The Doogee S96 Pro delivers value-for-money in spades thanks to a very attractive price point, a unique night vision camera and a balanced mix of fast storage, ample system memory and a practical, solid design. The only sore point is the low resolution but that is unlikely to be an issue for the target audience.
Good performance for the money
UFS storage (rather than eMMC)
Night vision camera works
Low screen resolution
Can be more than a handful for small hands
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Doogee is one of the more established rugged smartphone manufacturers, alongside Blackview and Ulefone. They are however the only brand that has yet to jump on the 5G bandwagon, instead focusing on adding features they think will be more valuable to their main target audiences: field workers, outdoor enthusiasts and DIYers. The Doogee S96 Pro is their latest attempt at striving to be different by offering a night vision camera sensor but will that be enough?
Price and availability
The Doogee S96 Pro retailed for $229.99 at the time of writing at online Chinese retailer Banggood. This is a time limited promotion that ends on January 25th 2021.
- Want to buy tech from online Chinese retailers? Read this first.
The S96 Pro shares the same design language as most rugged smartphones out there; after all, why reinvent the wheel when there’s no need to. Four rounded corners, four long sides, an industrial design where metallic grey, black rubber and bright yellow come together to produce what some might call a utilitarian design devoid of any attempt to look stylish or “cool”.
At 167 x 81 x 15.5mm for a weight of 307g, it is significantly larger and heavier than most - if not all - non-rugged smartphones sporting a comparable display size (6.22-inch). It has protection in the right places and unlike the less resilient models, this one doesn’t need to hide behind a casing. Instead, Doogee says that there’s a metal frame that makes up more than 50% of the device, presumably by weight.
It comes with the usual MIL-STD-810G/IP68/IP69K ratings and a circular island at the back that contains four camera sensors - arranged in a 2x2 matrix - and two banks of four LEDs (half of them traditional lights and half of them infrared lights) on each side. There’s a SIM/memory card tray above a customizable button on the left hand side. The right hand side contains a fingerprint scanner, a volume rocker and the power button while a flap secures a USB-C connector and a 3.5-inch audio port near the bottom.
That’s where it gets interesting; the S96 Pro opted for a HD display with a 1520 x 720 pixel resolution which is a fraction of what competitors have done. Why go against the grain? Well, there’s two reasons. Firstly low resolution displays are cheaper and secondly, they tend to consume less energy as there’s fewer pixels to light up.
Combine that with a huge battery (6350mAh) and you will - in theory - get a longer battery life compared to the competition although apples-to-apples comparison is near impossible.
The Doogee S96 Pro that was shipped to us came with the following hardware:
CPU: Helio G90T
GPU: Arm Mali-G76
Screen size: 6.2-inch
Rear camera: 48MP, 20MP, 8MP, 2MP
Front camera: 16MP
OS: Android 10
Elsewhere there’s a Mediatek Helio G90 which is a gaming-focused system-on-chip that packs two high speed cores and six smaller ones as well as an Arm Mali-G76 3EEMC4, which is a quad-core GPU. Extra points for Doogee for using 8GB low power DDR4 memory and 128GB UFS storage from Samsung, which is much better than the usual eMMC technology.
The S96 Pro surprises in the imaging department: there’s a front facing 16-megapixel Samsung sensor, a rear 48-megapixel Samsung camera, an 8-megapixel wide angle sensor from the same vendor, a 2-megapixel macro sensor and a 20-megapixel camera sensor, the Sony IMX350 - as found in the Huawei P30 Pro and the Oneplus 5. It is not a dedicated night vision camera but Doogee engineers are using a software algorithm to make the magic happen.
Rivals from Blackview and Ulefone have opted to offer infrared/thermal imaging cameras from FLIR which are very different and depend on heat being emitted. The IMX350 tries to capture as much emitted light from the phone’s infrared lights as it bounces back from elements or objects within the target scene.
As for the other specifications, they include Wi-Fi 5, Bluetooth 5, 10W wireless charging, a 24W fast charger, NFC, OTG and even an FM radio.
The night vision camera works perfectly well if you can live with its shortcomings. It can only take pictures (not videos), you won’t be able to view afar and they will be in grayscale with the added problem of not being able to focus in the dark. But we were able to read in pitch black dark and everything else was essentially inverted, in negative colors.
This is how the Doogee S96 Pro performed in our suite of benchmark tests:
PCMark (Work 2.0): 8306
Passmark CPU: 21593
Androbench (sequential): 508 (sequential read); 196 (sequential write)
Androbench (random): 123 (random read); 25 (random write)
3DMark Wild Life Vulkan: 1308
LinPack MFLOPS: 2193
We were surprised to see that the S96 Pro scored marginally higher than the Dimensity 800, a chipset found on all 5G rugged smartphones, on PCMark and on LinPack MFLOPs which measures sheer compute performance. It does lag behind - though not significantly - on other tests that combine other variables like video or storage. Androbench, which looks at storage speeds, was far lower than the competition albeit not catastrophically so.
The device runs on a stock version of Android 10 with some very slight modifications and the usual assortment of apps you can expect to find on a Mediatek-powered smartphone. That includes: two mobile device management apps (child space for kids, easy launcher for elders) and a toolbox filled with DIY-focussed apps like a sound meter or a protractor. Unlike other versions on Google Play, these are free and devoid of any ads.
We couldn’t find a smartphone with night vision capabilities, let alone a rugged one. And here is where it becomes more interesting; the S96 Pro is one of the cheapest smartphones on the market to come with 8GB of RAM and 128GB onboard storage. The S95 Pro, which it purportedly replaces, has a higher screen resolution but also a much higher price tag, an older version of Android and a smaller battery. Oh and it doesn’t even have that night vision capability.
So there we have it, our first smartphone with a night vision camera but that’s not the whole story with the S96 Pro. What makes it a very good deal is the fact that what you get for just under $230 in terms of hardware is pretty impressive: solidly midrange with a lot of memory and fast onboard storage.
We do not know of a smartphone that manages to offer so much - including the ability to run dual SIM in standby as well as a microSD card - for such a small outlay. Without any doubt, the overall package stands scrutiny and despite its lack of flagship status, we have absolutely no qualms in recommending that smartphone.
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Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website builders and web hosting when DHTML and frames were in vogue and started narrating about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium.