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Sonim XP3 hands on review

Published Dec 9th, 2008 8:20AM EST

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The Sonim XP3 is dead and we have killed it. Thus begins our hands on review and the results of our torture test of the Sonim XP3 Enduro. Before we begin we wanted to give a big thanks to all of the BGR readers who posted suggestions. They were excellent! As for the tests we ended up choosing, we tried to stick to those that reflected what potential Sonim owners would encounter on a daily basis. Knowing that an elephant can step on it is one thing but it doesn’t help the folks who work (or play) outside in the rain and snow all day or those who are crazy adventurous enough to ride their motorcycle in the rain. Before we get to the results of the torture tests and how the Sonim stands up to its claim of being the worlds’ toughest phone, we wanted to give our overall impressions of the phone from a phone point of view. Hit the jump to see how the Sonim stacks up both as a phone and the world’s most durable device.

We know that most Sonim owners buy an XP3 because of its ruggedness and that quality is obvious from the moment you pick it up. It is a durable, solidly made phone – no question. The rubberized exterior resists scratching and provides the phone with a very “grip-able” feel. This is not a slippery phone by any means. The keypad and the D-pad on the front are responsive and have a nice feel to them. They are well constructed, not too stiff and not too loose. You would think the mechanism needed to create a waterproof seal would impact the functions of the keys but it surprisingly does not. The buttons on the sides are a tad bit harder to press, especially the push to talk button, but we don’t think they would be a hindrance for the more burly types. The display is color with a fairly low resolution (128×160) and the XP3 has a simple user interface with a home screen that changes depending on the theme that you select. The main menu screen has 9 icons arranged in three rows that give you access to the basic functions of the phone such as the call history, files, settings, and contacts.

The phone comes with all the standard features that you would expect to find on a feature phone, and even a few extra goodies thrown in. One such goodie is a built-in voice recorder that allows you to record both notes and phone calls. When you are on the phone, a few quick key presses and you can choose to record your side of the conversation, the other person’s side of the conversation or both sides of the conversation – a very handy feature if you need it. Unfortunately, the internal memory is limited and without MMS (more on that later) it is difficult to get the recordings off the phone. Sonim does provide PC sync software for this purpose but having to connect your phone to a computer is a bit of an inconvenience. If you wanted to store the recordings on your phone instead, the voice recordings were loud and clear when played through the Sonim’s speakerphone. One other extra is a built-in LED flashlight with a dedicated on/off button. With the press of a button, you have access to a fairly bright and infinitely useful flashlight.

The call quality on the phone was surprisingly good. The model we demoed was a European model that lacked the 850MHz band. We did not expect to get a good signal but as it turns out, we were presently surprised. We were able to hold on to the signal in areas where coverage was sparse and didn’t experience any difficulty at all when placing calls. Considering the handset was demoed in an area where GSM coverage is spotty at best, this is an impressive feat. The Sonim has a nice loud speakerphone and supports Bluetooth 1.1 so you can use it with a bluetooth headset. We successfully paired the Sonim with a Plantronics Voyager 510 (oldie but goody) and a BlueAnt Supertooth Lite Bluetooth speakerphone. As mentioned briefly above, the Sonim supports SMS but not MMS. We assume it was not included as the model we tested did not have an integrated camera but camera or no camera, it would have been nice to have MMS support to send along any voice recordings that we made or to receive multimedia files.

The XP3 also ships with Opera Mini installed which, in our opinion, may be fine for a quick search for a phone number or a person’s name but is not good for any type of extensive web browsing. You have a low resolution screen and a GPRS data connection, both of which preclude you from having even a moderately good browsing experience. Keep in mind that the Sonim XP3 Enduro that we demoed was a foreshadow of the US model that is slated to arrive in March 2009. The US model will rock a 3 megapixel camera and integrated GPS, both of which were lacking in the Enduro European Model that we tested. The upcoming Sonim will also have the US 850/1900 GSM bands with EDGE support. These additional features are like icing on the cake and will make the Sonim XP3 an awesome phone for anyone who demands a lot from a phone.

So ends our impressions of the phone side of the Sonim and brings us to the company’s claims of durability… Does it live up to its hype? We would have to answer with an unequivocal yes! The Sonim withstood tests that would have killed any other standard phone and even most ruggedized handsets. We shudder to think what would have become of a standard handset if it were to be so carelessly tossed into the washing machine like the Sonim.

The Sonim was on when it went into the wash and was still on when we pulled it out 40 minutes later. It also battled the elements and survived a freezing night of 18 degree weather and 16 hours being battered by the snow, sleet, and rain.

It then took a 30 minute swim in Mountain Dew, an idea that came to us after some Dew was spilled on an old BlackBerry Curve, which did not fare as well as the Sonim. The Sonim came out a bit sticky but fully functioning while the Curve still has a sticky “0” key to this day.

Last but not the least the Sonim somehow managed to survive its battle with our 5,000-pound Chevy Suburban – almost. The first attempt to crush the Sonim with the SUV was not successful. The Sonim survived the weight of that behemoth not once but twice! A second attempt to get better footage of the SUV tires hitting the phone however, proved to be too much for it to bear. A much slower rollover of the phone caused the internal LCD to crack. The phone still worked flawlessly but the LCD, not so good.

Ultimately, the Sonim died an untimely death and the Achilles heel was not the Sonim’s construction per se, but user error. We washed the phone off by letting it soak for a few minutes in a bucket of water (how liberating it is to be able to do that) but failed to completely close the bottom flap that covers the charging port and headphone jack. With the flap only loosely closed, water seeped inside the phone and it has failed to work ever since. We would love to be able to tell you that we revived the phone after careful drying in front of a fire but it is too far gone and now sits lifeless in our office. Our final impression of the Sonim is that it is far and away one of the most rugged phones currently on the market and does indeed live up to its claim of being waterproof and able to withstand high impact drops. Though extremely durable, it is not infallible. It does have its limits and does require some diligence from its owner. If you want it to be waterproof for example, be sure to close that rubber flap tightly; check it and check it again. The one time you don’t will be the one time it falls overboard.

Sonim XP3 product page