Buying a Cheap Rugged Smartphone

An essential check list before you buy.

Other rugged mobile learning articles

Can you tell the difference between cheap and inexpensive?

There are quite literally hundreds of cheap rugged smartphones easily obtainable from a huge list of Chinese device manufacturers but the fact is that copyright laws in China are simply not the same as they are here. This leads to a thriving market of cheap, tough but rough smartphones that are often just copied, imitated fakes that are sold in their 1000's in the UK without anyone ever knowing.

At best you could be wasting your money, at worst you could be buying something plain illegal and even dangerous for your business and workers in it.

This article explains a few quick things you can do to check if the phones you're buying are safe for your business and workers.

Check the IMEI number is genuine

What is an IMEI number?

Every phone, waterproof or not, capable of making or receiving calls has an IMEI number that is a unique ID for your cheap rugged phone across the whole world, not just the UK. It's costly to budget for registering IMEI numbers so cheap durable smartphones are often missing genuine phone IMEI numbers.

How can an IMEI number not be genuine?

There are verious techniques chinese durable smartphone makers use. Firstly they use old IMEI's from phones they think will be too old to be in use any longer. So you'll see old Nokia handset or Samsung phone info when you check your smartphones IMEI number. Secondly they use random phone numbers that have never been registered but as the numbers catch up you could end up having a copied IMEI that has been reported stolen.

How do I check my smartphones IMEI number?

Thats easy, simply go to the IMEI database online, enter the IMEI number of your rugged smartphone and you get an answer.

Are my smartphones breaking the law?

Yes and no. Right now not as the phone user although this is going to change, however the business you bought it from is breaking the law and think about it, they didn't care about you or your business at all did they?

Why does this matter?

It matters because if your cheap tough phone is using a fake, copied or plain unregistered IMEI then your phone could stop working at any moment. Phone network companies like O2 and Vodafone are now actively blocking illegal IMEI's and sharing that data with networks across the globe in an effort to stop the issue.

CE certification

What is CE certification?

Everything that comes into Europe must be certified in some way to ensure it's of the correct quality. For a cheap rugged phone, this means it must have CE certification which must be passed or the item is not deemed as safe to use.

We've all become very used to everything being just done for us in Europe, so we forget that the sudden glut of imported chinese phones might just not be fully compliant when it comes to CE.

What's the issue?

Well without CE certification, your cheap rugged smartphone will be just! At best it'll be of poor quality and fail but at worst it might injure or damage your assets or even workers or customers.

Why is this a problem

If you injure an employee by not showing due diligence that the equipment you provided has a basic legal certification of quality then you're in trouble!

How do I check for CE

Ignore box stickers as they're easily faked. Ask for the CE certification from your supplier. To import into Europe the reseller should have one for every phone they sell. If they can't provide it then they're breaking the law and putting your business at risk in the process.

Rogue malware and Tracking apps

What are rogue apps and Malware?

Android operating systems are very powerful and can run all kinds of apps in the background without you knowing about them. Android can also stop you removing certain apps and its easy to hide apps that track you or steal data fro your phone. We test lots of phones every week and all of them have some kind of malware of this nature on them, hidden away.

Cheap chinese sourced rugged phones typically had 40-50 apps that ranged from not needed up to plainly tracking GPS, or some kind of low level data that looked dubious.

Why is this a problem?

Well I for one don't want prying eyes on my smartphone, however as a business leaking customer or personal employee data from your buysiness phones could be breaking the data protection act 1998 and if word gets out no-one will use your services.

How do I check for this on my device

It's very difficult to find hidden system apps, however our general guide is this:

  • Check for China like apps like Baidu or ones with chinese text. It's probably using a generic OS with lots of malware installed.
  • If the phone has a lot of apps on it you can't remove then ditto!
  • Does your reseller understand the Android OS? If the answer is no it's probably not a good one!
  • Check who wrote the OS by going through the settings of the device. All Raptors rugged phones have been thoroughly built by us and we put our name by it!
Is this really that important?

What's in a bit of personal data being sent back to China hey? Tehy all do it don't they?

Well I have learnt to live with Google, Apple, Microsoft and co getting hold of my personal data, but do you actually know where it's going on your cheap rugged smartphone?

Support and repair

Cheap rugged smartphones aren't supported well.

Google Android play store

Check Repair facilities

Are they local?

Are they quick?

Are they professional?

Raptor mobile apps

Extra support

Can you buy spare parts?

Is there Android and software help?

Deployment and rollout services?

You can disconnect Google Play


Check available accessories.

Are they stocked locally?

Are replacements easy to get.


What is Bloatware?

Bloatware are legitimate apps that are installed onto your device. They typically can't be removed and are not just found on Cheap phones but also brands like Samsung and Apple.

Apps like calculators, text apps etc are useful to not be able to remove but what about apps like Facebook, news apps or even the google play store?

What's the issue?

Bloatware takes up valuable storage ROM, takes up RAM memory and can also make for a cluttered, confusing rugged phone.

Removing all prying eyes

The Google play app connects you to Google, if you need to remove !

How do I check for CE

Ignore box stickers as they're easily faked. Ask for the CE certification from your supplier. To import into Europe the reseller should have one for every phone they sell. If they can't provide it then they're breaking the law and putting your business at risk in the process.

What can I do to stay smart?

Steer clear of the obvious sellers

I don't need to tell you to stay clear of Ebay, or Alibaba. Most of the phones on there aren't great and are cheap copies with little to no support.

It took us years to develop relationships with the right people and you won't get a genuinly cheap rugged smartphone without putting in the same work.

Too cheap

The old adage of too good to be true applies to cheap phones too. If you can get the same smartphone for half the price then think what you aren't probably getting.

Challenge the reseller

Simply challenge your reseller with the questions above, it's easy. If they seem fine with that and your rugged smartphone checks out, then everything's great!

Check the quality

Sometimes it's obvious. We've seen copied outdoor ready phones that weren't even waterproof or dustproof, that wouldn't connect to the GSM network and weren't even unlocked!