Hands On with the Cat Phone S61
Cat Phones has a new rugged flagship at Mobile World Congress this year and it takes the Flir heat-capture camera to a new level of productivity. This phone is tough as nails and still lets people measure temperature, air quality, and distance/area with a laser. Here are our thoughts on this rugged powerhouse.
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Cat has a sequel on deck at Mobile World Congress this year in the S61. It takes the winning formula of the S60 and makes improvements pretty much all the way around. Primarily, those improvements are focused on the Flir infrared camera, used to measure temperatures. This is a working man's phone in every sense of the world.
To call the S61 chunky is being kind. It's a huge brick of a device, something common to the rugged fair. The phone is built like a tank to withstand abuse and this it's no surprise that it's about the size of a tank, too. The phone could stomp all over the Galaxy S9.
The S61 has a thick metal frame, glass front panel, and thick plastic skin on the rear. The rear is textured to ensure you can maintain a grip on the phone, even when it's wet. It's a thick, heavy phone that feels as tough as it is. Cat says the phone is dropped repeatedly onto all 26 surfaces from 1.8 meters to ensure it meets mil-spec 810G. It's waterproof to 1.5 meters for up to an hour.
This phone doesn't have a conventional shape. It's mostly rectangular, but the Flir camera needs extra space, so a thick tab sticks out of the top of the phone to accommodate the camera's electronics. Rest assured, the tab is just as tough as the rest of the phone.
I like that the front glass is protected a bit by a rubber rim that encircles the display. The S61 includes a 5.2-inch full HD display with Gorilla Glass 5, glove sensitivity, and wet-finger tracking. It looks decent, but not great. The resolution is fine, as is brightness, but I thought colors looked a bit muted. Three large physical buttons are tucked into the chin so you can control the Android UI even when wearing gloves.
The left side houses a dedicated action key that can be mapped to launch PTT functions if so desired. The button is yellow, so it stands out visually, and has a ribbed texture to help with discoverability. A large hatch above this key protects the SIM and memory card slots. Be sure to fully seal the hatch to maintain the watertight rating.
On the right you'll find the screen lock and volume buttons. The screen lock key is close to the top edge of the phone and has a great profile and texture. The individual volume buttons are smooth, but are still say to find and use. These buttons might be difficult to activate when wearing gloves.
A hatch on top covers up the 3.5mm headphone jack, while a hatch on the bottom kept dirt and liquid out of the microUSB port.
The rear of the phone is a busy place. Something that looks like a camera near the bottom is actually a laser. Do not point it at people. This is for measuring distance and areas. Near the top, you'll see the flash, standard camera, and Flir heat camera. This trio extends up into the tab a bit. Cat's logo is stamped on in chrome.
The hardware is great for a rugged phone. Can't ask for much more.
The S61 runs a stock version of Android, and that's something I appreciate. Worker dudes will be happy with the extra features, however, that make this phone unique.
First, the Flir camera. It detects heat and Flir made some huge improvements. I can now measure temperatures between -20C and 400C, a dramatic improvement from before. Moreover, the camera improves from VGA images to full HD, which provides far more details. The experience of using the Flir camera is pretty much unchanged. You can capture still photos, video, or stream live to YouTube, Facebook, and other places.
The measuring laser is nifty. Using a special app, you point it at something and it will tell you how far away it is. You can also scan a space to measure an area. The app for creating measurements was straight forward to use.
Last, there's the air quality sensor. This is meant to protect workers' lungs from toxic fumes such as paints, thinners, and other chemicals. It takes a reading every 30 seconds and will alert people when the air gets bad. What's more, it keeps records of all the readings so you can see what the air has been like throughout the day. This tool does only work indoors and doesn't see out things such as pollutants.
In all, the S61 is a fine update to an already-good device. The cost is prohibitive at about $1,000. Cat hasn't said when the phone will reach the U.S.
Cat's latest rugged smartphones are the S41 and the S31. These two handsets are tough hombres that can handle plenty of punishment thanks to their mil-spec 810G and IP68 ratings.
Bullitt, the company responsible for CAT and Kodak phones, has recently added a new brand to its portfolio: Land Rover. The The Land Rover Explore is a tough-yet-capable phone with features designed for the same adventure-seeking crowd that Land Rover vehicles are associated with.
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