Waterproof, dust-resistant and capable of withstanding accidental drops onto hard, unforgiving concrete, the JCB Toughphone Pro-Smart is the Arnold Schwarzenegger of Android handsets. It can take whatever punishment you feel like dealing out, and still come back for seconds.
With IP67 certification, a protective barrier over the screen and chunky, shockproof casing, this no-nonsense mobile is likely to be the dream ticket for those employed in the rough-and-tumble world of construction and manual labour.
For all of its strength, the Toughphone Pro-Smart is saddled with rather disappointing technical specs. But will it matter if all that's important to you is a phone that will survive a pummeling unscathed?
The JCB Toughphone Pro-Smart is available SIM-free from Expansys for £310.
Should I buy the JCB Toughphone Pro-Smart?
Digger maker JCB has been running a neat little sideline in rugged mobile phones for a few years, but they've tended to be the tech equivalent of your average WWE wrestler -- brawn over brains.
Following a collaboration with Motorola to create the specially branded Defy+, JCB has finally stepped up to the plate with the Android-packing Toughphone Pro-Smart -- otherwise known as the only handset Chuck Norris would be seen in public with. To call this device rugged is a masterclass in understatement. You could bludgeon someone to death with this blower, should you be that way inclined.
Unfortunately, despite the near-indestructible exterior, the Toughphone Pro-Smart is something of a technological weakling. It only has an 800MHz processor, a 320x480-pixel resolution screen and comes with Android version 2.3, rather than 4.0 -- the most recent edition.
It's clear that the Toughphone Pro-Smart isn't aimed at consumers who salivate over the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S3 and Apple iPhone 4S. This device caters for an entirely different user. While those super-thin and ultra-powerful handsets look great resting on the coffee table at your local Starbucks, they're woefully ill-suited to emailing from the rigours of a building site.
As a phone for outdoor types who work amid dust, water and all kinds of weather, the Toughphone Pro-Smart makes a lot of sense. The lack of cutting-edge functionality is a bind, but you have to ask yourself, what good is a HD 720p resolution Super AMOLED screen when it's covered in grime?
At first glance, you'd be forgiven for assuming the Toughphone Pro-Smart is actually a normal smart phone clad in a strong case. It's only when you pick the device up that you realise the proliferation of plastic is actually part of the handset. At 20.5mm thick, this has to be one of the chunkiest mobiles I've ever seen.
There's a good reason for this portly frame -- the Toughphone Pro-Smart is water, dust and shockproof and comes with IP67 certification, which means it can withstand full submersion in the wet stuff for up to 30 minutes.
This is nothing new -- the Motorola Defy offers a similar level of protection -- but I'd be willing to wager JCB's phone is the tougher of the two. While I stopped short of attempting to mutilate the device to see if it's quite as robust as the Nokia Lumia 900, I nevertheless put the Toughphone Pro-Smart through some pretty strenuous testing. It emerged entirely unscathed.
You won't be able to slip this blower into your back pocket. As a fashion statement, it's woefully lacking. But then its target audience is probably more comfortable in baggy cargo pants and steel-toed boots. To illustrate, the phone even comes with a special carabiner attachment so you can secure it to your tool belt when you're not using it. It doesn't get much manlier than that.
Processing power and internal storage
For all its ruggedness, the Toughphone Pro-Smart is less intimidating when it comes to pure specifications and features. The 800MHz single-core CPU doesn't offer blistering performance and speed, and the lacklustre 3.2-inch screen is low-resolution and pixelated.
There's a pitiful 112MB of user-available internal storage, and the 2GB microSD card bundled by JCB won't offer you much space for songs, photos, apps and videos. Thankfully, you can upgrade this to a card with more space if you need to. And because it's running Android, the Toughphone Pro-Smart can make use of Google's myriad cloud-based storage solutions, including Picasa (for photos and videos), and Google Music. You can even sign up to services such as Dropbox and Google Drive to grab even more online space.
The Toughphone Pro-Smart comes with Android 2.3, also known as Gingerbread. It's not the most up-to-date version of Google's mobile OS, but it still offers access to all the usual services, such as the Google Play app market and the company's aforementioned range of cloud-based storage options.
Rather than clad the OS in its own unique skin, JCB has opted for a relatively untouched version of Android 2.3. In fact, aside from the unique toolkit app -- which boasts a variety of useful widgets for when you're doing a spot of DIY -- JCB has done precious little to leave its mark on this phone's interface. While this initially seems a little disappointing, it actually comes as a blessing -- no bloatware means better overall performance.
Camera and video recording
The 5-megapixel camera takes average shots, but it's afflicted by one of the longest capture delays I've seen on a mobile phone snapper. Nearly four seconds passes between taking a shot and it actually registering on the phone, so don't expect to capture any impromptu images -- by the time the Toughphone Pro-Smart has taken the picture, the moment will most likely have passed.
There's no HD video on offer here, with the highest recording resolution available being 480x800 pixels (0.4 megapixels). The quality is predictably abysmal. You might get away with palming your fuzzy movies off to friends via email, but don't rely on this phone to capture your most treasured moments.
When you're deep into a particularly testing construction job -- be it erecting a block of high-rise flats or simply digging a pond in your back garden -- the last thing you want is for your phone to run out of battery and leave you without a vital means of communication.
This nightmare scenario has clearly been given some thought by the design bods at JCB, as the Toughphone Pro-Smart comes with a large-capacity 2,000mAh power cell. It's one of the biggest I've seen in an Android handset, although it's not as juicy as the Motorola Razr Maxx.
Hidden behind a back panel that has to be removed using a screwdriver-style attachment, this large battery bestows the phone with seriously impressive stamina -- for a smart phone, at least. Even with moderate usage and all the usual synchronisation features active, I got two solid days out of the Toughphone Pro-Smart. With more careful use, it's highly likely that it could last for even longer before gasping for the power socket.
The JCB Toughphone Pro-Smart isn't going to win any awards for its looks. That monstrous case design may offer an unprecedented degree of protection and the mixture of yellow and black plastic calls to mind the signature colours of the iconic British building brand. But the phone resembles a workman's tool that's barely pocketable, rather than a piece of desirable consumer electronics.
It's clear the Toughphone Pro-Smart isn't going to get many votes among budding fashionistas and mobile posers. But it's just as obvious that this particular product isn't aimed at the style-conscious sector of the market -- instead, it's intended for a very specific group of people who work outdoors or in dust and grime-filled environments.
With this in mind, the Toughphone Pro-Smart makes a lot more sense. Although I'm no builder and the absolute limit of my DIY knowledge is putting together Ikea furniture, even I can see that this device is going to last for ages.
Casual mobile users will balk at the chubby case and lack of processing power, but if you're involved in the building trade or regularly work exposed to the elements, then the Toughphone Pro-Smart comes with a recommendation almost as weighty as the device itself.