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Hands-On with Macate's GATCA Elite Smartphone

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Jan 6, 2016, 5:44 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   @phonescooper

Macate's GATCA Elite smartphone is essentially a delivery vehicle for the company's suite of secure communication services. The handset is a decent piece of hardware, but is truly only for executives and VIPs who need extreme privacy. Here are our first impressions.

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Macate is pronounced mah-KAH-tay. The company's core product is its Codetel security suite. The security suite is what the company really hopes to sell, with the GATCA Elite serving as the point of entry. In other words, the Elite is simply a hardware platform so Macate can sign up more Codetel customers. That said, it's not a bad hardware platform.

The Elite is a little on the vanilla side of the design equation, but it's a solidly built phone. An aluminum frame forms the outer edges and a polycarbonate panel covers the back. The front is, of course, glass. It's a large handset thanks to the 5.5-inch screen, and will be sold in black or white. The back surface is slightly rounded, and the side edges are relatively thin. It resembles many of the phones I've seen this week in Las Vegas.

The materials and build quality are good, but not the best. Macate didn't say if the units on hand were production or not, but I saw gaps between the rear panel and the aluminum frame on one of the display devices. The metal frame isn't as solid or attractive as that of the Samsung Note 5, for example.

GATCA Elite  

I found the size and weight of the Elite to be manageable. It is slim enough that you won't have any trouble sticking it in your pocket.

Smooth glass covers the entire front of the phone. There are three capacitive buttons below the display. The 5.5-inch screen is decent, but I thought the 720p HD resolution was a bit lacking. Viewing angles are good, but the screen isn't as bright as I'd like it to be. A small grille covers the earpiece speaker above the display.

You will find the volume toggle and screen lock button on the right edge of the phone. The screen lock button is rather small, but the profile is good and travel and feedback are all right. The volume toggle is a bit longer and has similar profile and feedback characteristics. A tray for the SIM card is also on the right edge and it can be ejected with a paperclip. The memory card slot tray is embedded on the left edge of the phone. The USB port is on the bottom edge and the headphone jack is on the top.

The camera module forms a little mound near the top of the phone. It is square and really the only design element adorning the rear panel. The rear panel cannot be removed, which means the battery is sealed inside.

Macate chose to run a stock version of Android 5.1 Lollipop on the GATCA Elite. The company will update to Android 6.0 Marshmallow in a few months.

The Codetel secure communication suite is composed of Macate-made phone, messaging, email, and video apps. These apps offer 512-bit, end-to-end communication. Rather than offer its own service plan, Macate relies on AT&T to push calls, messages, and emails. As long as both the caller and recipient are using Elite smartphones, the entire chain is unbreakable. The apps themselves are rather simplistic in terms of appearance.

The device offers a pretty solid set of security tools. To start, it uses facial recognition to unlock the phone. The software is smart enough that it can't be fooled by a photograph. You can lock the phone based on geographic location, and even lock specific apps, folders, and files based on location. For example, you can set the phone to only open work documents when you're in the office. The phone also has a good SIM-based security tool. The Elite can be set to go into lockdown mode if the SIM card is ejected, or if an unknown SIM is inserted into the phone.

All this security comes at a price. The handset by itself does not warrant the $850 price tag, not even close. Macate did not put a price tag on its secure communication suite, but you can bet the bulk of the Elite's retail price is paying for the software. This phone is really only for executives or government officials who absolutely need secure communication.

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