Energizer HardCase H500S preview: a surprisingly good rugged smartphone

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Nearly two years have passed since the Energizer HardCase H500S launched globally, but only recently has the device been offered in South Africa.

Like the Cat Phone range offered by UK firm Bullitt, Energizer HardCase phones are built by French company Avenir, and also parade as hardy, muscular hunks of silicon and rubber.

But while some of Bullitt’s solutions are among the clunkiest phones you’ll ever see, Avenir’s are more understated. The HardCase H500S doesn’t look like something a plumber would own, and in fact, doesn’t actually look like a durable smartphone at all. Trust me, that’s a good thing.

But having used this phone now for the past 48 hours, what do I think of it? Well, here’s what rocks, what doesn’t and what truly sucks.

What’s great

  • I’d guard against calling a tough phone cutesy, but that’s exactly what the HardCase H500S is. It’s adorable.
  • Unlike other phones in its category, it’s understated and could easily be mistaken for a traditional smartphone wrapped in a protective cover.
  • The rubberised cover provides protection sans a third-party case but also makes the phone grippy.
  • Buttons are tactile and easy to find, and aren’t hidden away between or behind layers of protection.
  • It’s small too. This phone has a similar footprint to the Samsung Galaxy S10e. Thanks to this, it’s easy to use with one hand.
  • Water resistance and shock resistance (IP68 rating) are welcome additions, but not unexpected considering this phone’s target audience.
  • The HardCase H500S’s ports are shut with rubber flaps, and are easy to access when they’re open.
  • In terms of performance, it’s swifter than its competition by some margin. It’s not even a contest, actually. The Cat S31’s Snapdragon 210 is tired. And although the HardCase H500S uses a Mediatek MT6737, it’s a lot quicker when opening apps, accessing the camera, or navigating menus.
  • Energizer is giving us dual SIM functionality too, which is huge for those who travel or run separate data/call SIMs.
  • The screen has excellent range between its dimmest and brightest settings. It’s definitely not the worst screen I’ve seen on a smartphone either.
  • An odd note that I barely mention on phones is the ambient light sensor, and the HardCase H500S has a surprisingly responsive one, adjusting the 5.0-inch screen’s brightness on the fly rather intelligently.
  • Screen feedback is excellent too. No phantom touch issues. N tardy responses. It’s also easy to type accurately even though it’s a smaller display.
  • There’s no trashware installed, which is astounding. No Facebook. No Booking.com. No Flipboard. No custom app store. It’s just clean Android over here.
  • The rear camera is pretty great too. It’s no P30 Pro or Galaxy S10, but images are crispy enough to use as a text scanner, or snap a license plate. You’re not going to use this phone to take shots of birds, but it’ll do an adequate job snapping peaks along a hiking trail. Autofocus, although terribly slow, is also surprisingly good.
  • At R3999, this phone gives the Cat S31, its only rival in the rugged smartphone segment, a real run for its money.

What’s average

  • You have the option to use a microSD card, but you’re still stuck with just 16GB of base storage. Considering this phone’s still running late 2017 software, this isn’t a huge issue. The Cat S31, also employs 16GB of internal storage so perhaps its a rugged smartphone thing. I’m not sure I like the trend either way.
  • 2GB of RAM is enough too, although you’d be hard-pressed doing anything demanding on this phone, or running multiple apps or browser tabs.
  • You’d be forgiven for thinking this phone is aethetically boring as hell, because it is. Styling wasn’t really considered beyond the textured rubber rear, and the bezels are from a 1970s television set. But this is also forgivable. It’s about function rather than fashion in this market segment.
  • It has rubber stoppers over the ports, but these don’t seal off the ports entirely. I’d be fairly confident using this phone in a rain storm, but not so much accidentally dropping it into a deep puddle.
  • There are other phones that offer better value specs for the price, and can be “ruggedised” using a third party case. So I do often wonder just how relevant the rugged smartphone segment really is.

What’s trash

  • This phone is nearly two-years-old, so you’re getting dated technology even if you’re purchasing it new.
  • Considering it’s not a flagship either, the HardCase H500S will age dramatically in the coming months.
  • It’s 2019 and this phone is still running Android 7 on a January 2018 security patch. Ridiculous. Android 10 was just announced too. A bevy of cheap phones are set to receive this update, but where does this leave Energizer? How committed is the company to updating this phone’s software?
  • There’s no fingerprint reader or face unlock, so you’re forced to use less convenient PIN or passwords to unlock the phone. This could be problematic for labourers in messy environments, who would probably value simply looking at a device to unlock it.
  • Energizer’s employing a meagre 3000mAh battery, which is a quarter smaller than its competition and means this phone won’t win any awards for its longevity.

Initial impressions do have a tendency to morph over the period of a review, so check back in in a couple of weeks for the full review of Energizer’s HardCase H500S.

Feature image: Andy Walker/Memeburn

Andy Walker, former editor


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