Think CAT and a massive yellow excavator is probably the first image that comes to your mind. Short for Caterpillar, the company has been making heavy construction equipment for decades now. What’s not quite as well-known is the fact that the company has been in the rugged phone market too for the last few years. While the S60 might be the first smartphone with a built-in thermal camera, it is also the first CAT device to be launched in India. Rugged phones are still a bit of a rarity in India so we were suitably excited to put the CAT S60 through it’s paces. Find out what we discovered in our review.
Cat S60 specifications
- 4.7-inch (1280 x 720 pixels) HD multi-touch 540 nits display with auto wet finger and glove support, Corning Gorilla Glass 4 protection
- Octa-Core Snapdragon 617 (4 x 1.5GHz + 4 x 1.2GHz) processor with Adreno 405 GPU
- 3GB RAM, 32GB internal storage
- Android 6.0 (Marshmallow)
- Underwater 13MP rear camera with dual LED Flash
- 5MP front-facing camera
- Dedicated FLIR thermal camera app with MSX technology
- Drop proof to 1.8m, MIL Spec 810G
- 4G LTE, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1 and GPS
- 3800mAh battery
Look, nobody buys a rugged phone for its looks. While we’d all prefer a svelte, slick smartphone that could still withstand a fall from a road roller, the fact of the matter is that we’re just not there yet. The CAT S60 looks like a tool that belongs in an engineer’s arsenal at a construction site. Good thing then that the phone is meant for exactly that audience. Of course there’s nothing stopping a weekend warrior or budding handyman like you from investing in one.
Let’s start with the front of the device then. Aesthetics rank pretty low when designing a phone of this sort and this is very evident by looking at the massive bezels surrounding the display. The thick plastics surrounding the screen are bound to offer excellent protection from misuse. Below the screen lie three hardware buttons that correspond to back, home and recent apps.
The buttons offer good tactile feedback and have a rough texture to them allowing you to reach out to the keys without having to look at them. Above the display is a 5MP front facing camera. An ungainly hump along the top edge hides away the thermal camera hardware.
A very interesting addition both above and below the display are toggles that can increase the efficacy of the waterproofing. By default, the phone is waterproof up to a depth of 2 meters. Flip the switch though and the phone becomes capable of dropping down to a depth of 5 meters.
The right side of the phone has segregated volume buttons. These are set a bit sunken into the frame but still offer really good feedback. Similarly there are two additional buttons on the opposite side of the CAT S60. A rigid power button is within easy grasp while a secondary yellow button doubles up as a shortcut key that can be configured to perform a variety of functions like PTT & Underwater Mode.
The phone charges over microUSB and the port is hidden under a flap that you’ll need to close to ensure waterproofing. A secondary slot hides away an SOS key that can be programmed to send an emergency message with your location in it. The headphone jack too is hidden away under another slot along the bottom left edge of the phone. It is not feasible to place the phone in a pocket with your headphones plugged in.
Turn the phone over and you’ll notice a carbon fibre back panel that adds to the ruggedness of the device. A flap placed next to the camera modules provides easy access to the dual nano SIM card slots as well as the microSD card slot. Next to it lies the dual camera modules one of which is the much talked about FLIR Thermal camera. As is the norm, an LED flash is also placed along the cameras.
The phone measures 147.9 x 73.4 x 12.7 mm which is possibly amongst the thickest phones available today. That rigid structure however means that the phone is able to withstand a whole lot more than most smartphones. Let’s talk specs first, between the IP68 rating, MIL-STD-810G and a drop to concrete rating of 1.8m, the phone is well equipped to be used in some extremely unforgiving situations.
The CAT S60 runs Android 6.0 with a mostly clean build. Unfortunately the company has said that they will not be providing an upgrade to Android 7.0 which is quite unacceptable from a software perspective.
The lockscreen simply displays the time and notifications while you can swipe up from the bottom corners to activate Google Now or the Camera app as required. The homescreen is a standard affair with a grid of apps and folders laid out above a persistent shortcut row at the bottom. You can place widgets here. Tapping the shortcut button drops you straight into the app drawer which contains the full list of apps onboard. You can also search for specific apps from here.
While usually we’re critical of pre-loaded applications, those pre-loaded on the CAT S60 can’t really be termed as bloatware. From the multi-tool utility that can replace a level tool, lux meter and more to the app toolbox that identifies apps that groups together applications by utility and let’s you easily increase productivity.
We’ve already talked about the fact that the phone is waterproof up to 5m. However this does have a negative impact on speaker performance due to water getting stuck in the grille. The built-in speaker dry application works well in this case to clear out the grille by blasting out audio at varying frequencies. In practice we found this to be functional at expediting the process but your best bet will be to dry out the phone and let it sit for a while.
The CAT S60 comes equipped with a octa core Snapdragon 617 processor which has 8 Cortex A53 processors. Four of these are clocked at 1.5Ghz while the remaining four are clocked at 1.2Ghz for reduced power consumption. For a device as highly priced as the CAT S60, these are woeful specs but then again, flagship grade performance is not the focus here. The phone is merely a tool to be used in places where a normal phone can’t and for that the chipset works just fine. The 3GB of RAM onboard keeps things running smooth with no lags during multitasking. For every day use and productivity apps, the phone works absolutely lag free. While we don’t expect anyone to be playing games on the CAT S60, it does manage to run most games without issue. Expect longer startup times and very occasional frame drops in some intensive games. Synthetic benchmarks don’t make much sense here since most of the competition is less a third the cost of the CAT S60. Still, we’re included some key benchmarks for your perusal. We reiterate that pure performance isn’t the point of the device though of course, we do expect adequate usability out of any phone at this price point.
In the 3D Mark IceStorm benchmark, the phone scores 9787 points which is just under the Moto G4 Plus and ranks higher than most of the test bench.
In GFXBench 3.0 Manhattan which is a GPU centric benchmark, the phone manages 14 Frames per Second which is better the competition.
Similarly in the GFXBench 2.7 T-Rex benchmark, the phone scores 28 points.
The 13MP camera on the back of the CAT S60 does not come anywhere close to competing with the likes of the Google Pixel or Galaxy S8 but it’s not terrible either.
Like most smartphones today, the phone takes decent shots in daylight conditions. Lacking features like laser autofocus or PDAF, focussing speeds are on the slower side but it is fairly accurate. We found that the phone manages to get the white balance right most of the time and dynamic range while certainly not flagship grade, is better than a lot of devices with similar camera specifications.
Zooming in to the shots 1:1 reveals a lot of digital artifacts and noise which comes with the territory. This is particularly bad in very low light images but to its credit, the phone manages a steady, focussed shot even then. The phone will work well enough to capture every day shots and is fast enough to keep pace with you but don’t expect this to replace your camera on your next holiday.
One of the biggest selling points of the CAT S60 has to be its thermal camera. The FLIR Thermal camera with MSX technology is also available in dongle form to be used with iOS devices but at the moment, the CAT S60 is the first phone to have this completely integrated.
You can select emissivity, color palettes better suited to the your use case and can also add a spot meter to the image to show specific temp readings. The thermal sensor can focus from 15cm onwards to infinity.
Unless you work in an industrial or civil engineering setting or often find yourself working with machinery, electronics, you probably won’t find much use for the thermal camera. The camera resolution for the thermal camera is 640 x 480 and it can overlay temperature variance over the image.
The CAT S60 has a standard set of connectivity options which include 4G LTE, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1 and GPS. There’s Dual SIM support onboard and you can also use a microSD card to expand the 32GB of storage on board. Approximately 23GB of free storage is available on the onboard memory. The slots are protected by a flap that is opened up via a hinge on the outside. Gaskets run on the inside to maintain waterproofing though we can see the main hinge getting weaker over time. Phone call quality on the phone is very slightly muffled on the earpiece possibly due to the level of waterproofing. The receiver had no problem in getting a clear audio call on the other end.
The 3,800 mAh battery on the phone proved to be a champ and we could easily get close to 2 days of use out of it. This isn’t all that surprising given the combination of low-end processor and large battery. Screen on time hovered between the 5-6 hour mark when we made a lot of use of the thermal camera.
The CAT S60 is a tool. We can’t recommend anyone to buy this as a phone first. As a smartphone, the CAT S60 is grossly overpriced and over-engineered. You can get any current flagship smartphone within the same budget but then again, the CAT S60 isn’t just a smartphone.
The CAT S60 can go places you wouldn’t carry any other handset. Submersion, falls, zero visibility, the phone can overcome all and come out standing strong. We see this coming in handy for engineers of all sorts, people who work in construction, plumbing, heavy electricals could all make good use of the built-in thermal camera. If you lead a particularly hard core, adventurous life style or work in any of the above domains, the CAT S60 could become your favorite tool. For everybody else, we’d recommend you to steer clear and opt for something more suited to your use. The CAT S60 is priced at Rs. 64,999 (MRP) in India and is available from multi-brand outlets and Amazon.in online.