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My favorite Android phone can do things my iPhone can't, and it just got a massive upgrade

Looking for a rugged phone that doesn't compromise when it comes to power, performance and display quality? Check out Ulefone's Power Armor 18T.
Ulefone Power Armor 18T

Ulefone Power Armor 18T

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

I like all things Apple, especially my iPhone 14 Pro Max. It's in my hand most of my waking hours.

But I still use an Android phone.

Why?

Because it can do things my iPhone can't do.

My previous favorite Android phone was the Ulefone Armor 9. I've been using this a lot over the last couple of years. Not only has it been my go-to handset when I need something that can put up with the harshest of environments, but it had cool features like a thermal camera and the ability to connect an endoscope.

I used the thermal camera a lot. The endoscope not so much, but there are times when that's been very useful too.

Well, the Armor 9 has been upgraded to the new Power Armor 18T.

It's a beast of a smartphone. 

Ulefone Power Armor 18T tech specs

  • MediaTek Dimensity 900 5G chipset
  • 6.58-inch FHD+ display, 1080 x 2408 resolution running at 120Hz display
  • Corning Gorilla Glass 5
  • 12GB RAM +5GB virtual memory expansion
  • 258GB ROM + 2TB microSD card expansion
  • 108MP rear camera + 5MP microscope macro
  • 32MP front camera
  • FLIR Lepton 3.5 Thermal Imaging
  • 9600mAh battery + 66W superfast charge+ 15W wireless charging + 5W wireless reverse charging
  • Extension ports for endoscope and supermicroscope
  • 5G support
  • WiFi 6
  • GPS (L1+L5 Dual Band) + Glonass + BeiDou + Galileo
  • IP68 & IP69K & MIL-STD-810G certified
  • Built-in software tools include Compass, Gradienter, Flashlight, Hanging Painting, Height Meter, Magnifier, Alarm bell, Plumb bob, Protractor, Sound Meter, Pedometer, Mirror, Barometer
  • Face ID and Fingerprint ID biometrics
  • Android 12

As rugged as it gets

Externally, the Power Armor 18T is a highly ruggedized smartphone that's built to take a severe battering. It meets a whole array of standards, including IP68, IP69K, and MIL-STD-810G, which means that it's happy to be immersed in water at depths down to 1.5 meters for 30 minutes, exposed to high-pressure water jets and steam cleaning, dropped from 1.2 meter heights, and it resists dust getting in, shrugs off any acid spills, and it is happy to spend time in low pressure environments that can destroy other smartphones.

Also: The 5 best rugged laptops

It's a tough smartphone. I know, because mine's been out in the rain and ice, got dropped into mud, fell off the tailgate of my truck, and got left outside in a thunderstorm when I forgot about it while reviewing it.

Touch, rugged, yet still stylish

Touch, rugged, yet still stylish

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

Performance

At the core of the Power Armor 18T is a 2.4GHz Arm Cortex-A78 CPU paired with the Mali-G68 GPU. That's enough power to keep the handset running super-smooth at all times. This is paired with 12GB of physical RAM and the option to augment this with 5GB of virtual RAM for when the going gets tough.

I've found that 12GB of RAM to be more than ample and have not seen the need to boost this to the full 17GB.

Also: I put the Apple Watch Ultra through a Tough Mudder

But the faster processor, big RAM boost and a doubling of the storage capacity are all things I really appreciate in this upgrade.

The power is supplied by an enormous 9600mAh lithium-ion polymer battery, which is charged via the USB-C port or wireless charging. The wireless charging is a big upgrade for me because it means not having to open that waterproof flap on the USB-C port if I'm outside in poor weather conditions.

The camera

The 108-megapixel rear camera featuring a huge ISOCELL HM2 1/1.52-inch sensor delivers some really good photos, even in standard resolution. I've played with this camera in a variety of conditions and it's good. Not iPhone Pro Max good, but still very good for a smartphone that's a fraction of the price of the iPhone Pro Max.

Power Armor 18T camera array

Power Armor 18T camera array

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

Do you need 108-megapixel photos?

I can see some minor difference between the standard and high-resolution photos if I really look closely, but I have to admit that I'm happy to stick to regular photos unless I need an image that I might later need to edit heavily or crop a lot.

The 32-megapixel front camera is also pretty good, but I'd not sure if we really need that many megapixels in a front camera as it's hard to see real-world improvements over cameras with a lot lower megapixel counts.

Also: The best rugged tablets

But megapixel counts help sell, and as sensors get cheaper, the megapixel counts will go up and up.

My favorite features

On the side of the Power Armor 18T is a port for an endoscope. The Ulefone endoscope (sold separately) features a 2-meter cable, and is rated to IP67. This is perfect for poking into areas where you can't get your eyeballs into, and is a great tool for engineers. There are a lot of USB-C endoscopes available, but the fact that this one doesn't take up the USB-C port is handy

The borescope port

The borescope port

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

The real star of the show for me is the FLIR Lepton 3.5 thermal imaging camera. With 160 x 120 resolution and a temperature range of -10℃ - 400℃, this is an amazing diagnostic tool for technicians.

The thermal camera has four times the resolution of the previous generation thermal cameras, and that makes for better, crisper, more detailed thermal images.

The thermal camera is the killer feature on this handset

The thermal camera is the killer feature on this handset

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

You can check for overheating components, HVAC issues, doors and windows that are leaking your precious HVAC heat or cold into the outdoors, diagnose car issues, and much more.

Yes, you can get separate thermal cameras for smartphoneseven iPhone – but nothing beats having one built into your smartphone ready for use.

For me, this is the killer feature. 

Bottom line

At $699, the Ulefone Power Armor 18T is in no way cheap, but after using its predecessor for two years, and then using this one for a few weeks, I'm confident that this will be something that would pay for itself. It's the perfect smartphone for outdoor workers, engineers, and first responders looking for a rugged smartphone that doesn't compromise when it comes to power, performance and display quality. 

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