Despite sporting one of the most unfortunate company names in the Chinese tech market (probably alongside Ainol and Chuwi), Doogee has been powering ahead with yet another rugged smartphone, the third that we have reviewed in the course of a year.
After the entry level T5 and the flagship S60, say hello to the S50, a premium smartphone that according to the manufacturer’s description, offers “impacted rugged, grand resistance”. We’re not sure about the exact meaning, but we get the drift, and it seems like a compelling promise that leaves us full of expectation.
With the S50, Doogee moves away from the outlandish design of the S60 to a more conservative one. As expected, rubberized plastic (TPU and polycarbonate) with bits of metal make up the chassis, which is black throughout except for some bright yellow stripes and lines.
The S50 has big bezels as well, and surprisingly, Doogee has opted for permanent capacitive navigation buttons, which might not go down well with outdoor users – like site workers – who wear thick gloves. Uniquely for a rugged smartphone, there are two front-facing cameras and Doogee opted for an 18:9 display, both of which are features more commonly seen on consumer-grade smartphones.
There’s a microUSB connector at the bottom of the phone and an audio connector on the top, both covered by rubber flaps. Why Doogee chose not to implement a future-proof USB Type-C connector remains an unsolved mystery.
A dual SIM tray, the power button, a volume rocker and a dedicated programmable button can be found on either side of the smartphone. The back plays host to two speaker grills, the aforementioned pair of camera sensors plus a flash, and a fingerprint sensor.
Note that the shape of the S50 can best be described – looking at it from one end – as trapezoidal. The area of the front fascia is much larger than the back, which makes holding it more uncomfortable compared to more traditional phone designs.
The phone is an IP68 model which means that it should survive drops, immersion in water and exposure to dust and worse. It houses a 5.18Ah battery (which can be shared), one of the biggest we’ve ever seen on a rugged smartphone; only the AGM X2 and the S60 did better in recent memory.
Sadly, that big battery is powered by a 5V2A power supply unit – so there’s no fast charge available.
With four cameras and a total of 53 megapixels, the S50 is certainly the most photo-friendly rugged device we’ve tested yet. Doogee claims that the front cameras have a 130-degrees super-wide angle capability.
The 5.7-inch display is also the biggest we’ve seen to date, but it has a 1440 x 720 resolution (18:9 aspect ratio), yielding one of the lowest pixel densities of the rugged smartphones on the market. Not that this will be supremely important unless you are a sucker for a super-sharp display.
The phone supports 4G VoLTE standby on both SIM slots, one of which can be used for a microSD card; it does not offer 802.11ac Wi-Fi, though, which is a real shame.
The S50 posted some surprisingly poor scores in 3DMark Slingshot/Slingshot Extreme, but otherwise managed some decent numbers in our benchmarks, thanks to the Mediatek P23 chip that powers it.
The handset was either on par with or within spitting distance of P25-powered smartphones like the Vernee Active.
Another first for a rugged smartphone is the presence of three different unlocking systems with facial recognition making its grand entry. The latter works great (even under artificial light), unlocking the phone almost instantly – but your mileage will vary in poorly lit environments.
Speaking of pictures, we can attest that the IPS display used on the S50 delivers bright, punchy colors, although that is marred by the non-oleophobic glass used. Expect plenty of greasy fingerprints.
Note that the device runs with Android 7.1.1 rather than Android 8, and doesn’t – unlike the S60 – come with any dedicated applications like a compass.
Doogee’s own S60 remains the most potent rival to the S50 at $260 (around £195). Granted, it doesn’t come with 128GB of storage, and sports a stockier, probably less attractive design, but it is definitely the better phone in terms of hardware thanks to a Full HD display, a faster system-on-chip, NFC, a bigger battery and a 24W power supply unit.
There’s also a cheaper version of the S50 with 64GB on-board storage but the $30 (£22) saving is not worth halving the capacity in our opinion.
We also have a soft spot for one of our favorite rugged handsets, the handsome Vernee Active which comes with the same 6GB/128GB configuration, but also a Kevlar chassis, Full HD display and a more powerful system-on-chip. Oh and it costs a tad less (under $250) as well, plus it supports NFC and 802.11ac Wi-Fi.
The S50 pleasantly surprised us with a pair of ‘firsts’: it’s the first rugged smartphone we’ve seen with face detection, and the first model with four cameras. It is the second smartphone that offers the gold standard of 6GB/128GB, but fails to match the Vernee Active when it comes to connectivity, the display, sheer grunt and aesthetics.
Doogee’s newest device does suffer from a number of minor issues that could be easily remedied in the next iteration – but that raises another question. Are the S60 and the S50 handsets too similar for comfort?
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