Testing the Sonim Warranty

by Dan Lane on 3rd July 2009

Last week we introduced you to the brand new Land Rover S1 by Sonim. A waterproof, rugged IP67 rated handset. If you missed it, take a look here. The ensuing commentary you guys came back with was largely about the price of the handset when compared to other rugged devices it competes with. Many of you thought that at £399 SIM Free the device was overpriced while others just thought the whole rugged phone thing was completely pointless.

The Sonim S1 in its natural habitat (literally)

The Sonim S1 in its natural habitat (literally)

Well, reader and Really Mobile backup cameraman ‘Mike42′ jumped in with some very valid arguments from his experience with adventure racing and mountain-biking that validated the existence of the product, so what about the cost?

The way I see it, features on these rugged phones are very similar across the board, they all boast either splash proofing or total water proofing, a level of shock protection and a level of “ingress protection” (what does the casing let inside the device). The major differentiation between the Sonim and other rugged handset manufacturers is the three year Sonim unconditional guarantee. I asked Sonim CEO Bob Plaschke during our interview what would happen if maliciously I took a blowtorch to a Sonim handset; “Call us, we’ll replace it” he replied.

Well that sounded like a challenge to me, let’s put the Sonim warranty to the test (Don’t worry, we’ll be testing the ruggedness of Sonim handsets as well other rugged goods later on in the year).

Although Bob said it would be fine to maliciously damage the handset I wanted to get the “consumer” experience, I wanted to simulate a real-world injury to the phone rather than go at it like a madman with a blowtorch or angle grinder. The major issue as phones get smarter is that LCD screens get bigger and LCD screens are fairly fragile. The Sonim does the best it can at protecting the LCD screen but ultimately it’s a definite weak point. A couple of carefully angled throws so the handset landed flat face down or up (spreading the shock of impact across the LCD screen) and the screen developed a couple of cracks and stopped working. It’s worth noting that the phone is weighted in a way that it usually lands on one of the edges which spreads the shock of impact across the thin edges of the LCD which are much stronger (this is why glass is transported upright instead of flat, same for plasma and larger LCD TVs). I don’t know if Sonim deliberately weighted the handset in this way or if it just happened like that.

So I cracked the LCD and couldn’t read the screen, that doesn’t mean I can’t make and receive calls as the phone itself still works fine, I just can’t see who is calling.

Now to start the warranty replacement process, I’m sure anyone who has ever claimed on an insurance policy or tried to get a warranty replacement in the past knows there is an impending sense of dread about this phone call. Will they ask loads of questions? Will they find a clause in the contract that doesn’t cover the fragile LCD?

Nope, not Sonim. I called the number on the website and had a chat with a very nice man called Andreas who asked me what happened. “I threw it on the floor and the screen broke” I explained. “Not a problem, we’ll get a replacement out to you right away, can you still see the screen to read the serial number or is it completely dead?” was the reply. Andreas e-mailed me a simple form to fill out and once I’d done that he popped a replacement phone in the post and gave me the details I needed to have UPS pick up the old phone and return it to Sonim.

And that’s where my only issue with the service lies. Andreas told me that the replacement process takes up to 2 weeks. I made this call on the 24th of June, hoping to have a handset to complete today’s article but after 1 week and 2 days of waiting I still don’t have my replacement phone.

If I had been an agricultural worker spending a lot of time out in the fields doing whatever it is they do (presumably ploughing with donkey and whatnot) and relying on my trusty Sonim as my only mobile phone and certainly my only contact with the emergency services I’d have been stuffed. Yes, in this scenario I could still make emergency calls but what if the phone had been completely disabled. I’d now have two weeks without my phone.

I understand that Sonim can’t make handsets appear from thin air but I’d have really liked to see next-day or 2-3 day delivery as standard or even as an optional extra, I’d have gladly paid an extra £20 or so to have the handset sent to me via next-day courier if I relied on the handset so much but this wasn’t offered.

So I’ll say that the Sonim warranty works, it’s not the fastest replacement service ever but it certainly does seem to be truly unconditional. Break a handset, get a replacement.

So how does this effect the argument that the Sonim handset is overpriced? Well, I’m using my Sonim on T-Mobile who offer handset insurance through Fonesafe. The insurance plan claims to cover malicious damage, water damage and all the usual issues but it also guarantees to get you a new handset within 48 hours, which is a big improvement over the Sonim’s “up to 2 weeks”. We’ve also heard horror stories from the consumer insurance plans where the company has actively tried to avoid replacing the handset because of petty things like “you left it too long before you called us”.

Ultimately to insure a handset for 3 years with T-Mobile’s Fonesafe plan would cost £251.85. Which when comparing prices of other rugged handsets to the Land Rover S1 at £300 would leave you just under £50 for the initial cost of the handset. Or to put it another way, the Land Rover S1 handset costs just under fifty quid and comes with an excellent insurance plan.

Now, if only Sonim could sort out that shipping time!

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