Sonim XP Strike review

It doesn't do much more than make calls, but the Sonim XP Strike is Sprint's toughest push-to-talk cell phone.
Photo of Sonim XP Strike
329.99

Dropping your phone is the worst. It almost always lands face down, which only prolongs the moment of dread you feel as you reach for it, muttering a prayer the screen hasn’t been shattered into hundreds of pieces. You’ll never have to feel that way again if you carry the $129.99 Sonim XP Strike, which is tough enough to be run over by a forklift. If you need a virtually indestructible push-to-talk phone on Sprint’s Direct Connect network, the Sonim XP Strike can’t be beat. But if you’re willing to take your chances, you can get a cheaper phone with similar features.

Design and Rugged Tests
Sonim builds awesomely tough phones and the XP Strike is no exception. Made of hardened black rubber molded to yellow fiberglass casing, you can tell the XP Strike is no joke from the moment you get your hands on it. Big and bulky, but extremely solid, the Strike feels more like a tool than a phone. At 4.96 by 2.36 by 0.98 inches (HWD) and 6.52 ounces, you’ll have a tough time fitting this phone into a pocket, but it’ll definitely feel at home on a tool belt.

There are two Volume buttons and a combination Camera/Flashlight button on the right side of the phone. There’s a Direct Connect button on the left, along with 3.5mm headphone and power jacks covered by rubber plugs. The XP Strike’s keys are backlit and raised, so you should be able to dial with gloves on, though I wouldn’t mind if they were a bit larger. A directional pad and selection keys above the keypad help you find your way around the phone and place calls.

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The 2-inch, 320-by-240-pixel display is protected by 1.5mm of shock and scratch resistant Corning Gorilla Glass. The display itself is serviceable, though Sprint’s dated interface looks dark and drab. The phone’s 1,950mAh battery is protected by a screw-on back cover, and lasted for an impressive 12 hours and 50 minutes of talk time, so you’ll have no trouble making it through a full work day without needing a recharge.

Unlike most rugged phones, the XP Strike actually surpasses military specification 810G, so it’s resistant to dust, extreme temperatures, low pressure, rain, salt fog, 5Hz shock to 30G, and 5Hz to 200Hz vibration, among other severe conditions. According to Sonim, the phone can sustain the drop of a two-pound steel ball from up to 16 inches against the housing and up to 8 inches against the screen. And, of course, you can run over it with a forklift. We didn’t have a forklift available at the time of testing, but we did our best to rough the phone up otherwise.

I started by dropping the phone onto the rubberized floor of the PCMag Labs from a height of about five feet. I did this a number of times, until it became clear it had no damaging effect whatsoever. Sonim rates the phone to withstand drops up to 6.5 feet, but we went well above this in subsequent tests, including some drops where the screen hit the floor face down. I even rolled the phone, like a bowling ball, down a cobblestone street, and aside from some minor scuffs, it proceeded to work just fine.

The phone also meets IP-68 certification, which makes it submersible in up to 6.5 feet of water for 1 hour (nearly every other rugged phone is submersible to 3 feet for 30 minutes). To ensure the phone is waterproof, you must make sure the ports on the left side of the phone are completely shut, and the battery cover is screwed on all the way. I placed our test phones in a water-filled vase for 30-minute intervals, and got mixed results.

One of our test phones was completely fine, but one suffered some light water damage. Moisture collected underneath the glass protecting the display as well as around the camera sensor; that was more than enough to wreck the camera for good. And until the phone dried out fully, it acted a bit buggy, with the wrong buttons triggering the wrong actions.

I’m not certain what happened here; it’s possible that one of the ports on the side of the phone wasn’t fully closed, or the battery cover wasn’t screwed on all the way, but after letting the phone dry out and resecuring the ports and battery cover, it didn’t take on water again. Luckily, Sonim provides a three-year comprehensive warranty that even covers accidental damage. No one wants to lose all the content on their phone, but it’s still better than having to pay for a whole new phone.

(Next page: Call Quality, Direct Connect, Multimedia, and Conclusions)

Call Quality and Direct Connect
The XP Strike is a dual-band EV-DO Rev. A (800/1900 MHz) device with no Wi-Fi. Reception is very good, and voice quality is average. Earpiece volume goes very loud, though voices sound somewhat robotic and harsh. Calls made with phone have lots of sidetone, which is the sound of your own voice that prevents you from yelling. It did a great job of cancelling out background noise, though it made everything sound a bit compressed. And while the speakerphone sounds fine, I wish the volume went louder. I could barely hear it outside over some noisy construction taking place about 20 feet away. Calls were also fine through a Jawbone Era Bluetooth headset, but there’s no voice dialing.

Sprint’s Direct Connect service combines the 3G Internet speeds and nationwide coverage of Sprint’s CDMA network with the instantaneous push-to-talk of the old Nextel iDEN network, which Sprint is turning off in June. You need to be in a Sprint coverage area in order to use the XP Strike, but you can still make push-to-talk calls to Nextel iDEN subscribers. The new network supports Call Alert With Text, which sends an audio alert and text message to another subscriber, along with Group Connect, which can connect 20 subscribers together at once. You can also use the Direct Connect button to mass-message up to 200 Direct Connect subscribers in one shot, or to send recorded messages to email addresses or handsets via text message. 

For this review, I tested Direct Connect using two different XP Strikes. It takes about a second to initiate the connection, after which transmissions are essentially instantaneous. Voice quality is solid, but like the speakerphone, the volume could be louder.

Interface, Multimedia, and Conclusions
Ruggedness aside, the XP Strike is very similar in features and performance to Sprint’s other rugged feature phones, like the Kyocera DuraXT. It features the same dated interface, with a 12-icon main menu, and lots of clicking around to actually get anything done.

As far as apps go, you get an alarm, calculator, calendar, notepad, stopwatch, to-do list, unit converter, and a world clock. There’s also an Access NetFront 4.2 browser for reading WAP Web pages. The screen is small, and this phone isn’t really built for Web browsing, so I wouldn’t plan on doing too much of it, but it’s there. Most helpful is the Telenav GPS app, which lets you use your phone for voice-enabled, turn-by-turn directions.

The XP Strike has 136MB of free internal memory. There’s a microSD slot underneath the battery, and my 32 and 64GB SanDisk cards worked fine. There is a FM radio, but it only works when connected to a wired headset. The audio player only recognizes MP3 files automatically, but I was also able to play AAC, WAV, and WMA audio files using the file manager. Music sounds good over a standard 3.5mm headset. And while there’s a video player, the only file type I was able to play was an MPEG4 at 480-by-320 resolution, but only the audio worked.

There is a 2-megapixel camera with an LED flash that doubles as a flashlight. The camera takes photos in 0.7 second, but it takes a full 4 seconds to actually save each one. Photos lack any real sense of detail and colors are washed out. You can also record video, but it looks even worse. The camera captures small, choppy 176-by-144-pixel video at 15 frames per second. Don’t get this phone because you want a phone with a camera.

The Sonim XP Strike is the toughest phone on Sprint. It also comes with Sonim’s incredible three-year comprehensive warranty, and it’s hard to put a price on peace of mind. That said, you can get the flip-style Kyocera DuraXT for half the price. It isn’t quite as tough as the XP Strike, and it doesn’t come with Sonim’s incredible warranty, but it does have a louder speaker and voice dialing, as well as a better camera. The Kyocera DuraPlus, meanwhile, has the same brick-like form factor as the XP Strike, but it isn’t as rugged and lacks a camera. And for something totally different, the Motorola Admiral is a ruggedized push-to-talk Android smartphone with loads of multimedia capabilities, a fast Web browser, and access to more than 600,000 apps in the Google Play store. 

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Specifications
Service Provider Sprint
Screen Details 320-by-240-pixel TFT LCD
Bands 800, 1900
Physical Keyboard No
Network CDMA
High-Speed Data EVDO Rev A, CDMA 1X
Screen Size 2 inches
Megapixels 2 MP
Bluetooth Yes
Camera Yes
Battery Life (As Tested) 12 hours 50 minutes
Camera Flash Yes
microSD Slot Yes
802.11x No
Form Factor Candy Bar
Storage Capacity (as Tested) 137 MB
GPS Yes

Verdict
It doesn't do much more than make calls, but the Sonim XP Strike is Sprint's toughest push-to-talk cell phone.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc