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Sonim XP3 Quest (unlocked) review: Sonim XP3 Quest (unlocked)

Sonim XP3 Quest (unlocked)

Kent German Former senior managing editor / features
Kent was a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).
Kent German
6 min read


Sonim XP3 Quest (unlocked)

The Good

The Sonim XP3 is extremely rugged and durable. It offers GPS support and decent call quality.

The Bad

The Sonim XP3 lacks multimedia messaging. Speakerphone calls were average.

The Bottom Line

We're astounded by the lack of multimedia messaging, but the Sonim XP3 Quest should withstand most torture tests.

The Sonim XP3 Quest is the update to the Sonim XP1 that we reviewed last year. If you thought the XP1 was strong--and believe us when we say that it was--the XP3 goes a step further by being completely waterproof like the G'zOne handsets. If that isn't enough, the XP3 is certified to military specifications for salt, fog, humidity, shock, and vibration. You can use the XP3 as a hammer, store it in freezer (its operational temperature range is minus 4 to 131 degrees Fahrenheit), put it in a vice, and drop it on a concrete floor. We tried a few of these tests and the XP3 didn't get a scratch. You can check a full range of torture tests and its rugged specifications on Sonim's Web site.

Inside the phone you'll find midrange features that include a 2-megapixel camera, an FM radio, Bluetooth, and GPS with turn-by-turn directions. It also comes with a bright flashlight for use in all those extreme situations, but we're annoyed that there's no multimedia messaging. The sound quality is satisfying and the controls show improvement over the XP1. As the GSM handset is only available unlocked, it won't come cheap ($399) but that's the price you pay for the pleasure of throwing your phone against the wall when it drops your call.

You'd never confuse the XP3 with being attractive. It's big and bulky and the yellow and black color scheme isn't for the wallflower. It's available in a more muted gray and black, but even that won't win any beauty contests. But looks are no matter as brawn before beauty is the whole point. The thick plastic skin and rubber sidings protect the XP3 from blows and the large size (4.56 inches by 2.2 inches by 0.98 inch) gives it a comfortable, solid feel in the hand. It's a tight fit in a pants pocket, but that's a minor concern. The XP3 is on the heavy side at 5.9 ounces, but that's to be expected on such a durable device.

As we mentioned earlier, we subjected the Sonim to a few torture tests. We dunked it in water and called it while it was submerged; we used it to hammer a nail in a block of wood; we stepped on it; we twisted it in our hands; we rolled it down a flight of concrete stairs; and we dropped it onto a concrete floor from 14.5 feet. We even tried to hammer a nail into the display. As none of our tests left the Sonim with a scratch, we have to admit that this is one durable phone.

The display measures 1.75 inches and supports 64,000 colors (220x176 pixels). It's relatively bright and vibrant with sharp colors and graphics. The menu interface is basic and intuitive. You can adjust the backlighting time and brightness, but the small text size can't be changed. People with visual impairments should test the Sonim before buying.

Below the display are the navigation controls. Fortunately, they have a better design than on the Sonim XP1. You'll find four directional keys with a central OK button, two soft keys, and the Talk and End power controls. All keys are tactile with a firm feeling beneath the finger. The only thing missing is a dedicated Back or Clear key. The spacious keypad buttons are raised, the numbers on the keys are large, and the backlighting is bright. We had no issues dialing or texting. According to Sonim, the keys will last through 500,000 pushes.

The battery cover is secured using two screws. It's important that you fit the screws tightly if you want the phone to survive a dunking. We were looking around for a screwdriver until we found the handy tool that Sonim supplied in the unique sturdy box. It's a little annoying that the microSD card slot is behind the battery and cover--it takes a few minutes to remove the screws--but we understand that the arrangement is necessary to ensure that the XP3 is waterproof.

A sturdy flap covers the XP3's charger and headset ports.

The Micro-USB charger port and 2.5-millimeter headset jack on the bottom of the phone are protected by a thick rubber cover. The cover doesn't lock into place, but the fit is secure. The volume buttons, camera shutter, and phone book shortcut on the XP3's spines are sturdy and comfortable. We had no trouble changing the sound level when we were on a call. On the rear of the phone you'll find the camera lens, flash/flashlight, and a speaker. The XP3 includes a headset in the headset in the box, but you'll need an adapter to use your own.

The XP3 has 1,000-contact phone book with room in each entry for four phone numbers, an e-mail address, a Web site, a street address, a birthday, and notes. You can save callers to group and pair them with a photo or a ringtone. The five tones that come on the phone are hardly melodious, but they can get ear-shatteringly loud. Fortunately, you can use your own sounds as ringtones.

Essential features include a strong vibrate mode, text messaging, a calendar, a calculator, a stopwatch, a unit converter, a countdown timer, and a speakerphone. You'll also find USB support (a cable comes in the box), PC syncing, an FM radio, a voice recorder, and Bluetooth. And in keeping with the XP3's rugged theme, it supports GPS services and the camera flash doubles as a flashlight. On the downside, it's disappointing that the XP3 doesn't support multimedia messaging, which is a basic feature on so many phones. You do get POP3 e-mail, but you're forced to use a clumsy Java-based application.

The XP3's camera has a flash, but vanity shots are difficult without a self-portrait mirror.

The XP3 2-megapixel camera takes pictures in five resolutions, from 1,600x1,200 pixels down to 220x176. Editing options include three quality settings, a self-timer, a digital zoom, three color effects, a brightness control, and a flash. The XP3 doesn't record video. Photo quality was quite decent--images were a tad washed out but colors looked natural and there was little image noise. Without multimedia messaging, you'll have to resort to Bluetooth, the USB cable, or a memory card to get photos off of the handset.

The XP3 offers decent photo quality.

Besides the e-mail options mentioned above, the XP3 Quest supports a selection of Java applications. The phone comes with the Amaze GPS app installed. It's a bit low budget, but it does provide turn-by-turn directions. You can download more apps from Sonim and keep track of them with an integrated Application Manager. The XP3 offers about 21MB of user-accessible memory, which is respectable.

You can personalize the XP3 Quest with a variety of screensavers, color themes, message and alert tones, wallpaper, and greetings. The handset doesn't come with any games. An Opera Mini Web browser offers access to mobile sites for Facebook, CNN, and the BBC among others. You also get a second WAP browser for your Internet needs.

We tested the Sonim XP3 in San Francisco using AT&T service. Call quality was respectable, though not spectacular. Callers sounded like themselves, but there was a very slight hum in the background. The volume gets quite loud, but the hum was most audible at the highest volume levels. On the other hand, we could hear our callers plainly in all environments.

On their end callers said we sounded fine. They could tell that we were using a cell phone, mostly because some people heard the background hum as well. Yet, they could hear us even when we were calling from a noisy place. Automated calling systems could understand most of the time, but it was best when we were inside. Speakerphone calls were quite loud. As with voice calls, though, there is a slight audio distortion at the highest levels. Callers could understand us, though even when we were a few feet from the phone. Bluetooth calls were about average.

The XP3 promises long battery life. The rated talk time is 18 hours and the rated standby time is 62.5 days. Indeed, our tests showed a very long talk time of 17 hours and 5 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the XP3 has a digital SAR of 0.777 watt per kilogram.


Sonim XP3 Quest (unlocked)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 6Performance 7