Hands-On: CAT S50 Rugged Smartphone
CAT announced the S50 this week, a bigger, bolder ruggedized smartphone. It has a larger display, faster processor, and higher toughness rating than last year's B15. Here are our first impressions.
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CAT is back with another smartphone. The company, mostly know for its large Caterpillar construction equipment, offers working people rugged phones that can handle whatever the work site dishes out. The S50 smartphone is the latest device that can take a lickin' and keep on ticking'.
The CAT S50 looks almost identical to last year's B15. It has a hard, industrial look that's right out of a 70s era science fiction movie. (Seriously, all I can think of its the old-school Battlestar Galactica series when I look at this thing.) It has rubberized black corners, metallic side edges, and a wickedly huge profile. There's nothing dainty about it. The Colonial Marines from "Aliens" would be happy to call this their smartphone.
Here are the basics: It runs Android 4.4.2 KitKat. It has a 4.7-inch 720p HD display protected by Gorilla Glass 3. It boasts an IP67 rating against water and dust, and the screen supports wet finger tracking. The metal exterior is scratch resistant, and tough as nails. You can drop it, hammer it, throw it, and otherwise abuse it without fear of it breaking. The phone boasts an 8-megapixel main camera, LTE 4G, and supports microSD memory cards up to 64GB. IT has a 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400 processor. All good stuff.
It feels as large in the hand as it looks. It is not a phone for skinny jeans or tight pockets. It is a big phone that commands attention. The sides have sharp edges that may help protect the innards against drops, but they make it uncomfortable to grip tightly. They also add girth. It is a wide device, and even though the screen is small (by today's standards) I had a hard time wrapping my hand all the way around it.
The CAT S50 has 80 million hatches adorning the side edges - or at least it feels that way. The two sides and top each have at least one hatch protecting something from water and dust ingress. I'd prefer not to have so many hatches, as I find they interrupt what could otherwise be a more streamlined look.
The screen lock button is on the left side of the phone. It is small and black, and doesn't have a good profile. I thought the travel and feedback was rather mushy. There's a trio of buttons on the right side: two volume buttons separated by a PTT or action key. These three buttons are equally hard to find and use. There are no physical buttons on the front of the phone, as it uses the software buttons for controlling the Android OS.
Speaking of which, it runs the latest version of Android without a user interface skin. It felt a bit stuttery and slow to me, but we'll chalk that up to the pre-production nature of the devices on hand.
CAT plans to sell the S50 directly to U.S. customers later this year. It will cost about $600 off contract.
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