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Battle of the Rugged Android Smartphones: Motorola DEFY+ VS. Samsung Galaxy Xcover VS. Sony Ericsson Xperia Active

August 28, 2011

I have a dream, and that dream is that a few years from now, most smartphones will be “rugged”,  which means being water resistant, dust-proof, scratch-proof, and last but not least, shock resistant. If the phone still looks good, it’s not much more expensive than without those features, then who wouldn’t want their phones to be like that?


Smartphones are becoming such important tools in our lives that we can’t live without, even more so than we can live without our PC’s or notebooks. We have them everywhere with us, and they keep us connected wherever we go. But because of that and because we keep these phones on average about 2 years, it also happens that we drop them by mistake, or we spill the cup of coffee all over them, or we drop them in sand at the beach, and so on, our phones can become damaged beyond repair just from one little random accident like that. We might lose our contact data and any other data and media we had in it, too. So in my opinion, it makes perfect sense to have these phones built like tanks to protect them against the environment and small accidents.

Last year, we saw the first Android smartphone that was built like that – the Motorola DEFY, which besides the tough construction, it had a very good price (around $300) for its features, such as: 800 Mhz OMAP 3610 chip (Cortex A8) with PowerVR SGX530 GPU, 2 GB internal storage, 512 MB RAM, and 3.7″ display with a 854×480 resolution.

This year we actually have 3 contenders in the rugged smartphone space: the sequel to DEFY, the Motorola DEFY+, the Samsung Galaxy Xcover, and the Sony Ericsson Xperia Active. Let’s see how these phones stack up against each other.

Motorola DEFY+

Motorola DEFY+ is really not that different from the original DEFY. It has a 25% faster CPU, clocked at 1 Ghz, and it comes with Android 2.3. Also the white version now has a complete white frame on the side and front, where the original one still had the front frame as black. These are pretty much the only differences. But it might not be so bad if it comes at the same price the DEFY is currently selling, and rumors say that it will. It should sell in Germany next month for 269 Euro.

Availability: September 2011
OS: Android 2.3
SoC: 1 Ghz OMAP 3620
Display: 3.7″, 854×480, Gorilla Glass
Internal storage: 2GB
RAM: 512 MB
Camera: 5 MP, VGA@30fps, dual-LED flash
Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, DLNA, Bluetooth 2.1
Battery: 1700 mAh, Li-Po
Dimensions: 107 x 59 x 13.4 mm
Weight: 118 g

Samsung Galaxy Xcover

Samsung, just like Motorola, has been making rugged phones for a while (their Ruby line), but so far they haven’t made a rugged Android smartphone, so this one is their first. From the looks of it, they wanted to keep a pretty slim design as well, and from its specs we can assume that it’s going to be priced at the lower range, so it will be more affordable to a lot more people. I’m guessing it will be priced under 200 euro/dollars (unlocked).

Availability: October 2011
OS: Android 2.3
SoC: 800 MHz Marvell MG2
Display: 3.65″, 480×320, Gorilla Glass
Internal storage: 150 MB
RAM: 512 MB
Camera: 3.2 MP, LED flash, VGA@30fps (unknown, but very likely)
Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0
Battery: Unknown
Dimensions: 122 x 66 x 12 mm
Weight: 116 g

Sony Ericsson Xperia Active

It seems that Sony Ericsson are seeing the potential of these rugged smarphones, too, and they want to enter this market. The specs look pretty good, but without having the price, too, they don’t mean much. I also don’t think this phone will be positioned at the market at large, but rather at a certain market of workers that would find useful carrying the phone around their neck, rather than in pocket. Everyone else, might not like that design “feature” that allows you to do that.

Availability: September 2011
OS: Android 2.3
SoC: 1 Ghz Qualcomm MSM8255 Snapdragon
Display: 3.0″, 480×320, Scratch-resistant, Bravia engine display
Internal storage: 320 MB
RAM: 512 MB
Camera: 5 MP, LED flash, 720p recording, front-camera available
Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0
Battery: 1200 mAh, Li-Ion
Dimensions: 92 x 55 x 16.5 mm
Weight: 110.8 g


Regardless of pricing, I’d say the Motorola DEFY+ is the best one out of the 3. What I like most about it is that it has a good Cortex A8 CPU, with a large enough resolution (854×480) that allows you to play most 3D games out there, and for its 3.7″, it’s very compact. It’s actually smaller in size than some 3.2″ phones out there. The battery is also pretty huge, at 1700 mAh, and Motorola already has some of the best talk-time in phones, so if you care a lot about battery life in phones, this one is for you.

I also like that it has a 2 GB internal storage. I don’t like how most low-end phones these days only have like 150 MB internal storage. That’s like a crime against the buyer, no matter how techie or non-techie he is. It’s especially bad if he is not a techie, because he won’t even know what to do when he realizes he has no more app space, soon after he bought it. I wish Google would force manufacturers to put at least 500 MB of internal storage in all phones, no matter how low-end.

But if you think you’re ok with that, and you want a less expensive, but even better looking rugged phone, then the Samsung Galaxy Xcover should be a great choice as well. I just hope it will come with a decent battery life as well.

Hopefully, starting next year, we’ll see Motorola and Samsung try to make most of their new devices water resistant, dust-proof, scratch and shock resistant, which basically means they need the IP67 certification, which all of these phones have. This is a real opportunity for them here, and if people keep seeing the phones they bought from them survive many small accidents, they’ll become very loyal customers of those companies, because they’ll think they make very durable and reliable phones. From my point of view, it’s a no-brainer that they should keep making phones like these.

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