Think Land Rover, and you probably don’t immediately think of mobile phones. Rugged, go-anywhere, do-anything vehicles, designed for farmers, soldiers and the like? Sure. Luxury SUVs made for the Made in Chelsea set? That too. But handsets? Not really their bag, you might think.
But that’s where you’d be wrong, because Land Rover have kicked off 2018 with the launch of a brand new smartphone, unveiled last week at the massive outdoor industry tradeshow, ISPO. The handset is actually made for Land Rover by a British-based mobile company called Bullitt, but the branding - and the performance - meant it caused quite a stir at the show. Not least because it bagged a prestigious ISPO award.
"We were lucky enough to get a sneak peak a couple of days before the launch"
Mpora was lucky enough to get a sneak peak a couple of days before the launch. Like everyone else who saw the the phone, we were full of questions.
Land Rover Explore Outdoor Phone: Overview
Land Rover Explore
“We’re the UK’s only remaining mobile phone maker," explained John Helliwell, the senior brand manager from Bullitt, “and we specialise in building phones for niche audiences, with specific requirements."
Set up by three former Motorola employees, Bullitt had previously teamed up with Caterpillar to make the Cat phone - an especially rugged device aimed at tradesmen that can “sit in a toolbox and get bashed around without breaking".
The Cat phone was a runaway success, so when they started talking to Land Rover about making a similarly tough model for outdoor enthusiasts, Bullitt knew they had a good foundation to build on.
“We know from our research that 30% of our audience break a phone," Helliwell explained, “and we also know there are 8.9 million people in the UK who are active in the outdoors, and double that who’d like to be."
As a snowboarder who spends a lot of time outdoors, he knew that phones breaking wasn’t the only issue. Battery life was a big problem, especially in cold conditions. So he and his colleagues set out to make a phone that would solve these problems.
Land Rover Explore Outdoor Phone: Features
Land Rover Explore
While Bullitt were happy to show us the phone (officially dubbed the Land Rover Explore Outdoor Phone) they were fairly coy about the full specifications. They revealed that it will use Google’s Android operating system, but they explained that the device was still undergoing final tests, and they were wary of putting out the wrong information.
We did however get a chance to play with it, and use various features in a mountain environment.
Extended Battery Life
One thing we were told is that the phone has been tested to some pretty extreme temperatures - both hot and cold. The day we spent trying it, we had the phone outside all day up Germany’s highest mountain, the Zugspitze, in temperatures of about minus five degrees celsius. By the end of the day my iPhone 7 battery was down to about 20%, but the Land Rover phone was still fully charged.
Tristan Kennedy / Mpora
In addition to the regular battery, the phone is supplied with an additional battery pack that attaches to the back with magnets and apparently doubles your battery life. If we had to guess we’d say this could give you around four days without having to recharge, making this perfect for expeditions.
The phone’s indestructible qualities were demonstrated by repeatedly dropping it from waist height on a concrete floor - something that would give your average iPhone owner a heart attack. At one point John poured coke all over it, then washed it off under the tap to demonstrate how waterproof it is.
“It will work underwater," he said. “You could even take pictures. The touch screen would freak out of course, but you could turn it on and take pictures using the buttons on the side."
“It will work underwater, and you could even take pictures underwater using the buttons on the side."
Other features include a bigger and more accurate GPS aerial than your average smartphone (equivalent to the one in most standalone GPS devices), and a dashboard app that allows you to see essential info of your choosing with one touch - rather than having separate apps for weather, location, altitude etc. This works even with gloves on - we tried it.
Other Notable Features
The phone will be shipped with bike mounts, and will also come with Viewranger’s industry-leading mapping app bundled as standard. We had a lot of fun playing with their eye-catching Viewranger Skyline function, which uses augmented reality to tell you the names and heights of mountains around you.
Tristan Kennedy / Mpora
Land Rover Explore Outdoor Phone: Design
You might expect a phone which does all of that to be chunky and unweildy, but the Land Rover phone is anything but. It was designed with input from the team behind Land Rover’s latest sleek-looking models, and it shows.
“It takes design cues from Land Rover," John Helliwell explained. “The ‘roof bars’ on the back where the magnets are, the ‘grill’ around the microphone... And the camera surround is like the LEDs on Discovery headlights."
Far from being a secondary phone, something you’d keep hidden away until it was time to go on an exhibition, this is designed to be people’s first and only mobile. As one Bullitt exec put it: “You could put on the table in the boardroom and it wouldn’t look out of place." Like the cars themselves, the idea is that that serious adventure ability is wrapped up in a slick-looking exterior.
Land Rover Explore Outdoor Phone: Initial Verdict
Tristan Kennedy / Mpora
Obviously without knowing the full spec, we can’t deliver a verdict on the phone yet - we’ll save that for our full review when it becomes available in April and we can test it properly. But having taken a first look and had a play around with it in the kind of environment that the phone is meant to be used, we have to say we were impressed.
We didn’t get a chance to use the camera (which will apparently be different on the production models). But from what we saw the Land Rover phone is properly rugged, waterproof, and has impressively long battery life. It also looks sleek, and does everything you’d want a high-end smartphone to do.
Whether or not it will persuade proper Apple fanboys to convert remains to be seen. But as a long-term iPhone user who’s had to replace several screens and finds themselves continually frustrated by the battery dying when I’m snowboarding, it definitely got me excited.
The phone will be available to pre-order direct from Land Rover Explore, from select outdoor shops including Cotswold Outdoor and Snow + Rock in the UK, Sporthaus Schuster in Germany and AS Adventure in Belgium. We’ll let you know more when we do.