Dewalt MD501 review – tough as nails

Manny Pham
July 19, 2016

[highlight color=#336699 ]Introduction[/highlight]



The Dewalt MD501 is a solid rugged handset that looks quite out of place in our phone collection. It’s a hard as nails device capable of 2 metre drops onto a slab of concrete, but is it worthy of your attention?

Unless you’re reading this review wearing a hard hat and a tool belt, the answer in short is no. It’s a ruggedised smartphone Dewalt designed with a construction site in mind. Not exclusively for the construction site though, any tradesman would find the MD501’s MIL-STD 810G rating useful; electricians, plumbers etc.

Dewalt are a power tools manufacturer, who like rivalling companies are going for the tradesman niche with their very own smartphone. Ruggedised handsets are expected to be able to take a beating, rivalling devices also boast the same MIL-STD 810G rating and IP68 waterproofing. But just like other rugged handsets the MD501 sacrifices raw processing power, camera capabilities, basic general features that the average Joe would look for in a new Android device.

It is by definition a smartphone, with modern features you’d see on the Galaxy S7 or HTC 10, albeit outdated. What it can do better than the aforementioned is take a severe beating, as we found out in our thorough tests. If you’re looking for a right hand man on your tool belt, read on for details of how we sadistically tortured a smartphone. There was no safe word.

Technical Details

OS Android 5.1.1 Lollipop
Processor MediaTek MT6735
Screen 5.0-inches
Resolution 1280 x 720 (293 pixels-per-inch)
Memory 2GB RAM
Storage 16GB
Micro SD compatible Yes, up to 64GB
Rear camera 13MP
Front camera 5MP
Video 720p
Connectivity WiFi, 4G, Bluetooth
Dimensions 156 x 82 x 14 mm
Weight 245g
Battery 3,950 mAh

[highlight color=#336699 ]Design and Ruggedisation[/highlight]



Dewalt partnered with known rugged handset manufacturer, Global Mobile Communications, to create the MD501. It honestly looks like Dewalt gave them one of their power tools as a blueprint and told them to get on with it, followed by a grunt. 

All rugged handsets look practically the same, rubberised with a few open screws tighten on. The MD501 doesn’t set the world alight in terms of aesthetics, nor is it trying/have to. What’s obviously being done here is strengthening of the fundamentals without driving the cost sky high. Imagine if James Bond could infiltrate an underwater lair with his iPhone 6s in tow, then put it in his wet sock to nunchacku a few grunts. It’d be bloody expensive!

The MD150 will stick out a sore thumb in the pub, its industrious design would be not out of place in a tool box though, it actually looks like it was chiseled from a Dewalt toolbox.




Any rugged handset worth their salt would create their device with ergonomics in mind. Dewalt has the design down nicely with excellent button placements. Power button is directly under your thumb and considerately there is a dedicated yellow contact button to make calls on the fly. Android fans often moan about Samsung devices placing the undo button on the right side of the screen, but it makes sense here for those that need to quickly scroll through the interface (it’s also pretty good on the S7).

A dedicated camera button is located on the bottom right side, extremely handy for taking pictures of dodgy installations or your dog doing something extra special.




On the back is a screw fitted back plate, protecting the dual-SIM and microSD slot from the elements. There’s a sense of security when screwing the backplate on to the device, maybe the bold IP-68 rating aids in my peace of mind.

Standardised Ruggedisation test

With the IP-68 rating you can expect the MD501 to be completely waterproof, capable of being submerged under two metres of water for 30 minutes. Better than the S7, which can handle only 1.5 metres submerged in water. Dustproofing also comes with the IP-68 labelling, but unlike the S7 where Samsung innovated to not rely on annoying flaps, the MD501 has them to cover the micro-USB port and headphone jack. The flaps proved to be problematic to remove when wearing thick gloves.

That being said the flaps did the job in keeping everything water tight, when submerged in a bath tub for thirty minutes. Survivability is also seen temperatures ranging from -20C to 60C,


It would be insanely criminal for us to not push a device such as the MD501 to its limits, and test bold claims. First off, the grimace inducing drop test. The preliminary pocket drop was nothing compared to everything else after (not even a scratch from the pocket drop if you really wanted to know).

Dewalt claimed its new device is capable of drops from two metres, so we got What Mobile’s very own pet giraffe and senior reporter, Tom Wellburn, to take it to near Icarus heights. Screen facing the floor it was dropped only to come off with just a few scuffs, screen intact.

Up next is the wall test. Where we proceeded to smash it against the wall. Repeatedly. Battle scars appeared but the it comes out a champion, still functioning with no dead pixels on screen. Its quite a hefty device weighing in at 245g, not one to nonchalantly throw to your mate for a call. The majority of the device is take up by padding to absorb shock damage. Not recommended for skinny jeans unless you want people to ask whether you’re happy to see them.

It’s a beast of a phone that can take a beating, exactly what you need in a rugged device. The only criticism is Dewalt not offering anything ground breaking, especially with the Cat S60 offering rugged capabilities with a thermal imaging camera to boot.

[highlight color=#336699 ]Camera[/highlight]



You won’t really be using the MD501 for happy days in the park or Snapchatting your mate’s terrible eating habits. Not just because it’s a hefty device but the camera is on the average side. It is a sacrifice so many rugged handset manufacturers make to keep costs down.

Picture quality is average at best with some pixelation present, if you’re comparing the 13-megapixel camera to the snappers on the HTC 10 and LG G5.



It’s only average when you mess around with the manual mode enough. On automatic pictures tend to be overexposed, especially unable to deal with sunny days with natural lighting all around (strange). Overall its an average to below average camera that requires attention to take a decent picture. By rugged handset standards its a good camera, to mainstream standards its quite poor.


dewalt md501


[highlight color=#336699 ]Screen[/highlight]



The display is only a 720p panel, a far cry from the 2K standard we’re used to on current generation flagships such as the HTC 10 and LG G5. But we’re not here for how pretty things look on screen, we want to know whether the display can take 12 rounds with Mike Tyson in his prime.

It’s strange to see a new device that prides itself on being rugged to not sport the latest and greatest, Gorilla Glass 4. Instead we get Gorilla Glass 3 which does the business in remaining intact despite going through the What Mobile torture trials.

You won’t find any OLED or LCD display here, instead Dewalt went for a rather unused screen technology from HP called BrightView. BrightView is usually found on laptops, HP laptops mostly, and they have a reputation with being in direct sunlight. The reputation is not a good one, as we found out in our one week of summer. Viewing angles are pretty poor out in the light, but expectedly great indoors due to the glossy nature of BrightView.

[highlight color=#336699 ]Performance[/highlight]



Rugged handsets don’t need powerful processors to run the show and provide necessary communication features that are asked of them. Standard tasks like opening apps, taking pictures and browsing the Internet is done easily with no stutter or lag. Powering the MD501 is the 1.3 GHz, quad-core MediaTek MT6735. A chipset that trumps the Snapdragon 410, but remains comfortably in the low end of general processing power.

Quad-core processors such as the MT6735 and the Snapdragon 400 series are widely used in rugged handsets. The Tuff T450 sports a Snapdragon 400 and the RugGear RG600 has the slightly less powerful MT6582. The MD501 has a slight power advantage of its competition, well that is until the Cat S60 comes out using the Snapdragon 617.

The dual-SIM comes quite in handy when needing to balance work and personal life. Once lunch time hits you won’t really want to pull out your expensive iPhone 6s in dangerous conditions. Instead you can bring down the settings menu to switch to your personal SIM to make phone calls and use data for Facebook.

It’s imperative for a rugged device to be loud and clear, especially in noise polluted construction sites and houses under renovation. The MD501 excels with phone calls, with clear as day call quality, if Dave puts ketchup on your bacon roll it won’t be the MD501’s fault, and you’ll be well within your rights to banter him.

A sizeable 3,950 mAh battery is present so you don’t have to worry about being caught short on the job. The MD501 runs Android Lollipop 5.1 so general won’t drain too much battery. We woke up to at least 40% of battery life, even after a day’s use previously. It would be nice to have the battery savingDoze mode, which comes in Android Marshmallow 6.0, read on for developments on that.

Pre-installed is as mentioned Android Lollipop 5.1, so if you’re used to the soft marshmallow goodness of Android 6.0 Marshmallow you’re in for a throwback. The multitasking button is not a multitasking button in Lollipop, instead it opens up the option to change wallpapers and add widgets. Instead multitasking is hidden in the home button, activated by holding it down.

Don’t fret too much on this as Dewalt assured as they are hard at work to bring Marshmallow to the MD501, currently working out kinks and glitches, to release it in an OTA (over-the-air) update.

Dewalt refrained from adding their own Android skin, instead keeping the MD501 to a near stock Android experience, always a massive plus. The expected bloatware is present unnecessary apps aren’t too heavy in numbers. The RugGear (also manufactured by Global Mobile Communications) Assistant app is present offering quick access to the flashlight and compass, but more importantly offers Mandowndetection and MorseCode. The latter apps are to help those trapped or in danger in the event of a tragedy.


[highlight color=#336699 ]Conclusion[/highlight]



Whether you should buy the Dewalt MD501 solely depends on you and your trade. Even if you’re the clumsiest person since Inspector Closeau, a standard Android or iOS device will serve you fine. Just get an extra special case with it.

As a rugged device the MD501 is an excellent device at £450, that will survive all that you can throw at it, but aside from there’s not much to differentiate it from other rugged smartphones. Dewalt stated a need from professional tradesman for an Android device with high performance, when launching the MD501. But they face the risk of being eclipsed by the more powerful, thermal camera wielding Cat S60.

To reiterate its an excellent device that will serve as a trusty right hand man for high stressed situations, easily making the daily grind more bearable.

You can pick up the Dewalt MD501 right now at certain retailers for about £449.99.


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