JCB ToughPhone Pro-smart TP909 review

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JCB ToughPhone Pro-smart TP909

JCB's ToughPhone range is designed to withstand all kinds of abuse, whether you're on a building site or a kayaking trip. The Pro-Smart is an Android smartphone with a hardened shell, which conforms to the IP67 ingress standard. This means it is totally protected against dust, and can handle immersion in water up to one metre deep. It's definitely a chunky phone, but it's more compact and has a more cohesive design than just fitting a waterproof case to your smartphone. The outside is encased in tough rubber and plastic, and we've no doubt it could survive most falls on the corners or back. There's more protection against face-down impacts than you get on most smartphones, with a couple of millimetres of rubber to stop the screen hitting a flat surface, such as the pavement.

You screw the battery cover shut after fitting your SIM, and we had no complaints about the phone's water-resistance. There are a couple of physical features that we thought counted against the phone's outdoor aspirations. The screen was not bright enough for outdoor use - even at maximum brightness we could barely see it on a sunny day. Also, the phone's tough casing seems to cut out much of the phone's ringing volume and vibration, so we had trouble noticing alerts in noisy situations. The 5-megapixel camera is a disaster. Its over-exposed, blurry daylight images reminded us of phone pics from five years ago, and indoor pictures were hopeless. The battery is a definite saving grace; over ten hours in our video playback test points to all-day battery life.

The phone's chief selling point may be its ruggedness, but under all the protective rubber and plastic is a proper Android smartphone. It's far from cutting-edge, though. You get Android 2.3 rather than 4, an 800MHz single-core processor and a relatively low-resolution 480x320 screen. Android runs reasonably well, but the phone's lack of power shows when browsing the web; it takes almost 13 seconds to render the BBC News homepage, compared to the four or five we're used to seeing from modern dual-core smartphones. Some applications also take a while to open. We noticed a bug, where the phone would sometimes refuse to send replies to texts, just leaving the Send button greyed out.

The phone has a standard Android installation with all the apps you'd expect, so it was easy to set it up on our various Google and corporate accounts. We didn’t get on with the standard TouchPad keyboard, which we thought made it unnecessarily difficult to enter numbers or punctuation, but it’s easy to switch to the normal Android version or install an alternative from Google Play. There's only around 50MB of space free for apps on the internal storage, so you'll have to be on top of moving apps to the microSD card - a 4GB model is included. JCB has supplied some apps to suit the phone's rugged, contruction-centric image. There's a spirit level, a sound level meter and a surveying tool, which tells you height, elevation, pitch and roll. You also get a flashlight, but this just lights up the screen, so is really only useful if you have nothing else available. Pressing the DIY Supplies button simply brings up a map of every B&Q in Britain. I was hoping to see Russells Hardware, Tooting High Road.

There's no doubt that the JCB Toughphone Pro-Smart TP909 will resist the elements, and we were particularly impressed with its water-resistance. It's also a proper, if slightly slow, Android smartphone. However, the awful camera, low screen brightness and weak ring and vibrate all count against it. If you only need your phone to be ruggedised occasionally, we'd recommend a waterproof case for a normal smartphone.
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