The tough phone dunk test

Motorola Defy+ versus Sony Ericsson Xperia Active

AN UNDERWATER TXT: Both phones happily survived being submerged during multiple takes (unfortunately, being a family-friendly publication, NBR can't post the one in which dunking technician @CWoodfieldNBR utters the immortal "it's not responding to my finger!" Although sometimes slower, both handsets still work with a soaked screen). While both can survive up to 1m underwater, a disclaimer with the Active notes that claim applies to fresh water – good if you get caught in the rain; less so if you're strolling the surf or get splashed around a pool. nevertheless, the Active survived repeated dousings in chlorinated Auckland tap water. (Click icon bottom right of video to watch it full screen.)

Both made calls fine immediately after a dunking. And in the clip above, the Defy+ sends the Active an underwater txt. the Defy+ also successfully received a txt while submerged.

THE WINNER:  It's a tie. the cheaper Active, with its double cover and more rugged-feeling caps over vulneable points (the USB and headphone jacks) feels like it could handle more rough and tumble. And it's hole for a lanyard or wriststrap is a simple but useful (and rare) design feature. but its 3-inch display is very much the minimum for a touchscreen; the Defy+ 3.7-inch display is more practical for typing, txting and everday tasks.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Active

HOT: Can survive for 30 minutes 1m under fresh water, scratch-proof, dust-proof, double back cover NOT: 3-inch screen is absolute minimum for a touchscreen; typing can be tricky, chunky TECH SPECS: 3-inch, 320×480 display, 1GHz processor, 512MB onboard memory, A-GPS, wi-fi, Bluetooth, micro-USB, 5 megapixel/720p HD video rear camera; front camera, Android 2.3, 92 x 55 x 16.5mm, 110.8g. Full tech specs. NETWORK: Telecom PRICE: $399 off-contract

Motorola Defy+

HOT: Big screen, water and dust resistant, scratch-proof, water resistant to 1m, NOT: Chunky TECH SPECS: 3.7-inch, 854×480 display, 1GHz processor, Android 2.3, A-GPS, wi-fi, 5 megapixel camera, microUSB, Bluetooth, 2GB of onboard memory (expandable to 32GB), 107  x 59 x 13.4mm, 118g. Full tech specs. PRICE: $749 off contract NETWORK: 2degees (Vodafone compatible; Telecom sells a near-identical model called the Defy, without the +)

Smartphones are famously fragile, and vulnerable. Get caught in a rain shower, or take it to the beach, and your flash new Android or iPhone could get water-logged, or sand-clogged and stop working.

Sony’s Xperia Active and Motorola Defy+ both claim to be rugged phones. Both are waterproof to 1m, dust-proof and scratch-proof.

Limits There are limits to their toughness. neither is rated drop resistant (unlike the Sonim XP3 tested a while back by NBR, which will lacking any smartphone smarts, survived a 2m fall, coffee dunking, being hurled into the surf and exposure to swine flu).

And water and dust-resistance depends on your ability to remember to kept rubberised covers for earphone and USB jacks clipped in place (on both models, they stayed in place over a couple of weeks of NBR testing, but NBR is dubious they could last a couple of years). another catch: water means fresh water, not corrosive salt water, or chlorinated pool water.

Still, if you’re walking at the edge of the surf, or trying to txt-2-park when the heavens open, either one of these phones will happily keep functioning.

the more cheaper Xperia Active has a double-back cover design that feels more sturdy than the Defy+’s more traditional single cover. however, the Defy+’s 3.7-inch touchscreen makes it the more usable phone. the Xperia’s 3-inch display (for point of reference, an iPhone 4 is 3.5-inch) is close to the minimum usable size for a touchscreen. If you’ve got big hands, you could find typing tricky.

If you work in a rough-and-tumble work environment, you’ll appreciate a simple but useful design feature on the Xperia Active – a hole through which you can hook a wrist strap or neck lanyard (supplied in the box).

As with all Motorola and Sony Ericsson Android handsets, both the Defy+ and the Active have custom software overlaid over Google's basic software. This either jazzes things up and makes it easier to juggle multiple social media contacts or makes for an overly fussy interface, depending on your point of view (personally I prefer plain vanilla Android).

And as with most Motorola handsets, the Defy+ requires you to sign up to its online MotoBlur service before you can use it (MotoBlur lets you backup your contacts online, plus other frills). the compulsory nature of MotoBlur irks some people. in this case, there was also a chicken-and-egg problem. I couldn't activate the 2degrees SIM (for voice and data) that came with the Defy+ until I called 2degrees, but before I could place that call, I had to enable MotoBlur – while still without a cellular data connection (the answer: find wi-fi).

Aside from the tininess of the Active’s screen, and both handsets' chunkiness (the Defy+ is roughly twice as thick as an iPhone; the Active a third ) there’s no real compromise on form or features – a notable change from rugged phones of old.

PERSPECTIVE: the Active (left) and the Defy+ (centre)  next to an iPhone 4. Although shorter and narrower, both phones are markedly chunker than an iPhone 4; the Defy+ is about twice as thick; the Active about a third as thick again.

VUNLERABILITES: the Xperia's caps over its speaker and USB jacks (above) seem more rugged than the Defy+'s more thinly attached jack cover (below).