A few years ago I spent some time with the Cat S40 rugged smartphone. While at CES in January, I had a chance to see the latest model, Cat S41, and spent the last couple of weeks testing it out with my T-Mobile SIM.
When I head out into the field for work, I make sure to wrap my glass sandwich smartphone in some kind of case and those cases protect it well. However, Cat’s line of phones are designed and built from the ground up to withstand the elements and offer a solid mid-level phone at a reasonable $450 price. In the past, ruggedized phones would often cost twice this much and given flagships are in the $1,000 range this seems like a decent price for those who must have a phone that can be used outside for days on end.
- Processor: MediaTek P20 octa-core 2.3 Ghz
- Display: 5 inch 1920×1080 pixels resolution Gorilla Glass 5
- Operating system: Android 7.1 Nougat
- RAM: 3GB
- Storage: 32GB internal with microSD card slot
- Cameras: 13 megapixel with phase detection auto focus. Front 8 megapixel camera.
- Battery: 5000 mAh with Pump Express 2.0 fast charging with included adapter
- Water resistance: IP68 and MIL-STD 810G shock and drop resistant
- Wireless connectivity: FM radio, 802.11 b/g/n WiFi, NFC, Bluetooth 4.1
- Dimensions: 151.9 x 74.9 x 12.7 mm and 218 grams
Some of the older ruggedized phones and PDAs I used were very bulky, making them tough to carry and use regularly. Cat has done well the past couple of years in slimming down devices while still providing top notch protection. The Cat S41 looks and feels great with the thickness being the primary differentiator over other large smartphones today. Those who need a phone to work in harsh environments understand that some compromises have to be made and Cat does a good job with those in he S41.
After spending at least a year with fingerprint and facial recognition, it’s a bit of a pain to go back to a PIN or password to unlock the S41. There are three hard plastic physical buttons below the five inch display for back, home, and task switcher. The five-inch display is 1080p and looks good and functions well.
The bezels are pretty wide on the S41 with the top and bottom bezels being large to accommodate the buttons and top speaker/camera.
The power and volume buttons are on the right side. The microSD and SIM card slots are on the left side with a programmable copper-colored button midway down the left side. I have it programmed to launch the camera with a single press and the flashlight with a press and hold. You can select from a number of options in the software.
A microUSB port is centered on the bottom with a standard 3.5mm headset jack off to the left side of the top. Both of these ports are covered by small doors when not in use. A rather basic 13-megapixel camera is positioned in the upper left corner of the back. The rest is covered in soft touch material that keeps the S41 from sliding around on a table, cabinet, etc.
The camera isn’t going to help you win photo contests, but in decent lighting outside (which is likely where many use such rugged phones) the S41 fared well. You can check out my Flickr album with shots of Seattle taken by the Cat S41, Apple iPhone X, and Huawei Mate 10 Pro. The Cat S41 isn’t bad at half the price of these other phones.
The Cat S41 runs Android 7.0 with the January 5, 2018 security update currently installed. I don’t know when Android 8.0 Oreo is coming to this phone.
The experience is very much like stock Android with a Google launcher. There are a few Cat apps preinstalled, such as an app toolbox (store front), camera, file browser, and power sharing utility. It’s nothing like what you see on an AT&T phone and it is open to installing whatever you desire.
The power sharing utility lets you plug in an included cable and then power up another device via USB Type-A. You can control how much of your S41 power you want to give up to the other device to still ensure you have enough to get work done.
The phone also has underwater mode, which can be activated via the customizable left side button or quick controls from top, that locks the touch screen and allows you to capture pictures or videos underwater using the volume keys. This is a great feature I would like to see on all of these phones that people use underwater since water often causes inadvertent screen activation on other phones, like the Galaxy S8.
There is also a glove mode in case you are hard at work and still need to use your phone.
The camera app is extremely basic and I imagine you may get better results with the Google camera app. These rugged phones are designed first and foremost to provide solid communications to those working in the field with the camera being rather low on the list of priorities for this audience.
Pricing and competition
There are not many phones that are built for all environments with the primary flagship seen as a Samsung Galaxy Active model that has limited release each year.
The Cat S41 is available now for $450 from the Cat Phones website and comes with a one year warranty. It is a GSM unlocked smartphone with a slower cellular chip limited to 300 Mbps download speeds.
Daily usage experiences and conclusions
I didn’t have a chance to take the S41 to the shipyard yet, but I did take it running with me in the rain and cold. It gives the user peace of mind knowing one can go virtually anywhere and not worry about the safety of a phone.
I’ve never had a phone last as long as the S41, even going more than two days for me and that is unheard of. The battery just seems to keep on going and this would be great for a marine salvage case where I hit the road and don’t know when I will plug into power again to communicate with others.
The Cat S41 rugged smartphone is designed for a particular field worker or adventuresome person and it is not for everyone. It is reasonably priced, especially when compared to today’s flagships, and performs well at the jobs it is designed to complete.
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