Samsung Rugby 3 review: With poor call quality, what's the point?

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MSRP: $269.99

The Good The Samsung Rugby 3 has a terrifically responsive dial pad and enhanced push-to-talk support.

The Bad Audio quality was subpar, the shared headset/charger jack is inconvenient, and for a durable phone, the body could be grippier.

The Bottom Line Very poor call quality is especially unacceptable on a simple cell phone. Unless you require AT&T's push-to-talk service, keep looking.

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6.0 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 6
  • Performance 5

Built for durability and outdoor work, the Samsung Rugby 3 is a sturdy clamshell cell phone. It features AT&T's enhanced push-to-talk and noise suppression, and it comes with large, responsive, and widely-spaced buttons that make it possible to hit while wearing thicker gloves.

Pair all that with U.S. Military Standard 810G for water, dust, and shock, and you have a phone that could easily belong in a fleet for outdoor workers, the accident-prone, or people who want a high level of strength in a simple cell phone -- that is, until you hear it. Cellular call quality was unfortunately very poor, making it one to skip, since the phone does little other than look tough and make calls. The Rugby 3 retails for about $100 with a new, two-year contract.

Design and build
A fairly tall, thick device, the Rugby 3 means business. It's made of a hardened plastic material, but there's very little grip; I'd like a little more. Diagonal grooves slashed along the spines give it a greater handhold.

Closed, the Rugby 3 stands 4.1 inches tall by 2.1 inches wide by 0.82 inch deep and weighs a solid 4.6 ounces. A large speaker grille sits above a small, 1.3-inch CSTN display, which flashes the date and time, battery level, signal strength, and so on. This external display fades after a few seconds, and there seems to be no way to adjust those settings, which is somewhat typical. What's unusual, though, is that pressing the volume keys doesn't light it up again, which is a shame.

The Samsung Rugby 3 is fairly large, but also built to take some knocks. Josh Miller/CNET

Below the external display, you'll find a small camera lens for the 3-megapixel shooter.

Flipping open the Rugby 3 via its thick, sturdy hinge was a smooth motion I could execute one-handed. Inside, the 2.4 inch screen has a QVGA display with its 320x240-pixel resolution and support for 260,000 colors. The screen and colors are bright enough at the halfway lighting point, and text is legible, not hazy. It'll be games, graphics, and images that suffer most at this resolution.

Navigating around with the Rugby 3's excellent four-directional pad and soft keys was a piece of cake, except that I kept hitting the central select button to get to the menu, and pulled up the browser instead. D'oh.

Finding what I needed was generally smooth sailing. Shortcuts on the dial pad and navigation array are helpful for launching AT&T Navigator, a shortcuts menu, and turning the phone to vibrate mode. You can also access apps by pressing the left soft key from the home screen.

Below the dial pad, large, very responsive, and spacious keys call up large numbers on the screen. Also pleasantly wide and finger-friendly are the volume rocker and push-to-talk (PTT) buttons on the phone's left spine. On the right, you'll find a less raised speakerphone button and a combined Micro-USB charging port and headset jack. I'm not a fan of this combo at all, since you'll need an adapter and because you won't be able to charge the phone while also speaking through a wired headset or listening to music. What can I say, I'm a big fan of options.

A shared charging port and headset jack means that you'll need an adapter to listen to music from a wired headset -- and you can't do that while also charging the phone. Josh Miller/CNET

Flip the Rugby 3 over and there's a loop for attaching a phone leash, and a flat-headed screw you can use a coin or other slim, flat object to unlock. Off comes the back panel, where you'll find your SIM card holder and a microSD card slot capable of storing up to 32GB of memory.

A durable device, the Rugby 3's most valuable features are its physical assets; however, the telephonic basics are important, too. The Rugby 3 has a 1,000-entry address book that lets you create contact records and groups. There's room for the usual phone numbers, e-mail address, and preloaded ringtone (choose from nine) and a photo ID, not to mention space for notes and so on.

There's also support for Bluetooth, texting, and mobile e-mail through a whole range of providers, including Gmail and Windows Live Hotmail. You'll find a browser, AT&T Radio, and a bevy of other AT&T apps, including AT&T Navigator with turn-by-turn directions.