Hands-on with the Cat S40 smartphone: Android phone built for dirty jobs

We don't all spend our day working inside the comfort of an office. For those who work out in the elements, there are phones such as the Cat S40.

cat-s40-11.jpg
When ship modifications have to be designed we first spend time crawling around the ship measuring, scanning, and documenting the condition of the ship and machinery. I always wrap my phone in some kind of rugged case because it's likely my phone will be slipping out of a pocket as I twist and turn to fit into all the spaces.

Some people spend a lot of their time outside working and playing. Using an Otterbox or other rugged case helps protect phones, but sometimes people need something more than a durable case. Cat Phones has a line of rugged smartphones and I've been testing the latest one, the Cat S40, for the past ten days.

Hardware

I've reviewed a few rugged smartphones in the past and most add some significant bulk to the overall package to achieve a level of certified protection. The Cat S40is comparable in size and weight to many smartphones today so it will still easily fit into your pocket.

Read this

Forget color designer smartphones, I want a rugged device

Customize your own Moto X? A Lumia 920 in your choice of fab plastic? Or perhaps a new iPhone 5C? Meh. I need something that can withstand the rigors of daily business and travel without putting an ugly, bulky case on it.

Read More

The front has a 4.7 inch qHD display that looks good and is quite bright. There are three phyiscal hardware buttons below the display for back, home, and task manager. The top and bottom have angled corners with the entire top and bottom edge being protected by a thick layer of hard rubber over a metal frame. The 3.5mm headphone jack is hidden under a black rubber cover on the top right.

The sides have aluminum that is attached with three visible screws on each side. The left side holds the microUSB port, positioned below a watertight door, and a yellow customizable button (more on this in the software section below).

The right side has the power and volume buttons positioned up top with a long metal cover taking up half of the length. The microSD card and dual SIM card slots are positioned below this watertight metal cover.

The back is covered in hard rubber material with ridges that help keep the phone from slipping off surfaces and make it easier to hold onto when in the field. The camera is positioned up at the very top with a single LED flash next to it.

There is a mono speaker on the phone, but it is very loud. When the phone rings out in the field, it's likely you will hear it in your pocket.

The camera interface is fairly stock, but quality is decent and speed is good.

Specifications of the Cat S40 include:

  • 4.7 inch 540x960 qHD pixels IPS Corning Gorilla Glass 4 display
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 210 1.1 GHz quad-core processor
  • Android 5.1 Lollipop OS
  • 1GB of RAM
  • 16GB of internal storage with microSD expansion card slot
  • Android 5.1.1 Lollipop operating system
  • 3000 mAh battery
  • 802.11 b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.1, GPS, FM radio
  • Rear 8 megapixel camera and 2 megapixel front facing camera
  • Certified IP68, military standard 810G, and 1.8 meter drop test
  • Operating temperature: -13 to 131 degrees F
  • Dimensions of 144.9 x 74.1 x 12.5 mm and 185 grams

The Mil 810G certifications means the S40 is drop proof certified to 1.8 meters (5.9 feet), is resistant to high temperatures and humidity, has thermal shock protection, and is certified to be resistant to salt mist.

Most of the specs are solid for a rugged smartphone, but the Snapdragon 210 is a bit of a concern and I say regular lag in performance compared to the high end smartphones I am used to using every day. As long as you aren't trying to run processor intensive apps, then the S40 could be a good purchase option. However, don't try to push it too much or you may get frustrated with the lag.

Software

The Cat S40 runs Android 5.1 Lollipop with a fairly stock Google experience, similar to a Nexus device. There are a few non-Google apps installed out of the box, including a Catphones application store front, clean master utility, file manager, MobiSystems OfficeSuite viewer, and SwiftKey keyboard.

This is a GSM SIM-unlocked device so there is no carrier bloatware to be found. There is about 10GB of internal space available, but a microSD card can also be used to add storage capacity.

The settings are most all the same as on a Nexus, but you will find utilities to manage two SIM cards and a setting to manage the left yellow Cat key. You can choose to use the key to wake the device, notifications, show recent apps, launch Google Now, turn on the flashlight, or launch any selected application on your phone. This is handy to have in the field when you want to use buttons and not have to tap all over the display.

The App Toolbox is designed to bring you focused apps that you might expect to find on a rugged device. For example, there are farming apps, construction apps, survey tools, operational analysis tools, and more. The App Toolbox is powered by Appland and includes both free and priced applications.

Daily experiences and closing thoughts

I can't comment on battery life since I was sent a ROW (rest of world) model. There will soon be a North American variation with 850/AWS/1900 3G and LTE bands 2, 4, 5, 7, 12, and 17. Unfortunately, the ROW model meant I was stuck using Edge data when I was away from a WiFi hotspot and that was a pretty miserable experience.

I took the phone for a run in the rain and found it easy to hold while the GPS inside did a good job of tracking my run. I also placed it in my water feature, dropped it several times in the yard while I performed yard work, and was careless with it on a daily basis. The phone withstood all of my mini trials and still looks brand new.

With many of the recent sub-$450 Android smartphone I have been testing lately, I didn't think modern processors mattered that much. However, I can definitely tell the Snapdragon 210 is working hard to power fairly benign apps. I can't imagine trying to play an intensive game or run a heavy graphics app on the Cat S40.

The Cat S40 seems to work well for basic smartphone purposes such as communication, messaging, web browsing, and photos. It will be priced at $399 for the US market, which is a couple hundred less than other higher end rugged devices. I would like to see a higher spec on the processor before I would personally consider the Cat S40, but it may fit your field needs.

Newsletters

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
See All
See All