Cat S62 Pro review: Integrated thermal camera shines in this rugged mid-range smartphone

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  • Editors' rating
    8.5 Excellent

Pros

  • FLIR Lepton 3.5 thermal camera
  • Fully rugged (IP68/69, MIL-STD-810H)
  • Industrial design doesn't shout 'rugged'
  • Good battery life
  • Enterprise-ready features

Cons

  • Two sensors from S61 (indoor air quality sensor & laser-assisted distance measuring tool) are dropped
  • Mid-range performance

Although it's billed as 'the ultimate work phone', it must be said that Cat phones' new flagship Cat S62 Pro is targeted at a subset of the workforce -- specifically, employees who require a fully rugged smartphone with a state-of-the-art integrated thermal camera.

Manufactured under licence by Bullitt Group, Cat-branded rugged smartphones include the slim, consumer-friendly S52 (£380) and the affordable, enterprise-ready S42 (£229). The Cat S62 Pro (£599) reviewed here succeeds the 2018 S61 (£649), but does not supersede it, as the latter includes a couple of features -- an indoor air quality sensor and laser-assisted distance measurement -- that are not available on the new phone. Also, the S61 is available worldwide and supports more 4G LTE frequency bands (14 in Europe/RoW, 15 in the Americas) than the S62 Pro (11 bands), which is not officially available in the US and Canada.

Design

Cat phones have had something of a design makeover recently, with far more attention paid to making them look less 'industrial' and more mainstream -- without, of course, compromising on their rugged credentials, which are core to the brand.

The Cat S62 Pro looks like a regular, if chunky, smartphone with a metal frame, a flat 5.7-inch Gorilla Glass 6-protected screen and a grippy, rubberised back with two camera lenses in a slightly protruding lozenge in the top left corner and a centrally positioned fingerprint reader. It measures 76.7mm wide by 158.5mm deep by 11.9mm thick and weighs 248g. That shaves 1.3mm off the width, 4.5mm off the depth, 1.1mm off the thickness and 2g off the weight compared to the Cat S61, which has a smaller 5.2-inch screen.

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The 5.7-inch Cat S62 Pro runs on Qualcomm's mid-range Snapdragon 660 chipset with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage. At the back there's a conventional 12MP camera and a FLIR thermal camera, plus a fingerprint reader. 

Images: Charles McLellan / ZDNet

There are sizeable bezels around the 5.7-inch FHD+ (2160 x 1280) IPS screen, particularly at the top and bottom. This results in a screen-to-body ratio of just 69%, which is well adrift of today's minimal-bezel flagships with ratios over 90%. The front camera, ambient light sensor, earpiece and status LED are all in the top bezel. The touch-screen will work if the user has wet fingers or is wearing gloves, although Cat phones notes that "we cannot guarantee that all gloves will work with this feature". We had no problem with the gloves we tried, including disposable vinyl ones.

The left side houses the metal SIM/SD card tray, under a door that you prise open with a fingernail. Our review unit could accommodate two SIMs, or one SIM and a MicroSD card, if storage expansion trumps the second SIM. Also on the left is a copper-coloured programmable key that can fire up a push-to-talk (PTT) app, turn on the flashlight, or launch any other app that's regularly important to you.

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Left side of the Cat S62 Pro, showing SIM tray (2 SIMs or 1 SIM plus MicroSD card) and Programmable Key.

Image: Charles McLellan

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The power button is on the right side, textured so it's easily found, along with volume up/down buttons. The bottom houses a microphone, a USB-C port and a speaker. There's no 3.5mm headset jack -- in contrast to the S61, which had one at the top, next to a protrusion housing the thermal camera.

The Cat S62 Pro feels solid and dependable in the hand, and that's reflected in its rugged credentials. These include IP68/69 certification, meaning it's 'dust tight' and can withstand both immersion in water at up to 1.5m depth for 35 minutes and 'powerful high-temperature water jets'. The handset has also been 'repeatedly' drop-tested onto a steel surface from 1.8m (6ft) and passes military-grade MIL-STD-810H tests, which involve thermal shocks, high and low temperature extremes, tumble and vibration tests, and salt mist conditions.

SEE: 5G smartphones: A cheat sheet (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Cat phones also notes that the S62 Pro can be repeatedly submerged and scrubbed with hot water and soap, which is particularly relevant in the current health/hygiene crisis.

There's certainly no need for a protective case with this impressively hardy handset -- in contrast to so many mainstream phones, with their fancy but often brittle industrial design.

Features

The Cat S62 Pro runs on Qualcomm's mid-range Snapdragon 660 mobile platform, which includes an 8-core CPU comprising four fast 2.2GHz cores and four power-efficient 1.8GHz cores, an Adreno 512 GPU and an X12 LTE modem. This is supported by 6GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage (expandable, as noted above, via MicroSD card) -- a significant upgrade on the S61's Snapdragon 630, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage.

As well as Europe-centric 4G LTE connectivity, there's dual-band (2.4/5GHz) 802.11ac wi-fi, Bluetooth 5 LE, GPS, NFC and an FM radio. As noted earlier, the indoor air quality sensor and laser-assisted distance measuring tool present on the Cat S61 are omitted from the Cat S62 Pro. At some point, it would be good to see Bullitt Group/Cat phones resolve the trade-offs involved so that these useful sensors can be reinstated in the flagship handset alongside a best-in-class thermal imaging camera.

Talking of which, the main attraction with the Cat S62 Pro is its integrated thermal camera, which uses FLIR's latest Lepton 3.5 infrared sensor. This has four times the number of thermal pixels compared to the previous-generation Lepton sensor (160x120 versus 80x60), resulting in smaller 12µm pixels and 1440-by-1080 output via FLIR's VividIR image processing technology. The Lepton 3.5 can detect heat sources up to 30m away, and measure temperatures between -20°C and +400°C in 'low gain' mode, or -10°C to 140°C in more accurate 'high gain' mode (with a typical accuracy of ± 5°).

It's fun to show off the integrated thermal camera to jaded smartphone users, but its main purpose is to serve a wide range of professionals -- electricians, plumbers, first-line workers, healthcare professional, for example -- as well as DIY enthusiasts.

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Palettes for the thermal camera (left); the MyFLIR gallery of thermal images (right).

Images: Charles McLellan / ZDNet

The thermal camera's extensive functionality is accessed via a separate MyFLIR PRO app, which has its own image gallery. There's a regular Android camera app too, of course, but that only controls the visible-spectrum cameras (12MP at the rear, 8MP at the front). You can choose from a range of palettes for the thermal camera -- the default is Iron, but there are nine options in total, which display as live thumbnails when you press the swatch icon at the bottom left of the app workspace.

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Imaging modes in MyFLIR PRO (left to right): thermal only; MSX; Alpha Blending; visible only.

Images: Charles McLellan / ZDNet  

MyFLIR PRO can show several types of image: output from the thermal and visible cameras alone; MSX (Multi-Spectral Dynamic Imaging), which overlays linear detail onto the thermal image to provide greater context; and a new Alpha Blending mode, which overlays thermal and visible images. In both MSX and Alpha Blending modes, sliders allow you to align the thermal and visible images and vary their relative intensities.

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Thermal images can be turned into PDF reports, with a choice of templates.

Images: Charles McLellan / ZDNet    

Other useful features for professionals include the ability to add notes to thermal images and generate PDF reports. You can also place up to three movable spot meters and multiple 'regions of interest' on images -- either during or post-capture. These ROIs can be full-frame or movable and scalable rectangles, circles or lines. Isotherms allow you to show a particular temperature range with a highlight colour; you can also set an alarm -- a notification, vibrating the phone or capturing an image -- when the camera sees something that falls within the specified range.

It's easy to overlook the visual cameras -- 8MP at the front, 12MP at the back. The latter, with a dual-pixel Sony sensor, large 1.4µm pixels and f/1.8 aperture, takes decent pictures, even in low light.

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Photos taken with the Cat S62 Pro rear camera (12MP, f/1.8).

Images: Charles McLellan / ZDNet      

Android 10 was installed on our review unit. There's no OS overlay, but a fair amount of pre-installed software, including the FLIR app and gallery, and Toolbox, which presents a curated selection of apps under various headings -- Business Tools, Cat Apps, Construction, Farming, Outdoors, Rugged Tools.

The Cat S62 Pro supports Android Enterprise features, including Zero-touch enrolment, and has been tested for enrolment and policy provisioning with leading EMM (Enterprise Mobility Management) solutions. It comes with a two-year warranty and security updates for three years, and is guaranteed to receive at least one Android upgrade (to Android 11) in its lifetime.

Performance

A Snapdragon 660 chipset with 6GB of RAM is a mid-range Android 10 platform, which is exactly what the benchmarks we deployed show. The Cat S62 Pro is a step up from the Snapdragon 630-based Cat S61, but can't compete on performance with a flagship-class handset like the Snapdragon 865-based OnePlus 8 -- especially when it comes to gaming:

Processor performance 
Geekbench 5

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Mainstream productivity performance 
PCMark for Android (Work 2.0)

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Gaming performance 
3DMark (Sling Shot Extreme)

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Although the Cat S62 Pro has a smaller battery and a larger screen than the S61 (4000mAh/5.7 inches versus 4500mAh//5.2 inches), it comes out on top in terms of battery life. The manufacturer's claim of 1-2 day's life seems justified.

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Charts: Charles McLellan / ZDNet

Conclusions

Thermal imaging has gone from the preserve of the military, to an expensive specialist application, to, now, the mass market. The £599 Cat S62 Pro isn't the only smartphone with an integrated thermal camera, but it's arguably the best currently available. This is still a niche product, though: it's certainly fun to use, but not everyone needs integrated thermal imaging on a rugged smartphone, and many would prefer to spend the same money on sleeker industrial design and more extensive conventional photography features. That said, as the price and size of thermal camera modules continue to shrink, we expect to see them deployed more widely in smartphones.

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