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Circuit Breaker

This tough, $700 phone is meant for first responders, but you can buy it if you want

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Tough as nails

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I have a soft spot for ultra-rugged devices. Sure, they may not always be the best phones out there when it comes to things like cameras or razor-sharp displays, but they’re a fascinating example of what happens when you take a multipurpose device like a smartphone and turn it into a gadget that’s designed for just one thing. In this case, that’s sheer and almost ridiculously overengineered ruggedness. Joining the ring as a new contender for the toughest phone yet is the Sonim XP8, which recently went on sale at AT&T, via Android Police.

As an Android phone, there’s not much to see here. It still runs Android Nougat, instead of the newer Oreo, and internally, there’s a Snapdragon 630 processor, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage (which can be expanded by microSD), which is all pretty standard. Cameras are a 12-megapixel rear shooter, and an 8-megapixel front-facing lens, but if you’re buying the Sonim XP8, it’s probably not to take pictures. The highlight here is a massive 4,900mAh battery that Sonim claims is good for 30 hours of talk time or 30 days of standby, which fits more in line with the rugged purpose of the XP8.

The display is a 5-inch, 1080p panel (pretty ordinary specs for a phone) and is also puncture-resistant and able to be used with gloves and wet fingers (less ordinary). Also of note is something that’s become a bit of a rarity these days: physical Android buttons for home, back, and multitasking, instead of the almost ubiquitous on-screen icons.

But the Sonim XP8 is designed for military users or emergency workers, and plenty of the feature-set is dedicated to those sorts of demanding use cases. The phone is rated to MIL-STD-810G standards for things like dust, shock, rain, and temperature, and is rated for both IP68 (water submersion) and IP69K (direct water spray) as well. There’s a pair of 100dB+ front-facing speakers that are meant to be loud enough to hear over noisy conditions (say a construction site), and a pair of dedicated buttons on the side of the XP8, one for push-to-talk communication and a red SOS button for placing emergency voice calls to responders in case of accidents. There’s also support for the AT&T-powered FirstNet public safety wireless network, and to top it all off, Sonim offers a three-year warranty that even covers accidental damage, which speaks to a certain level of confidence in the finished product here.

Is the XP8 the best smartphone you can buy for $699.99? Probably not, if we’re going by sheer specifications. You can buy any number of more powerful phones with better hardware, better screens, and a better camera for that price. But if you’re someone who needs these kinds of rugged features and doesn’t want to give up the convenience of a smartphone, the Sonim XP8 might fit the bill.

That said, while the XP8 may be designed for more demanding jobs like emergency workers, AT&T is selling it as a regular phone on its website. There’s really nothing stopping you from picking one up yourself if you’re tired of replacing broken screens on your iPhone X or Galaxy S9.