB of internal storage, 3.4 GB of which are available after counting the pre-installed apps.
The Rugby Smart has a Super AMOLED display - a surprising aesthetic touch to a phone that's all about grit. A 3.7-inch display may be a tad small for some, but the upside is that you get a great pixel density which means a clearer picture. The display's resolution of 480 x 800 translates into about 252 pixels per inch. The Super AMOLED technology makes colors appear bright and rich.
The Rugby Smart ships with Android 2.3 and TouchWiz 4.0. It's nice to see Samsung include the latest version of its UI. This version includes several cool new features like resizable widgets, motion zooming, and a more refined look and feel. There is a shortcut dock at the bottom of the home screen that can be customized, toggles in the notification panel for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, Airplane Mode, and Screen Rotation, and Samsung has included several widgets like an AccuWeather widget, a few clock widgets, a Days and Calendar widget, a note pad widget, and a task manager widget. There are a lot of pre-installed apps, only some of which can be uninstalled. Samsung has also included its custom virtual keyboard along with the Android keyboard and Swype. TouchWiz has grown a lot from its early days of bright colors and cartoonish design elements. It is now a refined and elegant UI with an easy-going flair.
I was pleased by the performance of the Rugby Smart's 1.4 GHz Snapdragon processor. Being that it's the S2 model and backed up by only 512 MB of RAM, performance is not always perfect. I wish the RAM had been bumped up to a gigabyte, but the phone still performs most tasks with little to no lag. There were very few times when it would hang or lag behind, but it happened on occasion. Here are a few benchmark results for reference: a Quadrant Standard score of 1,392; a SmartBench 2012 score of 1,092 on the Productivity Index; an AnTuTu Benchmark score of 3,769. All in all, performance is smooth with minor hiccups.
Web browsing was one area where I experienced these aforementioned "hiccups". For the most part, pinch-to-zoom and scrolling is smooth and responsive, but I noticed some checker-boarding on occasion. The Rugby Smart is an HSPA+ device, capable of theoretical download speeds of 14.4 Mbps. While testing the phone in the Dallas area, data speeds were inconsistent. I recorded highs of 1.8-2.3 Mbps but lows of 500-600 kbps. Average speeds were 700-800 kbps, much too slow for an HSPA+ device. Even the highs of 1-2 Mbps are too slow for this network.
The Rugby Smart is built to be water, dust, shock, and temperature proof. It is IP 67.00 certified, and MIL-STD-810 certified. It should be able to withstand drops from up to 6.6 feet and water submersion up to one meter (about three feet) for 30 minutes. I put it through some durability tests, which you can see in Part 1 of my video review. The phone handled drops just fine. Obviously, it has some nicks and scratches, but that's to be expected. When testing it in water, I was surprised that some managed to leak underneath the battery cover. It didn't get to the battery which is still protected by a small seal, but it made me nervous. The screen also got scratched when it was rubbed lightly against some dirt and pebbles. For the most part, it handled the small stuff okay, but don't take this phone on your tractor or out on the ranch.
The camera on the Rugby Smart was a letdown. You're looking at a 5-megapixel autofocus camera with a flash and a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera. The rear-facing camera captures 720p HD video. I've uploaded an HD video sample that you can view to see for yourself what video and audio quality are like. (Spoiler: You'll still need your camcorder.) As for picture quality, the colors were decent, but the image was too soft, almost to the point where it looked like there was a filter over it. Even in perfect lighting or with shots taken outside on a sunny day, the image was washed out.
The Rugby Smart uses a 1650 mAh battery and it delivered good performance. Being a 4G device, you might expect poor battery life, but I managed to get through a full day with normal use while checking my email, browsing the web, and having several widgets and apps active in the background. Even with heavy use, the battery lasted through an 8-hour work day.
The Rugby Smart may not be the tough, work-horse phone that Samsung says it is, but it's durable enough to handle some drops and water spills. If you need an extra-durable phone, I would look elsewhere. But if you simply have a hectic life and you are a little rough on your phone, the Rugby Smart is a great option because of its rugged design and good performance. Not only that, but the price is great, too. For $99 on contract, it's probably the cheapest rugged smartphone you'll see for a while.
The Good: Mildly durable; radiant Super AMOLED display; great battery life; smooth performance; front-facing camera.
The Bad: Not the most durable phone - good for active lifestyles but not rugged lifestyles; small display; poor picture quality from camera; inconsistent and slow 4G speeds.
The Verdict: It may not be the best phone for those who have rugged lifestyles, but for those of you with slippery hands and messy kids, it should do just fine.