Bell Sonim XP5520 Bolt Review (Video)

Daniel Bader

May 23, 2012 9:26pm


The Sonim Bolt is no ordinary cell phone. While it can’t be defined as a smartphone it makes up for it by being a strongphone, uncharacteristically robust in a market that often favours form over function. Bell is launching the Bolt as its flagship push-to-talk device alongside the retrofitted Samsung Galaxy S II and BlackBerry Curve 9360. Out of the three devices, it’s the only one that is guaranteed to stand up to the Canadian elements (which is why Sonim is launching the product here first) and has been created from scratch with PTT capabilities in mind.

At $99.95 on a three-year term, the Bolt is not necessarily aimed at you or me. But for the truck driver, construction worker or basically any business that formerly relied on TELUS’ deprecated iDEN network, the Bolt is going to change lives. Let’s take a closer look.

A Rugged Design Philosophy

The Bolt is not a pretty phone, but it has its own sense of style. The fierce angles, yellow accents and messy symmetry scream “rugged,” which is exactly what the Bolt is going for.  Its incredibly thick chassis makes it one of the toughest phones in the world.

Like all Sonim products, the Bolt abides by the company’s Rugged Performance Standards qualifications, which means that it is practically indestructible. The video embedded above should provide sufficient proof of that, but there are some other aspects of the Bolt that makes it especially attractive as a workhorse phone.

First, it cannot be punctured; you can take an axe to the phone and it’s unlikely to make a dent. It’s impervious to extreme pressure and temperatures, making it perfect for mining work. For those who work outdoors, it is dust-, shock- and water-proof and scratch resistant. It will not be damaged by liquid or oil; it is incredibly loud, able to be heard above the din of sustained construction work. And, if you do break it for whatever reason, the company will replace it no-questions-asked in the first three years.

The phone’s layout is fairly simple: it has a standard number pad near the bottom of the phone, with a set of Call, End, Menu and directional buttons above. All these buttons are wonderfully responsive, and are guaranteed not to break for the life of the phone. On the left side is the dedicated push-to-talk button, and on the right is a camera button/flashlight; hold down the button to activate the flashlight, and press it once while the screen is on to open the camera app. There is a 2MP camera on the back side of the device.

Ports are interesting on the Bolt, since CEO Bob Plaschke claims that the traditional microUSB port is too difficult to ruggedize, opening the phone up to weakness. Instead, they opted to use a port similar in size to a 3.5mm headphone jack, which converts to a USB cord on the other end. This can be used to charge the phone or plug it into a computer for data transfer. The flashlight is incredibly bright, and can be used in place of a traditional torch in an emergency.

The screen measures 2-inches and has a relatively low 240×320 pixels, but its main advantage is a 2mm thick piece of Gorilla Glass that is all but impervious to breaks.

Push to Talk and Talk and…

One of the most attractive features of the Sonim Bolt is its one-touch deployment and activation of push-to-talk. Bell is rolling out a data-based service that provides sub-one second call initiations, and millisecond response times, all over its well-established HSPA+ network. This provides speeds up to 7.2Mbps (on this particular phone, 21Mbps in general) making the Bolt a far more versatile device than any iDEN product ever was.

The button on the left side of the device activates the push-to-talk function, connecting to Bell’s data network. The PTT list is separate from your main phone book, allowing IT departments to distribute number lists easily. You can easily see who is or is not online based on a green icon next to the person’s number. As opposed to traditional phones, there is no “ring” when calling someone; it beeps just like a walkie-talkie. I found call quality to be remarkably good, better than any VoIP call. It’s clear that Bell has prioritized the traffic here to ensure minimal latency with a very high quality audio codec.

The other aspect of the phone that allows for seamless calling mostly anywhere is that its relatively thick housing incorporates much larger antennas than most smartphones; I had five bars of Bell signal in areas that my various Android phones could only muster one or two.

Software — what software?

The Sonim Bolt is not a smartphone. Nor is it trying to be. Plaschke assured us that a rugged Android Sonim phone is coming soon, but in the meantime the Bolt is powered by a lightweight, responsive Java-based operating system that does the basics and not much more.

It comes with “apps” such as Bell’s Telenav-powered GPS Navigator (separate monthly charge) as well as a rudimentary WAP browser that we’d recommend staying away from unless you have a very high tolerance for frustration. It has a music player, calendar, calculator and a number of other “tools” you’d find on most low-cost phones today.

Battery Lifesaver & Superhero Call Quality

The Bolt comes with a huge 2000mAh battery that promises nearly over a month of standby time. Talk time is a massive 12 hours, and PTT uptime is even longer. It’s unlikely you’ll be charging the Bolt every day, nor every second day. If you end up using it as a “regular” phone, barring hours-long conversations it will probably last a week before having to be recharged.

Call quality on the Bolt, through either the incredibly loud speaker or the headpiece, is about as crisp as I’ve ever heard on a phone. Perhaps it’s because Sonim focused on making the Bolt a phone first but it speaks, ahem, volumes about how far down the list call quality has become to smartphone vendors.

World Record

Last year, the Sonim XP3300 Force was declared the “Toughest Phone in the World” by the Guiness Book of Records, a feat that was accomplished by dropping the phone 25 metres/82 feet onto concrete with no operational damage whatsoever.

It has also been submerged in an antifreeze mixture, embedded in concrete and, most impressively, almost blended.

Conclusions

The Sonim Bolt is not for everyone, nor is it for most people. But there is a huge unspoken subset of Canadians that work in dangerous environments that could benefit from the Sonim Bolt, and from Bell’s new Push-To-Talk network.

For more information, check out the Sonim Bolt at Bell Mobile Business.

  • NienorGT

    If you would not have mentioned Bell, I would have thought it was a Videotron phone with that yellow, silver and black xD

  • Alex Perrier

    According to a document posted at TELUS dealers, the Sonim Bolt and a new PTT service are both coming to TELUS soon. i’d say this year, but have no way to tell for sure, nor do i have any means to post the document in question. Makes sense for them: why would they let Bell push ‘em around with a superior PTT network?

    i wonder what Rogers will bring to the market, if anything, to compete against Bell and TELUS. It seems like all the Big 3 run identical types of high-speed networks: HSPA+ and LTE. The only difference is with the older technologies they use, such as CDMA2000, GSM and iDEN.

    Nice news and video to have. Some people who break their phones easily may want to get this instead.

  • Brian

    Telus won’t be launching the bolt nor a PTT system on Kodiak as Bell has exclusivity with those vendors for the next little while.

  • NewBB10

    Is that the new Blackberry with BB10?

  • MonkeyFace

    Ok, when are they doing the giveaway contest for this bad boy?

  • vengefulspirit99

    Can not be indestructible. Nokia 3310 is the only superman

  • ag

    its such a thick phone. if you get a chance anyone get your hands on it and throw it around.

  • Malek

    Already played with this phone it’s almost industruckable, I used it like a hammer and I got some outer black cover that’s it, otherwise the os is like the one that we used to have on the Nokia in the 1990’s.

  • MG

    Here’s and idea… Why don’t ALL Bell Mobility customers toss their phones from 25 meters? Liberating experience for sure!

    Alex Perrier, you have no clue what you’re talking about. Telus has Motorola’s iDEN network which Sprint (Nextel) utilized. Sprint is turning that network off and going for Qualcomm’s QChat. Telus has not followed suit and is at least 1-2 years away of any new generation PTT. Also, as per Brian’s comment, Kodiak and Sonim have exclusivity with Bell. So the Telus folks really missed the boat on this one. Unless they discount Mike furiously as a retention play, they will hurt badly. As for Rogers, they only have a downloadable PTT solution which is nowhere nearly as robust and reliable as either iDEN or Kodiak. So don’t expect to see any competition from them.

  • John

    Ugh oh better get a Otterbox !

  • Alex Perrier

    i read the TELUS paper at the store. i have no details except that it mentions Sonim and next-generation PTT. The store doesn’t sell MiKE, but it looks like they’re on to something. The paper is probably gone by now as it is a daily message.

    • Bell

      Alex frequents Telus stores like street bums frequent coffee shops

  • Brian

    There is a chance that SONIM may have another device to launch with TELUS, but from what the SONIM rep told Bell is that SONIM has exclusivity with Bell with regards to any 3G handsets…so unless Sonim is releasing an IDEN handset…

  • Fish

    Looks pretty good, only problem is if you need to use PTT you would have to change over all phones in the company. My in-laws will be facing this problem for their 25 employees who all have MIKEs.

    Assuming this is totally incompatible with iDen.

    • MG

      You assume right. Not only incompatible with iDEN but even Bell’s 10-4 (previous generation PTT). All customers will need to buy new hardware. Current 10-4 customers on contract who want to get the SONIM will get pretty pissed off when they realize they have to wait for their contracts to expire and they need to upgrade all their handsets in order to keep them connected.

      I would recommend your in-laws to use Bell’s PTT offer as leverage in negotiating a better price with Mike, as they have no choice but to retain iDEN customers with heavy discounting. They can stay on iDEN, avoid hardware upgrade costs, and save money while waiting for Telus’ new LTE PTT service. Perfect scenario.

  • handheld addict

    Heehee, you dented your garbage can! Maybe you shouldv’e done the impact tests outside? Nice phone but the number buttons seem a bit small if the user is wearing heavy gloves.

  • AJW

    If Sonim does indeed release an android smartphone, I’ll be the first to jump on it, ICS or not.

  • Ren

    Truth is that PTT over HSPA is NOT the best solution. PTT requires a GREAT latency time to be at its best and unfortunately, HSPA has very average latency performance. TELUS commited to lauch PTT over LTE witch would be by far better than HSPA. any ptt over hspa is comparable to heytel, Zello or voxer. if you have mike and NEED PTT, think twice before switching!

  • Marcus

    @Ren – the Bell service is a data service and they also have an LTE network. I would expect Bell to likely have LTE phones on PTT far before Telus does. People who use PTT for business won’t likely go for some over the top solution because it lacks support, security and any hope for network prioritization. Also the cloud admin tool helps businesses push and manage contacts as well as back them up in the event of lost or broken phone. Bells PTT service beats any OTT solution hands down.

    • Ren

      Agreed with most of your comments but non of the devices that bell is selling with Kodiak now are LTE handsets, the bell-telus HSPA-LTE network is shared therfore there is a LOT of ppl sharing hspa right now… giving even more reasons for PTT over LTE, your right about the company’s who absolutly need PTT, they wont want to use a heytel or Zello for your reasons AND their need for a voice only device. situationis good for bell. that being said, ptt over LTE will be way supperior. Mike is still a GREAT ptt solution for real PTT users. i would feel bad being bell and selling ptt over hspa when +-12 months from now, ptt over LTE should be availible on all carriers. a sonim device for 1yr is quite expensive + the fee for ptt services!

  • trafsta

    We are a Telus Mike company with 100+ PTT Rugged motorola phones and about 20-30 or so BlackBerry 8350i’s. We have been with Telus for 8+ years now. The 8350i and 7100i’s before them have been quite poor with data speed (expected) so we are now trialing Bell’s PTT service as the aging 8350i’s are just not cutting it anymore (and breaking down all the time!). Bell’s PTT is working well when the signal is good (HSPA signal is an issue for us due to our location, iDEN seems to be much better, perhaps because it is on a lower MHz…). Bell’s PTT is much clearer that iDEN PTT, however there is a slightly longer delay quite often. We are stuck in a contract with Telus for another year, however, all points indicate that Telus is still another 6+ months away from launching LTE PTT (at least thats what I have been told by our Telus reps, they think it may be available by the end of the year). Personally I think its easily 1-2 years away… and if that’s the case we will likely switch to Bell (buy-out existing phones that are still on contract) as long as signal issues can be fixed with boosters/repeaters… All this being said, the problem still lies with knowing how far out Telus’ LTE PTT service really is from being available… I have read here and elsewhere that it is anywhere from 6 months to 2 years to “never going to happen” lol… my meetings with our Telus Corporate Account Manager made it appear that they are trying to get as many customers off of Mike PTT and over to their PCS side whenever possible (not possible for us since we have many Mike-Only phones (60+) that cannot be used for regular phone calls (they need Mike). I am glad to see the comments on here, and hope that more people with legit information on Telus LTE PTT launch date and other Telus vs Bell PTT info will keep posting here about it :) If anyone knows any other good places to talk about this as well I would appreciate a heads-up. Thanks!

    • Ed Novosky

      Hello,

      I am a Bell rep and I have a buddy who is a Telus rep. The Telus reps are instructed to “keep MiKE clients hopes alive” with a new solution. Truth is, Sprint has decommisioned their entire iDEN system and will do a massive shut down of 9600 cites in September 2012(complete shut down June 2013). What does that mean? Telus is continuing its iDEN program, BUT, who’s going to build them iDEN handsets as current clients units break? With Sprint no longer buying millions of units from Motorola and RIM you can expect those companies to cease production (if they haven’t already). Also, Telus hasn’t expanded their iDEN network in western Canada since 2006, one of Canada’s fastest growing environments. Sprint is switching to a CDMA solution (similar to Bell’s from 8 years ago) and Telus is maintaining their iDEN as long a possible.

      I would love the opportunity to look at your needs and help offer solutions and pricing. We can try and get buyouts etc.

  • AllanVS

    Has anyone tried yet to call the number on the back of the phone? LOL
    I’m tempted just to bug the video guy! *LOL* j/k j/k maybe.

  • Alex

    We switched to the new Sonim devices with Bell from Telus Mike service. 25 phones, and Bell paid our buyouts with Telus on the phones that still had contracts (approx $2600). The Sonim phone is good, but the biggest problem we’ve encountered is the actual sound alert you get when someone alerts you is WAY too quiet. In the construction industry, there should be a louder alert!!! The phone has a very obnoxious option for ring tone, unfortunately it doesn’t have that option on the PTT and only a short chime/tune that rings out very quietly. If you were in an office, it’d be fine, but they’ve marketed these “indestructable” phones to the construction industry and you can’t hear when someone alerts you!!! Very stupid. I’ve been told that there will be updates that can be downloaded in the near future but i get the feeling that’s my rep bs’ing me to calm me down. We find we’re missing far too many calls from within the company and production lags because of it!!

  • murray

    has anybody found a case for this phone yet a clip would be great

  • richard

    I found a phone case at a small shop that unlocks phones in a mall

  • Nick

    Abso-freakin-lutely.

    I’m actually considering the bolt (and the subsequent switch from rogers to bell) even though it isn’t a droid, since I put my phone through so much abuse at work.

  • Rob

    for being a “tuff” phone, Sonim doesnt back it very well. Has 3 year warranty but has to be registered when purchased. so now i have a phone thats about 1 month over the 1year warranty and is completly useless.

    Stay away from this supposedly “tuff” phone.

    • SomeSchmoe

      And why is your phone completely useless??

  • Michael T. Babcock

    GPS would be a nice feature … sadly missing, as well as an API for rugged industrial mobile apps for it.