Cat S61 Smartphone: Toughened For Tradies

February 14, 2019
5 mins read
  • 9/10
    - 9/10


Cat S61 Smartphone


It’s not your run of the mill phone, and it ain’t the prettiest thing you’ll see, but the ruggedised Cat S61 packs a punch.

Mention the word Caterpillar, and most people think of enormous earth moving machinery. Over recent years, Caterpillar has, however, diversified into a raft of other manufacturing endeavours, ranging from boots through to smartphones.

Yep, that’s right, the same company that brought us bright yellow bulldozers is now also making phones. Well, not quite. They contracted out manufacturing to a British smartphone maker, the Bullitt Group.

The result of this unconventional union is the Cat S series. We’d reviewed the previous model on Witchdoctor  and it impressed. Now we have the latest model, the S61, which is aimed at tradies wanting a phone built to survive a thermonuclear war. So, is it any good?

If the S61 were a vehicle, it’d be the love child of a chieftain tank and a Humvee. It’s capable of surviving the kind of rough treatment that would usually involve costly repairs for most smartphones. A fall, bumps, dunks or knocks – the S61 can take them and come back for more.

Now that ruggedised smartphones are a dime a dozen, Cat has wisely chosen to take things a few steps further and has targeted the trades by adding thermal imaging, a laser measurement system plus air quality sensors.

In short, if you’re an engineer, plumber, builder, sparky or farmer who is tired of replacing busted phones, and the extra bells and whistles appeal, the S61 might be just what the doctor ordered.

When you first pick up the S61, there’s no mistaking its rugged looks and solid build. Where most flagship phones are wafer thin, the S61 is bit of a chunky monkey. Its aluminium chassis has a reassuringly solid heft to it. The 5.2-inch display has three physical buttons located below it (back, home and recent apps). With on-screen buttons now trendy as phone makers seek to banish bezels, the S61’s physical buttons may seem like an anachronism, but if you’re wearing gloves, they’re actually pretty useful.

Cat has also done away with the clumsy mechanical switches for waterproofing and have added a polycarbonate edge around the display to protect it from drops and other damage. Out of the box, there is also a pre-installed screen protector covering its Gorilla Glass 5 display panel.

The actual display uses IPS LCD technology with a 1920 x 1080-pixel resolution. While it is crisp and vivid, it struggled under direct sunlight. This was easily fixed by disabling auto-brightness and cranking brightness levels right up.

The USB-C charging port on its underside is protected by a flap, and on its right-hand side, there’s a textured power button along with volume buttons. On the left, there’s a programmable button, which can be set up as a user-defined shortcut for functions such as push-to-talk, or as a flashlight and so on. Extra handily, it can also support two features, so you could, in theory, use it to light up the torch and answer or end calls at the same time. Both the SIM and MicroSD trays are also protected by flaps, as is the 3.5mm headphone socket.

Flipping the S61 over reveals three lenses. The first is a thermal infra-red camera as well as a 16-megapixel camera. At the bottom sits a small laser lens for measuring distances.

While the S61 is easily the Humvee of smartphones and as such couldn’t be called beautiful, it is exceptionally well designed. This extends to its back being textured to improve grip. It also means the phone isn’t likely to slide off a table when vibrating and ringing. All told, it is a comfy phone to hold, even if it is almost twice the weight of the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus at 260g.

The Cat S61 takes its ruggedised credentials seriously too. It’s designed to withstand drops from heights of up 1.8 meters onto concrete (!), and can operate in temperatures ranging from -25 to 55C. It can be submerged in water at a depth of up to three meters for up to an hour, and it’ll handle splashes from high-pressure water jets. Its touchscreen will also work with wet fingers, and there’s a glove mode (which’ll come in dead handy in -25c).

Under its hood sits a Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, plus a MicroSD card slot that can take up to 256GB of additional storage. For tradies who like to take their tunage out on jobs, the S61 should be more than ample.

While the S61 isn’t a high-end gaming machine (benchmark tests show it offers around the same performance as a Moto G6 Plus, which has the same processor and RAM as is used here), it is one tough nut. Where the G6 Plus would be luckly to survive a day on a building site without a protective case, the S61 will keep on going.

The phone uses Android 8.0 Oreo (a bit of Googling reveals Cat have committed to an Android P update). Its integrated Flir camera provides a handy way to find hot areas (which show up in predator vision as bright white, yellow or orange while cold spots tend to be darker and bluish). For builders wanting to test insulation, or plumbers wanting to locate hot water pipes it’ll be a real boon.

The S61 also has a built-in laser measurement do-hickey. Once calibrated, using it is simply a matter of pointing the red laser dot where you want to measure, and it’ll give you an accurate read for distances of up to 8 metres. I wasn’t sure how to use it, but there is also a shape tool which lets you measure an area. The S61 can then calculate how many tiles you’ll need to cover that area.

There is also a built-in air quality sensor. It can detect volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and is designed for indoor use. It can also show temperature and humidity data, so it’ll handily tell you when the paint is dry.

Lastly is an app toolbox which provides access to a vast array of apps aimed at tradies and even trampers.

While the S61 is a ruggedised phone that’s designed to handle workplace rough and tumble, and it comes with bells and whistles that’ll make life so much easier for tradies, any rugged phone will only ever be as useful as its battery life permits.

Cat have covered this off too – they’ve added in a sizeable 4500mAh battery. With testing, I found it easily lasted two days between charges. Several times I even stretched it out to three days with light use.

The addition of USB-C means that it supports Quick Charge 3.0. With just 15 minutes of charging it is possible to get several hours of light use. Full charging only takes two hours.

The Cat S61 isn’t your run of the mill phone. Cat has cleverly designed it with a specific market in mind. With PB Tech selling it for $1598.99, it might seem a tad expensive but if you compare its sticker price to the cost of a dedicated thermal imaging camera, laser ruler and air quality measurement gear, it’s actually pretty good value for money, especially as it provides all this functionality in a single handy package.

Price aside, the S61 is also built to last. I cringe when mistreating expensive hardware, yet the S61 survived both drop and dunk testing (as it was on loan I didn’t do a 1.8 metre drop onto concrete). Where a typical smartphone will curl up its toes and die, the S61 laughs in the face of rough and tumble and keeps on trucking. If you’re a builder, plumber, tiler, painter, sparky or construction worker, the S61 is probably the phone for you.

Pat has been talking about tech on TV, radio and print for over 20 years, having served time as a TV tech guy and currently penning reviews for Witchdoctor. He loves nothing more than rolling his sleeves up and playing with shiny gadgets.

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