NEC Terrain

NEC Terrain

As the name suggests, NEC's Terrain is purpose-built to be intimate with the earth, in the worst possible ways. Waterproof, dustproof, and shockproof, NEC's first model to hit the U.S. market since 2005 is also distinguished by that rarest of hardware features in the touchscreen age: a full QWERTY keyboard. Clearly this smartphone has been engineered to appeal to a very specific audience. After testing it out, we're able to report that that very much includes us.

We first brought the Terrain along for a weekend of whitewater rafting, where, as you'd expect, it spent many minutes submerged, had a few one-sided run-ins with some boulders and rocks, and generally was treated with careless abandon. All with nary a hiccup. We then took the Terrain swimming in the Atlantic to gauge its limits in saltwater and when buried in sand – as well as exposure to perilous splashes of beer, Bloody Mary mix, and salsa. Again, the Terrain was trouble-free. Finally, back at home in the city, we even let fly with a few gratuitous drops from various heights, on everything from concrete sidewalks to subway and elevator floors. You know how this goes. If true, fail-safe all-weather ruggedness, with the ability to dash out a communique under any conditions, is mission critical, we know of no equal or better.

Now, as with any device, the Terrain is not without its shortcomings. (Toughness comes at a price, it seems). Though we had no complaints about its comparatively modest dual-core processor, NEC's choice to load Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich" instead of the current (and already aged) 4.3 or "Jelly Bean," means users should expect to be behind the curve when it comes to the latest and greatest apps and OS features. Similarly, aside from its push-to-talk feature, it's almost entirely devoid of bells and whistles, and its 5 MP camera does not fare well in a head-to-head with competitors like the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active's 8 megapixels. Plus, it goes without saying that the Terrain's oversize rubber housing is in stark contrast to the sleek, low-profile ones found on bleeding-edge models. But that's kind of the point. If you regularly venture out of doors (or are just brutal with handsets) and require a functional, reliable handset with smartphone capabilities, pretty doesn't matter. [$100 with a 2-year AT&T contract; att.com]