Want a rugged phone? You have a few options. Want a dual SIM handset? While they’re not ten a penny, you do have some options there. Want a handset that combines both features? Your choices are limited. But it’s not an impossible ask. German company Utano, which does a nice turn in ruggedised handsets for outdoor types, has come up with the Utano Barrier T180, a rugged phone with dual SIM support.
Now, if you’re rushing through this review to take a peek at what this phone looks like, then you might find yourself with a little feeling of déjà vu. If you are familiar with JCB’s branded tough handsets, then you might just have seen the Pro Smart. If not, then you might want to check out my review of it.
What Utano has brought to the party is essentially that handset with dual SIM support.
There are tough phones and there are tough phones. The likes of the new Sony Xperia Go, Motorola Defy and Samsung Galaxy Xcover hide their anti water and dust facilities behind a façade so small, light, and thin that you’d really not guess just by looking that they had any rugged attributes at all.
The Utano Barrier T180 on the other hand wears its ruggedness like a badge of honour. You can’t miss it, and the upshot is hardware that is big, bold, and, actually, a bit tricky to use. That’s fine in a way, and some of the rugged features are pretty impressive. What I’m not so happy about is that yet again a manufacturer thinks rugged handsets have to be last year’s model in terms of specs and features. Except for that dual SIM capability, that is, which is a pleasant surprise.
Your SIMs fit under the battery. You remove the backplate by unscrewing two screws. They help hold the backplate on really tight with a rubber seal preventing water ingress. The microSD card slot is under the battery too, incidentally.
In voice calls you decide which SIM to use by a simple tap on the appropriate icon in the dialler. The same system applies when creating messages. It’s slightly different for data services, as you need to select which SIM to use for data in the settings area. For data, only one SIM connects at 3G speeds, the other is relegated to GSM only – and the slots are clearly marked as to which is which.
I’ve mentioned the somewhat lacklustre specs. We’re talking Android 2.3.5, which is really starting to feel quite long in the tooth. The processor is a single core Qualcomm model running at 800MHz and it is supported by 512MB of RAM. It feels genuinely slow. There’s just 264MB of built in storage of which 103MB was free out of the box on my review sample. You’ll need a microSD card, then.
The screen measures 3.2in and delivers a very old hat 480 x 320 resolution. It does poorly outdoors in natural light, which is not good for a handset that’s designed to be used outside. It is protected by Gorilla Glass, but that’s not particularly innovative, although it does afford some protection against drops and direct hits so it’s a good thing to see here.
There’s a 5-megapixel main camera and a 640 x 480 (VGA) front camera, and the usual range of Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and GPS are present. There’s an FM radio and file manager added to the Android basics but not much else pre-installed. Google Play is on hand, of course, for you to beef things up.
The shell of the Utano Barrier T180 is unashamedly solid. The chassis is large given the size of the screen, and you’ll need a fairly big pocket to stow it. It’s on the heavy side too, at 203g. Under the screen you’ll find physical Call and End keys and, in between them, a Home button. These are odd to see on a handset these days, but if you are in the wilds, wearing gloves, and it’s cold and wet, you might be grateful.
There’s a rubberised finish to much of the chassis and that again will be a boon to gloves wearers. The Utano Barrier T180 has an IP67 rating, and that means all its ports and connectors have to be protected. That in turn makes for some fiddly access.
On the top, the on/off button protrudes from the chassis, but it is a bit small and not the easiest to access when wearing gloves. Next to it is the headset slot, which is covered, so you’ve no chance of getting to it with gloves on. On the right edge, the volume rocker is rubberised and needs quite a hefty push with bare hands in order to operate it. It’s also rather small for gloved fingers to find. There’s a camera button on this edge too, and again this requires a seriously strong press.
On the left edge there’s a button for turning on the camera’s LED flash so you can use it as a torch. Again this requires a hefty push to hold it down. The left edge houses the micro-USB charge slot, too, but like the headset slot this has a rubber cover that is impossible to release with gloved hands.
Unfortunately you can’t charge the Utano Barrier T180 with your favourite USB cable. It needs a specially designed one, with a step cut out of the plastic surround, so that it can fit inside the thick outer shell of the phone. That’s a nuisance, especially if you share chargers with your travel companions in order to carry less.
The Utano Barrier T180 is solid, tough, and made for the great outdoors. It ought to withstand pretty harsh treatment, and its IP67 rating means it should survive being dunked in water for half an hour. Its dual SIM capability might be a deal maker for some people. But it’s also way behind the curve in capability terms, and I had trouble reading its screen outside. It’s expensive too. Think about how rugged you need your handset to be first. Maybe one of those prettier IP67 rated phones from Samsung, Sony or Motorola could suffice?
Handset supplied by Clove Technology
Manufacturer and model
Utano Barrier T180
GSM 850/900/1800/1900 HSDPA 900/1900/2100
3.2in, 480 x 320 pixels
125 x 65.2 x 20.5mm