Builders and the working people have long been neglected by mobile phone makers. Where there used to rough and rugged models of handsets from Nokia, Ericsson (R250s and the shark-fin R310s) and Siemens; these models have tailed off in recent times to give way to mini-computers or fashion accessories.
Sonim Technologies have dived into what they see as a gap in the market for a more robust phone. As part of their outreach to bloggers and influentials, one arrived into my hands.
The phone is a similar size and weight to a basic Nokia candy bar phone like the 3310 or the 1100. It comes in Tonka toy yellow and with black plastic accents. It is also available in a more subtle all black colour scheme as well. It comes as no surprise that they have signed up JCB to distribute in the UK.
In comparision to past devices by Nokia and Ericsson that I’ve tried the Sonim feels flimsy. Ericsson used to make extensive use of magnesium alloys, silicon rubber, goretex membranes and high quality plastics. Nokia used high density PET and polypropylene phone covers which were tough enough to last but flexible enough to take dents. The Sonim handsets feels as if its case has been designed down to fit a price point and I think that it fails the key ‘would I put this down on the table in front of my mates in the pub’ test.
From a mechanical point-of-view the battery hatch is easy to open and there is no problem with using the clear key pad. It comes with brittle but well designed belt holster that I could see some people wearing, but its not me.
Software / user experience
The XP1 is no smart phone and it doesn’t try to be, the user experience feels like a good clone of the Nokia series 40 operating system. This is no bad thing as Nokia still provides the phone user experience gold standard. At the Mobile Youth Workout event last year, I heard someone at Blyk say that the top three phone applications were voice, SMS and the alarm clock. Sonim must have heard the same quote as the phone comes equipped with one of the easiest to use and most sophisticated alarm clock applications I have ever seen on a phone.
I got over a week of moderate usage out of the XP1 on just one charge, the call quality was loud and clear with decent reception. For those builders stuck in the back end of Kent or Essex there is an optional external antenna available to suck in the weakest of cell tower signals. The device is charged via a mini USB port, though this doesn’t have data applications at the moment. The manual says that the phone supports 900/1800 and 1900 MHz GSM and GPRS, so those bargain hunters looking at 3UK for cheap minutes will be disappointed. However our theoretical builder would still be able to use his phone on his annual holiday in Florida or the Algarve.
Usage including rough handling
I decided to pitch the XPI versus a Motorola F3 as a comparison. The F3 is designed for third world countries and so is designed to be cheaply made and resistant to dust. It contains two antennae to improve reception on third world mobile phone networks. Though it is cheap it has some really smart product and electronics design within the handset.
I threw both the Sonim XP1 and a 25 GBP Motofone F3 off my bedroom balcony. Both survived the three storey drop unscathed. I also ran a tap (US English: faucet) on both their keypads with no noticeable ill effect. So the XP1 lived up to its reputation as a tough phone, but so did Motorola’s bargain bucket phone that costs an eighth of the price.
The Sonim is supposed to sell SIM free for 200 GBP. Whilst it is a good honest simple phone, would a builder pay 200 GBP for this? Probably not, when they can have eight Motofone F3s.
However there maybe other markets: outdoors types and if they got the right certification for spark suppression the likes of oil refineries and chemical plants would appreciate the excellent reception and the push-to-talk features. Its an excellent first effort, the more I used the phone, the more I grew to like it. It could have a bit more of an extreme sports / desirable gadget cache if more time was spent on upping the quality of the industrial design and the case and frame materials.