Here's a smartphone that's pretty much guaranteed to last through that two-year contract. The Samsung Rugby Smart from AT&T ($99) is built to withstand up to 30 minutes under water, extreme heat, violent shock and blowing rain and dust, making this Android device a tempting choice for those who work (or play) in demanding environments. The phone also features a 3.7-inch Super AMOLED screen with strengthened glass. Can the Rugby Smart break from the scrum and score with consumers?
At first glance, the Rugby looks like someone glued a rugged case onto an unwitting smartphone. The front of the Rugby Smart is home to a 3.7-inch display. The surrounding glossy black bezel holds a chrome AT&T logo, to the right of which is 1.3 megapixel front-facing camera. Four physical buttons (Menu, Home, Back, Search) line the bottom of the bezel. The buttons were well-spaced and provided firm springy feedback.
The sides of the phone are wrapped in a thick soft-touch plastic.Port covers protecting the headphone jack and miniUSB port can be found at the top and bottom of the phone, respectively. The volume rocker rests on the device's left side while the power button sits on the right.
The Ruby Smart's rear panel consists of raised dots, giving it a textured finish that's easy to grip. The 5-megapixel camera sits along the top in between the LED flash and a pair of thin speaker slits. A large chrome screw sits below a white Samsung logo, which protects the battery, SIM card and everything else on the inside of the phone.
The 4.4-ounce, 4.8 x 2.6 x 0.5-inch Rugby Smart is a little chunky compared to the 4.5 ounce, 5.2 x 2.7 x 0.4 LG Nitro HD or the 4.1 ounce, 5 x 2.6 x 0.35 inch Samsung Galaxy SII. However, the Rugby Smart is fairly light given the amount of protection it provides.
Built to Mil-STD 810F military spec standards, the Rugby Smart can take more abuse than the average smartphone. Tight rubber seals along the port covers prevent water and dust from seeping through. The phone's rear panel is held in place by a chrome screw, maintaining the airtight seal.
That means that the Rugby Smart can survive being submerged under 1 meter of water for 30 minutes. It can also be dropped from approximately 6.6 feet and can withstand extreme temperatures up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
We tested the Rugby Smart's water resistance by submerging it in 8.5 inches of water for 1 minute and the phone continued running even as it sat underwater. Snorkelers won't want to bring the handset with them on their adventures, though, because you can't operate its touch screen while submerged.
Display and Audio
The 3.7-inch Super AMOLED 480 x 800p display delivered bright, vivid colors along with sharp detail, which came in handy when reading text. However, at 209 lux, the display isn't the brightest on the block, especially when compared to the HTC Vivid and the Nitro HD, which averaged 261 and 233 lux respectively. The Galaxy SII notched a blinding 463 lux.
When we watched "The Avengers" HD trailer on YouTube, Black Widow's flame-red hair popped, offsetting her blue eyes while Captain America's red and white shield glistened against a clear sky. There was some graininess, however.
At full volume, the small rear speakers packed a decent punch, filling a small room. We could clearly distinguish Andre 3000 and Big Boy from the synthesized instrumentals on "Mighty O." However, we lost some of the background ad-libs and there was noticeable brassiness in the percussion.
The Rugby Smart features three distinct keyboards: a Samsung keyboard, the standard Android layout and Swype. We liked Samsung's layout for tapping out messages because we could long-press to enter special characters and that there were dedicated keys for .com and the @ symbol. But Swype was our favorite keyboard to use, delivering a good key size. As usual, the trace technology was quick and effortless, speeding up our ability to text and email. Haptic feedback on all three keyboards was fairly weak.
Software and Interface
The Rugby Smart runs on Android 2.3 with Samsung TouchWIZ 3.0. There are seven customizable homescreens indicated by white dots along the bottom of the display. We swiftly navigated through the screen and were happy to see that we could loop through the desktops. The initial homescreen has a Google search bar, an Android Tips widget and icons for Calendar, Messenging, Market and Camera.
Another screen has a Facebook widget where we could view our friends' updates and add our own. There are also apps for Contacts, Qik Lite and Social Hub. One screen holds an AT&T Featured Apps widget along with apps for AT&T Live TV, Movies, AT&T Code Scanner and Amazon Kindle.
Icons for Phone, Email, Web and Applications are permanent fixtures along the bottom of the homescreens. A top system bar holds mini-notifications, signal strength, battery life and a small clock. Swiping down on the display reveals the notification shade, which has shortcuts for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, Airplane Mode and Screen Rotation.
The Apps page displays icons on a 4 x 4 grid that loops through, similar to the homescreens.
The Rugby Smart has a familiar assortment of apps for a Samsung smartphone. Kies Air allowed us to quickly transfer and manage multimedia content between our laptop and phone provided they were on the same Wi-Fi network. The Amazon Kindle app came in handy for a quick read on the subway. Qik Lite took care of voice chat while QuickOffice handled our light productivity needs. YP (aka Yellow Pages) helped us find a gas station or a quick bite to eat.
Samsung-branded apps included AllShare, which allows users to share multimedia content with DLNA-certified devices. One of our favorite apps was Mini Diary, which allowed us to jot down our innermost thoughts in a fashion similar to a real journal. We could also snap pictures, add our location and the weather, making the entry that much more memorable down the road. Another favorite, Samsung Social Hub aggregated our email, Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin feeds into one manageable thread. Other apps include Media Hub for movie rentals, Photo Editor, Video Maker and Memo to jot down a quick note.
AT&T preloads a few of its own apps, including AT&T Live, TV, Code Scanner, FamilyMap, Navigator, Featured Apps and MyAT&T. We liked Messages which took all of our texts, calls, and voicemail and organized them in one thread.
The Rugby Smart's 1.4GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S2 processor with 512MB of RAM held its ground despite our rampant multitasking. We were able to stream music from Pandora without any latency, despite having 4 open Web browsers and tweaking a photo in Photo Editor.
During the Benchmark CPU test, which measures overall performance, the Rugby Smart scored a respectable 2,919, well above the 1,763 Android phone category average. It was enough to beat the HTC Vivid and its 1.2-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon APQ8060 (2,129) as well as the LG Nitro HD and its 1.5-GHz ARMv7 dual-core CPU (1,482). However, the Pantech Burst (3,105) and Samsung Galaxy SII (3,341) both scored higher.
On An3DBench, the Rugby Smart scored 7,392, beating the Android phone category average (5,933), Burst (7,058), Vivid (6,001) and Nitro HD (7,353). However the SII continued its dominance, registering 7,754.
The Samsung Rugby Smart comes with 4GB of onboard storage, but can be expanded to 32GB via the microSD slot.
Web Browsing and 4G
Running on AT&T's HSPA+21 network, the Rugby Smart delivers decent data performance but trails devices that have 4G LTE. We were able to load the mobile versions of NYTimes.com, CNN.com and ESPN.com in 4.5, 5.8 and 8.9 seconds respectively. The desktop version of Laptopmag.com took 16.7 seconds to load. 4G LTE phones typically load sites in about 4 seconds and full desktop sites in 11 seconds or less.
Using the Speedtest.net app, the Rugby Smart delivered a 2.4 Mbps average download speed with 900 Kbps uploads. By comparison, the HTC Vivid notched 21.6 Mbps down and an upload rate of 11.1 Mbps, while the LG Nitro HD averaged 23.8 Mbps down and 5.7 Mbps uploads.
Camera and Camcorder
The rear-facing 5 megapixel camera on the Rugby smart captures stills and video in 720p. Snapping photos was nearly instantaneous, taking only a half second between shots. Images we captured of flowers exhibited a noticeable white haze in almost every photo. Still, we saw bold purples, deep reds and bright yellows.
The persistent white haze also showed up in our test video of New York City traffic. The sharpness was affected, but we could still read the signage across the street. We were happy to see the camera only took approximately half a second to readjust after we panned up to the sky and back down to street level.
The 1.3-megapixel front camera captured mediocre images. During our video chat using Qik Lite, our call partner reported a slightly grainy image that blurred when we moved and audio that faded in and out.
The Samsung Rugby Smart consistently provided clear calls to landlines in New Jersey, South Carolina, and New York. There were a few instances of fading in and out when we called other cell phones, however. While the speakerphone was loud, we heard a slight echo in some cases.
On the LAPTOP Battery Test, the Samsung Rugby Smart lasted 6 hours and 39 minutes. That's 56 minutes longer than the 5:43 Android phone average. The Nitro HD and the Vivid only lasted 3:53 and 4:21 respectively, but they pack a more battery-hungry LTE radio.
AT&T offers three data plans for the Samsung Rugby Smart: the $20/month DataPlus 300MB ($20 for each additional 300MB of data usage), the $30/month DataPlus 3GB ($10 for each additional GB) and the $50/month DataPlus 5GB ($10 for each additional GB).
Consumers searching for a rough-and-tumble smartphone will like the Samsung Rugby Smart. For $99, users get a device that can withstand being submerged in water and all sorts of other abuse. What you don't get is AT&T's faster 4G LTE speeds, which the Pantech Burst offers for $50 less. And for the same price as the Rugby, shoppers can go home with the Samsung Galaxy SII, which offers a larger and brighter display and stronger performance. Overall, the Rugby Smart is a good choice, but it's best for shoppers who have durability at the top of their priority list.