PCD Wrangler (U.S. Cellular)
PCD crafted the IP67-certified Wrangler to withstand a litany of harsh treatment. Through sandstorms, severe temperatures, wind, water, and driving rain, this basic flip phone is made to survive. Find out if the Wrangler's features are brawny enough to handle ordinary cell phone tasks as well.
When I first laid eyes on the PCD Wrangler, I did a double take. That's because this rectangular flip phone looks like a throwback to the early Aughts. It's been ages since I've seen a handset with a clamshell design, perhaps not since the Motorola Razr and the many copycats it spawned. Flashbacks to my once-beloved LG VX6000 immediately came flooding back too. Yet while the VX6000 sported a distinctive and revolutionary (for its time) external OEL display, the Wrangler features a dim 1.2-inch external OLED screen, which displays basic information such as signal strength, time and date, and messaging alerts. The display's white background is garish and unattractive.
The Wrangler's macho name isn't the only clue to its rugged construction. The phone's chassis, with its black rubberized exterior, is crisscrossed by mean-looking ridges, tire-tread patterns, and oversize screws. Clearly this is a phone made for action. In fact, PCD claims the handset is tough enough to meet the IP67 international standard for ruggedness, enabling it to survive exposure to water, dust, and extreme temperatures.
Compliance with the IP67 global protocol also means the Wrangler is built to withstand hazardous duty at construction sites, on factory floors, or in wild weather. It can shrug off exposure to blowing dust and submersion in water up to a depth of 3 feet. Technically, IP67 doesn't specifically address extreme degrees of temperature or physical shocks. Even so, PCD makes these claims of ruggedness for the Wrangler too. To verify, I plunged the phone in both ice-cold and scalding-hot water. I then mercilessly dropped the phone down flights of stairs and onto concrete sidewalks, abuse the Wrangler took in stride.
Measuring a compact 3.8 inches high by 1.9 inches wide by 0.6 inch deep, the Wrangler's substantial exterior thankfully doesn't result in an overly bloated size. That said, the phone's 2.2-inch QVGA (240x 320-pixel resolution) main display is small by any standard. I also found the Wrangler's old-school numerical keypad a real drag to use, with flat square keys that provide little travel or tactile feedback. Indeed, the phone's entire interface, perhaps created in a time before true mobile applications, is just as painful to view as it is to operate. Four tiny icons for calendar, multimedia, messaging, and WAP browser bookmarks are clustered in the screen's center. Basic status indicators for pertinent information like battery, network, and messaging status run along the top, while time and date information sits on the screen's left. Sorry, no touch screen here. You'll need to use a tiny circular button that functions as a navigation pad. It rings the Wrangler's select button and often pulled up my choices incorrectly.
Other phone controls include software keys, and buttons for the camera, Cancel, Send, and End. Two volume keys and an Easyedge key (launches a list of preinstalled software like weather information and games) occupy the phone's left side. The right edge features tabs for activating the Wrangler's voice command and speakerphone functions.
On back is the Wrangler's low-resolution 1.3-megapixel camera, the same sharpness as a typical front-facing smartphone shooter. A stiff switch slides horizontally and locks the battery door firmly in place. The phone's two ports, for a 3.5mm headphone jack and Micro-USB, sit behind thick rubber flaps reinforced with watertight stoppers. Unfortunately that means the USB port is deeply recessed, so to charge the handset you have to use a special adapter that comes with the phone. If you lose it, you're in deep trouble.
There's no getting around the fact that the PCD Wrangler is a feature phone, without a fancy operating system like Android or iOS. That said, as a basic flip, the Wrangler offers the essentials. In the age of Facebook, Twitter, and, heck, even mobile Web surfing, its abilities seem archaic. Still, the phone works for voice calls and text messaging, and it supports Bluetooth wireless for linking to stereo and mono headsets, and has a rudimentary WAP Web browser. Data throughput is limited to 2.5G (1xRTT), which typically tops out at a molasseslike 80Kbps. An onboard phone book accepts up to 1,000 entries, with listings under each contact for multiple numbers and e-mail.
Honestly, there's really no reason to snap pictures with the Wrangler's 1.3-megapixel camera. Not only is it low-resolution and takes extremely blurry photos, there's no LED flash, so pictures I took under low-light conditions were unacceptably dark and murky. Want to use the Wrangler to shoot the next YouTube sensation? Forget about it, since the phone can't capture video either.
I tested the PCD Wrangler on U.S. Cellular's cellular network (800/1,900MHz CDMA) in New York. Unfortunately the phone served up unsatisfactory voice quality, which is devastating for a mobile device that can't do much beyond making calls. Callers I spoke with reported that my voice sounded extremely digitized, unappealing, and very distant. Things weren't much better on my end either. Audio through the Wrangler's earpiece was low even at the phone's maximum volume setting. The same was true of calls piped over the faint speakerphone, and I found my ears straining to hear callers even in quiet conference rooms.
One bright spot is the handset's decent battery life, which is rated at a talk time of 4 hours and standby time of 8.3 days. In my experience the Wrangler lasted multiple days through informal testing and voice calls, plenty to satisfy basic cell phone users. According to FCC regulation tests, the PCD Wrangler has a SAR of 1.263 watts per kilogram at the ear and 0.955 watt per kilogram when worn on the body.
PCD Wrangler call quality sample Listen now:
On the surface, the rough-and-tumble $19.99 PCD Wrangler may seem like good bargain, especially for those looking for a tough phone mainly for making mobile calls. You'd be in a world of hurt if you chose this rugged handset, though. Not only does it offer weak audio quality, its interface is not a pleasure to use. For those wedded to U.S. Cellular, I suggest going with another no-frills handset, the LG Envoy, which has excellent call quality and a sleek design. If the Envoy doesn't seem rugged enough, buying a protective case might do the trick for cheap.
Another option is the Samsung Repp, which is a true smartphone (running the Android Gingerbread OS) and has a list price of $100 but is now being sold virtually for free. Of course, you will have to sign up for a monthly data plan that costs $30 per month on top of your voice plan, but I'd say that it's worth it. If ruggedness is a priority and price isn't a barrier, also consider the Casio G'zOne Ravine 2, which sports a much better design and superior call quality.