BERLIN—Cat might be better known for its bulldozers and construction equipment, but for some time now the company has produced a handful of rugged smartphones like the Cat S60, which packed plenty of protection while including useful features like thermal imaging sensors and a shatterproof displays.
The Cat S41 and S31, which we saw here at IFA, aren't direct successors to the S60 or S40, but the family resemblance is pretty clear. We went hands on with them and the T20, Cat's first rugged Windows tablet.
The Cat S41 is a rugged phone that boasts a durable build of hardened polycarbonate with a grippy rubberized finish. The body is reinforced to keep you protected from hard 6-foot drops onto concrete. The phone is rated Military Standard 810G, further protecting you from shock, vibration, humidity, and a number of other elements. It's rated for IP68 waterproofing, which normally lets you immerse the phone in 6 feet of water for 30 minutes, but Cat has tested it up to an hour. The screen is guarded by Gorilla Glass 5 which might pick up scratches, but isn't likely to shatter.
The screen itself is a super bright 5-inch 1080p IPS display that gives you great viewing angles and should have no trouble being visible outdoors, though I didn't get a chance to take it outside the showroom. The display additionally works with gloves and wet fingers, ideal for winter or busy construction sites. You also get physical navigation keys and a programmable button on the side.
Other specs are fairly average. The phone is powered by a midrange MediaTek P20 MT6757 processor clocked at 2.3GHz with 3GB of RAM. The phone has 32GB of storage, but can take a microSD card up to 2TB. I found performance to be decent during my hands on, though it took a second or two to open or switch between apps and the touch screen wasn't the most responsive.
The 13MP rear camera and 8MP front camera were hard to judge in the odd lighting conditions of the showroom, but they seem to on par with most other midrange phones, meaning decent pictures in good lighting and a significant decline in lower light.
One strong point is the 5,000mAh battery. That's plenty of juice to last you through a full day of use and, more interestingly, you can share it among your devices using a special Battery Share cable. That essentially lets the S41 double as a portable power pack for when you need it.
Connectivity protocols are also solid. You get LTE bands 2/4/5/7/12/13/17/66, letting the phone work well on GSM carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile. Band 66 is also a newer one that improves downlink. The S41 suppots NFC, dual-band Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. Software is a close-to-stock version Android 7.0 Nougat, which is relatively recent, but in my experience rugged phones don't usually get big OS updates so you'll have to be content with this flavor of Android.
The phone will be available Sept. 11 for 399 euros; US pricing has not been announced.
The Cat S31 is the more affordable version of the S41. Build is similar—it's another durable slab of plastic and textured rubber with a reinforced body that can take damage, including the same 6-foot drop to concrete.
There are some compromises, though. Though it's IP68 rated, Cat has only tested it in 6 feet of water for 35 minutes rather than one hour. The screen is made of Gorilla Glass 3, which isn't as resistant to damage as Gorilla Glass 5.
Other differences you'll notice is that the screen is a slightly smaller, lower resolution 4.7-inch, 720P IPS display. It also gets fairly bright and boasts the same comparability with wet fingers and gloves. Viewing angles are also solid.
Under the hood, the specs are significantly pared down. The S31 has a dated Snapdragon 210 processor clocked at 1.3GHz with 2GB of RAM. It also has 16GB of storage and can take a microSD card up to 128GB. During my hands on, I found performance to be a bit subpar compared with the S41. The aging chipset is one we've had issues with when testing other devices, and though it's hard to say without benchmark testing, it seems to cause slowdowns for the S31.
Less than 1GB of RAM is also likely to have an impact on multitasking. Overall, I found the phone sluggish in the time I spent with it (which admittedly wasn't much). The 8MP rear camera and 2MP front-facing camera weren't too impressive either, though I imagine they'll be passable in better lighting conditions.
There is a 4,000mAh battery, though. That's a good size cell for a device this size, especially taking into account the smaller, lower resolution screen. You'll have no trouble getting through a day of usage, but again, there's a compromise. You don't have the Battery Share feature of the S41, meaning you won't be able to share its ample juice between your devices.
Connectivity protocols are largely your standard set for entry-level devices. You get LTE bands 2/3/4/5/7/12/17, giving you solid connectivity on AT&T and T-Mobile. You don't get the newer Band 66, nor do you get dual-band Wi-Fi or NFC. The phone comes running Android 7.0 Nougat with a fairly light skin, but once again, a big OS update seems unlikely.
The Cat S31 will be available for 299 euros, and US pricing was not announced.
The Cat T20 is the most unique device of the bunch. It's the first tablet Cat has made, and it looks exactly as you'd imagine—a thick, heavy slab of polycarbonate and textured rubber with reinforced sides. In that regard it offers the same degree of drop protection (provided you use the factory-fitted screen protector) and IP67 waterproofing, which gives you 30 minutes of protection in about 3-4 feet of water.
Aside from the tough outer shell of the tablet, you have a 1,280-by-800 IPS LCD display. It's low resolution for the size, but the real benefit comes from the durability, making it ideal for use on a construction site.
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Under the hood, you have an Intel Atom Z8350 processor clocked at 1.44GHz, 2GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, a 5MP rear camera, and a 2MP front-facing camera. There's a 7500mAh battery under the hood. The T20 runs Windows 10, letting you use the entire Microsoft Office suite and run pretty much any program you want within the constraints of the specs. Most productivity apps and programs should work, but more demanding things like Photoshop and games are likely to be beyond reach.
The tablet has dual-band Wi-Fi, but no expandable storage or NFC. It supports LTE bands 1/2/3/4/5/7/8/20, giving it solid network connectivity for a tablet. You get a mini-HDMI video port to connect to a display or projector and USB 3.0 port if you want to use a mouse or keyboard.
The Cat T20 is priced at 599 euros. US pricing and availability isn't known yet.
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