Review: The modular and rugged Doogee S95 Pro smartphone
Enough phones have slipped through enough fingers and sent enough jagged cracks along enough touchscreens for people who don't like cases to begin considering rugged smartphones as a serious option.
Chinese manufacturer Doogee is one of several companies making super-durable Android phones, and it distinguishes itself from the pack by making modular machines with attachments that extend their capabilities. The latest and greatest is the Doogee S95 Pro, a powerful, chunky beast of a thing that's claimed to be able to sit under 10 ft (3 m) of water for four hours, or be dropped from over your head onto concrete a thousand times without breaking a sweat. Yowch.
The Doog, as I've come to call it, ships with two main accessories: a battery extender that adds 3,500 mAh to the phone's already-impressive 5,150-mAh battery, and a speaker box that adds a pair of 27-mm (1-in) cones to your speaker setup to turn your phone into a mini boom box.
Each of these modules snaps onto the back of the Doog magnetically. It's a firm fit, although a sideways knock will take them off, so you'll want to be careful throwing the phone into your backpack with the battery charger attached.
The battery extender works exactly as you'd assume it would, with a cutout in the back so you don't lose camera access. This is a pretty big and solid phone to start with, at 285 g (0.63 lb), and you do notice it in your pocket. Add on that battery extender and my pants start sinking to half-mast. Your trousers may vary.
As for the Hi-Fi speaker attachment, it also works well. Snap it on, power it up, and it gives your music the kind of volume and low end you just can't get out of a small phone speaker. It's also got a little pop-out stand, giving you easy access to the screen as you rock out, and it's got its own 10-hour battery, so it doesn't drain your phone.
My chief issue with both of these attachments is that neither of them are as flexible as a third party alternative. Neither work with anything but the Doog. You can't charge your friend's phone with the battery extender, and nobody else can stream music to your speaker.
Indeed, since the Hi-Fi module has a physical connection and not a Bluetooth one, you've got to leave your phone attached to it the whole time, meaning that once your phone is the designated party soundtrack machine, it's stuck there on the speaker and you can't use it as a phone anymore.
That's a bit of a bummer, but an easy fix for Doogee moving forward: put a USB port on the battery extender and a Bluetooth connection on the speaker, and your modules become a lot handier.
The S95 is currently also shipping with a pair of "Dopods" Bluetooth earbuds, which are a perfectly decent little headset and a nice inclusion.
As a phone
The S95 ships with Android 9.0, which I consider a terrific OS. Its powerful, efficient Helio P90 Octa-core processor and 8 GB of onboard RAM make it quick and responsive and generally a pleasure to use.
The battery is particularly generous, and has got me through two full days of normal use a few times. It charges via a waterproofed USB-C plug, and is also capable of accepting a 10-W charge from a wireless charger.
It comes with 128 GB of onboard storage, and two SIM card slots – a particularly nice touch since one of them can also accept MicroSD storage cards. There's NFC for cashless payments and the like, and fingerprint and face-detect security, both of which work reasonably well.
I will raise two issues. Firstly, the night-mode setting seems buggy, in that the screen flickers between cool and warmer color temperatures once it engages, to the point where I've just turned it off.
Secondly, I know the younger generation hates making or taking phone calls, but if you're going to call this a phone, it had better function as one. The microphones on the Doog are positioned on the back, presumably to aid in waterproofing, and it simply doesn't work very well. Everyone I've spoken to on this phone has complained they can't understand me until I raised my voice to an uncomfortable level.
On the flipside, it's got built-in call recording, a feature that's super handy in my job and that my Pixel 3 XL has blocked. But when I listen back to call recordings, the mic issues are pretty clear; my voice comes out as muffled and distant. You need to speak particularly loudly and clearly when you're using the Doog. An annoying oversight, and one that presumably gets considerably worse if you've got the battery extender stuck on the back.
As a camera
The S95 Pro is a considerable upgrade from previous versions in its camera capabilities, packing an intimidating-looking array of cameras on the back that includes an excellent 48-megapixel Sony IMX582 that takes terrific photos in a range of lighting conditions, providing a level of detail that almost approaches overkill on a mobile phone.
The selfie camera is decent, but by no means equal to the forward-facing camera. Its images are OK when you're outside in daylight, but start getting blurry indoors and frankly I don't think I'd bother at night. Then again, you really need to step up to a premium-priced phone to get yourself something that performs much better.
There's a "bokeh" mode that does a sometimes-passable job of blurring the backgrounds of images, a "beauty" mode that eliminates all pores and detail from your face, and a "FaceCute" mode that puts dog ears on you if you're into that sort of thing.
Strap in, though, folks, because the ride gets bumpy from here. Doogee has equipped the S95 Pro's forward-facing camera with 10x zoom and a 117-degrees wide-angle mode, and neither works very well at all.
The wide-angle shot doesn't bring in much more viewing angle than the main camera, but it uses a different lens that absolutely sucks. Going to wide angle immediately introduces spherical distortion and chromatic aberration that cheapen the look of your photos, and it also gets insanely blurry apart from a small circle in the center of the image. I'm fairly sure the latter is a manufacturing defect with my test unit, but from what I can see the wide-angle image is far from equal to the quality of the main camera.
Zoom in, and things are just as bad. It's an ugly digital zoom with horrible smoothing applied to the details that's so bad it almost looks like the image has been through some sort of artistic filter. I spent a short while looking through settings to see if this smoothing could be turned off, but couldn't find anything.
In summary, the Doog has a functionally decent selfie camera and a genuinely excellent main camera, provided you don't play with the zoom. Seriously, just zoom with your feet and your photos will look great. Pinch to zoom with your fingers and you'll be mortified.
Jump into the gallery for more sample images.
As somebody who prides himself on a certain degree of mechanical sympathy, I take no pleasure in treating gear badly. But one of the Doog's key attributes is its ruggedness, so test it I did.
I don't have 10 feet of water, or four hours to fully test the S95's waterproofing rating, but I do have a bathroom sink and 10 minutes, and I'm delighted to report that it's completely happy being submerged for that length of time, provided you've got the waterproof covers on the card slots and charging ports shut.
Likewise, I'm not tossing the thing around all day to test the 1,000 drops from two meters claim, but I can take a deep breath and spin it onto concrete a couple of times from head height. The first drop didn't even leave a mark, bouncing off the hard reinforced rubber corner of the built-in protection and coming to rest unscathed. The second drop bounced around quite a bit and left a few scratches on the hard plastic back, but the screen was unmarked and the phone still works fine.
That's the extent of the torture I'm willing to put this thing through for your benefit, folks, but I'm impressed. The glass should last, it's Gorilla Glass 5 and it comes with a pre-applied screen protector and a spare in case you scratch it. I'm happy to pronounce the Doog roadworthy, and perhaps even toddler-worthy.
In the couple of weeks I've been using the Doogee S95 Pro as my only smartphone, I've generally been very happy with it. It's quick, with a nice screen and decent speakers, and in most respects works exactly as you'd hope and expect a smartphone to work.
The attachments are neat, if limited in their capabilities. The Doog itself can certainly be described as rugged and waterproof. The camera is excellent if you work within its capabilities; I wish Doogee hadn't put the wide angle or zoom functions in, to be honest, because they subtract rather than add. And the handset's unfortunate mic placement will annoy your conversation partners on phone calls without exception, which can only be spun as a positive if your only phone calls are telemarketers.
The Doogee S95 Pro is currently on sale for US$369.99 as a standalone phone with free Dopods earbuds for the next thousand or so phone buyers. Adding the modular speaker and battery extender units as a package brings the price up to US$469.99. It's a nice and neat little package, but for a hundred bucks you can pick up a pretty decent Bluetooth speaker and powerbank you can use with other devices too, so I'd be figuring that in.