The best rugged phones of 2024: Expert tested | ZDNET

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Most of today's top smartphones are built with glass backs to match the glass display, but glass makes a phone susceptible to damage if dropped. While phone manufacturers and wireless carriers are more than happy to sell you insurance in case of breakage, or a heavy-duty case, there may be a better option for you: A rugged phone. 

Rugged phones are designed to withstand the elements, with high IP ratings for dust and water resistance, and military-standard testing for durability -- ensuring a better chance of screen survival when dropped. Many have extra battery capacity, or the ability to swap out batteries, so that you can continue working and playing instead of charging on the go. 

Also: The best rugged laptops

Plus, most rugged phones are more affordable than flagship phones, as they are not outfitted with high-end cameras and instead focus on providing a reliable phone for all environments without extra bells and whistles. Given their price and utility, these phones are perfect for field work or outdoor adventures, and can withstand harsh environmental conditions. (And you always can keep your iPhone or Samsung Galaxy phone at home to pop your SIM card into when you want the latest and greatest in mobile technology.)

To find the best rugged phones on the market, we did weeks of hands-on testing and research. Our pick for the best rugged phone overall is the Samsung Galaxy XCover6 Pro , thanks to its sleek look, customizable hardware buttons, broad availability, and removable battery. Check out the rest of our picks for the top rugged phones you can buy below.

Samsung Galaxy XCover6 Pro specs: Display: 6.6 inches (2,408 x 1,080-pixel resolution) | CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 778G | RAM: 6GB  | Internal Storage: 128GB with microSD | Rear cameras: 50MP f/1.8 wide angle and 8MP ultra-wide cameras | Front camera: 13MP f/2.2 | Battery: 4050 mAh | Weight: 240g

The Samsung Galaxy XCover6 Pro has a similar sleek form factor as the previous generation XCover Pro, but improves on it with a new processor, more RAM, and better cameras. For businesses, it's great to see the addition of Samsung DeX support, so you can capture information in the field and use the same phone to power your desktop experience.

Rugged features include MIL-STD 810G 1.5m drop test certification, IP68 dust- and water-resistant rating, a large capacity 4,050mAh removable battery, and Pogo Pin support for accessories.

Kyocera DuraForce Pro 3 specs: Display: 5.38 inches (2,160 x 1,080-pixel resolution), OLED | CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 7 Gen 1 | RAM: 6GB  | Internal Storage: 128GB with microSD slot | Rear cameras: 64MP wide angle, 16MP ultra-wide camera and 2MP macro | Front camera: 8MP | Battery: 4270 mAh | Weight: 237g

Rugged phones are built to withstand the elements of field work, and with the new Kyocera DuraForce Pro 3, you get the additional support of Verizon's 5G network. At first glance, its sleek design might have you wondering if it's even a rugged phone, since it's less bulky and awkward to handle than many others on the market.

I spent a couple of weeks using the DuraForce Pro 3 while hiking, running, and exploring the outdoors. It withstood submersion in streams, drops on trails, and rough treatment as I tested its durability.

The Kyocera DuraForce Pro 3 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 7 Gen 1 processor with 6GB of RAM, 128GB of internal storage, three rear cameras, and a large capacity 4,500 mAh battery. If you plan to spend an extended amount of time in the field taking photos and video, you can swap out a microSD card with support up to 1TB. The battery is also removable so you can carry spares and not have to worry about finding a place to charge the phone. The DuraForce Pro 3 also supports wireless charging, so you don't need to remove the bottom USB-C port plug to top it off.

Read the review: Kyocera DuraForce Pro 3 review

Three user-programmable buttons are available so that you can quickly launch your favorite app or perform key functions with the simple press of a button. This is useful when you want to open an app quickly without having to use the touchscreen. The phone also supports using the phone when you are wearing gloves.   The phone is designed to endure rough handling with IP68 dust/water resistance, MIL-STD 810H shock test certification, and action overlay data designed to enhance your outdoor adventures.

AGM H6 specs: Display: 6.56 inches (1612 x 720-pixel resolution) | CPU: Unisoc T606 | RAM: 16GB  | Internal Storage: 256GB with microSD | Rear cameras: 50MP main and 2MP macro | Front camera: 8MP | Battery: 4,900 mAh | Weight: 240g

At a weight of just 240 grams and thickness of just 10.75mm, you may not think this is a rugged phone designed to withstand fieldwork. However, I've dropped it, submerged it, and went running in the rain with it and the device looks just about the same as when it came out of the box.

Survival is the name of the game with the AGM H6, thanks to its IP68 waterproof rating, IP69K dustproof rating, and 1.8m shock-resistant test certification. The frame around the display is raised 0.4mm above the screen to help protect it while extra corner protection (with a lanyard opening in the top left) is provided for drops. The USB-C port and headset jack are sealed with covers, which is a thoughtful touch.

Read the review: AGM H6 review

The new AGM H6 is perfect for those who plan to ski, hike, fish, and explore the outdoors. It's especially sleek for the rugged phone that it is, and at the sub-$300 price, its durability features are totally worth it.

Unihertz Tank specs: Display: 6.81 inches (2400 x 1080-pixel resolution) | CPU: MediaTek MT6789 | RAM: 12GB  | Internal Storage: 256GB with microSD | Rear camera: 108MP main, 20MP night vision, and 2MP macro camera | Front camera: 32MP | Battery: 22,000 mAh | Weight: 560g

The Unihertz Tank is a beast of a phone with an enormous 22,000 mAh battery that can be used to charge up your other devices. The back is dominated by a 1200-lumen flashlight with five operating modes.

A 108MP AI camera, 20MP night vision camera, and 2MP macro camera fill out the back camera array with a 32MP front facing camera for outdoor selfies. A MediaTek MT6789 processor powers the phone with ample 12GB of RAM and 256GB of internal storage. The 6.81-inch display also provides you with a large screen for viewing maps and data on the go.

The Unihertz Tank clearly lives up to its name, and is available for a reasonable price. 

Cat S62 Pro specs: Display: 5.7 inches (2,160 x 1,080-pixel resolution) | CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 | RAM: 6GB  | Internal Storage: 128GB with microSD | Rear cameras: 12MP f/1.8 with Lepton 3.5 FLIR camera | Front camera: 8MP | Battery: 4000 mAh | Weight: 248g

Support for thermal cameras is a great function we have seen in some Cat phones. A thermal camera is a perfect tool for fieldwork, whether you're scanning for hot spots in a switchboard, or seeking them out in an emergency. I packed along the Cat S62 Pro during some sea trials on a new ferry and used it to measure heat levels on various pieces of machinery throughout the engineering spaces.

The Cat S62 Pro has a 5.7-inch display with glove mode, IP68 dust/water resistance, MIL-STD 810H drop test up to 1.8 meters, and more. Plus, this model features a Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 processor and Android 10. 

Read the review: Cat S62 Pro review

Despite these features, the FLIR Lepton 3.5 thermal camera is the star of the show, with the ability to measure temperatures between -20 degrees Celsius and 400 degrees Celsius.

My pick for the best rugged phone is the Samsung Galaxy XCover6 Pro. It's a rugged phone that adds little bulk while also working across all US wireless carriers. The addition of Samsung DeX support makes this a phone that can be used to power a desktop experience.

All of these phones are powered by Android OS, so there's no choice on the operating system. If you are reading this list, you are probably interested in a rugged phone that can survive drops and water drunks when you're working outside.

The first thing to look for is a unique element that may be specific to your work. For example, do you need a FLIR thermal imaging camera, a night vision camera, a large capacity battery that can be used to charge other devices, or a phone with a removable battery? Check out the unique features and see if any apply to your needs.

The next thing is to check the price, since these rugged phones range from just over $300 to $900.

To determine the best rugged phone for your needs, you should consider the following: 

To determine our picks for the best rugged phones, we did weeks-long real-world testing and research, and consulted colleagues who have hands-on experience with the phones. We considered the following aspects when creating this list: 

A rugged phone is a toughened version of a typical smart or flip phone. Rugged phones have undergone a rigorous design process to make them more resistant to liquids, dirt, dust, drops, shocks, and extreme temperatures. 

They're often tested against military standards for durability, so you can rest assured that your new phone can handle just about anything you'll encounter on an outdoor adventure.

If you're someone who is rough on a typical smartphone, perhaps due to your job or your hobbies, a rugged phone is a worthwhile investment. Rugged phones are designed to last through harsh conditions, with high IP ratings for dust and water resistance, and military-standard testing for durability. Most have extra battery capacity, or the ability to swap out batteries, so you don't have to spend time charging. 

If you're an Apple brand loyalist and must use an iPhone, a rugged case is your best option to protect your phone, since the company has yet to make a toughened version of the iPhone. 

There are lots of options out there for weatherized and ruggedized cases, and OtterBoxUrban Armor Gear (UAG) are two of our favorites. Cases are available with multiple layers of protection against drops and shocks, as well as port covers that are designed to keep water and dirt out of buttons and charging ports. Some case models have kickstands to prop your phone up for hands-free use too.

In my opinion, the Samsung Galaxy XCover6 Pro is the best rugged phone for brand loyalists. It features IP68-rated water and dust resistance as well as military-grade shock and drop resistance. It also supports Samsung DeX so you can use it with an external monitor for a PC-like experience.

meter test fixture These picks may not have made our list, but are still worth checking out if you need a new rugged phone.