Review by Sunetra Chakravati,
12/12/2011 4:00:49 PM
The inclusion of the torch and laser pointer are welcome additions, as is the portable wind-up charger
Poor battery life for a phone built for the great outdoors
JCB actually partnered with Sonim to produce their first-ever tough-phone some three years ago. In truth, JCB merely added its name to the phone to give it some credibility, with Sonim taking care of the brawn. However, JCB has now decided to go it alone, with a range of three tough-phones - the Tradesman, the Pro-Talk and the Sitemaster. Of course, we've opted to review what JCB deems to be the toughest, the Sitemaster, so how does it measure up to Sonim's latest bruiser?
The Sitemaster is certainly more pocket-friendly than the Sonim Force, though it's by no means a skinny Minnie. In case you were unsure as to who was behind this phone, JCB has emblazoned the phone in yellow and black (the company's traditional colours). It certainly makes the phone stand out, and it dawned on us that this could be particularly useful in helping you locate it should you drop the phone, say in a darkened cave for example.
Though not engulfing the entire handset, much of the edges are covered in a plastic rubber that helps protect the phone from any falls and knocks. Built into this rubber casing on the left-hand side is a microUSB port, used to charge the phone, and two individual volume keys. On the adjacent side is a torch button and another button that fires up a red laser pointer. All of these buttons need to be held down with a degree of force, so much so that it's a little uncomfortable, though on the upside it will stop you accidentally switching on the torch and draining the battery while it's in your pocket or bag.
Flip the phone over and again you'll see the battery cover is fastened by two screws. However, rather than actually remove them like you do with the Sonim Force, they merely need to be loosened. To be honest, Sonim's approach feels more secure, partly due to the fact that its screws are metallic and JCB's are plastic, and thus you can tighten them more fully.
The area directly above the battery cover also left us perplexed. There's a circular area that looks for all intents and purposes like a camera cover - it's not. Either side of it are two small rubberised buttons, one with 'Mode' written beneath it and the other with a standby sign.
However, neither of these keys appeared to do anything. We even checked the instruction manual, but nothing. Other features of note include a music player and an FM radio, both of which can be accessed quickly by pressing the D-Pad in a particular direction.
Unlike the Sonim Force, there's no GPS or internet capabilities. It also has a rather disappointing battery life - just 180 minutes talktime - especially when you consider the lack of power-draining features.
However, JCB has included a wind-up charger that will top-up your battery levels as you turn the handle of this pocket-friendly contraption. You won't want to charge the phone up fully this way, but it's a welcome inclusion for a phone built for outdoors adventure.
As with the Sonim Force, our first 'tough' experiment consisted of us dropping the phone from a height of two metres onto a concrete floor. We were pleased with the results - no obvious scuffs, though a bit of the yellow paint work was chipped. Style coming at a cost? We then put the phone under our shoe and repeatedly stomped on the screen with no adverse effects. However, when it came to a stiletto heeled shoe, it didn't fare so well. Though the phone remained in working order, the screen did suffer some cracks, though not to the point where we were unable to view content.
Next up was the hammer test. Sadly, this proved to be game over for the JCB Sitemaster. After enduring the same battering as the Sonim Force, the JCB Sitemaster reacted by switching off and then refusing to turn back on again.
In fairness to JCB, the Sitemaster never claims to match the Sonim Force in terms of endurance. Whereas the Force is water, dust, shock and drop proof, the JCB Sitemaster is merely resistant to them.
If you're after a phone that can take more than the odd bang and won't break the bank, the JCB Sitemaster Toughphone delivers on both levels.