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What makes a tough phone 'tough'?

Tough mobiles are the workhorse of tradesmen, extreme sports enthusiasts and military personnel alike.

Robust and specifically designed to take knocks, shocks, drops and the elements - these handsets prove their worth time and time again.

Many of these devices are now becoming increasingly smart with access to the latest software, applications and features. The standard tough smartphone has proven to be as intelligent as it is rugged.

While plenty of smartphone users will know about the latest software updates and popular apps (as these generally carry over from flagship handsets from the likes of Samsung, Sony and HTC) not many are aware of what actually makes these handsets so tough.

This is why we've written up this post, to help you the end user understand why it is that these handsets are so tough and a step above their more vulnerable mainstream counterparts.

What is a tough phone?

CAT B100 tough phoneA tough phone is a mobile device that has been designed to work across a variety of environments, they are expected to be dropped, fall into water or covered with dust, muck and grime - and still carry on working.

Tough phones use hardened rubber mouldings that surround the mobile housing for added protection, this along with the use of toughened glass screens help to protect the phone from accidental drops and shocks.

A lot of robust devices are dust and waterproof, they are also rated against drops and vibrations, useful if you work in an industrial environment and with heavy machinery.

With ratings like IP67 and MIL-STD 810G many of these handsets are more than capable of living up to the task of being a 'tough phone' .

What are these ratings and what do they mean?

IP stands for Ingress Protection, this rating classifies the varying degrees of protection that are provided against intrusion from substances such as dust and water by mechanical casings and electrical enclosures.

The IP rating consists of two numbers, the first is for solid particle protection, the second for liquid ingress. Below we will cover these ratings and

Solid particle protection

  • 0 - No protection against contact and ingress of objects
  • 1 - Any large surface of the body, such as the back of a hand, but no protection against deliberate contact with a body part
  • 2 - Fingers or similar objects
  • 3 - Tools, thick wires, etc.
  • 4 - Most wires, screws, etc.
  • 5 - Ingress of dust is not entirely prevented, but it must not enter in sufficient quantity to interfere with the satisfactory operation of the equipment; complete protection against contact (dust proof)
  • 6 - No ingress of dust; complete protection against contact (dust tight)

Liquid ingress protection

  • 0 - Not protected
  • 1 - Dripping water
  • 2 - Dripping water when tilted up to 15°
  • 3 - Spraying water
  • 4 - Splashing of water
  • 5 - Water jets
  • 6 - Powerful water jets
  • 6K - Powerful water jets with increased pressure
  • 7 - Immersion up to 1 m
  • 8 - Immersion beyond 1 m
  • 9K - Powerful high temperature water jets

For an idea of how an IPXX test is performed the following video was made by Siemens to show how they tested their waterproof Aquaris hearing aids.

MIL-STD

MIL-STD is a United States Military Standard that was originally set up in 1962 and was designed to simulate how a device would withstand environmental stress during its operational lifetime. 

There are hundreds of variations to the MIL-STD rating, however the most prominent one for tough phones is the latest iteration of the standard, MIL-STD 810G.

The MIL-STD 810G standard is certified to protect against a number of different scenarios that a rugged device might encounter, namely drops and falls.

U.S. Military Standard 810 Revision G is an 804 page document that was published by the U.S. Military back in 2008 and details 28 different tests that a device will have to pass through before receiving it's certification.

It's worth remembering however that not all tough devices are made equal. Some of these tests were simply not designed for tough phones but other military items like kevlar vests and gas masks.

These tests range from surviving drops onto various surfaces (concrete, wood etc), operating under various temperature ranges (many of our tough phones can work in -20°C(-4°F) to 55 °C (131°F) temperatures) and being subjected to gunfire to fungal infestation - this is a small selection of the tests that the devices will be subjected to.

A short outline of a few of these tests have been included below and we have bolded eight of the tests that a manufacturer can use to determine whether a device is rugged or not.

  • Test Method 500.5 Low Pressure (Altitude)
  • Test Method 501.5 High Temperature
  • Test Method 502.5 Low Temperature
  • Test Method 503.5 Temperature Shock
  • Test Method 504.1 Contamination by Fluids
  • Test Method 505.5 Solar Radiation (Sunshine)
  • Test Method 506.5 Rain
  • Test Method 507.5 Humidity
  • Test Method 508.6 Fungus
  • Test Method 509.5 Salt Fog
  • Test Method 510.5 Sand and Dust
  • Test Method 511.5 Explosive Atmosphere
  • Test Method 512.5 Immersion
  • Test Method 513.6 Acceleration
  • Test Method 514.6 Vibration
  • Test Method 515.6 Acoustic Noise
  • Test Method 516.6 Shock
  • Test Method 517.1 Pyroshock
  • Test Method 518.1 Acidic Atmosphere
  • Test Method 519.6 Gunfire Shock
  • Test Method 520.3 Temperature, Humidity, Vibration, and Altitude
  • Test Method 521.3 Icing/Freezing Rain
  • Test Method 522.1 Ballistic Shock
  • Test Method 523.3 Vibro-Acoustic/Temperature
  • Test Method 524 Freeze / Thaw
  • Test Method 525 Time Waveform Replication
  • Test Method 526 Rail Impact.
  • Test Method 527 Multi-Exciter
  • Test Method 528 Mechanical Vibrations of Shipboard Equipment (Type I – Environmental and Type II – Internally Excited)

As you can see, many of these tests will have specific military orientated applications in mind.

Rufty tufty mobiles

All of our tough phones come with at least an IP67 rating as well as MIL-STD 810G ratings. They have been certified as robust and are more than capable of standing up to the daily wear and tear that comes associated with being used in rugged environments.

A dedicated smart toughphone will always be more robust, durable and better suited to the job of surviving harsh situations than a tough smartphone (see our previous blog post 'Smart toughphones or tough smartphones?') and with many of our ruggedised devices now being offered SIM Free or as contract upgrades doesn't it make sense to get the right tool for the job?