Oh we’ve had a lot of people waiting for
this phone. If you’re after quick judgement then I’ll start by saying it’s definitely
worth the wait. There’re a lot of details to go over but
I don’t mind starting this review by saying the S60 the best rugged smartphone available.
Of course it also commands a pretty high price, so if you want to know why you should buy
one, listen on. Starting off on the spec sheet, the S60 beats
all its competition. Sure, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 chip isn’t
the absolute top processor; however it’s still very capable and powers many mid to
high range phones, with efficient multitasking. You also get decent rendering from it for
games or other applications. This is matched up to 3 GB of RAM too; more
than enough memory to keep the system running smoothly.
A generous 32 GB of storage has been provided, plus the almost stock Android 6.0 installation
allows for SD cards to be formatted as internal storage.
It would have been nice to have a full HD panel but the 720p 4.7” screen is respectable
enough and also serves to limit the power draw.
The display on my review unit seemed a bit yellow / warm. I do tend to compare a lot
to the super-white displays of Samsung and Apple though, and a preference for cold/warm
screens is personal. The colour profile may also help with the
readability in direct sunlight. Corning Gorilla Glass 4 sits on top of the
screen to prevent scratches. Even with pretty rough treatment I’m yet to see any deep
nicks or scoring. Cat don’t advertise the S60’s screen as
being unbreakable. For that reason I didn’t go out of my way to properly wallop it, and
neither should you. That said though the results of a few tests left me feeling comfortable
about dropping it onto a pavement. It’s also worth mentioning the huge 3,800
mAh battery. It’s a beast and even heavy users should get well into their second day.
Inescapable is the size of the S60, unavoidable in such a robust design.
The 4.7” makes sure the front profile of the handset isn’t that large. The height/width
dimension is about the same as a new Galaxy S7 Edge for instance.
What adds bulk is the thickness and materials. Cat’s S60 is 13 mil deep – a good half
centimetre or more chunkier than your usual phone. A die-cast metal chassis pushes the
weight up too, so you’ll feel an S60 in your pocket.
Of course this is what we want from a rugged phone. Cat aren’t targeting the average buyer.
The S60 is for trades people and those with highly active outdoor lifestyles.
With this in mind I consider the S60 a fairly handsome product. Silver trim covers the sides
and breaks up the front and back. Splashes of Cat brand yellow appear here and there.
The back plate has a cool carbon-fibre effect finish to add grip. Even the ‘bump’ for
the FLIR lamp has been neatly folded into the overall silhouette. It seems a lot of
thought has been put into the modelling of this phone.
The Android system are physical buttons with satisfying click and travel. The same is true
of the volume, power and programmable key. Overall the build is solid and inspires confidence
that it will perform as advertised. Android 6.0 Marshmallow is installed and it’s
very close to stock, although there are a few tweaks and additional apps.
All new Marshmallow features are present, including the permissions structure, battery
management and formatting SD cards as internal storage.
In the settings all usual Android options are available with a couple of extras for
setting functions for the programmable & SOS buttons.
Compared to other lesser known brands, Cat tend to stay on top of updates. In the couple
of weeks we’ve had the S60, there have already been two major downloads.
In fact didn’t want us to form any impressions until a specific update was available – this
strikes me as a company interested in making sure the consumer experience is a good one.
A few added apps sit in the app drawer. The full written review covers these in depth.
Mostly these boil down to a hiking app with lots of useful on screen information, an SOS
messaging system, audio profiles and an interesting personal assistant tool for pulling up information
about the phone. You’ll also find the App Toolbox, a sort
of shopping window for finding new apps on Google Play. Some apps are promoted, other
links provide lists of popular apps for outdoor pursuits or particular industries. I actually
really like this and think it shows the team behind the S60 really thinking about their
users. Google Play can be a confusing minefield to
a novice user so having this additional layer, whilst in some ways abstraction, is a helpful
addition. The FLIR camera is the big draw to the S60.
If you’re unaware of the technology, FLIR stands for Forward Looking InfraRed. FLIR
Systems are a company known for providing world-leading hardware utilising this technology.
Their tech is traditionally developed for specific requirements, although recently popularised
due to the FLIR ONE module for Android and iOS phones. This gadget won awards and brought
thermal imaging technology to the masses with a well designed combination of hardware and
software. FLIR technology is built in to the S60 and
Cat have worked directly with FLIR Systems to seamlessly integrate it. You’ll also
find a modified version of the FLIR app that works perfectly with Android the 6.0 version
on the phone. The results are very good indeed. Even more impressive is that a dedicated FLIR
ONE module would set you back £200. Considering the overall price of the S60 and an initially
expensive phone becomes very good value for money.
The technical specs of the FLIR camera are available online so I won’t repeat them
here. Rest assured we’ve tried the system out in a variety of locations and found the
app to be solid and responsive, with the results clear and on par with example images and video
recorded from a standalone FLIR ONE. The FLIR app has a few options available for
stills, video or time-lapse and also allows you some customisation in the colouring of
the heat map overlay. Traditionally this is black/violet for cold
through to yellow/white for hot, although you can choose from nine separate options,
which may show differences better depending on your situation.
Of course the mileage you get from the FLIR camera depends on your personal requirements.
If you have no immediate use for it then it becomes little more than a cool toy bundled
with the phone. Although a very cool toy at that and something you may find fun or even
practical uses for later. For others, there are undoubtedly hundreds
of situations where the FLIR tech built in to a smartphone could enhance their work or
provide new opportunities. I’m a fan of companies trying something
new. Often new hardware tricks get sidelined as gimmicks not long after announcement but
here is something different. Hats off to Cat for investing in a feature that sets their
phone apart from the crowd. Moving on from the FLIR camera, the main cameras
are pretty standard fair for a mid range smartphone. The common 13 MP sensor matches up to many
other consumer level smartphones of similar price.
By default pictures are taken using the stock Google Camera app, the same as if you booted
up a new Nexus. This has improved a lot in the past 12-18 months.
A few tweaks are available in the settings – variable image quality, adjustable ISO and
exposure etc. The options aren’t massively in depth compared to a new Samsung, Sony or
LG, however that is to be expected. The big names of consumer smartphones have
had several years to develop their imaging software. Sticking to Google’s app was a wiser
decision for Cat than trying to develop their own.
As you might expect from the stock application, the results are OK. You can get some very
nice shots outdoors and in good conditions, however the image processing can start make
the results a little grainy when indoors or in low light.
The settings can improve indoor & low-light performance a little. 12 pre-set scenes let
you can tinker a fair bit, however there’s only so much you can affect things.
For most people the final images are perfectly acceptable. This isn’t iPhone or Galaxy
level mobile photography but the S60 doesn’t position itself as this. Instead you get a
functional 13 MP shooter that performs as well as any other mid-range phone would.
Cat could have taken a much easier route to success. Already a top recognised brand for
tough phones, all they had to do was put better specs in a basic rugged case.
This would probably still been the best on the market. Yet they’ve opted to take a risk
and develop a phone that is anathema to the bland, boring products we see cropping up
everywhere else. More commendable though is the result – more than just a decently built
tough phone with a gimmick. The S60 really is a high quality piece of
tech. It’s thick but balanced well and doesn’t feel oversized. The trim and splashes of colour
are finished neatly. The software has been well integrated. Even the FLIR camera’s
bump is worked in smoothly, with edging and branding to make part of the phone, not just
an afterthought. Until now the word “tough” preceding smartphone
was a justification. You could say “the phone isn’t great but that’s fine because
it’s been made tough…” Cat can banish that train of thought now.
The S60 stands on its own. Of course it’s not for everyone. But neither
is an iPhone. Or a Samsung Galaxy. Every brand differentiates with individual features. The
S60 has thermal imaging and a rugged build to stand apart, however it’s a good smartphone
first. That’s an important distinction. It can’t be denied it costs more than your
spare change to buy an S60, although if you’re part of the target market the price is easily
justified. Cat have raised the bar for this category
of phones. The bottom line is if you want the best rugged Android in 2016, you want
a Cat S60.