Land Rover says its new phone is rugged – so we tested it in South African mud and snow

Business Insider SA
Photo Jay Caboz

When Land Rover bragged that its new phone (yes, phone) could take a beating we took them seriously. So, we drove up to the snow-capped Cederberg mountains, and trashed it around to test it. 

Called the Land Rover Explore, it proved to be as rugged as it claimed.

It’s been built to solve the issue of thrill seekers becoming frustrated that their tech - an ever-growing collection of phones, cameras and GPS equipment - that takes up too much  space.

So, Land Rover asked a bunch of adventurers, who traverse harsh extremes, to come back with ideas of what their dream phone would need.

They demanded a beast. Not only should it be able to cope in temperatures of -30 to 60 degrees, it should shrug off snow, mud and sea water.  It should also survive long after your cell phone battery is dead and can tell you where to go when there is no signal.

The Land Rover Explore certainly delivers. 

Manufactured by the UK-based Bullitt Group, in collaboration with Land Rover, the device is Android operated, has an internal memory of 64 GB, with space for an expandable microSD. 

The phone is available in SA and you can order the phone online. It retails for R13,500 on Rugged Phones and is available, on contract, per request from major cell phone suppliers. 

We gave it a test-drive:

We dropped it in snow, sleet and mud, even our own office floor. It survived.

Photo Jay Caboz

I drop-tested the phone - a lot. Dropping it from 1.8 meters onto gravel, snow and even on our office floor with no cracks, and no problem. 

I also tested the device underwater.  The specs say its got an IP68 rating – which means it can last at a maximum depth of 1.5 metres or be left underwater for up to thirty minutes.  

The 5-inch screen is easily visible during the day. Its got extra protection with a 1 mm thick screen protector, optimised for heavy outdoor use, which means you don't need to buy an additional screen protector.

It easily handled temperatures as low as 0 degrees – when my DSLR camera stopped working, the Land Rover phone kept going.  

It can cope with extreme temperatures, thermal shock, humidity and vibration exposure. The touchscreen can be also controlled with gloves on, or with wet fingers. During our adventure, my DSLR camera stopped working in the cold, this beast kept going. 

The GPS Adventure pack worked, even when there was no cell reception - but, you need to pre-load the maps before you go, if you want to make the most of your experience.

Adventure pack has its own GPS and acts as a second battery.

The phone comes with an additional magnetized Adventure pack, that fits on the back. This has got a GPS antenna built into it to keep you connected. 

Land Rover has its own handy ViewRanger app with an off-road topographical map that shows contours, landmarks and even posts from other users who have tracked their hikes, cycles and adventures. More detailed maps are available for additional purchase, but the free ones are good, and much more detailed than google maps. 

A surprising experience was the Skyline Augmented Reality function, which shows you landmarks from the screen. 

It has a monster battery and lasted way longer than my Samsung Galaxy S8.

Photo Jay Caboz

I was very impressed with the battery life, which lasted a full day out in cold conditions, notoriously known for sucking your battery dry.

In addition to the phone, the Adventure pack acts as a second backup battery, which can be super useful when going on multiple day hikes and when you know you won't be able to recharge your phone at the end of the day. You can go wild and experience the phone's capabilities without fear of it dying on the mountain. 

Land Rover say the battery gives two days of typical use, or a full day of activities, with constant GPS Navigation mapping activated. I was out for 10 hours and the battery was still fine.

But, once you add the Adventure pack, the phone becomes bulky and heavy. It won't fit in your jean pocket, which is where I like to keep my phone.

The phone gets bulky and is heavy when you add all the attachments. Photo Jay Caboz

Land Rover give you an additional cover which fits a stainless-steel carabiner and canvas strap, so you can attach the phone to your hiking bag, but it still bounces around awkwardly.

The carabiner bounces around a lot.

To be fair I wouldn’t use both attachments unless I was outdoors. When at work, or at home, I would simply use the device without the Adventure pack. 

It has cool unique survivor-based apps which made me feel like Bear Grylls.  

The device has an Outdoor Dashboard app, where you can save activity tools like wind, tides, compass and my favourite, an SOS light.

You can also purchase a Bike Pack should you enjoy mountain biking - with a bike mount and case for both stem and handlebar. 

The only thing I could fault was the camera, which wasn’t as good as I expected.

The camera was average. I pitted the Land Rover against a Samsung Galaxy S8, shooting side by side, and I immediately picked up that its colour is flatter.

Samsung S8 vs Land Rover Explore (right). Photo Jay Caboz

It also struggled under low light...

Blurry selfie under low light.

...and the video jumps in and out of focus, which can be annoying.  

Verdict: a surprisingly cool find

I’d give the phone a 7/10. This phone is rugged to the max, looks good and will take your experience of the outdoors to the next level. I just wish I could take slamming photos as well.

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