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Sonim XP Strike review: Poor design and camera plague tough device

While the waterproof Sonim XP Strike phone can surely take a hard beating, it not only has a handful of design flaws, it has a terrible camera to boot.

Lynn La Senior Editor / Reviews - Phones
Lynn La covers mobile reviews and news. She previously wrote for The Sacramento Bee, Macworld and The Global Post.
Lynn La
6 min read

Though it isn't the sleekest device, the Sonim XP Strike from Sprint isn't anything to mess with. Fulfilling military-grade specifications for ruggedness, the handset can survive the toughest of environments. It's shock-resistant, waterproof, and dustproof, and can withstand up to 1 ton of pressure (so don't feel too bad if you accidentally run it over in your driveway with your SUV).


Sonim XP Strike

The Good

Sprint's rugged <b>Sonim XP Strike</b> includes basic Web features and push-to-talk Direct Connect.

The Bad

The XP Strike charges through a 3.5mm jack, has a few design flaws, and takes terrible pictures, and its display collects moisture after a dunking.

The Bottom Line

While the Sonim XP Strike is tough as nails, Sprint has other rugged devices that are better not only in performance, but in price too.

The carrier's first Sonim phone, it not only expands Sprint's rugged lineup, but it also features Sprint Direct Connect, which enables callers to quickly communicate with one another at a push of a button.

It's available now for $129.99 after you sign a two-year contract and send in a mail-in rebate.

With its thick rubber accents and bright yellow markings, the XP Strike looks like what Bumblebee the Transformer would carry around for its cellphone. Like most rugged devices, it's bulky, with a thick, 0.98-inch profile.

At 6.52 pounds, it also has a heavy construction, and it measures 4.95 inches tall and 2.3 inches wide. It won't fit comfortably inside front jean pockets, and don't expect to hold long conversations comfortably with it pinned between your shoulder and cheek. Again, this handset is meant for those working in an industrial, outdoor setting.

Sonim XP Strike
The XP Strike has a thick profile, but slim buttons. James Martin/CNET

On the left are its push-to-talk Direct Connect button and two outlets for the headphone jack and charging port. These are both covered by a plastic door. Take note that the charging port is not for a Micro-USB, but rather a 3.5mm jack. While it's nice that the phone does come with a 3.5mm jack charging cord, as well as an adapter, it still is inconvenient. You'll always need these specific accessories around, and you can't simply connect your device with someone's Micro-USB charger if you're out of the house and need a quick power-up.

On the right are the power rocker and a shortcut button that has two options. You can long-press it, which will continuously turn on the flash, or click it once and it'll activate the camera.

The back has a 2-megapixel camera and LED flash. Below those are 23mm speakers that are protected by narrow vents. The battery is protected by a thick plastic back plate and two screws. Sonim includes a tool to unscrew these, if you ever want to access the battery and the microSD card underneath it.

The 2-inch QVGA display has a 240x320-pixel resolution. It's not much, but it's enough to render text and simple icons clearly. The backlit also adequately brightens the display, and the Corning Gorilla Glass screen itself is 1.8 millimeters thick to ensure durability.

Below the screen are four navigational keys with a center select button, two selection keys, clear and back buttons, keys to make and end a call, and an alphanumeric keypad. All these buttons are a bit small, but easy to press and spaced out well.

There are some general design flaws, however. Seeing as the handset is so wide, it's a wonder that the side buttons are so narrow. They're also difficult to press, and you'll need to push down extra-hard to adjust the volume or open the camera.

Secondly, it won't stand upright on its own because its bottom edge rounds outward. When you use it as a walkie-talkie with Direct Connect, it's natural to place it standing, and given its thickness, it should be able to otherwise.

Sprint and Sonim XP Strike back (pictures)

See all photos

Software and features
As a feature device, the XP Strike includes all the basic necessities. When you select menu, you'll see 12 icons. A few are self-explanatory, such as call history, missed alerts, and My Account, which lets you access your phone bill.

The handset includes a contact book where you can file multiple numbers under one person and you can send them both SMS and MMS messages. Messages are limited to 160 characters and you can only hold up to 1,000 messages. Under the settings icon, you can change your security settings, wallpaper, ringtone, and other such things.

Handy tools include a clock with alarm features, a calendar, a memo pad, a to-do list, a calendar, a stopwatch, and a world clock. With the entertainment icon, you can access your videos, music, and photos, as well as an FM radio.

Sonim XP Strike (Sprint)
The handset can be submerged in up to 6.5 feet of water for 30 minutes. James Martin/CNET

Finally, you get some rudimentary Web access. One is the Access NetFront 4.2 Web browser, which lets you visit stripped versions of Web sites. There's also a GPS navigator from Telenav that you'll need to register for.

Other features include Bluetooth 2.0, a shopping app, and 256MB of RAM.

Camera and video
The camera has brightness, contrast, and exposure meters, red-eye and night modes, a timer, four color effects, five white balances, four image sizes (from 320x240 to 1,600x1,200), and geo-tagging. Video options include the same brightness, contrast, and exposure meters, as well as the same white balances, but also audio muting, two video resolutions (128x96 and 176x144), and two format options (3GP and MP4).

Picture quality was downright awful. For some reason, objects in the live view looked fine and crisp, but once I clicked the shutter, photos came out blurry and heavily pixelated. You can see distinct aliasing along the edges of objects, colors were washed out, and auto white balance was yellow and wonky. Were it not for how these photos looked while I viewed them in the handset, I would have thought these photos had been rendered incorrectly when I sent them to a computer. But because they looked just the same on the computer and on the phone, I can conclude that the camera really is this terrible.

Sonim XP Strike (inside)
You can see heavy aliasing against the white wall's edges and corners. Lynn La/CNET

Sonim XP Strike (outside)
The flowers here look jagged and pixelated. Lynn La/CNET

Sonim XP Strike (SSI)
Not only does the white background take on a yellow hue, but objects are out of focus. Lynn La/CNET

Video didn't fare any better. Though some nearby audio picked up clearly, objects were out of focus, and heavily pixelated, and it was hard to make out even the simplest of things like close-up text. Feedback lagged behind my moving of the handset as well.

I tested the dual-band (800, 1900) XP Strike in our San Francisco offices. Call quality was excellent. There were no extraneous noises or static, audio didn't cut in and out, and none of my calls were dropped. In times of silence, I heard absolutely no background noise, and even on maximum volume, voices didn't sound too harsh or tinny. Speaker quality was just as good, as I heard my friends loud and clear. Likewise, I was told my voice quality sounded great too. One person even remarked that it sounded like I was calling from a landline.

Sonim XP Strike call quality sample Listen now:

As a rugged device, the phone is tough: I dropped it on a hardwood floor and it practically bounced up and landed with no visible scuffs or scratches. However, I got some inconsistent performance with underwater testing. The first time, I put it underwater in a sink for 30 minutes. When I took it out, it operated perfectly. But when it was dunked a second time for just a few minutes, the phone began to act oddly. The camera shortcut button didn't work, the number 5 kept appearing on screen, and finally, it shut down altogether. I also saw moisture collecting underneath the display. I checked to see if any water had leaked into the handset, even though I hadn't opened it up since the first submersion. Sure enough, water had gotten into the battery compartment. I will leave it out to dry and will update the review when I revisit the handset.

The Strike's 1,950mAh battery has a reported talk time of 8.3 hours and a standby time of 319 hours. During our talk-time test, it lasted 11.53 hours. Anecdotally, it has long battery life. It doesn't do much, so you can go through at least a couple of days without a charge. According to the FCC, it has a in-ear SAR rating of 1.39W/kg.

I'll give it to the Sonim XP Strike that it's built like a brick, and it performed excellently both in call quality and taking a few knocks against the floor. But other than that, there isn't much here. Sprint has a pretty robust lineup of rugged handsets, and Kyocera's Dura family, for example, are all cheaper than the XP Strike. Both the Kyocera DuraPlus and DuraXT are currently available for $70 with promotions. Though it doesn't have a microSD card slot, the former doesn't suffer from the XP Strike's particular design flaws, and the latter has a decent camera. Frankly, I'd consider these two before the Strike.


Sonim XP Strike

Score Breakdown

Design 5Features 7Performance 6