The Samsung Rugby Smart is not a "superphone." It doesn't pretend to be one, isn't marketed as one, and we're not about to call it one. What it is is a very solid offering from AT&T and Samsung that fills the rugged, life-proof niche. We've seen plenty of rugged phones get released that run Android, but so far most have been less that stellar offerings. That's where the Rugby Smart shines, as it's a good Android smartphone that can take a bit of abuse. Hit the break and read more, and see some abuse for yourself.
A very solid-feeling, and solid-looking phone. The Rugby Smart won't wow a seasoned Android veteran with its specifications, but it's tops in durability. Dustproof, dirtproof, shock resistant, temperature resistant, and waterproof. It does it all while still being a decent performer.
A phone launching in 2012 and still running Gingerbread will always get a ding here. The Qualcomm Scorpion CPU won't play the latest 3D games as well as some others, though it runs most things decently. When minimum hardware specs increase, this phone may be left behind with 2011 internals.
Know what you're looking for. If you need a rugged life-proof phone, this is the one to get. It's head and shoulders above other ruggedized phones, and you'll enjoy having a real smartphone that won't be ruined by how you treat it. If that's not what you need, maybe look up the chain a little at the Galaxy S II or Skyrocket.
Inside this review
Here's the deal -- if you're looking for the fastest CPU, the best camera, special range audio equipment, or the latest and greatest of anything, you're looking in the wrong place. The Rugby Smart isn't about being the best phone in the AT&T store on paper. If you go by the specs, it's a mid-range phone for sure. And that's fine.
What you are getting is an Android phone that can do anything you would want from a smartphone, done well, and with hardware that is built to take the abuse you might throw at it. This would be the perfect phone for a policeman/woman/person, or an EMT, or a combat engineer. It's rugged -- you can beat on it (tried it), throw it (tried that, too), dunk it underwater (look above) and carry it in your pocket or on your belt and not worry about babying it. And some folks need that.
Everything is sealed up well in the Rugby Smart. The USB port and 3.5mm headphone jack have hard rubber flaps that cover them, and you'll need to press them in place to keep water and dirt from worming its way in. But once properly sealed, nothing is going to get in there and gunk up the works. You'll know if it's done correctly just by looking. It makes things difficult when you need to open those flaps (they are tight) but it's a fair trade to keep things clean and dry inside the housing.
The power button, volume rocker and physical (yes -- they click and everything) buttons are encased in waterproof material as well. This doesn't affect the operation or sensitivity, and inside it's still a metal-to-metal contact, but the external components have been made in a way to keep dirt and water outside where it belongs. The entire shell around the phone is rubberized, and feels different -- and well-built -- while holding the Rugby Smart. It's not exceptionally thin or light (see the specs below) but it feels very well made. After using some of the latest thin and light phones, it's refreshing to hold something with a bit of heft. It's weatherproofing, done well.
The four physical buttons are probably the weak spot in the design, as they stick out and travel the most. Years of working with electronic components tells me that this is where things will fail, but Samsung has done a great job building them solid and moisture-proof by placing them inside a rubber boot. They don't push down in the center only (think of a cheap LCD calculator to know what I mean), instead the entire piece of protective material moves. Even the weak spot will likely last you the life of your contract.
The battery cover is well designed to keep the elements out. Again, this makes it a bit of a chore to open, but well worth it. You'll need to use a screwdriver or a coin to turn the metal latch, then pry the cover off at the four corners.
The metal latch turns a cam, and when it's in the closed position it uses pressure to keep itself latched. Alone, this wouldn't do anything to keep out dirt and water, but combined with a channel and ridge seal around the battery compartment itself means you have to have it sealed to close the latch. You can see the channel on the left, and the ridge that inserts into it on the right. You'll also see the cam action of the metal latch.
Add in a battery that fits very tightly into a form fitted battery compartment, and you have the makings of a waterproof phone. The battery hides the SIM card slot and microSD card slot, and the whole assembly was designed to help make the phone dirt and water resistant as much as possible. Samsung has done very well here. I wasn't afraid to dunk or throw the rugby Smart around at all. Visit an AT&T store and hold one -- you'll see what I mean.
Hardware geeks look away for a moment, there's nothing here that is going to impress you. For the rest of us, the horsepower under the hood of the Rugby Smart is plenty capable. The only problem is that software iterates so fast, it may not stay plenty capable for long. Know that it does everything (except the highest-end 3D games) well today, and don't buy it thinking it's future-proof.
- Dimensions: 122.4 x 65.9 x 12.2 mm
- Weight: 119g
- MIL-STD-810F certified against salt, dust, humidity, rain, vibration, solar radiation, transport, and thermal shock
- IP67 certified dust-proof, and water-proof up to 1m for 30 minutes
- 3.7-inch Super AMOLED display at 480x800 pixels
- Android 2.3.6 with TouchWiz UI v4.0
- microSD card slot (up to 32GB)
- 4GB internal storage
- 512MB RAM
- 1.4GHz Qualcomm Scorpion single-core CPU
- 5MP rear camera with 720p recording
- 1.3MP front facing camera
- 802.11 b/g Wifi, Bluetooth 3.0, A-GPS
- 1650mAh battery, up to 384 hours stand-by, 8 hours talk-time
While the hardware is innovative with the way it keeps the elements out, there is nothing to surprise anyone in the software -- and that's a good thing. The Rugby Smart runs the same TouchWiz 4 that the Galaxy S II does, runs it well, and offers a pretty complete Android experience out of the box. When you turn the Rugby Smart on and sign into your Google account, you'll be greeted by the update from the Android Market to the Google Play store, and when it opens you'll see a good number of applications that need an update. This was a bit surprising, so I wanted to mention it. Things advance so fast even a brand-new smartphone needs updated out of the box it seems.
Once done updating everything, you'll find the application drawer pretty full of pre-installed apps from both Samsung and AT&T. The good news is that nothing really invasive is there, and some of it is even things we would use. Android may be old hat to many of us, and we aren't really feeling the pre-bundled apps, but for someone new to the world of little green robotic smartphones, they can be pretty handy. Here's a look at what's installed and ready to use out of the box.
The rest of TouchWiz is user friendly, and a great way to ease yourself into the world of Android if you need it. It's colorful (maybe too colorful), feature rich, and full of fancy graphics and animations just like you'll find in phones with multi-cores and twice the RAM. And the Rugby Smart runs it just as well. A few highlights for the uninitiated follow.
The lock screen is configurable to show unread mail, calls, or messages. A quick swipe will open the correct program and take you right to what you're being notified about. The WebKit browser renders web pages quickly and accurately, and Adobe Flash 11 is included for the "full" Internet experience.
The dialer and stock keyboard are well thought out and functional, with Samsung's TouchWiz additions and flair added in.
The messaging application (for SMS and MMS messages) resembles the iPhone style, is easy to understand, and easy to use. The included version of Google Talk includes support for the 1.3MP front facing camera.
All-in-all, if you're used to using TouchWiz of any version you'll feel right at home here. If you're not, you'll find your way around easily and be productive in no time.
Real world use
Calls sounded a bit muffled, probably due to whatever magic Samsung is using to keep water out of the microphone. Callers could still hear and understand what I was saying, but everyone told me they could tell something was different. On the receiving end, all went fine. Bluetooth connected fine for audio as well as calls. GPS had no issues (it was actually as good as older models like the Nexus One), and Wifi held a strong signal anywhere around my house.
Network speeds were fine for my area, and the HSPA+ 4G radio was steady and strong. These speeds won't blow anyone's doors off, but you could do much worse. Battery life was fair, and I could manage to get through a day's use checking e-mail, chatting on Google+ Messenger and G Talk, a little web surfing, a few phone calls, and some time-waster games. Standby time was about 3.5 days while syncing everything, and was more than acceptable. It's a typical GSM Android phone here as well.
While it's "only" 5MP, the camera on the Rugby Smart is pretty damn good. Using the standard Samsung camera software pictures come out good enough to share on the web with anyone. It's not a DSLR, we shouldn't expect it to perform like one. Keep that in mind and you'll be happy with the camera. Here's a couple test shots under various lighting and conditions. Warning -- they open full size.
The last picture was taken underwater, which is twice as much fun as you're imagining it to be. Speaking of underwater, check out the 720p video sample from the camera below.
A little jittery, and not the best audio, but it works underwater. I'll forgive it for anything else. Realistically, it does a fine job. Some are better, many are worse, but you'll be fine with this one -- it's better than the average cell phone camera by a long shot.
The wrap up
Should you run out and buy a Rugby Smart? There are worse ways to spend $99, that's for sure. If you work or play outdoors, under less-than-ideal conditions for a smartphone, this one is a no-brainer. You won't find a "life-proof" phone better made or better performing that the Rugby Smart. It really puts the previous iterations of a rugged phone to shame, and I'm not afraid to say it aloud.
On the other hand, you will be stuck with whatever you buy for two years. If you don't need a waterproof and dirt-proof phone, make sure to ask to see the other offerings from AT&T before you pull out your credit card.
On a personal level, I just found my new phone to take fishing.