Land Rover Explore review: Hands on with the toughest, most practical Android phone around
Rugged phones aren’t an unusual sight but they don’t normally generate as much interest as the Land Rover Explore did when we first wrote about it recently. It seems we Brits love a bit of rugged outdoors hardware, especially when it’s associated with a brand as iconic as Land Rover.
Ever since the announcement, I’ve been itching to get my hands on one to see what it’s really like, so I made a point of swinging by the stand at Mobile World Congress to have a look.
And I’m glad I did, because, although it might be cynically assumed this is purely an exercise in bland brand association, from my first encounter with the phone it’s clear that’s very far from the case. And that’s because Bullit Group – the firm behind the CAT range of tough smartphones – has been working closely with the design team at Land Rover to bake in some of the iconic 4×4 brand’s design DNA.
Land Rover Explore review: Specification, price and release date
5in FHD (1,920 x 1,080), with Gorilla Glass 5, factory fitted screen protector
2.6GHz deca-core Mediatek Helio X27
64GB with microSD expansion
IP68 rated, 1.8-metre drop tested
Adventure Pack, with 3,620mAh extra capacity and ceramic patch GPS antenna; battery pack, with 4,370mAh extra capacity
£599 (includes Adventure Pack)
Land Rover Explore review: Design, key features and first impressions
The result is a phone that looks refreshingly different to the usual glass and aluminium clad smartphone suspects and one that, weirdly enough, does look a little Land Rover-esque. The ‘chin’ of the Land Rover Explore, for instance, has been sculpted to resemble the bonnet and, do you know, it kind of does.
The speaker grille below the screen is covered by a grille designed to resemble the grille on one of the company’s vehicles, too. The camera surround is supposed to look like a headlight and the four vertical ribs on the rear call to mind the roof rails on top.
If all this sounds a little ridiculous, bear with me awhile. From my first impressions, this is a very well thought out design. It feels tough and rugged, it’s IP68 dust- and water-resistance rated (its water resistance covers it for saltwater as well as freshwater), it’s been drop-tested to 1.8m and it comes with a tough, factory-fitted screen protector.
The knurled volume and power buttons on the phone’s left edge are large and, I imagine, easy to hit while wearing a pair of gloves (it’s warmer in Barcelona than it is back at home). There’s also a pretty large 4,000mAh battery fitted, which should ensure you don’t run out of juice halfway up Helvellyn.
Plus – and, yes, there’s more – you can also boost the phone with a range of Moto Z-style mods. The “Adventure Pack” adds a 3,620mAh battery to the phone, bringing total capacity to a huge 7,620mAh and a ceramic patch antenna to enhance GPS accuracy, although with this attached to the rear of your phone it looks more like a piece of over-engineered military hardware than an Android smartphone. I’m told, though, that the antenna is powerful enough to pick up a GPS signal in places regular smartphones can’t – under a heavy tree canopy, for instance, or perhaps at the bottom of a deep gorge.
If you don’t need the extra GPS power but fancy a bit of extra stamina there’s also a straight Battery Pack mod that forgoes the antenna, instead adding even more capacity: 4,370mAh, to be precise, bringing the total to 8,370mAh. That’s 64% bigger than the Lenovo P2’s internal 5,100mAh battery, which is the longest lasting regular smartphone we’ve ever tested.
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Adding to its outdoorsy credentials, you can also equip the Land Rover Explore with a slew of extras. There’s a bike handlebar mount and a carabiner clip case so you can attach the phone (with battery pack attached) to your belt and the phone’s 5in Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) display can be operated with wet fingers and with gloves on.
It also comes with premium off-road, topographical maps from ViewRanger and there’s a red night filter mode for the screen, designed to help preserve your night vision when you’re outdoors in the dark.
Land Rover Explore review: Performance and specifications
As a package, the Land Rover Explore is pretty impressive. The screen looks pretty good, it feels solid and well-made and, adding to its rugged credentials, the display is fitted out with Gorilla Glass 5 beneath the factory-fitted screen protector.
Where it lags behind flagship phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S9 is the internal specification. Instead of one of Qualcomm’s premium Snapdragon chipsets, the Land Rover Explore has a 2.6GHz deca-core Mediatek Helio X27 processor on board and this is backed by 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, which you can expand via microSD card. It also has an 8-megapixel and 16-megapixel front and rear cameras.
The phone felt relatively responsive on the stand at MWC but not as slick as the latest flagship handsets. Oh, and it’s not yet running the latest version of Android. A “scheduled” upgrade to Android 8.0 Oreo is in the works, though.
Land Rover Explore review: Early verdict
No. It’s aimed instead at those who aren’t impressed by swoopy glass and pretty colour options and, maybe, at people who have experience of dropping or drowning or cracking their phones while hiking or biking outdoors. And it’s a refreshingly different approach to boot.
The Land Rover Explore will arrive on 26 April and will cost £599. Not cheap, then, but that does include the Adventure Pack mod with its extra GPS antenna and additional battery pack.