We’ve reviewed our fair share of smartphones through more than a decade, most of them conventional while a few outliers to end up in our hands from time to time. Although by no means unusual or rare, rugged smartphones aren’t exactly a staple in the consumer market, often reserved for industrial customers, nor do they often spark curiosity beyond their thick, rugged frames. Some do try to stand out from the crowd with some extra feature or utility. The new Doogee S96 Pro definitely fits that bill and we give it a hard look to see there’s more to it than meets the eye.
Just like any typical rugged Android phone, the Doogee S96 Pro is built like a tank and almost looks like one. At 15.5mm thick and 310g heavy, it pretty much has the heft and girth of two typical smartphones. That, of course, is necessary for its durability and also lends a solid feel in one’s hand, though it will also tire out that hand sooner than usual.
While some rugged phone makers like CAT are trying to move away from the stereotypical looks of rugged phones, the Doogee S96 Pro seems to embrace it instead and even gives it an interesting spin. With a circular back camera design and a dual-color theme, the phone looks less like a tank and more like a piece of equipment from some cyberpunk game or film. Considering the current hype and attention given to a certain game, the timing couldn’t be more perfect.
As you would expect, the Doogee S96 Pro has the basics of ruggedness down, boasting IP68 dust and water protection rating, MIL-STD-810G certification, and the usual capability to operate under extreme temperatures. Then again, those points, especially the IP68 rating, are almost common among smartphones these days.
What sets it apart, however, is an IP69K rating you’d rarely see even in rugged smartphones, certifying that this device can withstand a blast of close-range pressurized water, often used for wash downs to sterilize people and equipment.
Specs and Performance
One of the typical features of rugged phones is something most would consider misfeatures instead. They don’t often have enough muscle inside to compete with more fragile but more powerful smartphones. The Doogee S96 Pro isn’t that different but that depends on how you see it.
The phone is powered by a MediaTek Helio G90, the chipmaker’s mobile gaming bet, and boasts 8GB of RAM and 128GB of UFS storage. Despite MediaTek’s marketing, however, the Helio G90 just doesn’t stand up to expectation and scores poorly in benchmarks, though it competes fairly well with Qualcomm’s non-5G mid-range selection.
It clearly isn’t made for high-performance use but the Doogee S96 Pro also falls flat on the one criteria that matters, no matter the kind of phone.
With a pixel resolution of 1520×720, the 6.22-inch display has an extremely low pixel density, even compared to other HD+ budget phones. Exacerbating matters is the low maximum brightness of the LCD panel, which makes it difficult to use under bright outdoor light. Ironic for a device that’s meant to be used in such environments.
The phone tries to make up for its flaws with its gigantic 6,350 mAh battery, enough to last you for two days or even more considering the other low specs. The size could be worrying when it comes time to charge the phone but, fortunately, it does support 24W fast wired charging and even 10W wireless charging, something of a miracle considering how thick the bumper is.
The Doogee S96 Pro’s gimmick, however, isn’t in its design or in its power. That comes via the cameras, or at least one of the four cameras on its back. The team is composed of a 48MP Samsung sensor, a 20MP Sony with Night Vision camera (more on that later), an 8MP ultra-wide shooter, and a 2MP macro camera. The phone’s camera performance can perhaps be summarized in one word: serviceable.
Without much camera magic, at least not in normal modes, the Doogee S96 Pro actually delivers decent photos, especially with UHD 4K resolutions. Colors are bright and vibrant but closer inspection reveals flaws in noise and detail preservation.
The special power that Doogee wants to advertise, however, is its Night Vision. This is accomplished using the Sony IMX350 sensor and four IR lights that surround the cameras. It does work, but not as well as the company might want you to believe. It makes it difficult to focus on objects and there’s no escaping the fact that it will yield lower quality images. The feature might have its uses in some situations, like night wildlife photography, but it will hardly be a clincher even for rugged phones.
Going beyond the hardware, the Doogee S96 Pro actually offers a respectable Android experience. Aside from some theming, it has made very few modifications to the stock UI.
Its bloatware is limited to custom apps geared towards outdoor activities and, unlike some major Chinese brand, comes with Google Play Store. There is also a special button on the left side that can be assigned a special action when pressed, like turning on the flashlight or dialing emergency services.
The Doogee S96 Pro will hardly win any awards, at least not by comparing it with the wrong crowd. It is pretty much a mid-range phone with rugged qualities, an admittedly attractive design, and a night vision camera gimmick.
Unimpressive and unremarkable, you might sing a different tune when you hear about its $300 price tag. Then it admittedly becomes a tempting option, especially if you’re the type whose smartphone often meets a gruesome end, usually unintentionally.