Blackview BV9800 Pro Field-Test: Budget Rugged Phone With Thermal Camera


While most smartphones are getting wider and thinner, ruggedized phones are an exception. So if you’re looking for a phone that’ll slip into your hip pocket, Blackview’s new BV9800 Pro ($549.99, with street prices ranging from $470 to $520) isn’t for you. But if you need an Android phone that is about as close to indestructible as you can find, packed full of features that make it great for commercial use and for outdoor recreation alike, it delivers, and for a much lower price than similarly featured competitors (like the CAT S61 smartphone for $999).

Blackview’s BV9800 Pro by the Numbers

For starters, according to Blackview, the phoneSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce is IP68 compliant (you can swim with it), as well as IP69K (it can withstand steam cleaning, although I’m really not sure that’s the best idea) and MIL-STD-810G. You can theoretically drop it from about shoulder height without harm. It uses a midrange Helio P70 octa-core CPU and comes with a reasonably beefy 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, plus a card slot. The massive 6580 mAh battery means you won’t have to scramble for a charger mid-project. The large battery and rugged casing contribute to the phone’s hefty weight of 322 grams.

It runs three positioning systems — GPS, GLONASS, and BEIDOU — so you should be in good shape anywhere in the world. There is also a barometer that is used by the phone’s included Altimeter application. A nicely positioned fingerprint reader sits just below the power button, and the phone’s generous size also allows for a headphone jack. The BV9800 Pro can charge wirelessly at up to 10 watts, or via USB-C, and is dual-SIM capable. The phone runs on Android 9.0, which isn’t too surprising, but also not the latest.

The BlackView 9800 Pro promises impressive battery life

The Blackview 9800 Pro promises impressive battery life.

The 2340 x 1080 6.3-inch display is bright and easy to read. The unit I’ve been testing is all black, but there is also an easier-to-see orange color available. The phone supports NFC, and it has a custom function button on the left side that can be used for push-to-talk or re-programmed to one of a number of shortcuts.

Its High-Resolution and Thermal Cameras Are Where the BV9800 Pro Stands Out

View from Zabriske Point, Death Valley, shot with the FLIR camera on a BlackView 9800 Pro

View from Zabriskie Point, Death Valley, shot with the FLIR camera on a BlackView 9800 Pro

We’re used to seeing 48MP sensors in flagship phones, but having one in a value-priced rugged phone is a great addition to its feature set. The phone’s native camera app comes with a decent Night Shot mode. It also has Beauty and FaceCute, although I’m not sure how much use those will get on a job site. Of even more interest is a built-in FLIR thermal camera. It is lower-resolution (80 x 60) than the one in a dedicated FLIR ONE, but of course, it’s easier to use since it is built-in, and a lot less expensive since you don’t have to purchase an expensive add-on. There is also a 5MP RGB camera to provide the edges and enhance the resolution of the FLIR Lepton thermal sensor.

Badwater Basin (-282 feet) in Death Valley, shot with the FLIR on a BlackView 9800 Pro

Badwater Basin (-282 feet) in Death Valley, shot with the FLIR on a Blackview 9800 Pro.

The same scene shot with the 48MP RGB camera. Note also the wider FOV. Resized to 1920 px for the web

The same scene shot with the 48MP RGB camera. Note also the wider FOV. (Click-through to get 1920 px version resized for the web). You can just about make out the “Sea Level” sign partway up the mountains.

I found the FLIR images competent, although I’m certainly spoiled by my FLIR ONE Pro. In addition to the Blackview having lower resolution, it seems like the edge registration isn’t as accurate as I’m used to with a dedicated FLIR. However, it is still an excellent way to find hot spots, or individuals or animals in the dark. I look forward to trying it out on safari in Africa later this year, as the FLIR ONE has proven useful on night drives. One cautionary note for serious photographers is that I’ve been unable to find a way to capture RAW images with the phone, even using apps like Lightroom. The image processing on the Blackview also isn’t on a par with top-rated smartphone cameras, but images are certainly usable.

Rugged Phone Toolbox Included

Blackview BV9800 Pro ToolboxAs you’d expect for a phone intended for those working outdoors, there is an included Toolbox folder containing useful tools. Most of these duplicate ones you could hunt down yourself, but it’s nice to have them pre-installed and verified to work with the device’s sensors. In particular, it was nice to have easy access to a sound meter app and a decent compass (using the device’s built-in compass). The flashlight is also impressively bright for a smartphone. And of course, a barometer app that also provides altitude is a nice touch given the phone’s built-in air pressure sensor.

Living with the Blackview 9800 Pro

Once you get past the fact that the phone is large and relatively heavy, it fits comfortably in a medium-to-large-size hand and has good balance. I hold phones in my right hand, which places the power button and fingerprint sensor within easy reach of my thumb (I much prefer the fingerprint sensor on the back or side, and not in the display, personally).

I didn’t find the native launcher particularly intuitive, but you can always load your own (I tried Nova Launcher and it worked fine). My biggest disappointment was with the quality of the main (RGB) camera, especially given the 48MP sensor. Blackview makes a big deal out of Night Mode, for example, but it is not as good as either Google’s or Huawei’s. The captured JPEGs also aren’t quite as good as they could be given the high-resolution sensor. Blackview could do a lot to address that by supporting RAW capture, at least in third-party camera apps, but says it has no plans to do so. Then again, it is a $500 phone with a ton of other features, so it isn’t entirely fair to compare image quality to a typical $700+ flagship model. Plus, if you need thermal imaging, the only other smartphone-based solutions will cost you twice as much.

[Image Credit: David Cardinal]

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