- Official Store: https://www.doogee.cc/products/s98.html
A couple of weeks ago I received Doogee's latest creation, the S98 Rugged smartphone, and my first impressions were generally quite favourable after I learned of the features of the device and marvelled at the rather unorthodox aesthetics. Now, roughly three weeks later and a decent amount of time to get to grips with this robust mobile phone, I can now give you the full skinny, or rather the entire chunky, on the Doogee S98.
Let us get the elephant in the room addressed from the get-go: I would describe this as a utilitarian model, a rough, rugged device and most definitely not a daily driver for the majority, nor will this be a device to game on. This is built for manual labourers to throw in their van, for explorers to mount to their sledges during nighttime expeditions, and for sporty types to get splashed on while quadruple backflipping a waterski over Niagra Falls.
Built from Aluminium-Alloy, oversized solid plastic, and coated in Corning's Gorilla Glass; this is a device with a purpose, attitude and several USPs that you probably won't find anywhere else right now, including almost military-grade protection ratings, a 30mm second rear display and an actual night vision camera, all for as much as $339.99, believe it or not!
- Model: Doogee S98, 4G (Dual Sim)
- Released: March 2022
- Dimensions: 172 x 82 x 15.5 mm (6.77 x 3.22 x 0.61 in)
- Materials: Aluminium Alloy, Plastic Rubber, Corning Gorilla Glass
- Weight: 320g
- RAM: 8GB
- Storage: 256GB (Expandable up to 512GB)
- OS: Android 12, Doogee UI: V3.01_20220415-2225
- Display: 6.3" FHD+ Waterdrop display, 480nits, 409ppi
- Resolution: 1080x2340, 19:9, 16.7m colours
- Rear Display: 30mm circular touch screen
- CPU: 12nm Octa-core MediaTek Helio G96 (2x ARM Cortex A76 cores, 6x A55 cores @ 2.05GHz)
- GPU: Arm Mali-G57
- Rear Cameras: Sony 20MP night vision camera (with IR Illuminator), 64MP pro-grade main camera, 130° 8MP wide-angle, rear flash
- Front Camera: Samsung 16MP selfie
- Sensors: Fingerprint (side-mounted), accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass
- Sound: Single speaker,
- Battery: 6000mAh (not removable), fast charging 33w, wireless charging 15w
- Protection rating: IP68, IP69k, MIL-STD-810G
- Connectivity: GPS (GLONASS, BeiDou, Galileo, AGPS), NFC, Bluetooth 5.1, Wi-Fi 802.11 2.4G/5G (802 AC/a/b/g/n), USB-C
At first glance, the S98 definitely looks like it's been built to stop bullets with its intricately styled posterior and military looking ingress flaps, but after even a short stint of use, it is easily discernable that it is not ultra-high-end and it definitely will not knock your socks off in the performance department. The Doogee S98 does however sit nicely as a middle of the range device that offers a couple of unique features blended with honestly averaging specs and some odd design choices that honestly somewhat take away from the experience you get with unboxing this beast.
My initial impressions were very positive with this device as it was fresh and new and shiny and unfettered, but my time with the S98 has definitely allowed me to mature with the device and get to grips with its nuances and intricacies so that you might not have to, depending on your next potential future Smartphone purchase preferences.
Looking around the device you have a volume rocker, power button and fingerprint sensor on the right side, which is nice, but I immediately wondered: why isn't the fingerprint sensor on the power button instead of being separate altogether? Perhaps it's a cost thing or perhaps it's a deliberate design choice; either way, it's an odd one because your thumb naturally gravitates towards the power button, and so you have to reposition your thumb down around 25mm lower in order to contact the sensor. Once you do, unlock times are super fast!
At the bottom of the device is a single USB-C socket that is rubber plugged to prevent dust and water ingress, and notably, it adequately protects it but at the expense of the little rubbery tab not pulling out far enough for you to get your cables in cleanly. This results in somewhat of a battle to scootch that tab out the way enough while trying to insert a cable. If cables aren't your thing then wireless charging might be a better option; however in my findings, the wireless charger I use every day for my iPhone 12 Pro Max, the Native Union QI IOS/Android charger failed to establish a solid connection with it, possibly due to the thickness of the S98 I'm unsure, but I simply could not use the wireless charging functionality at all, which was rather disappointing.
The left-hand side of the device harbours the dual sim tray with SD card slot, and a single 'Easy Key' button that you can assign any function you wish to. Want it to take a double-tap it to screenshot, no problem, want to long-press it to launch an app, done in a sinch!
Finally, the top edge of the Doogee S98 is strangely devoid of anything. There is no 3.5mm port, no second speaker for stereo movie watching, and no hidden sci-fi gadgetry; so no notable point of interest to the top at all.
Using the S98 on a daily basis with its Android 12 OS is unexpectedly a breeze to use. The phone performs everyday tasks such as texting, making calls, using social media and taking pictures incredibly succinct and is adequately reactive in terms of loading speed and non-frustrating usability, with intelligent features like Battery Manager and Dura Speed keeping backgrounded tasks in check.
The Easy Launcher OS enhancement makes everything bigger, bolder and easier to find thanks to full customization options and plenty of helpful integrations to make the device even easy to navigate. And this is where my senses started to tingle. It feels like this is all an effort to make the device even easier to use for those who need ease of use: people with less time to faff about with searching for apps and dealing with technology; people who would perhaps have their hands full or wet, or covered in gunk while trying to operate a rugged device; more specifically, I think, tradespeople! Builders, carpenters, plumbers, roofers, and landscape gardeners. They could all undoubtedly benefit from owning this device!
The built-in apps further reaffirm this notion where you essentially get a toolkit consisting of things that could greatly assist a skilled worker to do simple tasks without the need for a belt load of tools. Heck, even the night vision camera would be superb for engineers to scope out spaces in voids or check poorly lit areas for access for maintenance access etc. My father did heating and ventilation engineering for many decades and I remember his delight when he found the LED torch on his original Nokia in the 00's. Years later the magnification and photography features of the early iPhones blew his mind, so I could very easily imagine he would have more than a few uses for this type of device given that the environments he worked in were usually pitch dark, with water leaking everywhere, and very little room to manoeuvre a full box of tools.
The rear screen is where the main focus of this device resides. There is a 30mm circular touch display with an uncanny resemblance to that of a smartwatch, with touted features such as the ability to answer calls from it, control music, and see notifications through it; it actually does very little when you investigate its intricacies. I had heard that the rear screen would be used as a viewfinder for taking higher quality selfies, but I couldn't find that feature at all. Similarly, I couldn't find an app or app store that allowed me to customise or change the faces from those sparse few stock built-in ones. The novelty value certainly wears thin quickly and you more often than not find yourself never using that screen for the simple reason that it is very limited in how you can interact with it. Personally, I still find it more convenient to wear a smartwatch on my wrist and connect it to a phone so that I can check notifications, change music tracks and do a heck of a lot more, more freely, than on the small embedded screen on the back of the S98.
Another, and a really bizarre, oddity of this device's design choices is just how horrendous the vibration feedback is. When in action; it rattles, it makes such a mechanical noise within the chassis, and yet it really isn't very powerful at all. It's a really strange, old school style vibration that, coming from the smooth and powerful haptics of an iPhone 12 Pro Max, is comparatively medieval. I had to turn it off altogether as it was that jarringly awful to encounter.
As is typical with my reviews of smartphones, I like to dabble with the gaming and emulation side of the phone's capabilities, but with the S98, I knew it wouldn't be a powerhouse for gaming, I could feel it based on the screen refresh rates ghosting a little, the weight of it would kill your wrists (a PS5 DualSense controller clocks in at 40g less than the S98), and there is notably no stereo sound on this device, so even streaming movies via VLC or listening to music, while serviceable, ultimately sounds flat and imbalanced with no multi-directional audio.
This is not a device for gaming, that much is certain, but surely it's missing a trick not coming up much cop when it comes to what the majority of people now use their phones for; namely streaming media on the go? There is always the option to connect Bluetooth headsets, but that's at an additional cost to you to get a better audio experience out of it because there isn't even a 3.5mm jack either.
Giving the S98 a thorough run through Geekbench, I was honestly wincing at the screen while waiting for the tests to complete, and I didn't want to look at the comparisons of the results when I eventually saw the benchmark scores plop out. With a Vulkan compute of just 1484, an OpenCL of 1457, a multi-core of 1728, and a single-core of 504; it made sense to me that this device is mainly for standard apps and photography with a light amount of gaming on the side. Even with 8GB of ram the middle of the road Helios 96 won't
I tested Dolphin with Waverace Blue Storm, The Simpsons Hit and Run, along with a couple of other titles and it was largely unplayable due to massive frame dips and inconsistent framerates throughout, so for rudimentary emulation up to the 16-bit era and even PS1 this is about your upper limit, so do not buy this thinking it's going to be a powerhouse for anything more modern. Mobile optimised games seemed to fair better, with COD online and Asphalt 9 playing decently overall, but nothing so silky smooth that you were too impressed, though the screen refresh rates on the LCD IPS aren't majorly eye-friendly.
The cameras on the rear of the device are majorly superb with the main 64mp shooter taking crisp slick shots consistently regardless of lighting or composition thanks to AI assistance, and a nice range of features including panoramic, slow-motions, UHD mode and most impressively there is a Pro Mode for intricate setting twiddling which is an absolute dream for budding photographers!
The 20MP Sony night shot camera is utterly incredible; I won't beat around the bush here, it is phenomenal. The level of detail I was able to view and capture, in absolute darkness, was astounding thanks to the built-in IR illuminator. The fact that the camera is a dedicated 20MP was refreshing to see, and I was glad that this was not just a case of using elongated exposure times to add on a gimmicky "night mode" which would yield sketchy grainy images at best. This is full-fledged night vision people, and it shreds!
Here are a few shots taken with the regular camera no-flash, then regular with a flash, then finally night vision for comparison.
The 8MP wide-angle is an odd choice and notably lower resolution than the main snapper, and I can't really understand what the 8MP 130-degree FOV images bring to the table, and I also couldn't figure out how to invoke the rear screen as a viewfinder, so this feels rather meagre in the whole set up. Honestly, perhaps a macro-lens would have been a smarter choice to round off this hat-trick of photographic snappers.
The Doogee S98 should be considered a specialty device, that I would not hazard to recommend to a tradesperson in need of a rugged device to partner with their similarly laborious vocation or vigorous lifestyle, however, I could not wholeheartedly recommend it to the majority because it lacks that little extra grunt under the bonnet to give it some pizazz, and basic features to enjoy streaming entertainment in stereo sound for example.
I feel that this is a blip in the road for "dual-screen" evolution rather than the absolute first word in how this should be done, as I cannot honestly envisage enough real-world possibilities for this to be a serious game-changer, specifically, in the world of smartphones.
I have heard that there may be a Pro variant that has a Starlight night vision camera, and an Ultra version that houses a thermal camera: and I would absolutely love to check that version out if the chance ever comes up!
If you want to get a Doogee S98 of your own, you can head to the following official links to purchase one:
- Solid build quality throughout
- Great value for money
- Wireless charging
- NIGHT VISION CAMERA!
- Dreadful vibration
- Averaging performance
- Wireless charging issues
- 4G rather than 5G
- 8MP wide-angled camera tacked on