While all the other smartphone market niches already have a model or two from the top manufacturers on sale, the rugged phones niche has been stale for a couple of years now. Furthermore, there never were any rugged smartphones at all, which is actually surprising considering the number of cellphones that companies have released. I suppose they thought that active people climbing the Everest or swimming every morning don’t have the need for Angry Birds or the Internet for that matter.
But they do, as demonstrated by the good number of sales for the recent Motorola Defy, the first true rugged smartphone that can hold its own against any kind of abuse and provide you with all the goodness of Android in a very attractive package. Sony Ericsson soon followed suit, announcing the Xperia Active, and so we’ve got no less than TWO rugged smartphones, and the choice between them is hard, or rather, will be hard when the Active goes on sale. Which one should you choose?
Similar specs, but important differences
The Defy and Xperia Active are pretty similar in most aspects, but there are a lot of things that are different, as well. The most distinct differences are on the outside: while the Defy obviously looks pretty normal, the Active is sportier, with a square design, bright colors and the strap “ear” that will be useful if you need to keep your phone around your neck or hand instead of in your pocket. Not surprisingly, the Xperia has better protection: in addition to being dust, dirt, scratch proof, it can work perfectly fine under 3 feet of water and the digitizer will respond to your touch as soon as you get it out. The Defy is also pretty good, but lacks the excellent waterproofing.
The other big difference is in the screen size: while the Xperia Active has a tiny (for a smartphone) 3 inch display and a resolution of 320×480 pixels, owners of the Defy will be able to surf the Web, be entertained and work on a nice 3.7 inch screen and a full 854×480 pixels, the same as on the first Droid and many other Motorola’s. That’s a pretty big difference – I’d personally go for the bigger screen, especially knowing it’s protected by the same Gorilla glass as the Xperia.
Pretty much the same performance on both phones
The performance should be pretty much the same, with the Motorola Defy running a TI OMAP 3 processor at 800 MHz and the Active a first generation Snapdragon (Sony went cheap here) running at 1 GHz. Both phones have 512 MB of RAM, which doesn’t make the choice easier, but makes the performance equal, as well. Strangely, the Defy’s video capabilities are only rated as VGA, and sadly it won’t be possible for the modders community to change that (like they did on the Nexus One) since the boot loader is locked. The Xperia Active, on the other hand, can shoot 720p out of the box and even submerged – an obvious advantage.
The software part also deserves some attention, since Sony Ericsson finally got on the right path and will use the latest Android version on the Active, while Motorola is dragging behind with Android 2.2 out of the box and a “possible” update to 2.3 coming sometime this year. MotoBlur doesn’t help things, especially when Sony’s Timescape interface is so cool (and it works better).
In the end, the choice is up to you. If you want to use your rugged smartphone as a “smartphone”, then the Defy is a better choice, despite its shortcomings, but if the “rugged” part is more important to you than browsing Web sites, the Xperia Active will be a better companion. Either way, we’re all glad that rugged smartphones are finally a reality and hope that more will be coming soon.