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CAT S22 Flip review: Rugged, classic Android phone for connectivity in the field
Smartphones today are large glass sandwiches that aren't always a good fit for construction zones, farms, or shipyards so that's where the CAT S22 Flip steps in. It's rugged, functional, and affordable as a dedicated work phone.
The CAT S22 Flip is available exclusively from T-Mobile for $234 and provides LTE connectivity with the carrier. It's an interesting phone that harkens back to the day when flip phones were the standard for mobile phones. CAT takes things further with a full 2.8-inch touchscreen display on the top and Android GO 11 powering the user interface.
This phone may appeal to people just with its extreme rugged build and flip form factor, even if they don't use all of the functionality in the Android OS. It's a solid phone for basic communications and can even serve as a Wi-Fi hotspot if you have a rugged tablet to connect for more extensive work in the field.
The CAT S22 Flip arrived in a fairly small black and yellow CAT box and when I first pulled it out I was a bit surprised by how chunky the phone was. It's quite thick in the closed position and opening it up reveals it is not a small flip phone. However, it is not intended to be a small phone and the focus is on basic communications with a rugged phone that can handle work away from your desk.
The phone is covered in matte black soft-touch material so it is easy to hold onto, even with wet hands. There are ridges along the back panel too so that helps you grip it. In the closed position, there is a small outer display that shows incoming calls, basic notifications, the date, and the time. Centered above this display are a mic opening, flashlight, and 5MP rear camera. It is on the front, but when opened and in shooting mode, it becomes the higher resolution rear camera.
Volume buttons are on the right side, along with a USB-C port and cover. A programmable orange metal button is on the left side.
Flipping around the back there is a screw to remove the panel. A substantial red gasket lines the opening of the back panel interior with the battery, SIM card slot, and microSD card slot below the removable battery. There are also two POGO pins on the back so you can set the phone into a charging device for ensuring the phone is ready for the day ahead.
Flip open the CAT S22 Flip to see the inside display and keypad. The phone flips open to about 165 degrees with a solid stop to the back. There is no interim angle to stop the phone at and the back of the phone props it up at a slight angle. It's very satisfying to start closing it and then having the hinge take over to close the phone.
The touchscreen display is quite usable and the touch sensitivity works well. Fonts are clear and quite a bit of information is available on the 2.8-inch display. There is a 2MP front-facing camera offset to the left above the display.
On the keypad, we find the traditional three Android buttons at the top for back, home, and the task switcher. Below this, we find directional arrows, a center select button, answer/end green and red buttons, and 12 number keys. The buttons are all very large with a great tactile feel. They also have a soft-touch coating so are easy to find and activate.
Below the keypad is a fairly loud mono speaker that has proven to work well when I was outside testing the phone. There is a handset speaker above the display, but music and speakerphone calls switch to just the bottom loudspeaker.
The CAT S22 Flip runs Android 11 (Go Edition) which provides all of the essential Google apps and access to the Play Store for even more apps. Google Assistant, Chrome, Google Duo, Gmail, Keep Notes, Google Go, Google Maps, Messages, and YouTube Music are all loaded by default. Google TV is even present although watching movies on a small 2.8-inch display doesn't seem to have much utility.
T-Mobile includes just a couple of important utilities with no spam games or anything. The T-Mobile app to manage your account is there, along with Visual Voicemail and Scam Shield.
CAT also has a custom camera app, hyperlink to CAT phones, FM radio app, and the CAT Toolbox. The CAT Toolbox is a filter of the Google Play store with categories for construction, farming, outdoors, rugged tools, and more. This utility is designed to help you find apps to get work done with the S22 Flip.
Daily experiences and conclusions
It has been satisfying to flip open the phone to answer calls and close it to hang up and it's tough to beat that experience. Phone calls have sounded good and the LTE signal has been solid with T-Mobile. Callers have also sounded great with the speakerphone enabled.
There is a bit of jumping back and forth between the keypad and the touchscreen when using Android apps, but I imagine people won't be using as many apps on the display as I was during my testing. The focus of this phone is not on the smartphone experience, although it is capable of limited app use. It was interesting to enter text on the onscreen Gboard keyboard with very little room left above the keyboard for viewing the application you are working in.
However, you can switch to the Kika 12-key input if you want to use the large keypad rather than tapping on the small keys on the display. This is a predictive input method that isn't quite like the T9 I am used to from my early days of using mobile tech. The best input method may be simply using Google's excellent voice-to-text.
The phone is pretty chunky and heavy so I expected long battery life. It has gone 2-3 days with moderate use, but it isn't one of those old school flip phones you charge up once a week. That said, it doesn't compromise much either in terms of functionality and it can take a beating. I've dropped it several times, submerged it in water, and ran with it in the pouring rain without any problems or impact on the phone.
The CAT S22 Flip is not designed to take on the Apple iPhone or Samsung Galaxy world, but it provides a good option for the intended market segment. It has been reliable, has good battery life, performed well with calls, and provided access to all the information I needed outside in inclement weather conditions. At $234 it is a good second phone for fieldwork or even a primary phone for those who want a simple large keypad for basic and essential communications.