Doogee S98 hands-on: A stylish rugged handset suited for the office, industrial hall, and beyond
Shortly after the release of the impressive V20, Doogee came back with a different approach in the shape of the S98. This time, the Spanish-born Chinese OEM decided to deliver the same military-grade protection but downgraded the AMOLED display and 5G connectivity to an LCD screen and 4G network support while pushing forward a stylish design with a round secondary display on the back.
However, the differences above do not necessarily mean that the Doogee V20 is a better choice. The S98 comes with Android 12 and a MediaTek Helio G96 processor, looks stunning in Wine Red and Volcano Orange, and keeps up with the more expensive V20 in most areas. In the end, the potential buyer should decide if it is worth dropping the AMOLED and 5G to save about US$100. There are also various other details to be taken into consideration as well, and this is what we will try to focus on in today's article.
Box contents, design, build quality
Like most Doogee rugged phones, the S98 ships in a square, thin cardboard box that is pleasant to the touch thanks to the textured material applied on all sides. The texture is different from the one used for the packaging of the V20, but both retail boxes show that Doogee is paying attention to this part. Although not relevant for many buyers, it is worth mentioning that the box that protects the Doogee S98 and its accessories looks and feels premium.
Those familiar with the brand will not be surprised by the rich set of accessories that come with the S98, but those new to Doogee will surely find the retail package to be quite generous. In addition to the handset, the retail box contains the following: a SIM extractor tool, a USB-C to USB-C cable, a 33 W power adapter, an additional screen protector, a bag of accessories (for cleaning and replacing the screen protector), as well as a basic user manual in 13 languages. The cosmonaut figure shown in the images at the end of this section is a special item that is not part of the standard retail package, unfortunately.
For me, the UFO-inspired design of the Doogee S98 gets the job done. Others might not like it, of course, and this is what happens with virtually any phone. However, I have no doubts that most smartphone users will find the Doogee S98 as having at least an interesting and original design. The color choices are black, orange, and red. I think that at least a green variant would be a nice addition to the lineup, not to mention a green or gray camouflage finish.
Just as expected, the Doogee S98 comes with rather large bezels, but asking for a rugged device with thin bezels is not realistic for the time being. The buttons feel solid and the decision to have a separate fingerprint reader placed below the power button is excellent, in my opinion. The SIM tray is located on the left, above the customizable button. The top is free from buttons, while the USB-C charging port and speaker are both located at the bottom.
The secondary display is located on the back and surrounded by the cameras (primary, wide, IR light, night vision). The flash is located in the same area, right below the display. Going down, there is also a Doogee logo. Overall, this phone looks (at least) good from any angle.
The build quality of the case is flawless and the materials used are of good quality. The metallic sides are set in place using screws, and the polycarbonate case does not show any traces of parts that have been glued together. The level of craftsmanship is very high, even without considering that this is a rugged device which is fully compliant with the IP68, IP69K, and MIL-STD-810G standards and such pieces of tech are usually quite rough around the edges.
Specs, features, real-life usage
By taking a glance at the list of specs and features, anyone can easily conclude that the Doogee S98, while a tank of the smartphone world on the outside, is a mid-range handset on the inside. However, this mid-ranger sports a few highlights that make it stand out from the crowd, such as the generous amount of internal storage. Although it lacks 5G connectivity, the MediaTek Helio G96 chipset used in this handset is roughly similar to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 480 in terms of performance.
Only available with 8 GB of memory and 256 GB of UFS 2.2 storage (microSD support is also present, of course), the Doogee S98 sports a 6.3-inch LCD FHD+ display with 1080 X 2340 pixels, 60 Hz refresh, and a typical brightness value of 480 cd/m2. On the back, there is a 1.1-inch round display that can be used to check the date/time and battery charge, but also to answer/reject calls and control the music player. While its display struggles under direct sunlight as any handset with an LCD, the colors and viewing angles provided by the Doogee S98 are good enough in other scenarios.
The triple camera setup includes the 64 MP F1.8 main shooter, an 8 MP wide-angle camera that uses the Samsung S5K4H7 sensor, and the 20 MP night vision shooter with a Sony IMX350 sensor. While the camera app is quite generous and includes a UHD mode, Pro settings, and pretty good AI scene detection, the results are sometimes below the expectations, especially in low light conditions. However, if the user keeps into account the lack of stabilization and spends a few moments to plan the shots properly, the images delivered by the Doogee S98 can be great at least for social media use. The night vision camera is a big plus. Although it only can take monochrome shots, the results can be quite interesting.
In daily use, I find the Doogee S98 to be quite easy to handle, but this also happens because it is only marginally thicker than the Xiaomi Mi 10T Pro with a protective case that I have been using as my daily driver for almost two years. Sadly, the weight of 320 grams (0.7 pounds) can be a problem for some, but there are even heavier rugged phones out there. In terms of size, the Doogee S98 is slightly larger than the V20, which measures 170.5 X 81.2 X 14 mm (6.71 X 3.19 X 0.55 in), but the difference is barely noticeable.
The GeekBench 5.4.4 results I obtained ranged between 480 and 497 in the single-core test and between 1,395 and 1,687 multi-core points. The results of the Compute tests were 1,484 (Vulkan) and 1,439 (OpenCL), so the Doogee S98 can be considered evenly matched with the more expensive V20. The storage performance, as revealed by A1 SD Bench, goes up to 464 MB/s read speed and 441 MB/s when writing data. The memory speed measured by the same tool is over 4,000 MB/s.
Just as expected, all common apps and games run well on this handset, although it should not be acquired mainly for gaming purposes. The lack of stereo sound doesn't help when playing games, either, but the bottom speaker is surprisingly loud and provides a good listening experience.
The signal strength is very good both indoors and outdoors. I compared the results obtained using WiFiman on the Doogee S98 and on my Xiaomi Mi 10T Pro and found no noticeable difference. As far as 4G phones go, the Doogee S98 is an excellent piece of hardware.
This handset comes with Android 12 out of the box and the software experience is what anyone would expect from a stock Android ROM with just a few minor tweaks, like the DuraSpeed app booster, the OutDoor Toolbox suite, and the customization areas for the rear display and programmable button.
The 6,000 mAh battery should provide over 3 days of regular use to most users. Delivering an SoT value of more than 8 hours over almost a week of use is not something out of this world for the Doogee S98. Wireless charging is a big plus, because that leaves the USB-C port cover unused, thus reducing its wear. Since a worn-out USB-C port cover would allow water through, I would use wireless charging with this handset whenever possible, even if it takes over 5 hours for a full charge.
During over two months of use, I never had software-related problems, overheating, and the occasional drop on concrete (to simulate what many phones go through from time to time, depending on the user) failed to cause any damage. The Doogee S98 can also be used for underwater photography in certain conditions. Unfortunately, I did not find the proper environment to get results worthy of being shown.
The good, the bad, and the truth
The Doogee S98 comes with a refined design and excellent craftsmanship, alongside a reasonably fast processor, plenty of internal storage, a generous battery with wireless charging support, as well as a clean Android experience. A side-mounted fingerprint reader that is not located on the power button is a big plus, at least for me.
The display and cameras could have been better. I am thinking about keeping the LCD but having one with a higher refresh rate and maybe a different camera app with improved color processing. Better camera lens would also be great, judging by the results obtained in both day and night shots. Some potential users might stay away from the S98 due to the lack of 5G connectivity, although there aren't usually 5G towers in the rough areas that such phones are designed to tackle.
As of early August 2022, there are quite a few better mid-range Android handsets available for about US$350, but only if we take the rugged factor out of the equation. However, there aren't many rugged handsets to sport a design that fits well in a restaurant, office, and in the wild alike, while providing a rich set of features alongside a reasonable level of performance. To sum it all up, the Doogee S98 provides quite a punch for the price, and then some.
Disclaimer: The author of this review received the Doogee S98 rugged smartphone from Doogee free of charge for the purpose of testing.
Doogee (official product page)