Great second phone for outdoorsy people.

Today I’m reviewing the RugGear RG500 rugged smartphone. It is a compact, but thick (1″) rubberized GSM dual-sim phone with Android 4.2, 3.2″ display, 5MP rear camera, VGA front camera, 512MB of RAM, and 4GB of ROM. On paper, this seems like a pretty low-end smartphone, but some of the great rugged features make this a great second phone for adventuring.

RugGear RG500 Rugged Smartphone REVIEW

In the box, you get a charger with US, European and British plugs. You will be able to use this charger directly in a large portion of the world. It also uses any standard USB Micro cable and charger, so it’s easy to find a way to charge it. Also included are a screen protector (be careful when removing the plastic cover on the phone so you don’t accidentally pull off the screen protector.), headphones, short instruction guide, and USB cable.

RugGear RG500 Rugged Smartphone REVIEW

The phone itself is drop resistant up to 2 meters, and in my testing survived multiple drops to concrete and a wooden boat deck from that height without damage. It is also indicated up to 1.5m submersion in water for an hour is OK.  I never held it under water that long, but I used it to control Bluetooth music in the river while floating and had no problems with it during or after that experience. However, unlike the RugGear Mariner Plus I reviewed last month, this phone does not float so you will need to be careful to attach it to something that does. RugGear makes this easy with the phone’s lanyard hole on the back.

Some reviews have pointed out the small screen makes typing difficult, and while it definitely takes some time to get used to coming from a 5.5″ screen phone, I eventually had no trouble. That said, the low resolution (320×480) does give the phone a pixelated look and very little web content can fit on the screen, but as a second phone you use when things are less than clean and dry, it is more than serviceable.

RugGear RG500 Rugged Smartphone REVIEW

I found the RG500’s performance on the unfortunately quite outdated Android OS to be adequate for what I wanted to use it for (messaging, maps, and IM). I think you will have a somewhat less than cutting edge experience if you tried to use the latest games or very graphical and intense apps. I found using the “Lite” version of Facebook to be perfectly fine, but the full version a bit too much for the device (especially considering the small resolution). Facebook Messenger or Twitter were no problem. The older version of Android does allow the device to get by with so little RAM (512MB), so having this version is probably a blessing. Most major apps are still available for Android 4.0+, so I had no trouble installing the apps I needed. It is basically a requirement to add an SD card as the device only has about 1.5GB of available space on internal storage.

The only major sticking point for me was the lack of support for many 3G bands. This device only supports 900Mhz and 1200Mhz for HSPA (3G on AT&T). It also has no support for LTE. In my area, all our towers use other bands, so I was only able to use the phone on EDGE and 2.5G. This greatly limited its speed when using the Internet when not on WiFi. So I recommend using a good offline map app if you plan to use it for turn by turn directions or for navigating out in the wilderness. I did find the GPS to be very functional and quickly locked to satellites.

RugGear RG500 Rugged Smartphone REVIEW

Battery life was very good and I had no problem using it for a full day. On WiFi, my test gave at least 2 days of standby time with limited use. This will work for me when I’m out adventuring as I can use my solar charger or external batteries to get it charged up.

As with the RugGear Mariner, this phone features fuller size SIM card slots, so you will need an adapter if you plan (like me) to swap in your SIM card when you need to use this phone. Its second SIM slot will let you also use two SIMs at the same time (personal and work for example).

Using it for music you will need an SD card if you plan to carry more than a few songs, but once you do it works great to connect to Bluetooth speakers or with an aux cable. Be aware that you have to compromise some of its water resistance by opening a flap if you plan to use the headphone jack. I found the Bluetooth range to be a little shorter than my LG G3, but it worked fine in clear line of site to my speaker up to about 10 feet. I set it on the stern of my boat and swam up to it to change and select songs with no problem. I could see this working great poolside as well.

RugGear RG500 Rugged Smartphone REVIEW

SMS and voice calling were what you would expect from a device in 2016, and I had no issues.

The device touts a few extras including push to talk and an SOS function, but there were no instructions on how to configure or set these up. By default, the SOS button opens and controls the camera, which I found useful.  There is a push to talk app installed called “Bper”, but I did not configure it as it wasn’t something I wanted or needed, it’s an extra fee, and none of my friends use this. The built-in FM radio is another plus that doesn’t exist on many high-end phones and adds to this device’s utility as an emergency companion. Be sure to pack your headphones though to use as an antenna in this case.

Just like its cousin the RugGear Mariner, this is a great second phone for outdoorsy people who want to leave their expensive phone in the truck while still having a way to be connected and safe. Limited 3G support and small resolution display are its only downsides for me. I have been and will be using this device out on the water or in the woods while camping.

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