Doogee S61 Pro hands-on: Lightweight, transparent, affordable Android 12-driven ruggedness
The Doogee S61 Pro comes as what I consider to be a successful design experiment in the rugged phone landscape, with a back cover similar to that of Xiaomi's Mi 8 Explorer Edition. To make it even more appealing, Doogee is also throwing additional back covers that can be replaced by the user without the need for any additional tools.
Design aside, what we have here is a basic MIL-STD-810H-rated rugged Android 12 smartphone that weighs significantly less than most of its more powerful and more expensive siblings while offering the same degree of protection. With a price tag that can go below the US$200 threshold depending on the available promotions (the price tag as I write this shows US$229.99 for the transparent and wood editions, and US$199.99 for the two others, namely kevlar black and matte gray), the Doogee S61 Pro looks like an ideal phone for kids, but is it capable of more than just that? Keep reading to find out.
Box contents, design, build quality
Unlike the V20, S98, or S98 Pro, the Doogee S61 Pro comes in a small, yellow box. The standard retail package contains the phone, a spare screen protector, a user manual, a warranty card, screen protector accessories, a SIM card pin, a charger alongside a USB-A to USB-C cable, as well as a wrist rope. The additional back covers pictured above have only been sent to reviewers and will be made available for purchase separately soon. However, those who are not planning to change the back cover of their Doogee S61 Pro could just buy the variant they like most while keeping in mind that, in case they manage to break it, replacements are easy to find.
In terms of design, Doogee took a few shortcuts to keep the price low. For example, the sides are no longer metallic, but made of polycarbonate, with a handy honeycomb anti-slip finish. The buttons are also made of plastic, but they do not feel cheap. While I prefer my buttons made of metal, I think this is a good choice that keeps both the price and weight in check, since the S61 Pro weighs only 266 grams, which is excellent for a MIL-STD-810H-rated handset.
The display does not have any holes in it, since the bezels are wide enough to leave room for the selfie shooter. This is not such a big thing, but I think it's a positive side of this phone's design that should be taken into account.
Moving on to the materials used and the quality of the craftsmanship, there's nothing bad to say. I think that Doogee has chosen a balanced path and the final product does not feel cheap, although it is affordable. However, I would have chosen a different protective cap for the USB-C port. With at least four charges per week, as it's happening in my daughter's case, I don't think that the cap can survive for more than six months, maybe a year. After that, it will probably break, and losing it (alongside the ability to resist water ingress) will be just one step away.
Specs, features, real-life usage
The specs sheet of this phone doesn't include anything surprising. The MediaTek Helio G35 is barely enough to run most modern games on standard settings, but thanks to PUBG's optimizations, it can run this title on ultra-smooth graphics at 30 fps. However, this phone is definitely not one aimed at gamers. The 5,180 mAh battery can provide two or three days of regular use, as well as one day of heavy usage focused on social media and watching videos/taking photos. In this last scenario, the SoT value goes above 8 hours, which should be enough for an entire day in most cases.
When talking about memory and storage space, 6/128 GB should be enough for most users. However, there is also support for a microSD card, so everything's pretty much covered in this area.
The Doogee S61 Pro comes with Android 12 out of the box. The 6-inch IPS display has a modest HD+ resolution, but the peak resolution of 500 nits helps quite a lot when using it outdoors in plain daylight. The 16 MP front camera and the back camera assembly (48 MP main, and 20 MP Sony IMX350 night vision camera) are not the ultimate choices in the filed of mobile photography, but they get the job done properly for social media tasks and sometimes for more than just that.
A feature that makes the Doogee S61 Pro useful for those who just want a reliable daily driver is NFC, which obviously comes with full Google Pay (recently turned into Google Wallet) support.
Those wondering about the benchmark scores of this phone can take a look below:
- A1 SD Bench: 210 MB/s read and 172 MB/s write for the internal memory, 2,786 MB/s for RAM copy operations
- Geekbench 5.4.4: 175 single-core, 928 multi-core, 90 Vulkan (multiple tests failed) and the OpenCL tests were not available
- GFXBench: 345.8 frames
- 3DMark: Sling Shot (OpenGL ES 3.0) 804 points; Sling Shot Extreme (OpenGL ES 3.0) 459 points
Unfortunately, the lack of support for most Vulkan features doesn't look too good for those who want to get the best performance for their money. However, one must always remember that this phone focuses on survivability, not performance.
The Android 12 experience is very close to what Google provides on its Pixel phones, but with a few additional tools (the OutDoor Toolbox that is present on all Doogee handsets, a software updater, as well as the code needed to configure the customizable button). Obviously, two or three major Android upgrades are out of the question here.
Overall, this handset looks good (I dare saying "great" for the variant with transparent back that I've been using) and performs as expected in all areas, especially when taking the price and rugged factor into account. For around US$200, there are many faster smartphones to choose from, but when it comes to rugged smartphones with a user-replaceable back cover, the Doogee S61 Pro is (most likely) playing in its own league.
The good, the bad, and the truth
The Doogee S61 Pro is light (for a rugged phone), looks good, has a user-replaceable back cover, has a 3.5 mm audio jack, comes with Android 12 out of the box, and the presence of NFC support makes it an excellent choice as a main handset for anyone who doesn't spend hours browsing web pages or watching media content on the go.
The transparent back cover scratches easily, although it can stand pressure and drops. The cover of the USB port has a rather uninspired design and there is no replacement present in the retail box, which would have been an excellent idea. Unfortunately, wireless charging is not supported, either. Some might consider the lack of 5G connectivity a drawback as well, but I don't think this is a problem given the price of the device.
While there might not be any solid reasons for adding the "Pro" part to the name of this handset, Doogee managed to come up with another affordable rugged offering that's worthy of attention. It's not very fast, it doesn't have an AMOLED display or a thermal camera, but it's built to last and compact enough to be used by anyone on a daily basis. As a final remark, my daughter loves it and more of her colleagues were intrigued by her new phone and wanted to know more about it than it would have been the case if she had an iPhone 14 Pro Max.
Disclaimer: The author of this review received the Doogee S61 Pro rugged smartphone from Doogee free of charge for the purpose of testing.
Doogee (official product page)