Hands-on with the AT&T Sonim XP6: Rugged design with old-school keypad

It's rare to find an Android smartphone with a traditional hardware phone keypad, but Matthew has spent the last few weeks with one designed for the extreme work environment.

Most smartphones today have an all touchscreen interface, but there are a few exceptions.

For those who work in extreme conditions, primary use their phone to make calls, and like a traditional phone keypad there is the Sonim XP6 from AT&T.

I spent the past few weeks testing out the Sonim XP6, but have to say that going back to a traditional phone keypad led to extreme frustration so this is definitely not the phone for me.

I tested the Sonim XP7 in November and actually considered purchasing one of those via the Indiegogo campaign. There is just a $50 difference between the XP6 and XP7 and in my opinion the XP7 is a much better option for most people.

The Sonim XP6 shares many of the same rugged characteristics of the XP7, including a drop-resistant, waterproof, and dustproof design that meets IP68, IP69, and MIL-STD 810G standards. The 2.64 inch 320x432 pixel resolution touchscreen display is well protected.

The battery lasts what seems like forever thanks to a massive 4,800 mAh capacity. A proprietary connector charges up the XP6, but you will be able to go a couple days so you won't be charging that often.

The Sonim XP6 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 1.2GHz quad-core processor with 1GB of RAM. I observed slow performance with some applications, including the gallery, Chrome browser, and more. The slowdowns primarily occurred during the intial loading of the application, but it was enough to convince me this device is primarily for basic communications and access to key core apps.

Like the Sonim XP7, the XP6 has an extremely loud speaker with 103dB output and a bright LED at the tope of the speaker extension. Push-to-Talk is supported for those working in the field who need to stay in direct communications. A few people actually asked if the XP6 was a new walkie-talkie since it has that look and feel.

Text input was an exercise in frustration since there is no QWERTY on the keypad or on the display. I used T9 input for years, but even going back to that method proved to be frustrating since some of the actions I used are not supported. For example, I could not for the life of me figure out how to go to the left and delete letters I entered. I tried the back arrow on the directional pad, the back key on below the display, and a number of other keys on the keypad without success.

The Sonim XP6 is available from AT&T for $524.99 with no annual contract or $149.99 with a 2-year contract. You can still buy a SIM-unlocked Sonim XP7 via Indiegogo for $579, which is a much better option in my opinion.