I'm as clumsy as the next guy. Sure, there are times I wish I didn't leave that glass of orange juice next to my keyboard, but hey -- accidents happen. When they involve fragile gadgets, though, those accidents can turn pretty expensive.
That's why sometimes you just need a phone that can take some abuse. I don't mean a drop on the floor -- I mean a drop in a puddle. And there's water-resistant, which means you can spill a glass of juice on it, and there's waterproof, which means you can drop it in a glass of juice. Sony's Advance, dubbed the Go overseas, is the latter.
Built to withstand water and dust, it's a new breed of devices that you can take into the wild. You don't need a case, it's built to be its own case. It's one of the few devices on the market that look anything but rugged, which is a compliment to Sony's design team. But beware: it comes with some surprisingly out-of-date features.
At just 0.4-inches, the Advance is a slender device, made from a rubbery plastic material that gives it a grippy sandpaper-like texture. You can choose it in a variety of colors, and the lack of branding -- besides a small logo on the back -- gives it a simple, yet elegant, feel. But that's not the selling point -- it's the unexpected rugged quality.
The shell boasts an IP67 rating, meaning it's resistant to water and dust. You can dunk it in shallow water, but you can't leave at the bottom of a swimming pool. I tested it in three feet of water for half an hour, and it started working without a hitch. Just make sure the ports are tightly sealed.
You can actually use the touch screen when it's wet. But at just 3.5-inches, it's a bit on the small side -- the same as the 4S. The bigger issue is the low 480-by-320 resolution. The meager 165-ppi density is half the clarity of the iPhone, and imaging lacks any sort of detail and just a disappointment to look at. It's not a device to watch videos on.
The 5-megapixel camera is a bit better. The photos I took were sharp and vibrant. Noise was kept to a minimum, with sufficient detail. The shutter was fast, too, reloading in a couple of seconds, while in low-light, a LED flash does the job. You can also record 720p clips, but there's no front-facing lens, so video chat is out of the question.
The Advance comes with a rather un-advanced version of Android -- Gingerbread. Not only is it two revisions behind Jelly Bean, you won't get automatic updates from your carrier, since it comes unlocked. The software just feels ancient. But on a bright note, Sony's interface is fairly unobtrusive. You'll get a few apps in a "fitness" folder, which I found pretty useful, but bloatware is kept at a minimum.
The sound quality surprised me. But to fully appreciate the range of frequencies, you'll need to plug in a decent pair of headphone instead of the cheap ones that come in the box. You can enjoy live programming with the FM radio, too. I get tired of listening to the same tracks, so it's a feature I wish more phones had.
Don't think about fast Internet. Instead of 4G, it runs on 3.5G service using HSPA-plus technology. The 1-gigahertz dual-core chip, meanwhile, is flanked by 512-megabytes of RAM for smooth and zippy performance, even with several apps running in the background. With moderate use, the battery lasted around a day and a half. But it's sealed to prevent water from seeping in. For storage, 8-gigabytes of memory is enough for a moderate-sized collection of albums, but buy a microSD card if you plan to do more.
The waterproof design is the main draw. I admit the camera and music are decent, but the screen and software are awful. If you're looking for an off-contract device that can withstand the elements, it's not a bad choice. But for anything more, you can find better phones with better software.
There are a few water-resistant phones that can take a spill like the Samsung Rugby Smart. It runs on the same outdated Android software, but it comes with better features. The Rugby 3, meanwhile, doesn't even have a platform, but it's built for punishment, and the walkie-talkie feature can actually save you money if you have a fleet of field workers to manage.
Motorola makes a few rough and tumble phones, too. The Maxx HD can withstand liquids, as well, but what it lacks in ruggedness, it makes up for a super-long battery life. The drawback is, of course, it's a bit chunky, but there's a smaller sibling in the Razr HD. And for the ultimate in tough, Casio's Commando and Ravine 2 devices look ugly, but they're designed to meet military specs for toughness.
Ultimately, though, despite the waterproof case, the Advance is a bit too outdated to be good -- pretty ironic. ♦
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