Rugged smartphones have gained quite a bit of popularity over the past few years. Like the usual smartphones of today’s, they too come in varying shapes, sizes, and specs. The one that we’re reviewing today is the $330 DOOGEE S98 which plummets in the “budget” segment of rugged devices. In contrast, devices like the AGM Glory Pro we reviewed earlier this year are a more premium offering.
DOOGEE has been making smartphones for a long time, and while it’s not a very popular and well-known brand worldwide, it has a pretty good authority in the rugged smartphone market. But are DOOGEE’s rugged smartphones any good? I’ve been using the DOOGEE S98 rugged smartphone for almost two weeks, and here’s my review of the same.
DOOGEE S98 Box Contents
- DOOGEE S98 smartphone
- A 33W fast charger (Type-C)
- A Type-C cable
- A plastic spudger
- A clear screen protector
We’re sure the phone was packaged well before it came to the Indian customs department, and you probably know the rest. The package was delayed by three months, the contents in the box were scattered, and the paperwork was torn—classic Indian customs.
DOOGEE S98: Build and Design
The DOOGEE S98 is built and weighs like a tank, as you’d expect from a rugged device, and is one of the best-looking rugged smartphones we’ve seen so far. Let’s start from the back of the device, where the first surprise is. The phone has a circular rear display surrounded by four cameras, which we’ll get back to later in this review.
The back has what looks like sewed leather threads that are actually rubber. The threads lead to the DOOGEE branding at the bottom, which is engraved into the rubber and looks good. The camera unit is enormous, thanks to the rear display, but it doesn’t protrude much. The plastics around the camera lenses are a bit raised to protect the lenses from scratches. The phone’s IP68/IP69K water resistant.
The grippy areas of the phone, the sides, are made of aluminum. The right side houses the power button, volume rockers, and a fingerprint scanner, which is not embedded into the power button like we’ve seen in most devices with side-mounted fingerprint scanners. A weird design choice indeed, which affected my day-to-day usage of the device as the sensor was too low, and I always needed to adjust my thumb to get it right.
You’ll find a custom button on the right side to which you can assign custom actions and the sim card tray (Dual Nano sim + SD Card). The front houses a 6.3-inch FHD+ IPS LCD with a waterdrop notch. There’s also a notification LED on the top right, which I miss on phones these days. The Type-C port is at the bottom; sadly, there’s no headphone jack.
Overall, DOOGEE has done an excellent job with the build quality and making the phone look a little interesting with the aluminum accents on the sides compared to other rugged devices.
The 6.3-inch IPS LCD capped at 60Hz is pretty average and does the job. The colors appear washed out, and the images appear very contrasty. The overall appeal of it is very cold by default, and the display constantly hurt my eyes until I switched on the night light. However, it’s not plenty bright at 420 nits and has pretty average outdoor legibility. However, the viewing angles indoors are good.
The bezels around the perimeter are huge, but the bottom chin is gigantic. However, huge bezels are acceptable for rugged devices since they make the screen structurally sound and less prone to shattering when dropped, which is one of the key reasons why people buy rugged smartphones.
The rear display is also an LCD unit. I didn’t find myself using it much as all it can do is answer calls and control music. You can also change the way it looks in the settings. However, it could be a good feature for you if you usually keep your phone with its back facing up and if you want to check the time and battery percentage. Overall, it’s constrained as of writing this, but I hope they add more to it, like the ability to control the camera, etc., in future updates.
Overall, the display could’ve been better for the price. Adding a higher refresh rate display would’ve made things better, but at $339, there’s only so much you can do when you’re blowing most of that budget to strengthen the build quality.
The S98 is powered by a MediaTek Helio G96, a two-year-old mid-range processor that performs similar to Snapdragon 730G found in the Pixel 4a. The performance of S98 was… less than mediocre. I don’t usually go with the benchmarks because I don’t believe they represent how a phone will perform in real life. However, I did bench the S98 out of curiosity and found something interesting.
For starters, I ran the AnTuTu Benchmark thrice with one-hour gaps between each session, and the best score that I could get out of it was 228,855, which is significantly worse than most devices with the same SoC; for example, the Realme 8i which scored 341,000 in the same test. However, another thing worth noting is that the phone’s temperature never rose above 38.2℃, so perhaps DOOGEE has locked the SoC cores to a specific frequency so that the phone doesn’t overheat?
There were many stutters in the UI when I started using the device out of the box. However, the situation has gotten better thanks to the three quick updates that DOOGEE managed to push within a month. The stuttering is still there, but the phone is much more usable now.
App opening times were pretty good and felt snappy for the most part. However, the SoC doesn’t handle games well, not heavy games like Genshin Impact, Apex Legends, and COD, at least. However, for casual gaming, the SoC’s resources should suffice.
The speaker is plenty loud but lacks bass. The receiver is plenty loud for receiving calls outdoors.
The S98 comes with three cameras at the back—a primary 64MP Sony IMX686 sensor backed with a wide-angle 8MP shooter and a 20MP night vision camera. The camera module also includes two IR night vision lights that help brighten the night vision image. The pictures that come out of the camera are average but usable.
For the most part, the primary sensor does a decent job capturing close-up subjects, but the image appears blown out when capturing landscape shots. However, HDR mode fixes the issue and makes the image more usable.
The wide-angle camera is not good. Since it’s an 8MP sensor, it doesn’t capture much detail, and the images appear distorted at the edges. The front camera isn’t good, and the image often comes out overexposed and noisy. Taking good pictures is probably not your number one priority if you’re buying a rugged device.
However, the main highlight of this camera setup is the night vision camera. The autofocus is quick, and the lights work well to illuminate and help focus on the subject. The camera app also has a pro mode if you fancy shooting in manual and a GIF mode to record quick GIFs.
Overall, the S98 is no camera champion, but you can get some really usable pictures out of it, and the app provides some features that are hard to find on most devices.
DOOGEE claims a 6000mAh battery in the S98 with the ability to charge at 33W with the adapter provided in the box. Apart from that, it also has support for 15W wireless charging. In our testing, the phone took around two and a half hours to charge, which is pretty fast for a phone with a mammoth battery.
However, we had to manually note down the time the phone took to charge from 15-100% as one of the apps that we use to test battery charging time, voltage, and other statistics refused to measure the polarity of the battery. After some digging, I found out the phone lacks a charge controller, and there’s no way to add it. Pretty weird.
The battery life on the phone is solid, and it easily lasts for around two days on medium usage. However, if you don’t use the phone much, you could get three days’ worth of juice which is pretty good. Overall, the phone’s battery is solid and will come in handy if you travel or go hiking frequently.
The software experience isn’t great. The phone ships with Android 12 with DOOGEE’s UI on top. The UI’s overall feel and user experience were very frustrating at first, but the phone has improved with each update and works well with minor stuttering here and there.
What’s also surprising is that, unlike other budget phones, the S98 ships with a negligible amount of bloatware, and the software experience overall was pretty clean. There are a few perks like the screenshot tool, which could prove helpful for some people.
Doogee S98 Pros:
- Excellent build quality and a unique design.
- Less bloatware.
- The night vision camera could come in handy for adventurers.
- Great battery life.
- The cameras aren’t great.
- Performance isn’t on par with other Helo G96 phones.
- UI Stuttering.
DOOGEE S98 Review
For $339, the DOOGEE S98 is a fine rugged smartphone. The phone can withstand drops without breaking a swear and can last for a solid two days. While not perfect, the UI experience is better than most mid-range devices. That said, the camera, display, and performance aren’t great. If you’re short on cash and are looking to buy a reasonably budget rugged device, the DOOGEE S98 should be on your list.