6 of the best rugged phones and tablets to use on the farm

More and more farmers are using apps and other services on their phones and tablets to do things that, in the past, would have meant sitting in front of a computer.

However most regular phones don’t last very long in agricultural environments, with many falling victim to hard drops on concrete, getting waterlogged in deep puddles and even being ingested by the baler (yes, really).

If you want something more sturdy, there is a choice. Several companies offer what they variously refer to as “tough”, “rugged” or “robust”  phones (and tablets), which come fully equipped to deal with the harsh realities of farm life.

See also: Video: tough tests for rugged mobiles

Here are the UK’s six most popular models:

1. Toughphone Defender phone (£319 + VAT)defender phone

  • Size: 131 x 70.8 x 22mm
  • Weight: 235g
  • Operating System: Android 4.2
  • Battery: 2,600mAh
  • Durability: IP68

Interestingly, the Toughphone Defender is the most expensive as well as the most popular in this group , suggesting that those who work in perilous environments still want all the bells and whistles, so to speak.

The Defender certainly looks farm-friendly, with a mammoth battery life providing up to two days’ worth of normal usage. It also has the IP68 rating, meaning it is virtually dust-tight and can withstand continuous submersion in water. 

2. RugGear RG500 phone (£269 + VAT)ruggear 500

  • Size: 124 x 68.5 x 24 mm
  • Weight: 206g
  • Operating System: Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean
  • Battery: 3,000mAh
  • Durability: IP68

RugGear’s RG500 phone costs a little more but does a lot. Along with all the usual stuff, it comes with a dedicated PTT (Push to Talk) button allowing the phone to act as a walkie-talkie – useful when organising teams of workers on a farm. Users can even create groups and broadcast to any number of listeners.

The phone also comes with an interesting feature called PTL (Push to Locate). If a worker gets injured or trapped in the field, they can simply press the SOS button, alerting preselected colleagues of their location. This feature can also be used to keep track of hired hands and minimise slacking.

3. Ruggear RG100 phone (£99 + VAT)Ruggear 100

  • Size: 126 x 58 x 23 mm
  • Weight: 165g
  • Operating System: N/A (feature phone)
  • Battery: 2,400mAh
  • Durability: IP68

The RG100 is a bit different from the rest as it’s what’s known as a feature phone rather than a smartphone, a fact which is reflected in the comparatively low price.

So what does this mean? Well for a start, it has actual buttons (remember those?) and looks and behaves more like a traditional Nokia 3310-type phone. For many people, that’s a much better bet than more delicate and complex touchscreen-based designs.

The phone has a strong shell, a powerful torch and also a full-size USB socket (as well as the usual microUSB), allowing the phone’s ample battery life to be used to charge other not-so-well-endowed devices.    

4. NGM Explorer (£149 + VAT)NGM explorer

  • Size: 126 x 65 x 18.2mm
  • Weight: 212g
  • Operating System: Android 2.3 Gingerbread
  • Battery: 1780mAh
  • Durability: IP68

Italian firm NGM’s Explorer is something of a veteran in the world of rugged phones, having first graced the shelves back in 2013. It comes installed with a simplified version of Android (2.3 Gingerbread) which, though limiting functionality somewhat, helps conserve battery life considerably.

The basic android is fine for emailing and the like but can only comfortably run one application at a time. As expected, the Explorer is dust-, shock- and waterproof and also boasts dual-SIM functionality which can prove very useful when contending with notoriously undependable network coverage in rural areas.

5. Samsung X Cover 3 (£169 + VAT)samsung

  • Size: 132.9 x 70.1 x 9.95mm
  • Weight: 154g
  • Operating System: Android 4.4.4 KitKat
  • Battery: 2,200mAh
  • Durability: IP67

Although Samsung refers to the X Cover 3 as “incredibly robust”, it’s safe to say it isn’t quite as tough as the other devices on this list. It is dust and water resistant, however, and can withstand submersion in water up to a depth of 1m for 30 minutes.

Aside from that, it comes with all the style and substance you’d expect from a Samsung: a slim, sleek and easy-to-grip design, a large 4.5in screen and a recent (4.4 KitKat) version of the Android operating system.

Battery life, however, is distinctly average for an ordinary (non-rugged) 2015 smartphone at about 10 hours’ talk time/video or 85 hours’ audio.

6. RugGear RG900 tablet (£439 + VAT)ruggear tablet

  • Size: 213 x 140.9 x 20 mm
  • Weight: 650g
  • Operating System: Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean
  • Battery: 7,000mAh
  • Durability: IP67

Tablets are becoming increasingly popular within the agricultural sector as more and more farmers change from paper to digital record-keeping. On top of full mobile phone functionality, RugGear’s RG900 is robust, can last for up to two days with normal usage and a whopping 450 hours (almost three weeks) on standby.

Additionally, its powerful processor allows it to run many apps simultaneously, including Farm Wizard, the herd management software which allows famers to tag their livestock with a wand reader.

This means detailed records of all animals can be kept electronically – so no more rustling through stacks of dog-eared paper forms.