Every year we await the latest and greatest from the world’s leading smartphone manufacturers, counting down to their latest releases, while also featuring a few leaks along the way. We often forget that there are quite a number of different markets to play in when it comes to smartphones, away from the standard consumer devices. One such category is the rugged smartphone, with a number of manufacturers carving out a name for themselves in the segment, enduring themselves to their fans. Over the years we’ve featured only a few of these brands, including BlackView and CAT, and even from Samsung, who were looking to compete in the market at the time. While these devices may be among the top in previous years, another rugged manufacturer has slowly grown to the top of the charts in recent years, AGM. We got our hands on two smartphones from AGM in recent weeks, and the first to be featured on the site is the AGM X2. This device not only features the standard rugged look and build, but attempts to throw in a few additional features to stand out from the crowd.
Build and Design
- Bulky, but rugged
- Great additional features
The main aspect of any rugged device, first and foremost, is the additional bulk. In previous years, the bulk was somewhat of a deterrent in a market where thin and small were better. Things have changed a little in recent years, where now bigger is sometimes better. The AGM X2 is huge. This is both in terms of its screen size, as well as the physical dimensions and weight of the unit. The unit measures 168.5×83.4x14mm and weighs in at 250g. That’s a lot of bulk. At the same time, though, it doesn’t feel clunky and over-the-top, but rather provides a sense of security knowing that the bulk has a reason.
Unlike standard devices where the screen-to-body ratio is minimised to look good or seem impressive, the opposite applies here. You want more buffer between the screen and corners of the devices so that the impact can be absorbed during a fall or bump. The entirety of the body is built around withstanding a few bashes, as well as absorbing impact, creating a much more rugged unit. Starting off with the screen, which has a slim coating over the glass for protection from scratches as well as harder bumps and the likes. Then there’s the mix of plastic and metal frame around the unit, with additional rubber on the four corners. While these edges do protrude a little from the sides, we at least know they’re functional. The MIL-STD-810 label (an American military standard) makes for impressive reading, provide an even greater sense of confidence in the unit’s build quality.
The AGM X2 has a few different builds, which offer different rear covers. The standard unit has a glass rear, similar to the front, but the unit we received had a switched out rear cover made of plastic with a crocodile skin pattern. The unit actually looks pleasing on the eye despite the rear pattern, mainly thanks to the all-black appearance.
There are a number of screws, hinges and plugs scattered throughout the unit, used to shield from dust and water and give the unit its IP68 rating. For the most part, these aren’t a distraction. I do, however, have a problem with the fact that there aren’t any tools included within the contents. While I do have the required tools available, I don’t think that everyone will, especially some of the more specialised screwdrivers.
There’s an interesting addition in the contents, which, at first glance, looks like an add-on battery source. When removing the unit from the box, however, you’ll immediately realise that it isn’t quite the case due to its lightweight build. Instead, the addition is actually a “floating case”. And, as the name suggests, it allows the X2 to float in water for when you’re involved in any water activities. It definitely removes the one-handed use, which was already a stretch with the size, and feels a lot trickier to use overall, but is also quite handy.
The unit includes a headphone jack and USB Type-C port at the bottom, a dedicated camera button (which a long-press to function) and volume rocker on the left, as well as the power button, SIM tray and VOC sensor on the right. The rear houses a dual camera and LED flash, and a fingerprint sensor in the centre, all surrounded by the crocodile pattern as mentioned previously. There’s also an AGM logo on the rear towards the top right corner, but it isn’t easily visible due to the pattern. Unlike the AGM X1, the X2 doesn’t sport the same physical button, which looks a lot better.
Speaking of the AGM X1’s predecessor, a lot has changed in terms of the build and design. The X1 featured a much smaller frame and rounder edges, and didn’t look as bulky. AGM, however, claim that the X2 has better durability, which also affects some of the certifications added to the X2. While the X1 is very durable and rugged, it isn’t able to match that of the X2. In terms of preference in terms of looks, I prefer the latter, as the X2 not only looks better designed, despite its additional bulk, the improvements in terms of ruggedity really makes the difference – the main reason why people buy rugged smartphones in the first place.
Screen and Display
- Good display quality
- Onscreen buttons
The AGM X2 has a 5.5″ AMOLED screen with a 1920x1080px resolution display. The screen is protected by means of Gorilla Glass 5 – the standard X2 has Gorilla Glass 5 on both sides of the device. For the most part, the screen actually looks quite good, with vibrant colours and crisp detail. Despite the lower resolution than the leading manufacturers in 2018, the panel is built by Samsung, which means that you won’t find any pixelation (thanks to the 400ppi pixel density) or discolouration on the unit. The panel can also be viewed in direct sunlight, with decent viewing angles to boot.
With the increased screen size over its predecessor, the AGM team have moved from physical buttons to virtual, onscreen buttons as part of the native Android experience. For most outdoor users, I can imagine this is a bit of a sore point, especially when your hands aren’t always at its cleanest. In addition to this, the screen is fingerprint happy, which isn’t ideal.
To increase the device’s durability, the edges around the glass panel are slightly raised, which means that when falling onto a flat surface, the screen should never be directly impacted. This is a nice addition to the build.
Performance and Battery Life
- Better specs than competitors
- Good battery life
Often times when rugged smartphones, they aren’t always fitted with the latest and greatest hardware. Specifications are often times down in the low to mid-range categories for smartphones that carry a mid-range to premium pricing. The AGM X2 isn’t exempt from this issue. The unit is fitted with an older generation Qualcomm Snapdragon 653 chipset, which has an Octo-Core 1.95GHz CPU. The chipset has an Adreno 510 GPU. While the 653 SoC may not be the latest, it is at least built by an industry leader. Compared to many other rugged smartphone manufacturers, which often have cheaper chipsets installed. Thankfully, the rest of the specifications are more in keeping with modern standards, which includes 6GB RAM (although only DDR3), 64GB internal storage, as well as a 6,000mAh battery.
In terms of the performance, the X2 performed adequately well under standard conditions. In fact, when compared to other rugged smartphones, the X2 easily beat most of the direct competition. In some instances, benchmark scores were double that of the similarly priced MediaTek units. Against its main competitor, BlackView, the X2 outperformed their top rugged smartphones on all the benchmark tests. The breakdown of the benchmark scores are as follows:
- Antutu Result 105,000
- Geekbench Multi Result 4470
- 3D Mark Result 968
One interesting addition to the X2 is the VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) sensor, which monitors potentially harmful levels of noxious gases. This is particularly useful for persons and teams working or entering into hazardous zones. Other sensors include light, position, proximity, accelerometer, gyroscope, e-compass, steps, ambient temperature, air pressure, and humidity. This is an impressive list of sensors and monitors for the X2, and at the price point.
For its price point, however, there is one very notable problem, it’s Wi-Fi. The X2 has a basic 802.11, and not the industry standard 802.11ac Wi-Fi. This means that connectivity and download speeds suffer significantly. For a modern device, aiming to compete at the highest levels, this is a huge problem. While many South Africans are still limited to mobile data connections, the limitations on Wi-Fi connectivity is unacceptable, and could very nearly be a deciding factor, depending on your daily connectivity.
When it comes to the battery life, the X2 once again does a good job. Under normal conditions, the battery is more than capable of lasting in the second day of usage. For heavier users who play a few games or are active on social media, it is still good enough to last a full day before requiring a recharge. The standard battery tests, which include opening a number of tabs on the mobile browser, watching a movie and downloading via Wi-Fi, the X2 was able to eke out just over 12 hours of continuous usage. This is quite admirable, which achieves one of the leading scores among other rugged smartphones.
Software and Camera
- Outdated OS
- Great Camera
The X2 runs Android 7.1.2 Nougat, a build which was released in late 2017. While many leading phones have migrated to Android 8 Oreo, the OS is lagging slightly behind many flagships. When it comes to its competitors, however, the X2 fits the mould of the v7.1 rugged smartphone. Unfortunately, I don’t have any historical data to draw upon regarding the release schedule of OS updates for AGM devices, so only time will tell whether or not the X2 will receive an upgrade to Oreo in 2018.
Another category where the X2 excels over its competitors is the front and rear cameras. The front-facing camera is a 16M Samsung S5K3P3 sensor, while the rear-facing unit is fitted with a dual-lens, 12MP RGB + 12MP Monochrome Sony IMX386 sensor. The dual-lens camera produces really good results, with optimal results in sunny weather or sufficient light. The photos produced have a good mix of vibrant colours, with impressive sharpness and detail, most notably when taking photos of flowers and other plant life. Where the camera lacks is the contrast.
The camera app also has a decent number of features, which includes HDR. The standout of these features, however, is the inclusion of bokeh images. While the inclusion is great news for enthusiasts, the results aren’t a match for leading cameras, such as those fitted to the Huawei P20 and the likes, but does a good job nonetheless. Sometimes, the photos lacked the same level of sharpness as an original snap, with about 50-60% of the photos produced using bokeh were good enough, while the remaining photos had to be retaken. This wasn’t too much of an issue, however, as I often find it better to take two or three photos before getting the perfect shot.
Although I didn’t take many selfies with the 16MP front-facing camera, the images weren’t as clear and crisp as on the dual-lens camera on the back. I also didn’t enjoy the fact that there was always some level of beauty shot added to the selfie, smoothing out some detail that isn’t always necessary. As mentioned previously, the dedicated camera button requires a long press to open the camera app, which isn’t ideal, but once triggered it works seamlessly and very snappy.
For the majority of the tests, the AGM X2 performed well above what was expected compared to previously reviewed rugged smartphones. While the unit is extremely bulky in comparison to most, it also felt the most secure in hand, although its benefits will no-doubt be better realised in the great outdoors. There’s also a good mix of sensors and monitors, including the VOC sensor for harmful gases. Where the X2 does lose the plot a bit is the fact that a much older Wi-Fi technology is used, with rather dismal results, which is quite shocking. If not for the fact that the rest of the features and functions outperformed most other rugged smartphones, the X2 may have achieved a “not met” on its recommendation. Thankfully, however, the overall results are more than good enough to make up the loss.