Do you spend more hours at work wearing a high vis jacket than a suit jacket? Then the super-tough Cat S60 might be the phone you need.
Yep, that’s ‘Cat’ as in ‘Caterpillar’, the construction company that also makes massive yellow earth movers. Phones for the hard hat brigade are nothing new, but the S60 aims to take ruggedness to a new level.
And that’s not all - it’s also the first smartphone in the world with a built-in thermal imaging camera, so you can live out your Predator fantasies in your lunch break, then use it to spot power lines and hot water pipes when it’s time to get back to work.
CAT S60 DESIGN - BUILT TO LAST
Make no mistake - the S60 is a chunky brute of a phone. That die-cast steel frame doesn’t bend or flex at all, and you won’t ever forget it’s in your pocket. It’s 12.9mm thick - basically two mainstream phones back-to-back.
It’s fully weather-sealed, MIL-STD-810G certified against dust and sand, and built to shrug off drops of up to 1.8m. Good luck killing it on your average building site.
Water’s not a problem, either. It’ll survive a dunking down to 5M for up to 60 minutes, as long as you remember to flip the speaker and microphone lockdown switches before you hit the water. Without them, you’re still covered down to 2M, but better safe than sorry, eh?
The carbon fibre-effect rear and occasional yellow accents are the only bits that stand out in the style stakes, but there’s a lot going on around the sides. Volume buttons on the right, power and a programmable shortcut button on the left, plus flaps to protect the headphone jack and USB port.
There’s also an SOS button - flick open the cover, hold the red button down and the phone will fire off a message to a pre-defined contact, along with your GPS coordinates. Handy in an emergency, as long as you’ve got a phone signal.
Flip it over and you’ll spot the little door that hides the SIM card and microSD card slots.
CAT S60 CAMERAS - STRAIGHTFORWARD SNAPS
You’ll also spot the twin camera sensors. The main 13MP sensor isn’t going to win any photography prizes, but it gets the job done when there’s enough light. Too much though, and it struggles to not overexpose your shots. Detail starts to disappear and bright areas bleed into the darker ones when you’re shooting in bright light.
It’s not great in the dark either, with the slow shutter speed making it tricky to get clear, non-blurry pics. Autofocus could be snappier, too, and my test shots are noisier than many other phones now offer.
It’ll do in a pinch, but if you’re looking to fill out your Instagram feed this isn’t going to win you many likes.
Let’s be honest, though: all you really care about is that second sensor.
It’s a FLIR thermal imaging camera that records temperatures as different coloured blobs. There’s a separate app dedicated to your Predator-style pics, overlaying a low-res feed from the main camera on top of the thermal image to make it clear what you’ve just snapped.
There must be a lot of processing going on under the hood, because the FLIR app is seriously sluggish. The live view frame rate tops out at 9fps, and there were plenty of times where I’d tap a button and wonder if it just hadn’t reacted yet, or if I’d actually not pressed firmly enough.
Actual resolution is a really low 640x480, and that’s after upscaling. Still, you’re not going to get better quality from any other off-the-shelf thermal imaging sensor, so this is actually as good as it currently gets for this sort of tech.
Temperature readings are saved in the metadata of every pic, so you can add measurements to any part of the image - even after you’ve pressed the shutter. FLIR reckons it’ll be accurate to within a few degrees, so you won’t need to break out a temperature probe unless you need absolute precision. You can change the colour scheme at any time too; the app has about a dozen choices.
Thermal imaging might sound like overkill, but it could be useful to tradesmen. It’ll pick out any gaps in insulation, spot electrical faults, and monitor machinery performance - and for a lot less cash than a dedicated thermal camera.
FLIR says it’ll come in handy for checking how much gas you’ve got left in your BBQ bottle, and for finding the freshest loaf of bread at the market too - but we’re not convinced you’ll be able to pull it off without looking like a bit of a weirdo.
CAT S60 DISPLAY - SCREEN TEST
Your pics won’t be leaping off the 4.7in screen. It’s a lowly 720p resolution LCD panel that’s bright enough, even outdoors, but looks just a little bit muted on anything other than the FLIR camera. Regular pictures and even the homescreen are lacking a bit of vibrancy.
Like most rugged phones, the bezels on this thing are colossal. The panel seems to sit a long way below the glass too - both choices made to keep it safe from bumps, scrapes and impacts. We threw the phone down some stairs (all in the name of thorough testing) and it didn’t show any signs of rough treatment.
It’s the viewing angles and super-high brightness that give this an edge over an OLED screen for working outdoors. Pictures don’t look particularly sharp, and there’s not as much detail as a higher-res screen, but at least you’ll be able to see what’s going on when the sun is shining.
CAT S60 PERFORMANCE - STEADY SPEED
The S60 isn’t exactly packed with the latest and greatest components, either.
The Snapdragon 617 CPU and 3GB of RAM are easily fast enough for Android Marshmallow (especially as Cat hasn’t bogged it down with a custom skin), but sometimes it can take an extra second or two to switch apps. Loading the thermal camera always took about 3-4 seconds during testing, which was just a little bit irritating.
At least the S60 gets one thing right: battery life. That mid-range CPU, 720p screen and hefty 3800mAh battery help it squeeze out well over two days of light use, so if you aren’t constantly on Facebook or YouTube (not something we’d expect if you’re working on a building site) you won’t need to bring a charger to work with you.
Even if you hit multimedia apps and games hard, you’ll still get a full day of runtime before you need to look for a mains socket. It’s got Quick Charge 2.0 on board too, so you’ll be good to go in just a few hours.
CAT S60 ANDROID - SAFETY FIRST
It’s got a mostly stock setup, but Cat has still managed to add a few custom apps to Android to help stand the S60 apart - hardly something it needs considering the spec sheet.
Our favourite is the Hike app, which puts a compass, the weather, longitude/latitude coordinates, a distance calculator and flashlight on-screen. There’s even an SOS button that flashes the torch with morse code for getting attention. Useful if you’re planning to climb any mountains.
You might not need the Speaker Dry app unless you’re planning on getting wet; it plays high and low frequency notes to blast any water out of the speakers once you’re back on dry land. It definitely made a difference in testing though.
CAT s60 verdict
The S60 really is the smartphone version of Gordon Freeman’s HEV suit. It ticks every box that will suit a hard outdoor life, and doesn’t seriously skimp out on hardware to make that happen.
OK, so you’re not exactly getting flagship specs, even if you’re paying top-end money, but the thermal camera could make all the difference if you’re in the trade.
If you’re not slinging bricks or unclogging pipes for a living, though, you’d need to be a Mr Magoo-level clutz to need such extreme protection. A waterproof Galaxy S7 should save you from puddles, pools and toilet dunkings, which is about as dangerous as it gets for most office-bound desk jockeys.
It’s a niche phone, sure, but one that won’t let you down when the going gets tough.