Handsets like the Nokia 5140i and 5500 were designed for people with active lifestyles, but in the absence of anything burlier they inevitably showed up on plumbers' utility belts rather than strapped to joggers' arms.
But now there's a new breed of roughneck handsets built specifically to slide on the dashboard of a white van. If you're a tough man working a tough job, you need the JCB Toughphone.
JCB's pedigree as a leading construction equipment manufacturer means the Toughphone is already wise to the harsh vagaries of the building site. In fact it's been awarded an IP54 rating, meaning it's shock-, dust-, water- and drop-resistant, and operational in temperatures ranging from -20 to 60 degrees.
The more eagled-eyed will recognise the Toughphone as the Sonim XP1 decked out in JCB's signature yellow and black. But the livery isn't the only change – it's now encased in heavy-duty plastic and rubber, with extra buffers to easily withstand a few dates with the cement mixer.
But it's also relative lightweight for a bruiser. Moving parts are minimal, and the flaps protecting the charging and headset connections are durable and watertight. Similarly, nothing will get past the battery cover, locked into place by a screw.
We gave the Toughphone one hell of a pounding and it impressively absorbed all the hits. Sure, it's not going to handle being submerged in deep water, but it can take a blast from a pressure washer or a paddle in a shallow puddle on the chin.
Easy to use
When you've got to send a text while riveting a steel girder, you want a simple-to-use phone. The Toughphone is shorn of fancy multimedia distractions and is a basic text and talker. It's incredibly user-friendly, although its texting key layout is a little different to your everyday Nokias and Sony Ericssons, so you will have to realign your SMS radar.
The Toughphone isn't completely brawn and no brains. Bluetooth is poised to hook up a wireless headset, while a WAP browser lets you surf the web on your tea-break over dawdling GPRS. If we're nit-picking, the display is a tad pokey and low res, but a stunning screen is hardly top priority.
Push to talk
Also adorning the side is a large key to fire up Push-to-talk, a walkie-talkie type communication vehicle ideal for rubber ducking with your builder mates across site. Unfortunately none of the UK networks offer such a service (so the big button lies totally redundant) but the Toughphone comes with the embedded YouPoC PTT client that piggy backs onto the Vodafone network and lets you walkie-talk for around 1800 mins for £35 a month with fellow subscribers.
The Toughphone is the perfect companion for the hard hat-wearing crowd, and can be picked up for free from Phones4U or £200 SIM-free from Bamford & Sons. It's as tough as an African rhino, manual labour-friendly and sports a colour scheme to match your big yellow digger – but is just as suitable for those with a tendency for dropping their phone into a pint of lager.