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Sonim XP3300 Force review: Sonim XP3300 Force

Sonim XP3300 Force

Jessica Dolcourt Senior Director, Commerce & Content Operations
Jessica Dolcourt is a passionate content strategist and veteran leader of CNET coverage. As Senior Director of Commerce & Content Operations, she leads a number of teams, including Commerce, How-To and Performance Optimization. Her CNET career began in 2006, testing desktop and mobile software for Download.com and CNET, including the first iPhone and Android apps and operating systems. She continued to review, report on and write a wide range of commentary and analysis on all things phones, with an emphasis on iPhone and Samsung. Jessica was one of the first people in the world to test, review and report on foldable phones and 5G wireless speeds. Jessica began leading CNET's How-To section for tips and FAQs in 2019, guiding coverage of topics ranging from personal finance to phones and home. She holds an MA with Distinction from the University of Warwick (UK).
Expertise Content strategy, team leadership, audience engagement, iPhone, Samsung, Android, iOS, tips and FAQs.
Jessica Dolcourt
7 min read

It's hard not to be impressed by a phone you can submerge in 6.5 feet of water for half an hour without it drowning, drop into antifreeze, and break out of a block of concrete without it sustaining damage. This is exactly the rough-and-tumble toughness that spurs rugged-phone maker Sonim Technologies along in its quest to outfit construction workers and others in outdoorsy occupations with cell phones sturdy enough to withstand a range of environmental hazards. Its latest effort, the Sonim XP3300 Force, has the same military specifications for powering through shock, dust, extreme temperatures, pressure, oil spills, and so on as the previous build, the Sonim XP1300 Core. Although construction on the two handsets looks identical, the Force is more upmarket, with a few additional apps, a camera, and assisted GPS with turn-by-turn navigation. The lack of features is a complaint we had about the Core, and it's heartening that Sonim listened.


Sonim XP3300 Force

The Good

The Sonim XP3300 Force has added strong call quality, a camera, and more apps to its hallmark ruggedness and durability.

The Bad

A small screen, tiny text, and confusing user interface mar the user experience on the Sonim XP3300 Force. The dial pad is too cramped for large hands wearing worker's gloves. It's also rather costly.

The Bottom Line

Despite some design flaws, Sonim's new XP3300 Force is a cut above previous rugged models.

While the phone's bulk, heft, grip, and hardiness show "rugged" is the name of the game, we did manage to crack the Gorilla Glass screen. We don't hold this against Sonim, not too much, anyway. The company promised ruggedness, not indestructibility, and we were purposely chucking the handset at a concrete surface (read the Durability section for more). It's just a good thing the phone comes with a three-year warranty.

You'll have to pay a pretty penny for all that protection. The Force costs $499 without a contract and will be available in the third week of March through Sonim's Web site and through its distributor, Quality One.

Editors' note: Portions of this review are taken from the Sonim XP1300 Core review due to their overlapping features.

If the Force were a comic book character, it would be the Incredible Hulk, assuming that the Hulk was part fiberglass and not so green. The Force comes in two colors--all black, and black with yellow accents. Both versions stand 5 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide by 1 inch thick and weigh a muscular 6.5 ounces.

The Sonim XP3300 Force has more advanced features than its predecessor, the XP1300 Core.

The Force has a thick, waterproof rubber-and-fiberglass shell. In addition to protecting the electronic guts from Mother Nature, the ridged rubber coating also gives the Force excellent grip, essential for thickly gloved hands. Unfortunately, the rubber also engulfs the phone's petite, 2-inch screen. Gorilla Glass (1.5 millimeter thick) will help prevent the display from scratching and breaking. Drops onto concrete from higher than 6.5 feet, however, will crack it like an egg.

The QVGA 240x320-pixel resolution display is nothing special, and its interface is functional, but not particularly attractive. Navigation was mostly fine, but small icons in many apps were confusing and strained our eyes. It's clear that Sonim's strength is hardware, not software design.

Below the screen are the soft keys, the Clear button, Talk and End buttons, and a circular navigation toggle with a central select button. All the buttons on the navigation toggle and the backlit, alphanumeric dial pad are ridged, a feature intended to make them easier to press while wearing leather gloves. The keys felt good under our small, bare fingers, but were nevertheless cramped. With slim, tight-fitting gloves, we were able to compose texts and dial phone numbers precisely. With thicker gardening and work gloves, the results of our presses were anyone's guess. A large-handed construction professional we showed the phone to echoed our sentiment. It's disappointing that Sonim didn't take the opportunity to redesign the Force's dial pad--there's clearly space to expand.

Despite the dial pad's weak point, the rest of the phone's hardware continued to impress, especially the two screwed-in, waterproof "mud flaps" on the left spine that help keep the charging and headset jacks dry. The sockets are also water-resistant this year, Sonim CEO Bob Plaschke told CNET in a demo of the phone. Unfortunately, both are also 3.5 millimeters, which is great for accessing the FM receiver and music player, but inconvenient for charging your phone. You'll have to use one of the included adapters or buy your own.

The box includes a mini screwdriver you can attach to a keychain for faster access to the screwed-down cover.

Below the flaps there's a programmable convenience key that goes to the oddly named "Java" app section that houses the Opera Mini browser along with other selections. The interface here is even more oddly adorned with tiny digital flowers.

Back to the hardware: there's a grippable volume rocker on the right spine, above the camera button. The latter also turns on a bright flashlight. Both the 2-megapixel camera lens and the flashlight are on the back. We're very glad to see the camera, which was absent in the Core. As with its predecessor, large screws keep the battery closure secure, and keep water out. Sonim includes a small flat-head (standard) screwdriver tool you can attach to a keychain. The screws aren't designed to come out of the housing, so you'll need to loosen both screws until the cover pops off.

A plastic barrier lines the battery cavity to create a firm seal. We had to use the corner of the screwdriver to pry out the battery, at first. In most cases, we frown on any manufacturer that places the SIM card and 16GB-capable microSD card slot behind the battery. In this case, Sonim had good cause. In addition to creating a physical shield, the battery keeps both smaller plastic wafers from dislodging.


You can submerge the Force in up to 6.5 feet of water for a half hour.

Sonim makes lots of promises about the XP3300's durability. It's certified to military specifications for salt, fog, humidity, transport shock, and thermal shock; it can tolerate temperatures between minus 4 degrees and 131 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 20 degrees and 55 degrees Celsius); you can submerge it in 6.5 feet of water for half an hour; you can cover it in oil; and it can endure pressure of 1,000 pounds per square inch. We subjected it to every test we performed on the XP1300 and on the XP3 before it, including dropping it on a hard surface, throwing it down the stairs, putting it in a freezer, and stomping the heck out of it with a boot.

We also conducted some of our own tests. We called the phone underwater and smashed it on the ground out of a concrete brick Sonim had helpfully poured around one of two test units. We also hammered a small nail into the screen, which created just a scratch. The one test the XP3300 failed was a test where we threw it into the air and watched it land on the concrete. The phone itself still works fine, but the screen is a cobweb of shattered glass. It may not be Sonim's fault. The XP330 Force is supposed to withstand drops of up to 6.5 feet (2 meters) onto concrete. We only eyeballed the toss, but it's possible we overshot the height. At any rate, the phone performed admirably in the majority of the tests. In that one, we managed to push it beyond its limits.

Push it past its limits and the XP3300 Force will break. Thankfully Sonim includes a 3-year warranty.

Sonim built its XP3300 Force for strength, not brains. Even so, there are more features in this model than in the sorely lacking Core. The phone book holds 1,000 contacts (with an extra 250 on the SIM) with room in each entry for multiple phone numbers, a fax number, a company name, an e-mail address, a birthday, a street address, a URL, and notes. For caller ID, you can associate contacts with a photo and one of 18 polyphonic ringtones.

The Force supports text and multimedia messaging, in addition to Bluetooth, A-GPS, a file manager, and PC syncing. POP3 and IMAP4 e-mail support are present as well, though the interface is pretty clunky. In terms of entertainment, there's an FM radio and a generic music player that supports MP3, WAV, and AAC files.

The handset also has an Opera Mini browser, with bookmarks, stored pages, and a record of your browsing history. The City Cruiser app does turn-by-turn navigation. Unlike the Core, the Force supports MRM apps (a company's resource management programs) like Xora, ACTsoft, Econz, Spotmaster, and NoteVault for construction workers. Other tools include an alarm clock, a calculator, a unit converter, a world clock, a calendar, a sound recorder, a notepad, a stopwatch, and a text reader.

The 2-megapixel camera doesn't take great photos, but it's better than nothing.

Don't expect much from the 2-megapixel camera. It takes dull, noisy pictures that you can send via e-mail, photo message, or Bluetooth. It's better than having no camera, as with the Core, but photo quality is poor by any measure. There is, however, a handful of photo tools, such as six white-balance settings, a night mode, and six color effects. For storage, there's 64MB of RAM and there's room for 16GB external memory.

We tested unlocked the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) in San Francisco using AT&T's network. Call quality was remarkably clear on both ends of the line throughout multiple calls. None of us heard much background noise. In fact, if we dropped silent, it wasn't always obvious we were on a live call. Volume was quite strong as well, and voices sounded loud and fairly natural, with a hint of muffling.

Speakerphone was very loud and clear on our end. In fact, it's one of the best loudspeaker specimens we've found on a phone. On the other end, callers said volume was diminished to the point where they had to listen closely to hear. The call was otherwise clear.

Sonim XP3300 Force call quality sample Listen now: "="">

Sonim kept in mind the long workday shifts of its demographic. The previous model, the XP1300 Core, maintained a rated 18-hour battery life. The XP3300 Force, on the other hand, extends that time to between 20 and 24 hours of talk time. The company says that's 17 hours with continuous turn-by-turn navigation and a full 27 hours using GPS tracking with the corporate applications updating at 5-minute intervals. According to our tests, the Sonim XP3300 Force did result in an astounding 20.3 hours talk time. Sonim claims a standby time of 33 days on its 1,750 mAh battery. FCC radiation tests measure the digital SAR at 0.782 watt per kilogram.


Sonim XP3300 Force

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 7