A 3G phone you can drop, freeze, and use in a downpour

When Motorola told me I would be able to put their new Tundra mobile phone through "extreme" tests, I couldn't resist.Who doesn't want to intentionally drop a cell phone?

When Motorola told me I would be able to put their new Tundra mobile phone through "extreme" tests, I couldn't resist.

Who doesn't want to intentionally drop a cell phone?

As it turns out, the Tundra lives up to the hype. Officially the VA76r, the Tundra is an AT&T push-to-talk (PTT) mobile phone that's equipped with 3G and designed for "rough enterprise and consumer use."

Now I don't know how you get down in your local office, but Moto tells me the Tundra meets 810F U.S. Military Standards -- meaning it's been tested to withstand drops, dust, vibration, humidity, severe temperatures and rain.

But this phone isn't going to Iraq -- it's going to a board meeting. Or is it? Tongue firmly in cheek, let's put it through its "paces:"

DROPS

I dropped it on its bottom edge from my waist, from its side, even directly on the antenna. Didn't hiccup.

I rolled it around on my desk like a child. No hiccup.

I even played faux-office basketball with it, using my extra chair as a basket. Nothing but net...and 3G. No hiccup.

Let me tell you, at 4.9 oz.., this phone hits the ground like a thunderclap (to compare: iPhone 3G 4.7 oz.; T-Mobile G1 5.6 oz., Motorola Razr V3 3.4 oz.). When it drops, you cringe. Still -- no problems.

Grade: PASS

DUST

It gets pretty dusty in my shoulder bag and in the nether regions of my office. No problems.

Grade: PASS

VIBRATION

Survived in my bag, in my pocket, and best of all, all four minutes and ten seconds of my hands slapping out Taylor Hawkins' drum part in Foo Fighters' "Everlong."

Grade: PASS

HUMIDITY

78 percent humidity in New York City today. No problems. 100% humidity in the bathroom during a shower. No problems.

Grade: PASS

SEVERE TEMPERATURES

Several days ago it was below freezing in New York. Today my heater was pumping out fresh warmth. No problems.

Grade: PASS

RAIN

Thankfully, it rained in New York today, too. Let it rain, let it rain...no problems. The outside is bonded rubberized plastic, so rain beads up on it like the tip of a duck boot, outside and on the keypad. Rule of thumb: this phone will operate even if you can't see the screen to operate it.

Grade: PASS

Of course, I didn't put this phone through truly extreme tests, because I don't really believe that the physical limits of a device are really reasonable daily use, even if it's rough use. That said, the bonded, rubberized (vulcanized?) shell is really the key to this phone -- it serves as a shock absorber, moisture and dust barrier and all-around insulator. And the gaps in that rubber are microscopically thin, too.

TUNDRA NOTES

For all of its successes in the field, it's no Jesus phone. From the start, it's evident: the Tundra takes forever to turn on, and when it does, it shows a little "3G" montage with "flaming" service bars -- that's incredibly choppy, like trying to run Halo on an underpowered PC. Oh, the irony.

I tried to use AT&T GPS, but it kept telling me to "verify the time & date in Initial Setup." It didn't bring me to that menu, nor did it tell me where it was, but once I arrived there, it was all correct. So I don't really know what was preventing me from using the GPS service. Needless to say, with 3G, I imagine it's pretty decent.

Sounds were on by default: Extremely cutesy, as if you were on a children's webpage. Does it match "Tundra"? No.

Call quality was normal. Not remarkable, but not poor, either.

Basics like "recent calls" is somewhat buried. That's not to my preference, but I'm not everyone. That said, many of the menus were just plain unintuitive. I imagine you can customize things a bit, but the defaults left me a little puzzled.

Camera: Not bad, pretty crisp in fluorescent office light, poor in low light. Unusual feature -- arrow buttons cycle through pictures or rotate picture, instead of cycle/zoom. Strange choice, that.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Is the Tundra more rugged than a typical consumer cell phone? You bet your paycheck it is. No flimsy plastic or big gaps here -- this thing's a submarine. Yesterday I dropped a Motorola Razr, and the back panel clattered to the ground like a lunch tray in the fifth grade. The Tundra has no such problems.

On the other hand, it's middle of the road as a standard cell phone, with clumsy menus and less-than-intuitive interface.

It must be said, however, that the 3G and PTT, along with the phone's overall ruggedness, make it an excellent companion to go hiking or any such activity. But its bulk -- dimensionally and on the scale -- make it less than appropriate for daily use or the workplace, unless you wear a hard hat to at work.