Rise of the Toughphone
Previously to owning my present daily driver–the ASUS Zenfone 2–I owned a Kyocera Hydro Vibe. It wasn’t the most powerful Android phone on the planet, but it was tough as Hell. It was waterproof, dustproof, and somewhat shockproof…just ridiculously tough. I loved it for that. Going out on the water and not thinking twice about having your smartphone with you (and being able to take pictures out on the water) becomes second nature very quickly, and I still have to remind myself that my present phone is not so indestructible.
And I really do miss it. I buy my clothes (all black) based upon how tough they are and how long they can last me. I buy most things that I buy based upon how tough they are, and how long they can last. I want my money to go for. That’s just being smart about what you invest in. It’s the same reason I don’t like new cars, you’d swear a pebble could wreck your front bumper today, which is insane for something that costs 5 to 6 figures. As I always say: “Profit” is not a dirty word, but “value” isn’t a dirty word, either. Granted, waterproofing and IPX ratings aren’t required for something to be “built to last”, it certainly doesn’t hurt. So the concept of “toughphones” is something that I’d like to see grow and get developed and produced all the more.
So when I can, I like to recommend these “toughphones”, but unfortunately they are still somewhat of a niche market. Kyocera, CAT, and Sony are generally the companies you think of when you think of indestructible phones, and while Sony has historically had great phones in the Xperia Z line (including great for having open-source kernels and software for them), but that line has come to an end (supposedly) after the latest Z5.
Samsung was starting to waterproof their Galaxy S line, but then when they released the S6, they backtracked on the waterproofing out of the gate. However, they did release–an “AT&T Exclusive”–called the Galaxy S6 Active. The Galaxy S6 Active was actually a superior phone the the rest of the S6 line in many ways, especially for the Dark Android Project. For one, it was waterproof, dustproof, and largely shockproof (it had a hardened shell around it). It also had a rarity in the smartphone space overall: hardware buttons (which I love). The S6 Active also had a significantly larger battery than other S6s. And, here’s a beauty, it didn’t include the grand security flaw known as a fingerprint sensor (unlike the rest of the S6 line). While it still used the unfortunate Exynos processor, it was/is a powerful phone with a lot of the right moves. If you could buy one on Amazon through a reseller, you made a great purchase, in my opinion.
I’ll admit that I was thinking that since the new Galaxy S7 phones were coming stock with waterproofing, rectifying the problem with the lack of it in the S6 line (save the S6 Active), that there wouldn’t be a ruggedized version–a Galaxy S7 Active, say–in the S7 line. At present, it appears I was wrong.
Galaxy S7 Active
Pictured: The Galaxy S6 Active. Very nice.
It was recently discovered in one of Samsung’s own apps on a Galaxy S7 that there was a listing for a new phone: a Galaxy S7 Active. Whether or not it’s going to get released may not be 100%, but Samsung is infamous (in a good way, and it’s a rare good thing I’d say about them) for actually releasing even the most niche and small production run device. So the chance that it’s going to get released is high. Hopefully, it will match everything that was great about the S6 Active. Larger battery, greater waterproofing, dustproof, and shockproof, hardware buttons, and NO fingerprint sensor. Also, perhaps this Active phone won’t be an AT&T exclusive phone this time around (not that it would stop people that really want it from getting their hands on it). Depending on all of those potential inclusions to the already very powerful standard S7 specs, there’s a good chance that this could be the most powerful phone available that is a “toughphone” and doesn’t include the (potentially) problematic fingerprint sensor.
And, hey, maybe–just maybe–the Galaxy S7 Active will work with the Galaxy Gear VR headset and other Galaxy line accessories.
The Xiaomi Mi 5
For another degree of “toughphone”, here’s a company you don’t hear about much yet (in the USA, anyways), and that’s the Chinese electronics giant, Xiaomi. I’ve mentioned their incredible Redmi 3 octa-core Android phone that only costs $100 (amazing) here before, but they have a wide range of smartphones that are ridiculously low-priced. One of these–while not waterproof–it is seemingly uniquely “drillproof” and “sawproof”. Talk about a “toughphone”. Damn. It’s called the Xiaomi Mi 5 Pro, and it’s different from its non-Pro Mi 5 sister-phone as having a ceramic backing instead of a glass one (keep in mind, this drillproofing and sawproofing is not true for the screen of the phone). Take a look…
The idea of hardened mobile devices is likely going to stay a niche market until Apple runs out of bullshit “innovations” (3D Touch, changing the size of the phone, etc.) to try and sell to people, and Apple finally decides to sell waterproof/hardened iOS devices. Once that happens, many a manufacturer is going to get onboard with the idea and start making all of their flagships into hardened devices.
SIDE NOTE: On my tech podcast, Sovryn Tech, I’ve long theorized since the implementation of Force Touch on MacBooks, and a proposed patent on a Force Touch-based keyboard to the US Patent Office last year, that Apple may be able to finally make a waterproof laptop, considering that the MacBook itself also has no fans in need of a vent. Personally, though I’m not a heavy Mac user, I think this would be awesome.
I enjoy these hardened devices, popular or not. Perhaps it’s my love of things being “made to last”, or perhaps its just some deep-seeded desire for myself to be “indestructible” that I like that my devices can keep pace. Regardless, the Mi 5 and the Galaxy S7 Active are both–potentially–interesting looks at how these smartphones can get made if there’s a market for it.
And more interestingly, I think it shows potential for–what I theorize–is our “smartwatch-run” future, where smartwatches can be as indestructible as a Casio G-Force watch, and smartphones are no longer required.
Now that’s exciting. Bring on the toughphones. Then let’s bring on the “tough-smartwatches”.