Ruggedized Smartphones Find Their Niche

Smartphone makers Motorola, Intermec, and Tripod Data Systems are enclosing handsets in ruggedized cases and sales are soaring. Go ahead: Rock 'em, drop 'em, and knock 'em down. They can take it.
Not so long ago, anything termed a "rugged phone" came in a form factor the size of a shoebox and the color of a U.S. Army jeep. The ruggedized device category was dominated by a few companies including Symbol; the choice was small and the style quotient non-existent.

Most rugged devices were designed for specific vertical industries, like manufacturing and shipping/logistics, and had little appeal for outsiders.

The Samsung M110 is a basic no-frills handset with a GSM/GPRS connection, and a nickname that reflects its qualities: the Solid.
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Now Symbol has been acquired by Motorola and the number of rugged devices on the market -- many of them smartphones, meaning they have some kind of Internet connection plus computing capabilities like memory, as well as multimedia features like music players and cameras -- has soared in the last few years.

Nokia, the world’s No. 1 handset maker, tried the rugged device category with the 5140, four years ago, but has since exited the field. Meanwhile, troubled handset maker Motorola is betting big on its Symbol division with devices like the hardy, powerful MC35, while Samsung is gradually releasing ruggedized devices starting with the basic, attractively priced M110 "Solid."

Nevertheless, the sector is still led by smaller manufacturers like Intermec, which offers an entire line of ruggedized computers and mobile devices, and Sonim.

Today you can get miniature hardened devices like the Intermec CN3, or fuller-featured, BlackBerry-like handsets such as the MC35, all in an array of colors including the Army drab M110, from Samsung, or the traffic-light yellow Nomad, from Tripod Data Systems.

It probably won't be long before we'll see an iPhone encased in rubber. Until then, here's a range of ruggedized smartphones to bring out the oil wildcatter, line boss, or hard-rock miner in you.