Several months ago, AT&T sent us NEC's rugged new Terrain Smartphone to test. Built to military specs, the waterproof, dustproof, and shockproof Terrain is touted to withstand extreme use under any field condition. Specifically, AT&T asked us if we could play "rough" with it to see if it could withstand harsh mountain conditions, yet still be reliable.
Our main focus was to see how reliable the phone would be after months of dropping it on boulders, submerging it in streams, and subjecting it to the dusty, high wind conditions prevalent in the Rocky Mountain Bushcraft test area. Secondly, we wanted to see how well the battery held a charge during these tests.
Since we were focusing on the phone's reliability, as opposed to it's smartphone features, I'll skip those details and instead, refer you to CNET's thorough review of the Terrain, so you can get an idea of its pros and cons as a smartphone.
FIELD TESTING-- Will the NEC Terrain live up to it's hype?
Monica and I tested the Terrain over several months in conditions ranging from calm, sunny days, to blinding blizzards, and raging, Continental Divide-driven windstorms.
One particularly "evil" test involved throwing the Terrain into a large boulder beside a mountain stream, and letting it fall into the running water below. During the test, I threw the Terrain against the boulder so hard it actually bounced up in the air before landing in the stream below:
(click to enlarge)
The funny thing about the test was that the running water kept activating the touch screen, and seemed to stay on the Yahoo internet browser, as shown below. Was this particular mountain stream a Yahoo fan? Note that even after the phone was smashed into the boulder, the Terrain still stayed on and was receiving a phone/data signal:
After leaving it submerged for 20 minutes, I had Monica call it, to see if it I could answer it while it was still in the water. Amazingly, the phone rang underwater! I picked it up, shook the water out of the ear piece, and was able to carry on a conversation with Monica for a couple of minutes before hanging up.
After drying the phone off, I called some friends to say hello. None had any clue that the phone had just been smashed against a boulder, and then submerged in 35 degree water for 20 minutes prior to our conversations. Very impressive.
Call Quality/Battery Life
The Terrain's call quality was not as crystal clear as my Iphone 5, but still very good, and the volume can be adjusted higher than the Iphone-- a real asset when trying to talk during windstorms.
Battery life, on the other hand, was a different matter. As several internet reviewers have already pointed out, the NEC Terrain's battery leaves much to be desired. After 5-7 hours of use, the battery would quickly go into the "red zone," and we'd have to resort to recharging it with our portable Goal Zero solar powered system if we were going to stay in the field for longer periods.
One feature that I particularly like about the Terrain is its compact size. For other smartphones to have the level of weather/shock protection that the Terrain has, they have to wear large, bulky cases like Otterbox's Armor Case, which is what I use to protect my Iphone. The smaller size of the Terrain makes it more likely that I'll grab it when I head out in the field if I only need a phone for calls, texting, light internet use, and email replies.
The Terrain more than lived up to NEC's hype as a super tough smartphone. It survived everything we threw at it, yet didn't seem to sweat any of it. Though not as intuitive or as full-featured as my Iphone 5, it seemed to work well as a basic communication device. The Terrain's compact size and toughness make it great for carrying into the field.
In fact the only problem we found was battery life. (Are you listening NEC?) One workaround to this problem is to carry a lightweight smartphone battery extender like Goal Zero's Switch 8. Otherwise, the Terrain is a handy, reliable field communication tool.
Even with the battery life issue, we highly recommend the Terrain if you're looking for an ultra-tough smartphone that's remarkably reliable under any conditions.
4 out of 5 Stars (Recommended)
About the author
Jason Schwartz is the founder and senior editor of Rocky Mountain Bushcraft. He is a former Red Cross certified Wilderness & Remote First Aid Instructor, and has taught bushcraft and wilderness survival techniques to the Boy Scouts of America, interned with the US Forest Service, and studied wilderness survival, forestry and wildland firefighting at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville, Colorado. Jason has also written for magazines such as The New Pioneer and Backpacker, including writing the "Tinder Finder" portion of Backpacker's "Complete Guide to Fire," which won a 2015 National Magazine Award (NMA). Email him at rockymountainbushcraft @ hotmail.com (without spaces)