Thursday, 8 October 2020

Review: Samsung Galaxy XCover Pro - a smartphone for the outdoors

 

When I first bought a smartphone over ten years ago I chose an Android one over an iPhone for one reason - the Android phone had a replaceable battery so I could carry several on long trips and swop them over as needed. My second smartphone was like this too but when that died in 2015 phones with replaceable batteries had just about disappeared. 

They might not have replaceable batteries but some phones were now waterproof, which seemed a good idea, and I chose one of these, the Samsung Galaxy S7. This has been a good phone. It's been on every trip, long or short, for over four years and never failed. Last year though the battery started to fade and I had to charge it more and more often. I had the battery replaced but the new one soon faded as well. I started to think about a new phone.

Then Samsung announced earlier this year that there would be no more security or software updates for the S7. I decided it really was time for a replacement. But what to buy?

Now I'd always used a protective case with the S7 and treated it as fragile, something I assumed was standard for phones. Until 2018 when Land Rover sent me its new Explore phone to test, a phone that was designed to be tough - waterproof, dustproof, shockproof. I took it on the GR5 Trail Through the Alps and really enjoyed having a phone that didn't need much care or even a case. (You can read my review on the TGO Website). My S7 was still working fine so I didn't replace it with the Explore. But I did think my next phone would be a similar one. *

So when I started looking for a new phone this year I concentrated on rugged models, of which there are a surprising number, most of them big, chunky and heavy. I wanted one that was reasonably light and not too bulky though but which still had a decent sized screen and a battery that would last. None seemed to be like this.

Then I discovered the Samsung Galaxy XCover Pro, which was launched last January. This looks like an ordinary phone but is designed for use on construction sites and so is very rugged (IP68 rating). And, wonder of wonders, it has a replaceable battery. After my usual dithering about a major purchase I bought one. I've had it about a month now and so far it's excellent, having been used in rain, sleet, and freezing temperatures. No case is needed. I have put on a screen protector but I'm not sure that's really necessary.

The XCover Pro comes into the mid-range smartphone category, costing around £450. It does everything I want and does it well. It works with gloves and the screen is visible in bright light. I've been using it with ViewRanger and it works just like the S7.

It weighs 232 grams, which is lighter than most rugged phones. My smaller S7 weighs 192 grams with case. The XCover Pro is a little thinner than the S7 with case too. 

The XCover Pro has a 160mm/6.3" screen. It's comfortable to hold in one hand but anything bigger would probably be awkward for me (and my hands aren't small - I take large in gloves). The battery is quite big at 4050 mAh and so far has lasted for well over eight hours in the hills. A spare battery weighs 76 grams. Swapping batteries over is quick and easy and you can have a fully charged phone again in less than a minute. A spare battery is much lighter and more compact than a battery pack too.


There are two front cameras - 25 megapixel wide angle and 8 megapixel ultra wide angle - and a rear 13 megapixel selfie camera. The images are similar to those of the S7, which in its day was regarded as one of the best camera phones. I'm sure today's top phones have better cameras (as they should have at twice the price) but this wasn't a major concern for me as I use a separate camera anyway. As it is I'm more pleased with the XCover Pro images than I expected to be and a few have already been used in The Great Outdoors magazine.

The XCover Pro has plenty of storage space with 64GB built-in and a slot for a MicroSD card up to 512GB in size (I have a 128GB one). I won't detail all the other technical specifications - you can see them on the Samsung website. Suffice it to say everything works fine for me and I haven't noticed any difference with the S7, except that the touchscreen is less sensitive, which I prefer.

Because of the replaceable battery the XCover Pro should last many years. It comes with four years of security and software updates too - many phones only come with two. I'm surprised it hasn't had more coverage and interest. It's an excellent phone for the outdoors. I love not needing a case, not needing to treat it as fragile, and knowing I can swap the battery over if it runs out of power.

*Ironically, shortly after I bought the XCover Pro Land Rover launched a new rugged phone, the Explore R, and sent me one to test. So far it's performed fine. It is designed specifically for the outdoors with useful apps that you don't get with the XCover Pro. It doesn't have a replaceable battery though. Full review to come.


1 comment:

  1. I wish I'd known about this a month ago! Just replaced my Galaxy S7 with an S10 and made the separate purchase of a waterproof, rugged cover. The X Cover would have been far better for my needs.

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