Security Guard Phone – Best Buy Guide
UPDATED: 4 August 2022
Security guard phones are not an easy choice. There are hundreds of smartphones available and lots of articles reviewing toughened phones that claim they can be used in rugged environments. But no review tells you:
- What should a security guard phone be able to do?
- How much should you budget?
- How long will the phone last?
- Does a security guard even need a phone? (We conclude, not always).
We have tens of thousands of people using our software, why not base a recommendation on the experience of people using phones in the field of security?
NFC: Near-field communication is a set of communication protocols for communication between two electronic devices over a distance of 4 cm or less.
Security Guard Phone: What does it need to do?
Buying a security guard phone is very different to buying a normal consumer phone. The camera doesn’t need to have millions of pixels and the processor doesn’t need to be super quick for gaming. It does however, need to last and have some core features.
As a rule a security guard phone really only needs two features which are over and above a standard smartphone feature set:
- Near Field Communication (NFC)
- Ingress protection 68 (IP68)
(I explain IP68 below and why NFC is important is discussed in a blog here.)
There are exceptions to this rule. For example, if the security guard is working in a grain store, then electrical devices present a fire risk. In which case they’ll need a non-incendive device such as the sonim XP8.
Beside core features, what else does a phone for a security guard need? First, some background.
Unless you only want text and speak features you should ignore feature phones because they do not provide access to the internet (and our software…)
Window phones are excluded from this article because no one but IT directors like them and, they’re not being made anymore. Apple phones are precluded because they’re too expensive and have only recently featured the required functionality for a security guard tour (NFC).
In the beginning there was the Galaxy S3
Back in 2012 the Samsung Galaxy S3 was the phone of choice for the security guard.
It was popular with security guards because:
- It’s an Android phone, which means it has NFC, a function needed for security patrols.
- The screen is large enough (5.4 inches), tough enough (Gorilla Glass 2) and sensitive enough to satisfy people with large fingers. (It has 306 pixels per inch, which is enough given the maximum a human can recognise is 338 pixels per inch).
- It packs a quad core processor, which means it responds to a command quicker that it takes to boil a kettle.
Add this phone with the below case and in 2012 you had a long lasting phone for a security guard:
The First Tough Smartphones
By 2014 manufacturers were producing niche rugged phones that did away with the need for external cases.
Phones appeared quoting their Ingress Protection Standard (IP). CCTV cameras have used IP codes for years and now phones displayed their ability to withstand physical particle ingress (first digit) and water penetration (second digit).
The higher the IP number the greater the protection. A phone that is IP68 is dust tight (number 6) and can withstand one metre of water (number 8).
Today, many flagship phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S20 are IP68 as standard. However, that doesn’t mean the £1,000 S20 is a phone suitable for a security guard.
Don’t Make These 6 Mistakes
Before we discuss the best phone to use for a security guard, let’s take a look at the mistakes to avoid.
1) Too Expensive
A security guard’s phone doesn’t need to cost £1,000 to be fit for purpose. Bear in mind you’re likely to replace the phone at least once during a contract (more on lifespan below). There’s lots of options that sit around £400 but if you want to be prudent you can get a perfectly good phone for around £200.
2) Too Cheap
Be prudent but don’t be a scrooge! You can get some Android phones for around £100 but they can be troublesome. For example the Samsung Galaxy A3 looks perfectly good but only the LTE model has the essential NFC feature onboard.
3) Too New
Type into Google ‘Tough’ or ‘Rugged phone’ and you’ll be presented with lots of options. However, you’re unlikely to have heard of most of the phone manufacturers.
This is a problem. You buy XYZ phone and it performs great. Then it goes wrong or perhaps you want more of the same type of phone. You try to reach out to the phone producer only to discover they no longer exist. This is exactly what happened with the Toughshield R500. We integrated the phone’s push to talk facility with our software and within 18 months the phone had been discontinued with no replacement.
It’s therefore a good idea to stick to well known phone manufacturers that have been around a while. They provide long-term support and they’re much less likely to cease phone production. Instead they bring out updated versions of the same phone.
4) Too Old
Many Android phone prices come down after around six months of age. It can be tempting to buy some old stock of phones at a knock down price but you should exercise caution. After an Android phone is three years old Google has said it will no longer fix its security flaws, making it a security risk. Find out more here.
5) Too Flashy
Many phone features sound great but will you ever use a thermal camera? Does an indoor air quality sensor found on the Cat 61 really matter? For the majority of security guards a phone only needs to feature IP68 and NFC.
Some features appear a good idea at launch but are never really used, for example:
a) Push to talk: At one point smartphone makers thought they’d take a bite out of the digital radio market by providing external buttons on the mobile device that could operate as ‘push-to-talk’ (see Toughshield R500 above).
This function means a phone user no longer needs to select a contact to call. All they need is to depress a button on the case of the phone, this would automatically dial a predetermined telephone number and you could begin a conversation.
Smartphones with push to talk failed to get market traction as the conversation was only ever between two parties. Digital radios are popular because they offer an open channel that multiple people can access.
b) Accelerometer and gyroscope: In theory these features could allow management to monitor a security guard’s health through the movement of a phone. If a phone experiences a sudden trauma followed by no movement then this could signify the security guard is incapacitated. The problem with this feature is:
- No phone signal, no alarm.
- Dropping the phone could trigger false alarms.
- The software provider that utilises this feature rarely has sufficient IT back-up and resilience to meet lone working standards.
Our Judging Criteria
Now we’ve told you what to avoid, how about what to look for? We used the below checklist to select our top three phones for security guards:
- Established Android manufacturer
- IP68 and NFC
- Good value for money
- Toughened screen that is at least 5 inches big and a good level of clarity
- Positive feedback from users in the field
What about Battery size?
A few years ago phone batteries were a real concern, often they weren’t large enough to take a security officer through a shift. Thankfully, today’s phones are more efficient and so long as your security guard doesn’t play media all day a standard 2800 mAh battery is sufficient.
Our Top 3 Security Guard Phones
Our review is not exhaustive, not every phone has been used by our customers. However, it is based on feedback, which we consider far more helpful than a simple bench test. Here are our top three security guard phones.
#1. Samsung Galaxy XCover 5
- Screen size: 5.3 inches
- Battery: 2920 mAh (replaceable)
- Cost: £200 approximately
- Reason to Buy: Great Value
The Samsung Galaxy XCover receives many updates. For example, it’s now onto its fifth iteration. The XCover 5 supersedes the XCover 4s. It carries Android 11 and is ready to move to version 12 of Android.
Its screen size is big enough for people with even the largest hands. It also feels solid, inspiring the security guard’s confidence in the device. The rear cover can be removed to allow for a replacement battery to be added.
Add the Spigen case to the XCover 5 and you have a phone that can withstand poor weather and poor handling.
#2 Samsung Galaxy XCover Pro
- Screen size: 6.3 inches
- Battery: 4050 mAh (replaceable)
- Cost: £400 approximately
- Reason to Buy: Enterprise grade rugged phone
The Samsung XCover Pro is the premium version of the 5.
When you spend £400 you have a lot of rugged phone options, such as the Cat S52. However, the XCover Pro plus is our choice because it’s made by the largest phone manufacturer in the world and we’ve received great feedback about it.
What makes the XCover Pro twice the price of the XCover 5? Some things that clearly don’t matter to a security guard (faster processor, better camera) and some things that do: larger battery and bigger screen size.
One big plus for the XCover Pro is you don’t need to combine it with a case: it comes with its own hardened surround that has passed the 1.5 metre drop test.
Is the XCover Pro twice as good as the XCover 5? No. But it’s not far off.
#3 Hytera PDC550
- Screen size: 5 inches
- Battery: Standard 2800 mAh, optional 3500 mAh
- Cost: £700 approximately
- Reason to Buy: It’s an excellent digital radio and an Android phone
The Hytera PDC550 is the first dual bearing radio that has integrated a fully functioning 5 inch Android phone. You can now make radio broadcasts, access the internet or call someone using the mobile phone.
This combination may make phone reviews like this redundant. Most security guards are equipped with digital radios, why give them an additional mobile phone when they can have one device that fulfills both functions?
We’ve received excellent feedback about the both the phone and the radio. The phone has NFC and it’s housed in the usual toughened surround you’d expect of a radio (IP68). The manufacturer is already very well established in the radio market.
One possible fly in the ointment could be the mismatch between the phone and radio lifespans. Radios usually have a shelf life of 7+ years, but would the phone be safe to use after 3 years? One solution may be around the way organisations procure their radios. Most hire rather than buy their radios, meaning they could schedule a replacement device every three years.
Although the PDC550 is expensive compared to the Samsung options it represents a real jump forward for security guards who could now have an authorised portal to the internet, without the additional cost of a phone.
Regardless of the security guard phone you choose, the below tips should be helpful.
When should I Budget to Replace a Phone?
You should budget to replace a phone at least every three years because:
- Wear and tear
- Android won’t promise to update a phone’s security after it’s three years old
Below are our preferences for setting-up a smartphone for security guards:
- Screen Display: Set screen display to maximum to help a security guard view the screen in direct sunlight. Turn off face detection, it’s too unreliable.
- NFC: Switch on
- Screen time out: Leave the screen to timeout as long as possible. A phone that goes to sleep after 10 seconds annoys any user.
- Screen swivel: Fix to portrait and don’t allow it to swivel, life is simpler that way
- Notification vibrate and sound: Allow the phone to vibrate and if it doesn’t annoy other people switch on the sound notification.This feedback helps confirm to the security officer their action has been successful.
Information Security Tips
Many organisations are concerned about a phone’s information security risk. As mentioned above, getting a new phone every three years is recommended. Additionally lots of people will opt to place control management software on their phones. This option offers:
- Control over a user’s ability to access a phone’s apps, such as YouTube.
- The capacity to stop a user downloading material or apps from the internet.
- The ability to remotely lock the phone and wipe the phone’s data.
Popular control management software solutions such as VMware provide all these options but it’s not free.
There are free apps out there to download, such as AppLock, but these offer only basic control over a phone.
A feature phone is a mobile phone that retains the form factor of earlier-generation phones, with button-based input and a small display.