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Hands-on review: Aspera R9

01 Feb 2021

Aspera produces cheap, no-nonsense Android phones for the A/NZ market. It’s something that they do very well, offering very good value products, if a bit plasticky and feature-limited.
I was expecting the same of the Aspera R9. 

The R9 is touted as a rugged, waterproof, shockproof mobile phone. It certainly looks the part. The chunky phone with its rubber and alloy chassis, complete with orange trim, wouldn’t look out of place in a toolbox.

The Aspera phones I’ve used in the past, as good value as they are, felt like they would shatter like an eggshell before even hitting the ground. Hence, I was sceptical regarding the R9. But all that changed as soon as I picked the device up out of the box.

The phone feels weighty and robust in the hand and certainly looks as if it can take some knocks. The screen has a hollow plastic feel when tapped, so I’d say a decent screen protector would still be in order. On the whole, though, I’d be more confident taking it out on a worksite that I would my Huawei phone. And, of course, it looks the part. 

The Aspera R9 is IP69 rated. The IP stands for “ingress protection”, the “6” means it is dust-tight and the 9 means that the R9 is not only waterproof but can withstand and high-pressure, high-temperature water jet. I’d not suggest you test it in a jet-wash, but certainly, you can drop it in water and get away with it. 

Rugged looks and robust construction, aside, the actual phone, itself, isn’t at all bad either. Being mindful that this is a phone the screams function over form, it’s a meat and potatoes device.

It’s equipped with a Quad-core 2Ghz Mediatek Helio A22 processor. Whilst this CPU is OK for general smartphone apps, apart from the most rudimentary distractions, it’s not really for gaming.  The phone does have 26GB of usable onboard storage expandable by up to 128GB via microSD card, so there’s plenty of room for your photos.

The 13MP rear camera and the 5MP front-facing camera both produce good results. The phone lacks some of the premium photo features but includes video, short video, portrait (with background blur) as well as regular photos. The resolution can be set from 2MP all the way up to 13MP with a few different image aspect options. 

The 5.45 HD+ IPS display is vibrant with a reasonable response time. Video playback is smooth and clear and not at all muddy. The digitizer is responsive and with optional haptic feedback.      

The 5000mAh battery is sealed in the phone, which is not surprising considering the device's IP69 rating. This does give the phone a finite life, not unlike most mobiles these days. But, how long it’ll last very much depends on the quality of the battery used. There are a few tiny stardrive screws on the side that may grant access to the innards.

As with the other phones in the Aspera range, the packaging is rudimentary at best. The box looks like it was designed by year one design students. To be honest, though, I’d sooner they spent their cash on a decent bit of kit rather than a box I’m going to hiding in a drawer. 

The phone comes with a manual, if you like that sort of thing, that explains the basics and how to access the SIM tray. The package also comes with a USB charge cable, a 240v plug adapter, and a set of wired earbuds and mic. There’s a tiny tool for accessing the SIM/SD Card tray.

The R9 supports either dual SIMs or a single SIM and an SD Card up to 128MB seated in a robust metal tray. The tray is accessed from the side, covered with a rubber plug. Both the headphone and USB ports are similarly protected.

When I’m not writing about technology, I dabble in a bit of civil engineering. This is an Aspera that I’d, personally, want to take out on a construction site, be it whilst carrying out some UAV work, for comms with the team, or taking reference as-built photographs. Drop it in a muddy puddle and I’m going to be able to just pick it up and wipe it off.

At AUD$279, or around NZD$330, the Aspera R9 is an excellent phone for folks working outdoors or in hazardous environments that would damage the comparatively effete Apple and Samsung phones. Whilst not indestructible, Aspera has created a device with all the functions you need in a form that suits the worksite.