I must admit that I felt disappointed. When our esteemed editor originally suggested that I look at Panasonic's latest rugged phone, I had high hopes of seeing something big, armour-plated and rubbery; the sort of thing that I could cheerfully drop from a second floor window, splatter with mud, immerse in the local leech-infested waters and run over with a tank (well, an old Toyota Yaris, anyway). Instead, the KX-TG6481ET is a rather ordinary looking DECT answerphone and base station combo, with a conventional design, a minimal approach to rubbery materials and an attractive, understated black styling. It was as if I'd ordered the phone equivalent of a Crank-ed up Jason Statham, and got the slicker and more stylish Clive Owen model by mistake.
Of course, while Clive might be a little more suave than The Transporter, he's hardly a wuss himself. And so it goes with the KX-TG6481ET; it's actually one tough little handset. It offers dust and water protection up to the European IP54 standard, meaning it can cope with anything up to the kind of dusty conditions you would find in most industrial locations, and that it's built to withstand drips, sprays and splashes of water, though not total immersion or a high-pressure jet. In other words, you'll have no problems using the phone in a sawmill, on the building site or in the rain, but you might want to think twice about using it in the middle of a sandstorm in the Gobi desert or while surfing, scuba-diving or wandering around in the middle of a flood. I suspect this won't be an issue for most of consumers, or for 90 per cent of the business users the KX-TG6481ET is also being marketed towards.
What's more, the KX-TG6481ET has also been shock proofed. Panasonic doesn't provide any figures for exactly what this means, but it's clear from the tough plastics used in the construction and the rubberised coating on the area around the face that the phone can take its share of knocks. The rubberised areas also make the phone particularly grippable, which I'm sure comes in handy in outdoor or industrial applications (not to mention domestic garages, kitchens and bathrooms). A clip keeps the battery cover firmly in place, and there are study grills over the main ear speaker and over the secondary speaker on the back of the unit. Build quality seems excellent throughout.