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Personally, I'm not too keen on rugged devices. I don't live a tough enough lifestyle to justify owning one (except that time I wrestled a 6-year-old over the last bear claw), and as CNET's Brian Bennett so accurately put it, finding one that doesn't "look like an off-road tire" can be a challenge. Plus, what the phone makes up for in protection, it usually lacks in great smartphone features.
I must say, however, that the Samsung Rugby Smart by AT&T has won me over. If I led a more swashbuckling life, the Rugby Smart would definitely be a handset I'd want. Not only can it take a decent beating, but for $99.99 (when you sign a two-year contract), the device also comes loaded with Android Gingerbread and an impressive Super AMOLED display. Furthermore, it's pretty sleek-looking, meaning it can't be any more unattractive than those cumbersome Otterbox phone cases.
When I first got my hands on the Samsung Rugby Smart, I was struck by how thin and light it was. At 4.82 inches tall, 2.2 inches wide, and 0.48 inch thick, I could hardly tell it was supposed to be a rugged handset. In addition, it weighs only 4.4 ounces, so it didn't feel like I was lugging a brick around in my pocket.
Running all along the device is a matte-black, soft-coated plastic edge that has additional grooves on the left and right sides for extra grip. Up top is the 3.5mm headphone jack that is protected by an attached door. On the right side is the sleep/power button, and on the bottom is the Micro-USB port.
The port can also be sealed with a door. Since the port is dug deep into the bottom of the handset, the door is quite thick, and does its job at wholly plugging the port. Unfortunately, because the port is so embedded into the phone, the only charger that was able to reach it was the one that came in the box. That means that if you have a spare charger, or you'd like to use another one, it might not be able to fit with the Rugby Smart.
On the spine is the volume rocker. One neat feature is that if you hold the "up" volume button for a few seconds while your phone is sleeping, the LED flash on the back of the camera will turn on. This is perfect for anyone who works in low-light conditions or needs to find keys that fell on the car floor. Once you turn on your display, though, the light will switch off.
The handset has a thick bezel, which makes the 3.7-inch Super AMOLED touch screen look smaller than it really is. Yet, the display has a resolution of 480x800 pixels, and I was impressed with how vibrant the images looked. Colors were crisp, graphics from games were bright (albeit a bit pixelated around the edges), and YouTube videos were smooth and vivid.
The screen was also responsive. Zooming in and out of Web pages was a breeze, and I didn't experience any sluggishness while typing or editing text. When I played Fruit Ninja, my heroic sword chopping was picked up at an accurate speed.
Above the display on the left is the 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera. At the very bottom lie your standard four navigation keys: menu, home, back, and search. The keys are raised a little above the glass itself, making them extra tactile.
On the back top center of the device, there is a 5-megapixel camera. To the left of the lens is the LED flash, and to the right are two opening slits for the output speaker. Below those is a small lock you twist with a coin (not your fingernail) to open. This will unfasten the plastic backing and allow you to snap the cover off to access the 1,650mAh lithium ion polymer battery and 32GB microSD card.
Because the backing is made out of plastic, it's hard to believe that this phone can take a huge hit. But I suppose it's what keeps the Rugby Smart so light, and the lock makes sure the backing stays shut.
Testing the device's ruggedness was particularly fun. The handset can be submerged in up to 1 meter of water for 30 minutes. I threw it in a pool that was 3 feet deep and after about 10 minutes being submerged, it turned on and functioned perfectly. It also stayed underwater for about 15 minutes in 6 feet of water, and performed normally after being brought up. I managed to drag the phone, screenside down, across the bottom of the pool with a long pool net as well, and there were no scratches on the glass. And FYI, if you know how to skip rocks, you can also skip this device. Trust me.
I also slammed the handset against the concrete. Although I'm no first-string pitcher, the impact was pretty hard--the backing of the phone managed to come off, despite the locking mechanism. The battery and everything else, however, stayed in place. The device suffered a little cosmetic damage on the left corner where it hit the ground, but after I snapped and locked the backing on, it still worked fine.
Applications that carry out basic functions and management tasks are packaged with the Samsung Rugby Smart, such as a calculator, a calendar, a clock, a memo pad, a music player, a movie player, and a voice recorder. Texting is also included, along with the Swype and Predictive Text T9 and XT9 typing features.
Because it's a Gingerbread Android device, numerous Google apps are preloaded as well, like Google Books, Gmail, Search, Maps with Navigation, Talk, YouTube, and, of course, the new Google Play store.
It also has apps that are tailored to AT&T customers like Code Scanner, which allows your handset to read UPC, QR, and Data Matrix bar codes; FamilyMap, which helps you physically locate family members on your AT&T account; a map and a messaging application that's of the carrier's own brand; and myAT&T, which lets your manage your home phone and Internet accounts.
Other bloatware, which fortunately you have the choice to uninstall, consists of a cloud service called AllShare, Amazon Kindle, file-sharing app Kies air, Facebook, and a media-streaming service called Live TV. There's also a diary app, a photo editor, an app called Qik LTE that lets you upload and share videos, a news and weather app, a Microsoft Office suite for mobile devices known as Quickoffice, the Yellow Pages, and Social Hub, which consolidates all your social networking portals.
The 5-megapixel camera can digitally zoom up to 4x and has tons of options. In addition to the autoflash, it has auto and macro focusing, five shooting modes (single, smile, panorama, action, and cartoon), a whopping 14 different scene modes (none, portrait, landscape, night, sports, party/indoor, beach/snow, sunset, dawn, fall color, firework, text, candlelight, and backlight), and an exposure meter. There is also a timer, four color effects modes (none, negative, grayscale, and sepia), eight resolution options, five white-balance choices (auto, daylight, cloudy, incandescent, and fluorescent), an ISO meter that ranges from 100 to 400, three metering options (center-weighted, spot, or matrix), auto contrast, and a GPS tagging feature.
The camcorder can record and playback HD video, and includes the same color effects, white-balance and exposure meters, a timer, five resolution options, and three recording modes: one for regular recordings, one for sending over MMS, and one for self-recording.
I tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Samsung Rugby Smart in San Francisco using AT&T's service and the call quality was average.
When I used the phone indoors and outdoors, there was no extraneous buzzing in the background, but voices sounded a little muffled. Even when I turned up the volume, voices were not as clear, but still audible. Speakerphone was also adequate enough, despite the fact that I could hear some reverberation from noises bouncing off from the back of the handset. Voices sounded stifled, but were easy to understand. Listening to music or watching videos through speakerphone also reflected the same occurrence. It was reported to me that I sounded fine both in-ear and through the speakerphone, and there was no additional noise pollution coming from my end.
Samsung Rugby Smart call quality sample Listen now:
Video chatting through Google+ also was good. With a strong connection, I didn't experience any audio or video delays. From time to time, I heard a subtle clicking noise in the background, but it didn't happen very often and it wasn't too distracting. The person I chatted with sounded clear, and I was told I sounded fine as well.
The Rugby Smart has a 1.4GHz processor and can run on AT&T's 4G network. I found the processor speed to be zippy; opening apps, switching screen orientations, accessing menu items, and transitioning back to the home screen were all executed without any lag.
The camera's photo quality is perfectly adequate. On pictures taken outdoors in the sun, colors were true to form. Also, because you can take photos up to 2,560x1,920 pixels, you can upload them and zoom in quite a bit. Of course, the objects get grainy close up, but at least your photo is large. Photos taken indoors looked less vibrant when compared with real life, and some light was washed out. Pictures taken with the front-facing camera looked paler, too, and grainy. But objects were easy to make out, and images weren't overly pixelated.
Because of the autofocus feature of the camera, you have to wait a little bit to press the shutter until the camera focuses. However, I was impressed by the quality of focus, especially with the camera's macro function, and the number of different scene settings you can choose.
The quality of the videos was also great. Recordings were clean and not too grainy. Sounds were picked up clearly. Feedback didn't lag behind my moving the camera, and the speed of which the camera shifted its lighting to accommodate a particular focus was quick.
Browsing the Web on the device was swift, as well. The phone can support EDGE, GPRS, and HSPA+ networks. Loading the CNET mobile site took an average of 20 seconds, while loading our full site took 33 seconds. The New York Times full site took shorter on average, clocking in at 22 seconds, and its mobile site took only a brief 7 seconds to load. ESPN's mobile site took 12 seconds, and its full site loaded in 26 seconds. Ookla's Speedtest app, which is 2.99MB, took 56 seconds to download, and showed me an average of 1.03Mbps down and 0.77Mbps up. The 18.34MB game of Fruit Ninja downloaded in 2 minutes and 11 seconds, and Google+, which is 8.5MB, downloaded in a minute and a half.
Although the phone lasted 8.8 hours for our battery drain tests, during my time using the device the battery drained pretty quickly. Perhaps it's because of the bright AMOLED screen, but I couldn't go a full day downloading songs, making calls, or playing games, without at least one charge to bump up the usage time. According to FCC radiation tests, the Rugby Smart has a digital SAR rating of 1.52W/kg.
If you're looking for a rugged handset, I highly suggest the Samsung Rugby Smart by AT&T. Its design is still thick compared with regular, more-fragile smartphones, but it's not overly cumbersome and doesn't look like an ugly rubber brick. Its responsive AMOLED screen makes graphics incredibly bright and crisp, and the camera comes with tons of features. Most importantly, the device does what it's supposed to do: take a tough beating and live to tell about it.