There's no dearth of Android smartphones in the Indian market. The online and offline space offers plenty of options scattered in various price segments to match one's requirement. But when you talk about rugged handsets; devices that can withstand shocks, water, dust and other non-favourable weather conditions, there's very little to explore in our Indian stores.
The best you can get in the name of rugged and durable handsets are a handful of Android handsets from Samsung, Sony, LG and HTC. These smartphones come with IP65-68 certification that makes them withstand dust, water pressure (to an extent) and accidental shocks depending upon the quality of material and protective glass used in their construction process.
Being an assessor of technology products, I had the chance to test almost every flagship handset from the above mentioned companies. However these devices, despite being metallic and flaunting the toughest Gorilla Glasses and latest IP ratings, never managed to give a sense of confidence in harsh conditions such as prolonged usage during rains, direct impact on screen, accidental drops on hard surface, etc.
Having said that, the handset I am using these days is of a different league. It is tough, certainly the most rugged mobile phone I have used and you can buy in the Indian market today.
It is Cat S60, designed by the renowned Caterpillar Inc., a company known for its durable, high quality products built to survive the challenges presented by the harshest and toughest environments. Cat S60 is also the world's first phone with a real-time thermal imaging camera. And the best part, it runs Android, precisely the near stock Android 6.0 Marshmallow.
So without any further ado, let's find out what Cat S60, the company's first smartphone for the Indian market has to offer.
Design: Built like a tank
Almost twice in thickness when compared to other handsets, Cat S60 is unlike any other smartphone we have tested. With its asymmetrical design, big chunky buttons and flaps, it is undoubtedly the most unusual but eye-catchy mobile device in the Indian market you can buy today.
Cat S60's industrial design speaks for its toughness. The handset is made out of a strengthened die cast frame and is drop-proof to 1.8m. More so, the smartphone even exceeds the military specifications, which makes it ideal for construction workers, engineers, mountaineers, and others living rugged lifestyles.
The company also claims that it is the world's most waterproof smartphone and can survive depths of up to 5 meters for 60 minutes, provided you have set the lockdown switches to 5m mark. There are two lockdown switches, one on top and other at the bottom of the screen that prevents the speakers and earpiece from water damage.
App rescue from water damage
In case the handset detects any water damage, it prompts you to use the Speaker Dry app. The app produces a series of high pitched sounds and vibrations to push back the left out water from the electronic parts.
Extra protection for ports
Coming on to some other important design aspects, the top edge of the Cat S60 has a bump to accommodate the FLIR thermal imaging camera. There are three physical Android keys at the bottom of the screen to help you operate the handset.
The volume rockers are placed on the right side and the left edge houses the power button, a programmable key, SOS button, microUSB port and the headphone jack. The SOS button lets you send a message to the assigned contacts with your location in case of any emergency.
The ports are protected by covers to prevent the moisture and water from seeping in. The buttons are bigger from the usual set of buttons we see on regular smartphones as to make them usable with gloves.
IP68 certified to prevent water damage
As the phone is IP68 certified, I couldn't resist myself from giving it some water treatment. The month of July has the rains in full flow in Delhi NCR and I was quite confident in carrying the device around and clicking pictures.
Cat S60 easily handles water splashes, and even more without any damage. Moreover, a 5 feet fall on a concrete surface also failed to do any harm to the device. This is something I just cannot visualize with all glass-metal handsets from mainstream smartphone makers.
Interesting rear panel
The rear panel of the smartphone seems quite interesting and is bound to turn heads. There's a nice criss-cross pattern giving the handset a good in-hand grip. The camera module comprises of one main camera and the thermal imaging camera placed in vertical line along with a square chamber that houses the SIM card slots.
Overall, Cat S60 brings a thoughtful and robust design can survive the most extreme conditions. The only thing that seems missing is a fingerprint scanner which would have made the device secure in case of any unauthorized access.
Display: Small but workable LCD screen
Cat S60 features a 4.7-inch 720p screen. While the HD resolution sounds absolutely dated in today's time for a smartphone priced at Rs. 60k, Cat S60 is not fighting to deliver an out-of-the world multimedia playback experience. Instead, it is built to survive the harshest conditions and deliver on basic mobile tasks for which a 4.7-inch HD screen is quite apt.
Even more than that as the screen can be used with gloves and wet fingers. The touch response is good and display is very bright to deliver a comfortable viewing experience in outdoors.
You also get Corning Gorilla Glass 4 coating which will offer some level of protection; however I was expecting something more than the mainstream Corning Glass protection considering the other rugged features of the S60.
Hardware and Software: Entry-level hardware to get the basic jobs done
Once again Cat S60 does not come out as a high-end Android device when it comes to processing power and multitasking prowess. The smartphone is backed by a modest Snapdragon 617 CPU from Qualcomm which is paired with 3GB of RAM to handle multitasking. This is not a winning competition and does not yield best results while executing graphic intensive tasks such as gaming, video playback, photo editing, etc. Moreover, the smartphone also gets heat up while running strenuous tasks.
However, I did not face any performance issues while running the everyday tasks such as calling, Email, camera, social networking, casual gaming, etc. The best part, you don't need to worry about the non-favourable weather conditions as smartphone can pretty handle anything.
One major contributing factor in making this entry-level hardware a good everyday performer is the underlying software. Cat S60 runs on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, which is not the latest mobile OS from Google but its near stock UI delivers a smooth and lag free user experience.
I did not come across any stutters or app crashes. The apps fire up instantly, except the thermal camera which takes a while due to extra processing requirements. The screen navigation, in-app experience, etc. are free of judders.
Cat S60 also comes pre-loaded with a number of useful apps such as OfficeSuite, AVG Antivirus, File Commander, etc. The preloaded Zello app works as a walkie-talkie to send voice messages over Wi-Fi or mobile data. Besides, the smartphone features a dedicated app- Hike for adventurers that offer important insights such as altitude, air pressure, temperature, distance, etc.
And while I used Google apps most of the time to install all the required apps, you can also try ‘App Toolbox' which offers a variety of apps from multiple categories including in different categories including construction, sports, farming, etc.
Camera: Entry-level main camera but the Thermal camera is a great tool
While the 13MP main camera on Cat S60 is just good for basic level of photography, the real highlight of the smartphone is the Flir powered Thermal Imaging Camera. It is the first-of-its kind thermal camera on a mobile device and can come quit handy for a number of industrial jobs.
The camera unit can penetrate smoke and can measure the temperature of objects emitting heat from as far as 50ft-100ft. This can be utilized by firefighters, hikers, architectures, engineers, plumbers, etc.
The camera modeule utilizes MSX Technology exclusive to FLIR and can even capture thermal video and time-lapse footage. Moreover it is a great tool for hikers, campers and anyone going for an adventure trip in woods to keep a check on wild animals during night. The camera can easily give you a good glimpse of living and non-living objects emitting heat in low-light conditions.
Moreover, the thermal camera can come really handy in identifying gaps in insulation, electrical faults and to monitor the performance of heavy machinery in industrial jobs.
As far as the main 13MP goes, it captures decent shots in ample light conditions but fails to impress in low-light. The shutter speed is slow and camera struggles in focusing on subjects.
You can only expect a basic level of detailing and colour reproduction through this camera. Besides, the 5MP front camera can capture good selfie and can be used for video calling.
Battery and Connectivity: Decent battery life and all required connectivity features
I use my phone quite aggressively and the usage pattern usually involves a lot of video/audio playback through wired and wireless headphones, Google maps, Facebook, twitter, prolonged camera usage, emails, etc. Cat S60 did not disappoint me throughput my usage.
It's not the best I have tested in this price-point but was certainly not the worst. I had to recharge the phone at around 8 pm when the phone's battery showed a 15 percent mark, which is pretty decent. The 3,800 mAh battery unit can easily last a day or more on moderate usage.
As far as connectivity is concerned, Cat S60 comes equipped with 4G VoLTE, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1, USB-OTG, NFC, FM radio and GPS. Most of the handsets have started cutting corners by not including FM these days but it is something that smartphone makers should make a mandatory feature, just like SOS.
Cat S60 is specifically designed for consumers who have a rough lifestyle. The smartphone does not offer the top-of-the line hardware nor does it deliver on the latest software.
However the trade-off for a rugged design that can survive the most extreme conditions and the useful thermal imaging camera simply makes it a great buy for industrial purposes.
The price-point is steep but for adventurers, hikers, campers, firefighters and others involved in tough jobs, Cat S60 will come out as a perfect companion.
If you belong to the mentioned list of users, go for it, otherwise the market is full of high-end mainstream smartphones that works a great day-to-day mobile device and also scores decent on toughness.