AGM H3 review: rugged smartphone with night vision camera

By: Nickolay Polovinkin | 11.05.2023, 22:53
AGM H3 review: rugged smartphone with night vision camera

A smartphone with a night vision camera is a gimmick in and of itself, and even more so for two hundred dollars. What's the catch? Of course, the camera itself is not a thermal imager, but a simple IR illuminator (which is no less rare in smartphones). Otherwise, the AGM H3 looks like a typical rugged budget phone. Well-protected: in addition to the already quite popular in smartphones protection level IP68, it meets IP69K and MIL-STD-810H. That said, it's a bit of a budget-friendly affair, with a 5.7-inch HD display, a tiny MTK6762 processor and the only bundle with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. If you need an inexpensive but sturdy smartphone with the ability to shoot in total darkness (albeit cloudy and monochrome), then it is safe to take. If you are looking for a secure "battery phone", it is not here, well, if in doubt, then read on, I will tell you everything in detail. 

3 reasons to buy AGM H3:

  • strong protection against drops, dust and moisture, including hot water jets;
  • unusual night camera with IR-illumination;
  • NFC and memory card support.

3 reasons not to buy AGM H3:

  • you in principle do not need such a secure device;
  • you need a more powerful smartphone;
  • there are serious requirements for the main camera. 

What's in the box?

Wait, let me say about the box itself. It makes most smartphone packaging look delicate and glamorous, and the box itself is a paragon of brutality: thick rough cardboard, simple design. The smartphone comes with a charger, a cable, an adapter from USB-C to headphones and a paper clip for removing the tray. The waste paper in the kit is minimal, very Spartan. The bundled case? Don't be ridiculous, this smartphone doesn't need any case (yet they exist). But a simple protective film on the screen still glued.

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What does it look like?

Oh yes, in contrast to the typical modern smartphones, painted like a copy, here there is something to look at. The front panel of the AGM H3 is done in the spirit of the "pre-Disarmo" days, with a large speaker grill taking up space below the screen and an old-school bezel containing the talkback speaker, front-facing camera and sensors can be seen at the top. 

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The frame around the perimeter of the case is covered with a resilient polymer material, designed to do a good job of absorbing energy from the impact of a fall. The frame itself protrudes slightly above the display, so that in a fall "on the face" the glass will not touch the surface (if it, of course, turns out to be flat). The corners are equipped with additional protectors - such are found in protective cases for ordinary smartphones, but here they are built into the case.

On the left side of the frame there is a separate orange button (one of the actions can be assigned to it, I will tell you further), the USB-C port covered with a rubber cover and a SIM-card slot. On the right side of the smartphone there are a power button and a dual volume control button. All the buttons are plastic and press with a pleasant force and a clear click. 

The main element of the back panel is a round block with cameras. All of them are covered by the common glass, the frame around its perimeter also protrudes slightly above the surface. There are three cameras, complemented by an LED flash for symmetry. Between the cameras and the logo there is a fingerprint scanner. Part of the surface of the back panel is covered with a matte plastic (absolutely non-brilliant), and part - an unusual grooved texture. Apparently, to resist the slip of the device in the hand. It really holds up well and is pleasant to the touch. The orange stripes in the tone of the button and the bezel of the camera unit play a decorative role and make the smartphone more noticeable. If it falls in the dirt, for example.

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How good is the screen?

Let's just say that the display is not the strongest point of this device. At a diagonal of 5.7 inches, the IPS screen has a resolution of only 1440x720, no color adjustments are provided. In the interface there is an option to turn on the "night backlight" (blue spectrum filter), both manually and on a schedule. True, this function cuts the blue part of the spectrum so actively that the screen gives off red, and the low refresh rate becomes especially noticeable when scrolling text. There is a light sensor and the corresponding mode of automatic brightness adjustment. The brightness itself is quite enough, its maximum level is high enough to work in bright light, and the minimum is comfortable for reading in the dark. 

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What about performance, memory, sound and battery life?

The AGM H3 is based on the Mediatek Helio P22 platform. It's a 12nm chip from three years ago with four Cortex-A53 cores running at up to 2GHz and four more at 1.5GHz. It's been seen a lot in secure smartphones over the past couple of years, but just so you understand the level of performance, one of the first Helio P22-powered devices was the Redmi 6 in 2018. The AGM H3, however, is fast enough. If to the performance of some "armored cars" on the same MT6750 were serious complaints, with MT6762 the situation is better, the video processor PowerVR GE8320 allows you to play simple toys without obvious brakes. In tests the results are predictably low, but such devices are not bought to measure the records in benchmarks. In contrast to the low performance on the scene comes the high stability: the smartphone is almost not heated during operation, CPU frequency is not cut by trattling and does not fall below 94%. 

About memory options I have already mentioned, only one is available, with 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage. There is a memory card slot, but it's hybrid, meaning it uses either a microSD card or a second SIM card.

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The smartphone's communication capabilities haven't gone far from 2018 either, although there haven't been many new additions in this area since then. Here we have 4G/LTE, dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11ac and Bluetooth 5.0, there is GPS, GLONASS and BDS, the presence of NFC is pleasing. There is no headphone jack, it is atypical for budget smartphones, but logical for a device with water protection: the fewer holes, the better. It is funny that the smartphone has FM-radio, which, when turned on, requires you to plug in your headphones to use them as an antenna. Using a USB adapter does not solve the problem. However, this bug has been affecting this type of smartphones year after year.  

The battery in the AGM H3 has a capacity of 5400 mAh. This is not a huge "batteryophone", but it can charge other gadgets. For this you can use any suitable adapter, but in the kit there is no such. As for the autonomy of the smartphone itself, it can not be called a record, despite the low performance. But the device is relatively thin and light. Of course, if you compare it with other models of this class, but not with simple smartphones with no claims for protection. 

Separately, we should talk about the protection of the body. Standard IP68 is not uncommon in smartphones, and in the similar AGM H3 "working" models so ubiquitous. It provides full protection against dust and can be submerged into water to a depth of one meter for not more than 30 minutes. We know that, so it's no surprise, so manufacturers go further. Our hero today boasts IP69K protection, that is, against powerful jets of hot water. Look, this is probably the perfect smartphone for a plumber who has to face such challenges more often than mere mortals. In addition, the smartphone has passed MIL-STD-810H certification. This is the latest revision of the popular U.S. military industry standard, and includes testing for high and low temperatures, temperature shock, humidity, rain and salt spray conditions. 

What's up with the firmware and interface?

The AGM H3 runs Android 11 with a shell... um, not sure what it's called, but something very similar is found on many Chinese devices of this plan. Everything is quite simple and utilitarian, there is nothing unnecessary, but you should not look for any advanced features either. Installed applications are available in the general panel that opens with a swipe from the bottom, if you want you can arrange them on a desktop and group them into folders. 

There is a function to customize the orange side button. By default it brings up the camera, but you can reprogram it to bring up the music player, the pre-installed Zello app or turn on the flashlight. In the latter case, the button needs to be pressed and held, so there should be no false positives. The hardware buttons are very relevant for a smartphone of this type. In my opinion, the most practically useful purpose of the additional button can be the flashlight, because this way you can turn it on by touch, in rough gloves or with wet hands. 

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By the way, besides Zello on the smartphone by default there is only a compass, radio (not working without headphones) SIM-card manager and the standard package of Google applications, there is not even its own media gallery. A feast for fans of minimalism.

To unlock the device, there is a fast and high-quality fingerprint scanner located on the back of the case. Alternatively, face recognition by the front-facing camera, as in most modern smartphones.

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What's the deal with the camera?

The camera is one of the most interesting features of the AGM H3. And what interests us in the first place is not the main 12-megapixel module, but an unusual night vision camera equipped with infrared illumination and a 13-megapixel sensor. These are complemented by a 2-megapixel macro camera. 

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Now let's take a closer look at each one, but first let's examine the interface of the shooting app. It is quite ascetic, on the main screen there are photo, video, portrait and short video modes. There are photo filters for both the main camera and the front camera, as well as quite a lot of small settings in a separate menu. 

The main 12-megapixel sensor shows typical results for its class. In sufficient light it turns out quite good. In more difficult conditions it is more difficult for the camera, the automatic control does not cope well with backlighting, not even HDR can save. When shooting from a short distance the blurring of the background is noticeable.

At night time all the deformities of budget cameras are apparent, the noise and slow shutter speeds do their work. The examples below have watermarks on some photos. Don't be alarmed, they are switchable, but are enabled by default and turned off by the non-obvious "water capture" toggle switch, so I did not pay attention to it right away and left watermarks on many test shots.

In the absence of a wide-angle camera the zoom capabilities are quite modest, with software zoom available from 1x to 4x. And rightly so, because there is no sense in a bigger zoom with a picture like this. In the settings you can switch on stabilization, but it is, of course, electronic and does not radically affect the possibilities of taking pictures.

Now the most interesting - the night camera. Once again, let me clarify: it is not a thermal imaging camera, as in CAT S60, but simply infrared illumination, which can be seen in CCTV cameras. In sufficient light, this camera shoots at any distance, the result is similar to an ordinary picture, to which an interesting black and white filter has been applied. Full functionality is revealed in complete darkness: the camera sees everything that others don't, but only within the illumination range, which is 2-3 meters from the lens. The image, despite the 13-megapixel sensor, is not detailed enough, moreover, this camera has no autofocus. In the gallery below you can see a pair of pictures taken by the main and night cameras under the same conditions.

The chip is interesting and unique despite its simplicity. Another question is why do you need it? Even in complete darkness you can shoot with flash, and the image will be color and better quality. Covert photography? Not an argument either, because bright red LEDs will noticeably embarrass your camera. You can choose a kind of intermediate option: such a camera is good for low-visibility shooting in complete darkness. Not to scare the wild animals or wake up a baby. Feel free to post your own ideas in the comments about how to use such a camera.

Now, we still have a macro camera left. It has two megapixels and can focus from a distance of about three centimeters. It's not bad for its parameters, but it requires very good lighting. And the resolution, you know.

AGM H3 is able to shoot video only at the speed of 30 fps, the maximum resolution is FullHD. In the settings you can set and lower resolution: HD (1280x720), VGA (640x480) and even CIF (352x288). The last two options look quite exotic in a modern smartphone. Video shooting is possible both with the main module, and the night, and even macro camera. In all modes, except macro, a fourfold digital zoom is available.

The front camera is 8-megapixel, and otherwise its features and settings are the same as in the main camera. The video can also be shot in resolution up to FullHD, there is no frame rate control.

In a nutshell

AGM H3 would be a fairly typical "armored phone", if not for a unique chip with a night camera. Albeit controversial from a practical point of view, it is unusual and has no adequate replacement in conventional smartphones. If you need it, then take and don't sweat the competition. But if we start comparing the device with others without taking into account this curious camera, we find, for example, more affordable Doogee S58 with very similar characteristics or Oukitel WP9 c more recent hardware (Helio P60), but still a little cheaper. By the way, AGM has recently presented its flagship Glory model, which in addition to the infrared camera has a full-fledged thermal camera. But for a completely different money. Choose based on your priorities.  

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Three things to know about the smartphone AGM H3

  • this is a robust, dust, moisture and shock-proof smartphone with a 5.7" display;
  • is equipped with a 13MP camera with infrared illumination (plus more regular and macro cameras); 
  • has a modest performance and average battery life. 
Specifications AGM H3
Display LCD, 5.7 inches, 1720x1440 
Body dimensions: 168x78x14.1 mm, weight: 248 g
Processor 64-bit 12nm MediaTek Helio P22, 4x2.0 GHz Cortex-A53 + 4x1.5 GHz Cortex-A53, PowerVR GE8320 graphics
Memory 64GB + microSD (hybrid slot)

Main: 12MP, f/2.8, PDAF;
Night: 13 MP f/2.8 with infrared illumination, no autofocus;
macro: 2 MP, f/2.8;
front: 8 MP f/2.8,
video: 1080p, 720p, VGA, CIF, 30 fps;

Wireless technologies Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac (2.4 and 5 GHz), Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, FM radio (available nominally, but requires a headphone jack, which is not structurally provided) .
Security Rear panel fingerprint scanner
Battery 5000 mAh, non-removable, reverse charging.
Operating system Android 11
SIM card 2xNanoSIM (hybrid slot)

For those who want to know more