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Cat S61 hands-on: See like the Predator

The Cat S61 might not be the prettiest smartphone we saw at MWC 2018, but it's certainly one of the most unique.

Published onMarch 1, 2018

Most of the devices that come to market nowadays try to appeal to a wide range of people. But a beautiful glass phone might not be for everyone, and some people need a device that’s more durable in their day-to-day life. Luckily, Cat has been filling that niche with durable smartphones that can survive more than just a drop from your bedside table. The company is probably best known for its large, yellow construction vehicles, but who better to make a phone built to last than a company that specializes in gear made to take a beating? At MWC 2018, Cat announced the Cat S61 smartphone, a follow-up to the S60.

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If you’re looking for a slim and sleek smartphone, look elsewhere. The S61 is built like a brick and feels just as solid. It’s a large hunk of plastic and metal that reminds me more of an old Game Boy than a smartphone, only with some really cool tech inside that sets it apart. We’ll get to that in a bit.

The S61 has rounded aluminum edges and a grippy black plastic that makes it super easy to hold, though it also feels huge and would probably have taken up my entire pocket if it wasn’t tethered to the table.

The front has a 5.2-inch display covered with Gorilla Glass 5, with capacitive buttons sitting below the display. The back, home, and multitasking buttons are raised slightly above the body of the phone and feature a nice, tactile clickiness. You should have no problems finding the buttons if you’re wearing gloves. The right side of the phone houses the textured power button and two volume buttons, while the multifunction and SD/SIM card slots are on the left.

The phone is IP68 certified for dust resistance and can be submerged in up to three meters of water for an hour. Under the hood, the S61 features a big 4,500 mAh battery, 4 GB of RAM, 64 GB of storage, and microSD expansion. It’s also running Android 8.1 Oreo out of the box, which Samsung can’t even say about its brand new Galaxy S9. Cat promised the S61 would receive an update to Android P when it’s released, too.

The previous S60 was the first smartphone with a thermal camera built-in, and the S61 continues down that path by improving on image quality. It can now measure temperatures up to 400 degrees Celsius. As cool as it was to play with at the event, my experience with the software wasn’t the greatest. The interface wasn’t as snappy as some of the other flagships we’ve seen, but at the same time that’s to be expected as I can only imagine that the FLIR thermal imaging camera is resource intensive.

This is all powered by the Snapdragon 630 SoC, so don’t expect top-tier performance when running more resource-intensive tasks. When I was trying to start the camera, the camera app actually crashed twice before I was able to finally start seeing the world like a snake person. The phone isn’t coming out until Q2 however, so we’d expect Cat to iron out some of these bugs before launch.

Speaking of the camera, the Cat S61 sports a 16 MP shooter that can shoot up to 4K video. It also has an 8 MP selfie camera. All of these sensors are packed into a small hump on the top-right side of the phone. This small hump sticks out like a sore thumb, but that’s okay — this phone isn’t trying to win any design awards.

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Aside from the thermal camera, the Cat S61 also has a built-in laser distance measurement and an indoor air quality sensor. It’s an interesting feature to have in normal conditions, but can be downright life-saving in extreme work environments. There’s also a slew of other useful applications built in like vehicle diagnostics and asphalt monitoring, but we obviously couldn’t test that out on the show floor.

Overall, it’s great to see a phone fill a niche that isn’t being filled by many other manufacturers. For people that work in extreme conditions, this is a good option (or even if you’re just tough on your devices). It isn’t pretty and it will cost a whopping 899 Euros ($999 USD) when it launches in Q2, but this might be in the running for one of the best rugged phones out there.

Next: Cat S41 review

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