Rugged phones are traditionally great big hulking things with as much grace as a Doritos-munching coach potato, but that is starting to change. Over the last couple of years, a handful of waterproof, rugged phones have started to appear that could almost slip onto shelves next to "normal" phones without being spotted.
The Android-powered Sony Xperia Go is among this new breed. If waterproofing is an absolute must, it's one of the most attractive models you can get, but that doesn't mean it doesn't come with a serious compromise or two.
Looks-wise, the Sony Xperia Go fits in pretty well with its more recent Xperia series siblings. Its rectangular design sets it apart from the more curvy Samsung phones available at the same price. For all its rugged claims it's a completely normal-looking phone. At a shade under 10mm thick it's pretty slim, and thanks to its conservative 3.5in screen it's one of the smaller Android smartphones we've tested in recent months.
There are no conspicuous bits of rubber padding and no screen protecting walls around the edge of the screen. You might wonder - what sort of protection does the Xperia Go offer? It's all about seals. The phone is certified to the IP67 standard, meaning it's completely waterproof to 1m depth and is impervious to dust.
Note the unusual positioning of the Xperia Go's volume rocker
Take the plastic battery cover off and it all becomes a lot clearer. For starters, you don't actually have any access to the battery. It's all sealed away in iPhone-like manner so that any moisture won't short the phone's electrics. The battery cover also covers some of the phone's ports. Around the body, there's a microUSB port, microSD slot, 3.5mm headphone jack - all of these and the SIM slot have to fully sealed with rubber in order to get the waterproofing working.
And in our testing, it performed just fine. Leave one of the ports a little bit open though and you're looking at either a dead phone or one that'll have to spend a few days in a bag of rice locked in the airing cupboard.
The Sony Xperia Go's ruggedness doesn't go much bar beyond this water- and dust-proofing. Its backplate is made of plastic, and although its high friction finish may help stop you from dropping the thing, it doesn't appear to wear any better than normal. If anything, it feels a little cheap, and the sides of the battery cover creak quite a bit under pressure.
Topping off the screen is a layer of scratch-proof glass, but this is the norm for mid-range Android phones these days. The smaller screen may make it slightly less shatter-prone than larger smartphones, but don't go thinking the Xperia Go is invincible. It also isn't operable in very heavy rain or while underwater, either. The phone uses a capacitive screen, which goes haywire when wet.
The Sony Xperia Go is absolutely a cut above the norm in terms of rugged cred, but it isn't quite a JCB phone. Of course, we'd much rather use this phone than an oldie style rugged beast, whose entertainment skills usually stop at Snake.
Aside from the fun bits of Android, the Xperia Go also offers better wireless connectivity than a chunkier rugged phone. It offers HSPA mobile internet, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 3.0 and DLNA media streaming. All that you miss out on is NFC, which lets you buy small items with the swipe of a phone. Not heard of it? It's not used all that widely yet but is set to spread much further within the next 12 months.