Hands On with CAT's Thermal Imaging Phone
CAT recently announced the S60, a rugged phone with one very unique feature: a true thermal imaging "camera" built right in. CAT has a short but respectable history releasing very rugged phones that might appeal to construction and other field workers. But there are a few specific sub-sets of this category that would find thermal imaging very useful, and this phone is for them. It's also an extremely waterproof phone, down to 5 meters of depth, which is very deep for a phone. Read on to find out more about the S60 and how it actually works.
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The S60 is one big, tough phone. Many of CAT's phones could be described that way, but the S60 tops them all with its hulking frame. Part of the reason of course the extra FLIR thermal imaging sensor.
But part of the reason is the waterproofing. Water at 5 meters exerts a lot of pressure, so the frame needs to be extra-strong. Microphones and speakers also don't do well at that depth, so there are small yellow switches you need to flip to cover the mic and speaker before going down to 5m. (Otherwise it's rated down to 3 meters.) Frankly, I'm not sure how many people need a phone that can go deeper than 3 meters. Personally, I'd rather have a less bulky phone instead.
The units CAT brought to MWC were very early prototypes — the phone isn't due until June — so a few things were loose or buggy that definitely won't be on the final version. That means we can't say much about build quality, although it did feel quite solid. CAT also plans to replace the SOS button with a camera button.
The thermal imaging is useful for a few specific professions, such as plumbers, electricians, and first responders. Plumbers can use it to locate leaks and clogs, among other uses. Electricians can use it to spot wires (warm) and trouble spots (warmer). First responders can use it to locate humans where they might not otherwise be visible, determine if a car was recently used, and see where someone was recently sitting or touching something.
The technology works quite well. Not only did it show the heat of my hand directly, but it clearly showed my handprint on a table I had just touched. Neat.
It also uses the regular camera in conjunction, to help you accurately map thermal areas spots to what you're seeing in the real world. It does this in two ways. First, it superimposes light outlines of the visual images over the thermal view. So you'll see a light outline of your hand, for example, on top of the heat image of your hand. Secondly, it saves both images when you capture a thermal "photo". When viewing one of these images, you get a window-shade-like split view. Swiping up with your finger peels way the thermal image to review the visual photo underneath. It's very useful.
If you're not sure what you would do with this phone, then it's probably not for you. But for certain people, this will be an invaluable tool have in their pocket, integrated with their smartphone. Look for it in June for 649 Euros (a bit over $700).
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