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Feb 27, 2015

In Search of a Bounceable Phone

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I break things. It’s (usually) not intentional, but a surprising number of devices stop working for me. My connected scales have refused to tell me my weight recently (that should tell me something), my automated door lock froze to deathand my smartphone mysteriously re-boots on a regular basis. And that’s before I do anything unusually dumb, such as dropping them, throwing them in water, orlosing my shorts (with my phone in them). So when I was recently loaned an “ultra rugged” phone – the Sonim XP7 - I couldn’t help but devise an unusual range of tests to see how well it would survive in my world.

While the following tests and trials may seem a little random and odd (they are) there is some method behind my madness. In the rush to make phones sleeker and slimmer, we are increasingly carrying phones that are almost not suitable for daily life. Phones do get dropped on the ground – or in water – or even dropped under a moving car. So perhaps there is a market for a slightly tougher device and that’s on my list of what to look for at Mobile World Congress next week.

So what’s the bottom line here? Would I really carry the Sonim phone with me all day long? Of course not; it’s a big darn phone (with an awesome battery life though!) that you certainly don’t forget is in your pocket. But that’s okay; while it’s not my all-day, every-day device, it is the one I would reach for when heading to the beach, mountain-biking or some other messy sport. Or even if I’m doing home improvement around the house as it’s the kind of phone that you don’t worry about, regardless of where you are. It’s going to be worth the effort to switch out the occasional SIM for the peace of mind that it brings. And to be fair, I’m not the core target audience anyway; it’s an enterprise device aimed at the more extreme segments (think oil & gas and other such markets).

And in the meantime, here come the test cases. Enjoy.

Test One: The Phone Toss

Apart from the occasional hand slip, most of us don’t intentionally throw our phones. But there is actually a mobile phone throwing international competition (who knew!) and you do hear of the occasional celeb who throws their phone at the paparazzi or an unsuspecting housekeeper or two. So with that in mind, test one involved tossing the phone about 15 feet up in the air and watching it bounce off the ground… which it did quite nicely. Test one complete.

Test Two: The (Less Than) Accidental Car Crush

Since the phone was already on the ground, it made some sort of weird sense to drive over it. Sure, why not. I’ve had a phone or two crushed in my time, but I’ve never intentionally done so (although I’ve had the occasional phone that has sorely tempted me in the past). So we tested it… quite a lot actually, and the phone was dent free despite our attempts.

Test Three: Fish Food

At some point in the test regime, you realize that you have to push the limits a little. So, with a no-expense-spared philosophy, we took the phone to a small Caribbean island to test it in sand and sea. Frankly, there is something very liberating about having a phone when you don’t worry about it getting wet or sandy, and this could easily become my beach-frequenting phone this summer. But a little drop or two of water clearly wasn’t going to push the boundaries of the phone, so we took it deeper. Actually, this proved to be a great test of two devices as we used HTC’s RE camera to take the photos and video.

Test Four: Snow Crash

My daughter managed to lose a phone for three days last year. We found it as the snow began to melt and we discovered that it had fallen out of her pocket into a snow bank on our driveway. The phone, unfortunately, didn’t do so well with the cold (or the combination with the wet). The original plan here was to hang the budget and take the phone up to Vermont for real field testing. But apparently the Caribbean trip took a little more out of the budget than expected, and New York had plenty of snow and ice for the testing… so I loaned this one to my kids when they went sledding. It came back wet and cold (like the kids) but still working well (and my budget survived).

Test Five: The Dog Ate My Homework

When I was growing up, dogs all across the nation were regularly blamed for eating the homework that we all swore blind that we’d completed. This generation can’t use that excuse, so we updated it by allowing the dog to eat the phone instead. Shame that there’s a cloud behind every phone to protect from adverse data loss when the phone is eaten. But still… and I have to confess that this final test did push the limit a little too far. The phone still works but finally has a couple of scars (or tooth marks) as a result. As an aside, the more observant may notice that this is actually a different phone, with an actual keypad. What can I say? My dog is not really a smartphone kind of guy.

The Final Test

So one of my (many) faults is not knowing when to stop. And the phone paid the price for my “just one more test” philosophy. But this unfortunate (some would say inevitable) outcome has helped me to realize how much I’m going to miss this rugged beast of a phone. It was a far more useful device than I was expecting. Of course, this last test has also reminded me that “ultra rugged” is not the same as “indestructible.” Sorry, Sonim XP7… I’ll miss you.  Oh will I? Sonim offers a 3-year warranty that even includes accidental damage (was this accidental you ask?). So perhaps my phone will live again. Oh, and I’m not going to disclose what the final test was. That’s between me and my phone, and is certainly not something you should try at home…

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