The #DigitalSkeptic Guide To Mobile Gadgets that Won't Break on You

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- If Mr. Information Age and I ever do a face-to-face, I'm going to ask him exactly this: What is up with all the %^$&*#! failing? I'm not talking about the honest, big-time, systemic failure: Say, the Microsoft ( MSFT) Bob or the Apple ( AAPL) Newton or the Internet itself.

But what gives with the otherwise reasonably engineered gadget that, oh sorry, just flat out stops working? Like my demo Samsung Galaxy Note, which I loved until it cracked. Or my assistant's iPhone, which both shattered its screen and crashed. Or my wife's Motorola ( GOOG) Droid, which ground to a halt not once, not twice, but three times over three separate units.

The thing is, it's not like every digital thing breaks. Plenty of gizmos have chugged along just fine standing up to a skeptic's bashing, crashing and dropping, and as investors head off for some much needed August R&R, here are those that have made the grade here.

Big note: Read it and weep, Apple fanboys, but it's been a bad six months for Cupertino here in Blumworld. No Apple technology is truly tough enough these days.

The list starts here:

Kyocera ( KYO) Hydro XTRM waterproof smartphone ( $29 with a two year plan, U.S. Cellular)

There may be other ways to get a legit, rugged, water- and shock-proof phone into your life. Casio, Samsung and others most definitely make such devices. But the Kyocera Hydro line is the category winner for low cost, ease of use and minimal bulk. Hardcore, ruggedized device nerds will sniff at the Hydro; it's far from truly tip-top tough. Drop or drown it enough and it does break. And mainstream users will miss high-end features such as bigger processors and a slick camera -- not to mention the fact the Hydro gets physically hot in your pocket under some conditions. But your $30 can't buy a better tough phone.

Inside tip: U.S. Cellular offers reasonable voice and data service for this device.

BlackBerry ( RIMM) Z10 ($99 with a two year contract at AT&T ( T))

The poor BlackBerry Z10. It gets hammered for its design. It gets hammered for its operating system. It gets hammered for getting hammered. Then it turns out the upside here is that it's the durable mobile device for the everyman. With no additional protective case, this rubberized, moderately reinforced smartphone is a survivor among mainstream devices. I literally forgot it in the front pocket of my daily carry bag for months, where it was rained on, smashed, loaded into overseas stowed luggage and soaked by some unexpected Venetian aqua alta (or high tide). For a nominally normal, nonruggedized device, this is one tough phone.

If you can deal with the BlackBerry OS experience and limited apps, for a phone of this size and performance -- and that includes models such as the iPhone 5 -- this is absolutely the phone to get if durability is a factor.

HTC One, unlocked ($599, without a service plan)

Not only is the One jammed with luscious large-smartphone features, including simply awesome imaging, excellent music and media oomph and a screen we can actually read; it's crafted out of a solid full-metal case with a scratch-resistant screen. Please(!), do not plan on hammering the One -- it's nowhere near as durable as, say, the Kyocera. But it has just enough guts to change the calculus of where you dare tote a device of this complexity. That makes it ideal for global travel.

For sure, $600 is a lot of money for a smartphone. But go try it at the Sprint ( S) or T-Mobile store and you'll realize this is a durable small tablet computer that is ideal for real-world business trips.

Sony ( SNE) Bluetooth Wireless Speaker ($199)

As strange as the Sony Bluetooth Wireless Speaker looks, it is the clear sleeper in durable portable devices. The thing showed up in the shop, geez, four months ago to a chorus of mockery. After all, in this age of the ear bud who on earth is going to spend $199 to lug around a nearly four-pound(!) speaker just to hear some iPhone tracks? Well, let me tell you something: It turns out I would.

Not only is having a high-quality speaker the way to make friends on the road; the unit is basically a giant battery that adds life to anything it touches. And talk about tough. It held up to everything from mission work in New Orleans to a rainy summer in suburban New York to gigging here in the fog on the coast of Maine. For sure the sound quality, while solid, is not truly first-rate, and you'll face some strange moments pairing some devices. But overall, for a speaker you can truly hammer on the go, the Sony Bluetooth Wireless is the pick.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Active ($199, with a two-year contract from AT&T)

With all the Samsung bashing going on, I had to mention that the company does offer a reasonably durable smartphone called the S4 Active, and overall there's a lot to like. It's moderately splash- and rain-proof, it can hold up against some dust and I liked the screw-in back plate design and Gorilla Glass screen. It would be the fastest waste of $199 to mistake this device for a truly rugged mobile tool, though. Do not drop it. Or drown it. Or trash it. The S4 Active is at most the "Oops, it fell in a damp sink" kind of waterproof. But for those who can't stand compromising on features and need a legit smartphone that is also reasonably more durable than the average device, the S4 Active is worth a look.

Toshiba Portege Z930 (Starts at $749)

Between the demise of the PC and the density of competition, Toshiba gets about zero geek love these days. So I was stunned to see how well this venerable line of thin computers held up. The Portege is one heck of a solid machine for basic business use. This poor demo Portege was dropped, baked, doused, X-rayed, stepped on and -- I kid you not -- sat on for easily a week. (I have a big couch.) I did finally the break the screen in a battle with a table leg.

The reason for all this stoutness is obvious: It's made from a solid metal enclosure, has an excellent keyboard, terrific solid-state drives and processors and excellent overall attention to detail. Remember, this unit is probably the least Windows 8-friendly PC on the market. Apple users will also miss many features. But if you want a portable PC that can take a beating, this is my absolute pick.
This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.

If you liked this article you might like

Who's Next? 4 Cash-Rich Names With 'Net' Positives

Who's Next? 4 Cash-Rich Names With 'Net' Positives

Do You Own One of These 5 'Toxic Stocks'?

Do You Own One of These 5 'Toxic Stocks'?

These 5 Stocks Are About to Turn Toxic

These 5 Stocks Are About to Turn Toxic

Kyocera (KYO) Downgraded From Buy to Hold

Kyocera (KYO) Downgraded From Buy to Hold

Kyocera (KYO) Upgraded From Hold to Buy

Kyocera (KYO) Upgraded From Hold to Buy