Up for some rough and tumble

Motorola's Defy is a revelation in mobile technology for New Zealanders - it is dustproof, scratch resistant (with Corning Gorilla Glass), and can be completely submerged in water. It beacons a new trend in mobile technology, as manufacturers finally realise that most of us are clumsy and struggle to keep our phones in pristine condition.

There is also a market of consumers that needs rugged phones more than the average Kiwi - tradesmen. Increasingly prominent in Christchurch, contractors and those who work outdoors in temperamental environments need mobile phones that can withstand drops, knocks, and splashes. However, the new Defy isn't quite enough, says one Cantabrian consumer.

'The market has now been completely dominated by smartphones which are internet and entertainment-focused, but [manufacturers and networks] have completely forgotten about those of us that still work in talk- dominant environments,' he told Fairfax Media.

For this consumer, the Defy doesn't suffice - he is still worried about having an exposed screen. 'There have been several phones in the past - the Sanyo 7050, for example - that are of flip (clamshell) design and are ideal for the kinds of work we do because they are truly 'rugged' by complying to US Military Standard 810.'

The old 7050 has been available through Telecom and can sometimes be found on Trade Me. However, it should be noted that the use of "compliant to US Military Standard 810" is deceptive. While this standard can be obtained to provide test procedures, there is no MIL-STD- 810 compliance agency to officially certify any consumer product, meaning phone manufacturers use the claim as an unwarranted marketing tool.

However, those in need of the toughest of tough phones have other options.

New Zealand mobile networks offer a couple of suitable alternatives to the Motorola Defy (and Defy+), which retail at $599 from Telecom and 2degrees.

On Telecom, there is the option of the house-branded Telecom R54 ($249), which is independently certified with IP54 protection, the International Protection standard of shock, dust, and water resistance.

Withstanding splashes, dust and mud, the phone's internal circuitry is safe, and the battery cover is even locked down with a screw.

Vodafone offers the Samsung B2710 ($199), which is IP67 certified - heralding almost complete protection from the elements, so it is all-but-absolutely safe in environments such as dusty building sites.

It's also submersible in up to one metre of water for up to 30 minutes. Unless you actually want to drive over your phone with a truck or throw it into a lake, this model should meet the requirements of most tradesmen.

Some consumers may be wondering which rugged phones are in use by New Zealand's military and emergency services, and how such can be obtained.

NZ Police and the NZDF have confirmed primary communication from field staff is Radio Technology (RT), not cellular phones. For the police, mobile phones are just a secondary option. 'We don't issue 'rugged' phones to staff - just standard models,' says Grant Ogilvie, of the police. 'Some staff might obtain a protective casing for their work phone, and some may have a personal phone which is of the 'rugged' variety.'

New Zealand networks are understandably reluctant to import phones for individual customers, so if there is a very particular model available overseas that you want, you can buy it online yourself from an international website.

This does come with certain risks around compatibility to New Zealand networks, though. While you won't need to be a tech genius to configure a phone yourself, you will need to be somewhat savvy, although Vodafone's model- specific configuration section of its website (vodafone.co.nz/help/ configure-your-mobile) makes it as straightforward as possible.

Vodafone will also configure an international phone in store for a fee. Consumers should beware, however; there are some issues that can't be resolved with some phones from selected countries. Problems can include dropped/missed calls and call quality issues, delayed text messages and PXT problems.

With few models on New Zealand shelves, and the expectant risk around buying online from overseas, the alternate option is to buy a parallel import. Parallel imported phones (parallelimported.co.nz) are all configured to Vodafone and 2degrees networks, and selected models are configured to Telecom's XT. These imports also come with warranties and refund policies, so are a good option for Kiwis to get the ideal mobile to suit their purpose.