BARCELONA—Land Rover may be the last company you’d imagine making a phone, but on the show floor at Mobile World Congress here, we found a rugged handset with Land Rover branding.
Now, we should clarify that the company actually making the Land Rover Explore is Bullitt Group, better known for the Cat S60 we reviewed last year, the Kodak Ektra, and the Cat S61, which received one of our Best of MWC 2018 awards.
On first appearance, it’s clear the Land Rover Explore is a rugged phone. It has drop resistance, a Mil Spec rating, and IP68 water and dust resistance. It follows the standard bulky design language with a thick aluminum band along the sides, physical buttons, a durable screen with layered Gorilla Glass 5, and a rubberized back. The only aesthetic that might indicate that it comes from an SUV manufacturer is a rounded bottom speaker grille with prominent Land Rover branding.
But if you look a little bit closer at the back, you’ll see four sets of magnetic contact points, similar to what you see on phones like the Moto Z2 Force. That’s where the Explore’s various swappable backs come into play. The phone ships with the aptly named Adventure Pack, which consists of an extra 3,600mAh battery pack that snaps on to augment the internal 4,000mAh battery for 7,600mAh of juice. Even taking into account the extra bright and legible 5-inch 1080p display on the front, you should have no problem going all day and beyond.
And if you look even closer at the case, on the top-right corner, you’ll see a 25mm-by-25mm ceramic square patch with an additional GPS to help boost your signal strength in weak areas. If you’re outdoors and all you see is empty space on Google Maps, snapping on the case could help make the difference. On top of that, you can add another TPU protective case.
With all this attached, the Land Rover Explorer does become a brick, but you can add a canvas strap, snap on the stainless steel carabiner, and link it to your belt or backpack, which is handy if you’re going on a long hike and need your hands free.
Separate packs are available, and if you want even more juice you can buy a larger battery back with 4,370mAh of added capacity, bring you to over 8,000mAh. But we suspect the included 7,600mAh will be more than enough for most people. For those who do more biking than hiking, there’s a Bike Pack, which includes an adjustable bike mount and case. These are the backs currently available; if there’s consumer demand, we could potentially see more come to market.
These special features aside, the Explore is also backed by solid hardware. Under the hood you have a capable MediaTek Helio X27 chipset clocked at 2.6GHz with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, which is expandable via a microSD card slot. Alternatively, you can also use dual SIMs. A 16-megapixel camera is on the rear, with an 8-megapixel sensor on the front. They’re both adequate sensors, though photo quality was a bit noisy in the inconsistent lighting of the showroom floor.
Software is Android 7.0 Nougat, which is on the older side, but an update to Android 8.0 Oreo has been promised. When it comes to added software, there are some things of interest. The Explore comes with advanced topographical mapping from View Ranger. You have access to a number of detailed, downloadable maps for free, while others will require payment (vouchers are included for country-wide maps). There’s also an AR viewer for the night sky, letting you chart the position of stars, and a simplified dashboard that curates useful outdoors apps from the Google Play Store and gives you direct download links to them.
Pricing for the Land Rover Explore is 649 euros, which includes the Adventure Pack. If you’re looking for a solid rugged phone without the more advanced capabilities of the Cat S61, like the air quality sensor or distance laser measure, the Explore seems like good bang for the buck. Of course we’ll be putting it through our full round of torture testing at PC Labs, so keep an eye out for us going at it with a hammer.