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Sonim XP7 review:

An all-weather workhorse

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The red Sonim Protect button will offer emergency support to remote workers. Nate Ralph/CNET

There's an app for the FM radio, a file manager, apps to manage software updates and your phone carrier's account, as well as software to set up the push-to-talk functionality. The Sonim Protect system won't be available until 2015, but it will offer a dedicated emergency line for monitoring and assisting stranded workers.

Performance

This quad-band phone runs on LTE networks, and is available from Bell and Telus in Canada. The models I reviewed were outfitted with AT&T SIM cards for my testing, and performed ably. There's a 1.4GHz quad-core processor and 1GB of RAM, which aren't exactly standout specs -- especially at this price -- but serve the XP7 well. The phone flies through general use, and the games I brought along with me -- Dead Trigger 2 and Angry Birds: Transformers -- skipped along without missing a beat.

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I'm no fan of proprietary cables, but it keeps the phone sealed. Nate Ralph/CNET

The 4,800mAh battery is rated at up to 40 hours of talk time. My own use involved lots of Web browsing (and hunting for a signal in the desert), snapping photos, and making calls once I returned to civilization. Four days later when I finally got around to plugging it in, the phone hovered at about 22 percent battery life.

Call quality was excellent: the people I spoke to could hear me clearly, and the noise-canceling microphone does a good job of quelling the noise around me. And the front-facing speaker is loud, so I didn't have any trouble carrying on a conversation. You'll want to stick to headphones for music, though, as the bass is a little weak, which can make audio sound a little tinny.

Camera

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The lighting looks fine for a rainy San Francisco day. Nate Ralph/CNET

I honestly wasn't expecting too much out of the 8-megapixel camera that sits on the rear of the XP7. Image quality isn't stellar, and details are muddled, but these conditions -- a rainy, cloudy day -- were far from ideal. The autofocus isn't too sluggish, and the camera is ready to go within a second and a half of tapping the camera app icon, or holding down the dedicated shutter button on the left side of the phone.

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This shot is overexposed, and a little too blue. Nate Ralph/CNET

This shot is a little overexposed but the primary subject is largely noise-free. That said, the colors are a bit off: everything is a tad cooler than it should be, as you can see in the bluish-tint on the whites here.

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The foreground details are muddled here. Nate Ralph/CNET

I took this shot in fairly strong sunlight at about 7 in the morning, and that blue tint is present here, too. A quick trip to the camera settings to fix tweak the white balance might improve the overall look, but all of the details in the shrubbery up front are lost to image noise.

Conclusion

This phone isn't for everyone. It isn't for most. The average person would be better served by something like the Kyocera Brigadier ($50 on contract, $400 unlocked), which packs about 10 hours of battery life into a sturdy, water-resistant shell.

But the Sonim XP7 sits in an entirely different category, aimed at businesses that need reliable performance in the worst conditions. I can certainly manage to find an outlet every few days to keep my gadgets topped up. I don't often need to check my email while wearing snowboarding gloves, caked in mud and dust. And I wouldn't dream of trusting most cell phones to bear sheeting rain and howling winds with gusto while I hurriedly tore down a tent that was obviously built for milder climes. At least, not without worry.

The XP7 says "don't worry." It's a tool, and can be treated as one. And while it didn't prove indestructible (glass is glass), it took concentrated buffoonery to wear it down; Sonim says that accidental damage is covered by the three-year warranty. I'm not the right fit for this phone, and found that the user experience suffers from that focus on durability. But if you need a reliable device to get you through hazard-filled days, the Sonim XP7 will get the job done.

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