When you think of well built and robust phone hardware, CAT probably aren’t a company at the forefront of your mind. You’re probably thinking Samsung, LG, Motorola to name a few but CAT? They’re well known for their heavy machinery, power systems and associated parts so that’s why their phones are focused on users who work in rough and tough environments like tradies and FIFO workers.
It’s easy to look at any phone and immediately try to bracket it based on price and specs, the S61 will confuse anyone that tries to do that because it’s a pretty pricey phone at an RRP of AU$1399.00. It isn’t highly specced, but is massively functional if you’re in their target market.
I can’t emphasise enough that this is a phone that is aimed at users who spend the majority of their time in really harsh environments and would probably destroy standard build phones pretty quickly, even with the assistance of cases like the Life Proof ones that Duncan’s near death experience gave a real life example of recently.
The S61 is a pretty hefty device, rated to withstand impacts directly to concrete from 1.8 meters and sporting Gorilla Glass 5 to add to the – its IP68 rated aluminium frame measures in at 150 x 76 x 13mm and weighs 250 grams which is reasonably hefty compared to other devices of similar screen size. It’s a 5.2-inch screen that runs at 1080 x 1920 resolution, 16 x 9 ratio and 424 ppi – so not too bad in the screen stakes.
The S61 has a huge range of connectivity options that you’d expect from a current generation of mobile device. The highlights are the headphone jack, Bluetooth 5.0 A2DP, NFC, a nice addition is the FM radio (given the tradie target market) and CAT have been smart about this one – USB Type C connector.
The performance based internals are driven by a Snapdragon 630 and Adreno 508 which aren’t the really sharp end of specs, but get the job done. For those that need extra storage, there’s 64GB on board, up to 256GB MicroSD expansion capability and 4GB of RAM. The 4500mAh battery will keep your phone going across a really long day without the need to find power, even if you do – a short burst with a Quick Charge compatible charger will see you up to speed for the rest of the day. All of this is on Android 8 Oreo with plans to go to Android 9.0 “in the future”.
There’s a few omissions on the software front, primarily around security. There’s no fingerprint sensor, and there’s no face unlock. I genuinely didn’t realise how much I use these with my daily driver until the function wasn’t there for me to use.
The base specs aren’t the main selling point for this phone though, they’re a sideline to the features on offer that other devices don’t have.
FLIR camera and other bells
The FLIR camera for most users is very cool, for tradies it can offer some really useful vision and insight into their work area which can even be extended into first response for emergency services (although where required, they’ll generally have a full thermal imaging camera as part of their response equipment cache.
For those not aware of what it is, FLIR will give you insight into your surrounding environment and the thermal output of items around you. The hotter it is, the more luminous an item appears on the screen.
This has potential application for electricians looking for hot spots, tradies who are mixing chemicals or items that can become pretty warm to check safety and first responders looking for people in areas that are dangerous or difficult to access to name a few obvious options.
Laser Measuring tool
Aimed at tradies, the laser measure is very useful when you need a quick point to point measure. It does require calibration though and you’ll rue the day you calibrate it if you’re not very accurate with your calibration measurements.
Even if you are accurate with your calibration measurements, it’s extremely unlikely to be millimetre accurate – so be cautious with what projects you use this to measure with. It’s an excellent starting point, but precise measurements should be done 2 or 3 times by hand and checked again!
Air Quality Meter
This is another good gauge vs a definitive indication of the environment around you. It takes a few days to start working from when you first turn on the device and will give you a reasonable indicator of the air quality around you – useful for first responders before higher quality equipment can be deployed or DIY enthusiasts working in confined space to keep a bit of an eye on the air quality you’re breathing to protect your health.
What’s it good at?
The really big plus of the S61 is that the thing is nearly indestructible. They state that it is capable of surviving drops from 1.8 meters directly onto concrete and I can honestly attest to this having dropped it several times on to not just concrete, but slate and bitumen from varying heights and running over it with a trailer (sorry about that CAT).
Having given it a few good whacks, some deliberate and some not… there are no obvious markings on the phone that show that it’s been knocked around. This impressed me a lot, it’s a phone that will likely hold some decent resale value as you’ll struggle to knock it around to make it look second hand.
The screen was something of a surprise packet for me. I’ve dealt with some heavy duty phones in the past and the screens have been somewhat lacklustre. They give you dull back lighting, low resolution and while its functional – it’s not easy on the eyes and outdoors, just forget it… The screen doesn’t handle the bright lights too well.
Not an issue for the S61 at all, it’s bright and easy to read in or out of doors and offers high enough resolution to be easy on the eyes and really functional for anything you decide to throw at it and very importantly, it’s highly responsive.
Thermal Imaging (where applicable) is really useful but isn’t for everyone. Tradies in certain areas will love it, as will first responders but once the novelty wears off for a lot of users this will quickly stop being used.
Finally on the plus side: A real highlight for me was the battery life from the S61, on multiple occasions I got 2 days out of it. Off charge at 6 am and onto charge the next night at about 11 when I went to bed. There’s a combination of factors involved here, but if you’re someone who isn’t near power all day then this is going to not just be a good feature – but a blessing!
What’s it not so good at?
Putting it mildly, it’s expensive – really expensive ($1399 as mentioned earlier) for a relatively under-powered phone. But in comparison to replacing your phone on a regular basis because you’ve dropped and broken it, dropped in into water or paint or run over it with a vehicle – you get the idea.
The other thing that really bears mention is the performance on this phone. It’s going to be fine for most users, but anyone who comes from a recent model, high performance phone is going to notice the load times of apps and general performance of the phone.
While they’re very functional and quite capable in decent lighting conditions, the cameras aren’t going to set the world on fire. In fact they’re probably lacking a bit of detail at times if you’re a big phone photo taker. Compared to some of the higher quality cameras, the colour is a bit washed out and at times verging on grainy finish on the photos.
Should you buy one?
There’s a pretty tight target market for the CAT S61 and it’s users who live and work in harsh environments that need a phone capable of surviving the day with them. If you’re not in a trade or industry that fits that bill then you’re not a target user.
The cost is going to be a bit of a barrier for some people, $1399 is a lot to pay for a phone that’s not a top flight flagship with all the trimmings. But that’s honestly not the point of this particular phone. It’s really well built and will take a beating, get up and ask for more!
If the cost isn’t an issue then you need to take into consideration the heft of it, I wouldn’t want to be carrying this around in my pocket all day. I’d want to be in a vehicle, with the phone next to me or in a carry bag during the day – it’s just a bit uncomfortable carrying it in your pocket and just trust me, you don’t want to sit down with it in your pocket if your jeans are well fitted.
That’s the end of the downside and to be honest, if you’re in their target market – they’re pretty minor deterrents. The major upside is that the CAT S61, despite being pretty chunky is as close to indestructible as I have seen any phone. I’ve dropped it, thrown in and run over it with a trailer and after all that I handed it to the most destructive force I know – my 6 year old daughter who didn’t manage to break it either.
There’s some really cool functions that are massive value ad for tradies and those who work in really harsh environments. The S61 isn’t for me being a generally office based worker and there’s a lot of users who won’t use and don’t need or want these features. At the end of the day though, I’m really impressed by what CAT have put together here with clear consideration to their target market.
The CAT S61 is available through Harvey Norman in store and online.