When a German PR agency asked me what I’d think of an outdoor smartphone, I knew something was up – and I was very critical.
We get into the rain, for example, often enough that I can’t understand why so few smartphones are waterproof – but we don’t get outdoors enough that I thought it was a good idea to make that the major orientation for a smartphone.
But then, I was working as a mobile phone/network promoter when Ericsson released their “outdoor” phone that was like a brick…
When I heard of the Land Rover Explore Outdoor Smartphone, then, I figured this may have been why they asked me – and it was.
And I was torn between interest, given how much I am about outdoors and sports tech, and suspicion, given how much of a marketing stunt that could be.
Does anyone need an outdoor phone?
Of course, the proposition of an outdoor smartphone is an odd one. It will not be the big seller to the mass market.
To what extent design cues from Land Rover are going to appeal to smartphone buyers is also going to be quite the question.
The makers of the Land Rover Explore, the Bullitt Group, have already produced the CAT (Caterpillar) smartphone, which has found its users and doesn’t seem to have been terrible.
Looking at what they’ve come up with, as someone who chooses his smartphone first and foremost by it having to at least be waterproof enough for daily use in a drizzle, I came away quite interested.
With added durability, add-ons that sound like they could help in the outdoors and potentially replace a bigger GPS unit, usability in a wider range of conditions – and a size and look that isn’t horrible for everyday use – it sounds like a worthwhile proposition, after all.
For a first look, I had the chance to sit down with Tim Shepherd and let him walk me – and us – through it…
As you’ll notice, the ISPO just saw the first introduction of the phone; technical specifications will be released at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, beginning February 26 (2018). Smallest of signs they know what they are doing: You could play around with the phones they had at the booth, but the settings were inaccessible behind a security measure 😉
A phone like this wouldn’t end up the most modern of designs. Bezel-less, it sure isn’t. In this regard, it follows a design philosophy more like that of Casio with its G-Shock watches: Overbuild it, and there will be people who like the toughness.
It isn’t a horrible phone, though.
Size- and looks-wise, it is not that different from the vast crop of current smartphones that aren’t built to dazzle with an outstanding design language; it’ll do.
Looking at it in terms of thickness, likewise: It won’t be winning beauty contests, but it isn’t horrible.
With the full “adventure pack” attachment added to it, things become considerably bulkier and heavier…
… but if this works nearly as well as they suggest in replacing a dedicated GPS unit, there may be little need to bring along something like a Garmin InReach, except if one went completely outside of cell phone coverage (which isn’t the usual state of affairs, even for dedicated outdoors people).
The add-on slapped on the back there provides an additional battery pack plus a GPS patch antenna to improve GPS reception… So, if you would already have navigated with your smartphone, this should now work even better. All the better as you get the phone with Viewranger already installed on it and maps you can choose to get (and additional ones you could buy if you still needed more).
Having just looked at Viewranger for the Casio Pro Trek Smart, this sounds pretty good – even if I didn’t like the app so much in its use with the Casio smartwatch (as it underutilizes the smartwatch’s functions, in my opinion).
The phone here, with its GPS and camera and Viewrangers “Skyline” feature, sounds like it will make much better use of the app.
Additionally, there are not just the usual sensors built in, there is also an added barometric altimeter on the phone – but that’s about as far as anything hardware-related was revealed.
Not specific, but marketing-wise, it was said that the phone will be seriously drop-proof, water- and weatherproof in a wide range of temperatures and including in salt water, and still usable with gloves or when the screen is wet.
We’ll see how that goes when they really release it. If I can indeed get my hands on it, I’ll gladly put it through its paces and report on it – but, let’s see if that works out.
The phone is scheduled to launch in April 2018, to be sold with the “Adventure Pack” GPS+battery (which snaps onto the back via magnets, by the way – if you haven’t watched the video where you can see how that works) at a MSRP of €649 / £599