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I'm a fan of ruggedized Android smartphones. Many can do things and go places that my iPhone can't. And the new Doogee S96 Pro has a super useful feature that no flagship smartphone has -- built-in IR night vision capability, a world's first for a ruggedized smartphone.
Externally, the S96 Pro looks like many of the other ruggedized smartphones I've looked at over the past couple of years. It's a huge display clad in rubber and metal and sealed ports.
Also: Best rugged phones in 2021
But on the rear of this smartphone, as part of the camera module, is an IR camera, complete with IR emitter. And that's what's special about the S96Pro.
As a smartphone S96 Pro is fast, lag-free, and nice to use. The fast octa-core processor helps to keep things moving along. I've used it for a couple of weeks and not had any issues or causes for complaint.
But it's the IR night vision that sets this above the rest.
While the main camera is a 48-megapixel Samsung S5KGM1SP03-FGX9, it is the Sony IMX350 20-megapixel camera sensor that is used as a night vision sensor in the smartphone.
Night vision differs from thermal imaging in a specific way. While thermal imaging reads infrared emitted by objects, night vision uses an infrared floodlight to illuminate the darkness, and the camera uses this to see in the dark.
There are some limitations -- the emitter has a range of about 10 meters, and it can only capture grayscale still photos. Also, the infrared emitter is partially visible to the naked eye as a dull red.
But it's interesting for sure.
I've been out in complete darkness both indoors and outdoors with the S96Pro, and I was able to not only take photos, but I could use the night vision camera as a way to see and navigate in the dark.
It works really well. Much better than I'd expected it to work.
For the price -- currently the Doogee S96 Pro is available for $220 -- it represents an excellent package. Even if you don't want or need the night vision, it's a solid, reliable, rugged and very usable smartphone. The display is easy on the eye, the camera takes nice photos, and it has everything that you'd expect a smartphone to have.
For people who spend time outdoors, especially at night, having a rugged smartphone with built-in night vision capability gives them features that not even a $1,000 iPhone or Android smartphone can offer.