Thursday, April 25, 2019

A Prepper Phone?

I’ve had the same cell phone for 5 years, a Samsung Galaxy S4, and it has served me well. It’s a bit outdated now; Android has released 3 new versions of the operating system that my old phone can’t run due to hardware constraints, and it recently had a major failure: while working in a moderate thunderstorm (yes, I work outside in bad weather), it got thoroughly drenched. Since the S4 was the last model of the Galaxy with a user-replaceable battery, it is nowhere near waterproof. The microphone and charging port stopped working for a few days, so I started looking for a new phone.

A phone is a tool for me; I use them to make my work easier. I don’t have any games on my phones, but I do have a variety of apps for navigation and communications to make work flow a bit easier. I don’t scrimp when it comes to tools; the false economy of buying something that is poorly made but inexpensive, and having to replace it often, will leave you without a tool when you need it. Quality doesn’t have to be expensive, but you do have to do some research to find the best actual value for your money. Cell phones can also be part of your every-day carry (EDC) preps because of the various sensors and apps available, as well as the emergency alerts and communications that they offer. As long as they — and the network — work, cell phones are multi-purpose tools.

When looking at phones, I had a list of features that were desirable, and a soft budget of about $500. That may seem like a lot to pay for a phone, but for something that I will use every day to make my job easier, I’m willing to pay it.

The features I wanted are:
  • Rugged. I want something that won’t break if you look cross-eyed at it. I don’t need a phone made of glass; I need a tool that will last.
  • Waterproof. I just lost a phone in a rainstorm; I don’t want to do that again. Too many phones die early due to being dropped in water, or being in a pocket when a person gets dropped into water. Dry bags are great if you’re rafting a white-water river, but slipping in the mud and ending up in a lake happens more often and less expectedly.
  • Scratch-resistant. The Galaxy S4 was kept in an Otterbox case its entire life, and it still picked up a few scratches on the screen. Between the grain dust and fertilizer I deal with, scratches are hard to avoid.
  • Android OS. Apple has pulled too many stupid tricks over the years for me to trust them. Google gets enough of my data; I’m not going to have a Pixel phone on which they can snoop. I like Android and the wider variety of apps that are available, even if I do have to run them through a virus check before using them.
  • New. I don’t care for the “refurbished” phones on the market. There are too many variables in who does the work and how good a job they do. I’ve also seen friends go through 6 months of hassles trying to get a phone that works when they go this route. Between this and my $500 budget, all Apple and most of the Samsung phones were cut from the list immediately.
  • Good battery life. I work long shifts a lot and don’t always have access to a place to recharge a phone. I need something that will run for at least 12 hours of use between charges. I got around this by using external battery packs with the Galaxy S4, but I don’t want to fight with that any more. If I end up out in the woods overnight, I’m not going to find a USB port on a tree, so I want a good battery.

I use Verizon for my cell phone service, since none of the other carriers have decent coverage where I work and live. Verizon is iffy in spots, but AT&T and Sprint phones don’t even get a signal inside my house. T-Mobile and the others don’t have a footprint in my market, because it’s too rural for them.

Verizon has a good selection of phones, but they really push the Apple lines. Filtering out the various iPhones left me with Samsung, Motorola, LG, Kyocera, and a few other brands of Android phones. I liked the looks and features of the Red Hydrogen One, a brand I’d never heard of before, but the $1300 price tag took it out of consideration. Samsung has gone all-in for the mass market phones and doesn’t make anything really durable any more; wraparound glass just sounds like more ways for it to break. Motorola doesn’t make a work phone any more, and most of the other brands were just clones of the most popular phones from the major makers. Then I saw the one Kyocera phone that Verizon offers, the DuraForce Pro 2. It met my requirements quite well:
  • Durable. It meets military specifications for durability (MS 810G- survives being dropped on all corners, edges, and screen from about 4 feet to a hard surface 26 times). The hard plastic case wraps around the edges and extends above the screen. It’s also very resistant to bending or flexing. I carry my phone clipped to my belt or front pocket, and that puts it about 3 feet off the ground, so all this is important.
  • Waterproof. With the dust covers closed over the various ports, it’s rated for 30 minutes in 6 feet of water (IPX 5 and IPX 8). The camera has settings for taking pictures under water, so they’re pretty sure it’s waterproof.
  • Scratch-resistant. Verizon has the version with a true sapphire-glass screen. Sapphire has a hardness of about 9 on the Mohs scale. For reference, common steel is about a 5, hardened steel is about a 7, and diamonds are a 10 on this scale of hardness.
  • Android OS. It comes with the latest version of Android (8.1) and should be able to run the next few versions.
  • New. The Pro 2 version has only been out for about a year, so there aren’t many “refurbished” ones on the market yet. The factory 2-year warranty, which is twice what anybody else offers, should keep the “certified pre-owned” phones to a minimum as well.
  • Battery life. They advertise up to 31 hours of talk time and 13 days on standby. With a 3240 mA-hr battery they may be right; that’s about 10% more than most phone batteries.

After looking around for something better, I went to the nearest Verizon store a month ago to actually put my hands on one of these phones. At a little over a half-pound, it’s not a phone you can slip into your pocket and forget you have. It’s also a bit chunky, being about twice as thick as the newest Galaxy or iPhone. The price was barely within my budget at $444 (plus tax) and I liked the other features that it has, so I bought and activated one. Here are my initial findings:
  • I put a plastic screen protector and case on it; the case is more to have a way to clip the phone onto my belt than for protection, and the screen protector was cheap.
  • I’ve dropped it numerous times already, and sat on it a few others, with no issues.
  • The speakers will put out audio at more than 100dB, so it’s easy to hear in an industrial setting.
  • Battery life is good (a 12-hour shift is no problem) but I do have to charge it after really long days if I’m streaming videos to fight the boredom. It’s nice to still have 50% battery left at the end of a shift instead of having to charge my phone at lunch every day.
  • The new USB C connector has no top or bottom, so you can’t get the orientation wrong. It also allows for faster charging than the older USB formats, but I did have to buy a few new cords.
  • I stuck a 256GB memory card in it for storage because nobody in the city carried the 512GB that the phone will support. I don’t have to worry about running out of memory for a long time. I can store a lot of books and manuals in my phone and still have room for maps and useful apps.
  • An added bonus for me is the fact that the phone is rated as “explosion proof” (Class 1, Div. 2, Class A, B, C and D for the technical folks). I work around a lot of nasty chemicals and explosive dusts, so having a phone that is less likely to kill me makes me feel better about carrying it with me all the time.

So far, I am happy with my new phone. I think it will be a good addition to my EDC tools, and I’ll keep testing it to see if I can find any flaws. Let me know if you have a similar phone so we can compare notes.

1 comment:

  1. "new versions of the operating system that my old phone can’t run due to hardware constraints"

    I would respectfully disagree. I happen to have a Galaxy Note 3 - even older than your phone - and it's running Android Pie (the latest version) quite nicely. You just need to know a bit about how to finagle the fiddly bits to play nicely... In this case, the key word to research is, "LineageOS." :)


The Fine Print

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- Noncommercial- No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Creative Commons License

Erin Palette is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to