Samsung Rugby Smart (AT&T) review: Samsung Rugby Smart (AT&T)

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MSRP: $449.99

The Good The Samsung Rugby Smart's rugged but slim design can withstand a dunking and a slam against the wall. Its camera comes with many features, and images and videos look great on the Super AMOLED screen.

The Bad The Rugby Smart's voice quality is a little muffled and the camera's autofocus feature isn't the fastest.

The Bottom Line The Samsung Rugby Smart can take plenty of punches, without skimping on the smartphone features. Unlike other rugged phones, it's easy on the eyes and it can run on 4G.

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7.7 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8

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.

By keeping all its openings sealed, the Samsung Rugby Smart can withstand brief water submersion.

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.

On the back is a locked latch that keeps the device sealed tight.

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.