When Land Rover allowed its brand to be used on a smartphone, was it just a gimmick?
The brand is iconic, but does it work on a phone? That is the first question most Land Rover drivers and fans ask when they hear about the Land Rover Explore “outdoor phone”.
Even if it is a great phone, does it make sense both as a brand extension and as an accessory to the vehicle?
The best way to test the phone is, of course, in the natural habitat of the vehicle, namely the great outdoors. It so happens that Land Rover also launched its most high-tech vehicle yet, the new Discovery, in South Africa in the past year.
And it turns out the two – the phone and vehicle – make a beautiful pair.
It helps that the vehicle comes with a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot, as long as the owner inserts an appropriate SIM card in the vehicle. It is also a forerunner to self-driving cars of the future, but with a neat off-road twist: the new Discovery comes with a feature called All-Terrain Progress Control (ATPC), which allows the driver to hand control over to the vehicle when the terrain is particularly difficult.
The driver steers, but ATPC takes over all other functions, maintaining vehicle speed, managing braking and applying torque to each wheel for maximum traction.
In this way, it automatically optimises all vehicle control activities related to getting over the terrain in question. In future, such abilities will extend to steering as well, and suddenly that doesn’t seem to be such a great leap.
On a regular road, as with most advanced vehicles today, Land Rover’s Autonomous Emergency Braking system spots potential collisions and applies brakes automatically if an accident is anticipated. In short, a smart car.
Other advanced features include Active Lane Control and Adaptive Cruise Control, both predecessors to the full autonomy that self-driving cars will have in the future. But Land Rover adds its typical edge to such feature sets, with Hill-Start Assist and Gradient Acceleration Control reminding one that the vehicle is designed for more than just the regular tar road.
Does that mean the phone also comes into its own off-the-beaten track? Without question.
The design is the first clue. A rubberised back and rugged edging establish its credentials for both outdoor use and active users. Ridges on the back suggest the roof of a vehicle, while the Land Rover logo and a rear camera housing that echoes the classic headlamp design all speak to the Land Rover design heritage and a phone inspired by a car.
The cherry on top, or rather the design at the bottom of the phone front, is a speaker grill based on the design of the grill in the front of the Land Rover itself. With this final ingredient, the phone becomes a head turner the way iPhones no longer seem to be.
The most common question asked during the road test of the vehicle and phone, after admiring inspections of the vehicle, was, “What phone is that?”
Well, that’s the phone that includes an “outdoor dashboard” for instant weather and sensor information, and Land Rover’s own InControl apps for integration with the vehicle. The 5-inch screen is optimised for reading in sunlight and allows wet finger control. It worked perfectly while testing the phone in the light rain that fell over the Magaliesberg mountains during the test drive.
The feature also allows the touch screen to be used while one is wearing gloves. The phone is IP68 water and dust resistant, which came in useful when it had to be retrieved from a pond during creative camera tests.
It comes with an optional “adventure pack”, a GPS module that provides precise location details in the wilds, so far off the beaten tracks that no Google or Waze maps can guide one.
Unlike “assisted GPS” on smartphones, it still operates when the phone is not connected to the network or data. The pack includes additional battery power, allowing more than a full day’s use of the phone with continual GPS activity.
One of the coolest aspects of the adventure pack is that it attaches tightly to magnetic clips on the back of the phone, so that the two become one – and instantly activates adventure pack software and functionality on the phone.
The very coolest function of all, however, is not one that you will find in the specs. Thanks to the magnetic clips on the back of the phone, it can be attached tightly to the side of the Land Rover Discovery itself. Call it an undocumented feature, or one not recommended by the manufacturers of either phone or vehicle, but it symbolises the perfect coming together of the two.
Key specs of the Land Rover Explore phone
- 4 000mAh battery, plus add-on battery packs;
- IP68 splash, water and dust resistance;
- Drop-proof to 1.8m with factory-fitted screen protector;
- Premium grade, detailed off-road topographical mapping options
from ViewRanger with Augmented Reality Skyline feature;
- Customisable Outdoor Dashboard to access weather information,
sensor data, and on-device tools for weather, wind, tides,
compass, SOS light, and etcetera;
- Android ‘Nougat’, with scheduled upgrade to ‘Oreo’;
- 4GB RAM and 64GB ROM, expandable via microSD;
- Deca-core 2.6GHz 64 bit MTK Helio X27 chipset with Dual SIM
- 16 MP rear camera, 8MP front camera, 4 x digital zoom;
- Bright five-inch FHD display, Corning Gorilla Glass 5 protected,
optimised for outdoor use;
- Touchscreen can be controlled with gloves on or with wet fingers;
- Night red filter mode reduces screen glare, preserving natural
vision in low light and at night;
- LTE Cat 6; and
- Curated apps and content catalogue relevant to outdoor pursuits.
Adventure Pack specifications
- 3 600mAh additional battery;
- 25 x 25mm Ceramic Patch GPS antenna;
- TPU protective case;
- Stainless steel carabiner with canvas strap; and
- IP68 and 1.8m drop tested