NEC Terrain Review

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Pros: Durable, waterproof design; Reliable push-to-talk; Solid QWERTY keyboard; Very bright display

Cons: Fairly heavy; Small screen; Short battery life; Lacks the overall performance of current Android phones

Verdict: The NEC Terrain is a rugged LTE phone that can take a beating, but a cramped keyboard, low-res screen, and short battery life make it less than useful for workers out in the field.

With a military-grade case, a physical keyboard and a push-to-talk function, the NEC Terrain is designed for tough workplaces such as construction sites and places where other phones would quickly break. Available through AT&T for $99, this Android smartphone can also access that network's fast 4G LTE speeds. NEC boasts that the Terrain is "made for hard work," but it might not work for you.

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Design

The black-cased NEC Terrain brings the BlackBerry Q10 to mind, with a 3.1-inch VGA screen that's complemented by a physical QWERTY keyboard beneath. Made from hardened plastic, the Terrain's rugged makeup creates a thick layer of material between the screen and the side of the phone. While the device felt comfortable in our hands, the small display and somewhat cramped keys make the Terrain feel like it comes from a previous generation of smartphones.

On the right of the device is a sealable microUSB port and the sleep button, while volume controls and a push-to-talk button sit on the left. The device's 1900 mAh battery is locked into the back of the phone, which can be removed with a simple snap after unlocking the bottom.

At 5.02 x 2.54 x 0.57 inches, the Terrain is shorter and thicker than other "rugged" phones, such as Samsung's Galaxy S4 Active (5.5 x 2.81 x 0.36 inches) and Rugby Pro (5.04 x 2.72 x 0.51 inches). The 6.1-ounce Terrain is heavier than both the S4 Active and Rugby Pro, which weigh 5.4 and 4.6 ounces, respectively.

 

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Display and Audio

If you planned on using the NEC Terrain for viewing HD videos and photos, look elsewhere. The Terrain's measly 640 x 480 resolution and 3.1-inch VGA display pales in comparison to most modern Android phones, as the Rugby Pro offers a 3.5-inch 800 x 480 display and the S4 Active boasts a 5-inch TFT LCD 1920 x 1080 screen. We watched the "Pacific Rim" trailer on the device, and the phone made the visually rich film look pixelated and flat.

What the screen lacks in size, it somewhat makes up for in readability. The LCD's brightness rating of 556 lux beats out the S4 Active (438 lux) and Rugby Pro (220 lux), as well as the category average of 296 lux.

With dual front speakers and noise suppression, the Terrain is loud enough for workers utilizing push-to-talk on the job. However, we don't recommend using it as a primary music player, as Justin Timberlake's "Suit and Tie" became extremely distorted at max volume. The quality wasn't much better with headphones.

Keyboard

Physical keyboards are few and far between when it comes to today's smartphones, but the physical buttons make sense for the Terrain's work-focused design. We were able to type at 37 words per minute when testing the phone with the WPM Mobile app, though we found our thumbs frequently bumping into one another, an issue we rarely ran into on the BlackBerry Q10. To balance things out, the phone's predictive text function allows you to build sentences from the touch screen after typing just a few letters.

The keyboard on the Terrain offers a fair amount of resistance, while typing on BlackBerry's latest phone feels light and instant. Also, the Q10's keys have ridges for distinguishing between buttons, an anti-typo feature that the tiny keys of the Terrain could have benefited from. Still, the Terrain's keys felt rugged enough to stand up to harsh work conditions.

 

MORE: 5 Best Keyboard Apps for Android

 

Rugged Performance

As its name suggests, the Terrain is built to handle a variety of harsh environmental conditions. The device has an IP-67 rating for water and dust, and meets MIL-SPEC-810G standards for drops of up to 48 inches. NEC claims that the device can last through extreme temperatures, ranging from 32 degrees to 149 degrees Fahrenheit.

Like the S4 Active and Rugby Pro, the Terrain can survive up to 30 minutes under 1 meter of water. The device lived up to its waterproof claims in our testing, with the key difference being that the Terrain's touch screen worked while submerged in roughly a liter of water while the Active's did not. NEC's device also withstood large water spills, though pouring liquid occasionally registered as a touch when the phone was unlocked.

The Terrain endured our 48-inch sidewalk drop test, though we noticed some slight scratching on the left side of the handset after several drops, as we did with the Rugby Pro. Overall, the Terrain keeps ticking in conditions that would break many high-end smartphones and stands out from the S4 Active, which is merely meant to be water-resistant.

Push-to-Talk and Call Quality

One of the major selling points of the NEC Terrain is the integration of AT&T Enhanced Push-To-Talk, which turns the Terrain into a high-tech walkie-talkie. After activation, pushing the PTT button immediately pulls up a contact menu that allows users to start individual or group calls. The Enhanced Push-To-Talk menu has its own unique contact list separate from the regular phone list, and callers can easily organize contacts by group and set "favorites." Users can still access all of their apps while communicating over PTT, making it easy for workers to pull up important documents or use GPS during a conversation.

Calls came through loud and clear during our push-to-talk testing. The Terrain delivers a familiar loud beep whenever a user is about to speak, and the on-screen display lights up to let callers know exactly when their voice is being heard. The functionality works across a variety of compatible devices, so your associates won't necessarily need to have their own Terrain to take advantage of push-button communication.

The Terrain's call quality held up just as well when used for standard phone calls. Our contact sounded crisp with and without speakerphone, and he could hear us without any interference.

Operating System and Interface

The Terrain runs a fairly clean version of Android 4.0.4, but it's the older Ice Cream Sandwich instead of the newer Jelly Bean. Users can customize their app shortcuts, widget selections and backgrounds with just a few simple touches. The Terrain's small display only allows for a handful of app icons on the home screen, but the built-in multitasking feature makes switching programs a breeze. If you'd rather not type, the speech-to-text button allows you to search your phone and the Web without mashing anything. In our testing, the Terrain picked up on words and phrases reliably for both texting and Google searching.

Apps

The Terrain comes preloaded with AT&T-exclusive apps such as Navigator, Code Scanner and the auto-texting DriveMode. The built-in email application worked responsively with our Gmail accounts, and the Terrain's Media Center made it easy to sort through our photos and screenshots. The device comes with the Kindle app and a music player for entertainment, and the included QuickOffice app allows for on-the-go document and spreadsheet creation. With full access to the Google Play store, you can augment the Terrain with any wallpaper, game or productivity app that you see fit.

 

MORE: Best Apps 2013

 

Performance

The NEC Terrain's 1.5 GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor with 1GB of RAM offered good performance overall, but had an uneven showing on our benchmark tests.

The Terrain scored a 5,394 on the Quadrant benchmark, which is far lower than the S4 Active (12,648), but higher than the Rugby Pro (5,141) and just above the category average of 5,386.

We noticed similar results when performing the AnTuTu test, as the Terrain's score of 11,071 is higher than the Rugby Pro's 6,730 score but almost half that of the S4 Active (21,366). The Terrain also falls below the AnTuTu benchmark average of 16,093.

Classic mobile games like "Angry Birds" and "Fruit Ninja" played smoothly on the Terrain's small screen, and while the more visually demanding "Shadowgun" suffered from long load times, it still performed well when played on a device not designed for gaming. However, the Terrain's persistent digital home screen button cramps the already small screen and could lead users to accidentally exit their games.

Camera

The Terrain has a 5-megapixel camera on the back and a 0.3-MP camera on the front. Users have a choice of five photo output sizes, ranging from 640 x 480 to 2560 x 1920. There are several extras included with the camera, including Black and White and Sepia filters and a tagging feature for locations and faces.

We took a few photos of Manhattan's Flatiron District, and while the results don't stack up to more high-end smartphones, the rear lens is efficient enough for capturing clear, bright shots. When looking at a still of Sixth Avenue on a sunny day, we had no problem making out company names and logos among the crowded buildings. The Terrain performed just as reliably when taking video, as the 30-second 720p clips we documented were as crisp as the photos.

On the other hand, the front camera produced less-than-stellar results. Self-portraits were noticeably pixelated.

Network and Web Browsing

Over AT&T's 4G LTE network, the Terrain registered an average download speed of 8.9 Mbps and upload speed of 3.6 Mbps using Speedtest.net. While that's not the fastest we've seen from an LTE phone on AT&T, it's respectable.

Battery Life

If you plan on bringing the Terrain to an 8-hour shift of work, make sure you have a charger handy. On the LAPTOP Battery Test, which browses the Web continuously, the Terrain only lasted 3 hours and 21 minutes over LTE, a little more than half the category average of 6:07. The difference was negligible when testing the battery under Power-Saver Mode, as the Terrain only lasted an extra 3 minutes. The S4 Active (5:45) and Rugby Pro (7:45) lasted much longer.

Plans and Pricing

The Terrain is currently available for $99.99 with a two-year AT&T plan or $429.99 with no contract. A Mobile Share plan, which includes unlimited talk and text and 2GB of data, costs $95 per month. With the price of the phone included, that works out to a total of $2,379.

Consumers who opt for AT&T's new "Next" promotion, which lets you purchase a new phone each year, will make 20 monthly payments of $21.50 for the Terrain. Assuming you select the 2GB data plan, you'll end up paying $2,710 after two years, assuming you hold on to the Terrain for the duration.

Verdict

As a purpose-built smartphone, the NEC Terrain lives up to its rugged claims, and the reliable push-to-talk functionality makes on-site communication a breeze for field workers. However, while it has a physical keyboard, the keys are a bit too cramped, especially if you're wearing gloves. Worse, the battery life is far too short for someone who plans to spend the majority of the day away from an outlet. After all, a dead phone is just as useless as one that's broken.

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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
Carrier AT&T
Phone Display Size 3.1
Display Resolution 640x480
Form Factor Candybar Touchscreen
OS Family Android
Operating System Android 4.0
Networks
CPU 1.5 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon
Processor Family Qualcomm Snapdragon S4
RAM 1GB
Internal Memory
Memory Expansion Type microSD Card
Display (main) 3.1 inches, 640 x 480
Display (secondary)
GPS Yes
Bluetooth Type Bluetooth 4.0
Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n
Front Camera Resolution 0.3MP
Camera Resolution 5 MP
Talk / Standby Time
Ports microUSB
Ports 3.5mm headphone
Size 5.02 x 2.54 x 0.57 inches
Weight 6.06 ounces
SAR Rating (Head)
SAR Rating (Body)
Company Website http://www.nec.com/