Need a phone to suit a mountain biker's lifestyle? Look no further
Mobile phones are pretty much the piece of tech that the majority of us tend to carry on a ride, so why not choose a phone suited to getting muddy, wet and generally abused? This is where the Land Rover Explore comes in. Land Rover is a name synonymous with durability, the venerable Defender 4×4 is renowned for being pretty hard to kill, so when the Explore was announced
What do you get?
Open the box and the Explore looks like a normal Android powered smart phone. Lift it up and it feels way more substantial than a typical smart phone, this is built to be tough but you definitely know when you’re carrying it (as a comparison, the Explore weighs 231 grams compared to 149 grams for a similar sized iPhone 8). It’s built to withstand the highest protection rating of any smart phone, IP68. This makes the Explore pretty much impervious to dust, dirt and sand as well as being able to survive submerging in fresh water of a depth of 1.5 metres for up to half an hour. It also claims to be shockproof, surviving up to a drop of 1.8 metres.
To counteract the bane of all phone users lives, battery life, Land Rover has shoe horned a 4000 mAh battery into the Explore. When compared to an iPhone 8’s 1,821 mAh battery, this is a monster and capable of keeping the Explore going for a couple of days of normal phone use. To further the functionality of the Explore an additional ‘Adventure Pack’ is supplied in the box. This piggy back unit attaches magnetically to the back of the phone and provides not only an additional 3,620 mAh battery pack but also a GPS booster. Perfect for taking the Explore into the wilderness for a few days bikepacking or other outdoor adventure.
On top of this it has a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, grippy and tactile side buttons plus a slot for microSD memory and two SIM cards. This last feature will appeal to UK users wanting to travel to more obscure countries not covered under standard mobile tariffs.
Living with the Land Rover Explore
Once you are used to the added bulk of the Explore it’s a pretty easy device to live with. Controls and home screen navigation is fairly intuitive. Swipe left takes you to the secondary home screen (for more apps), swipe right gets you to a shortcut screen for news, weather and web exploration. Swipe up brings up the full thumbnail list of apps whilst swiping down brings up the typical display of previous notifications. The layout is one that most smart phone users will be familiar with and the three simple touch controls at the bottom of the screen become familiar within a couple of proper uses.
What will be attractive to riders is the advanced GPS and navigational features of the Explore. This is where it has the edge over other standard phones as it uses a range of satellite networks to detect location. This being especially useful when way off the beaten track. Combined with the excellent Viewranger app with its augmented reality navigational abilities or the OS mapping app with its ability to download maps and routes mean you’ll never have to worry about getting lost again. And of course, it works with Strava. Real world testing found that when using GPS constantly (as well as updating Instagram and other typical usage) battery life was pretty true to expectations. On a two day wilderness bike packing trip the Explore (with the Adventure Pack) provided just enough juice, although turning it off overnight is recommended.
I can also attest to the ruggedness of the unit after using it on multi-day trips, including a wet Trans-Cambrian Way tour. During this trip the Explore found itself bouncing down the trail a few times as well as getting a proper drenching. The accidental off-loads were due to the Explore’s biggest design flaw; it’s case. The combined weight of the Explore and Adventure pack is too much for the case when on any trails other than smooth fireroads, causing it to pop off the mount and bounce down the trail without warning.
After speaking to Land Rover about this issue the company now no longer recommends using the bike mount if you are carrying both Explore and Adventure Pack together. Whilst this isn’t too much of an issue on shorter rides, this does potentially limit the navigational convenience on longer excursions. As a short term measure I found a couple of zip ties worked to keep the whole thing stable on the bike.
If you're the sort of person who constantly drops, breaks or destroys phones then the Land Rover Explore could be the answer to your prayers. It easily passed all of our durability tests and proved to be relatively easy to use and live with. That bombproof design is probably the Explore's biggest drawback when compared to rival smart phones as it certainly is a phone you know you are carrying. Land Rover also needs to go back to the drawing board with the Explore's bike mount. The woefully inadequate design really does limit the mountain biking potential of the Explore.