Cat S60 reviewed: A different sort of flagship
Are you the type of person who is more worried about cracking your smartphone’s screen than its performance?
Perhaps you see the smartphone as a tool rather than a luxurious piece of kit that warrants a Rose Gold paint job?
And finally, are you sick of “innovations” like vibrating home buttons and iris scanners? Would you like a feature on a phone that is both cool, and practical?
If you answered yes to at least two of those questions then welcome to the review of the Cat S60 smartphone.
For those that answered no, I urge you to stick around because this handset is both incredibly cool, has features that make sense for its market and is what I like to think is a much needed breath of fresh air in the overcrowded Android smartphone scene.
Cat S60 reviewed: Hot tamale
The first thing you notice about the S60 is not its half inch thick body or its 4.7inch display sunk down into the depths of the chassis. No, the first thing that eight of ten people have noticed is the hump at the top side of the phone.
While I can’t speak for what’s inside said hump but the FLIR branding its adorned with makes known the fact that inside this phone houses a thermal camera.
Now if you’re dreaming up ways to spy on the neighbours through the walls dream on.
You won’t be able to see hot pipes through the walls the moment you turn them on but you are able to see distinct temperature variations in the environment. This gives you an estimated temperature of things such as a the braai, your child’s bath water or your car engine.
To be clear, the S60 is not grading the objects in a frame against a temperature scale. Instead, it’s comparing the objects to one another and assigning the thermal colours in that respect.
You can even use the camera as a sort of night vision camera to see any warm bodies attempting to sneak up on.
The thermal camera is able to record video and you drag and drop various markers onto the image to get spot temperatures. It’s an extremely useful piece of kit and has so many use cases listing them is impossible.
Cat S60 reviewed: Built tough
So now that we’ve addressed the hump, we can move on to the rest of the phone.
I’ve seen “rugged” phones before but nothing quite as rugged as this. The S60 was tested against the MIL-STD-810G standard.
This battery of tests is designed to address how a smartphone copes with environmental conditions such as temperature shock, rain, humidity. It’s a more thorough type of testing compared to the Ingress Protection that Samsung and iPhone waste no time boasting about.
We don’t have the equipment to test the claim that the phone and its components will survive temperatures ranging from -25 degrees Celsius to 55 Celsius.
What we can test however, is the claim that the S60 will survive a fall of 1.8m to the ground.
We can happily report that the claim holds up, the photos scattered throughout this review were taken after I had dropped the phone from my ear on to the tiles in my kitchen.
I tried different combinations of drops and each time the S60 came away working. Sadly, the body of the phone does take a knock if you drop it on rougher services but a small blemish beats a cracked screen seven days a week.
Waterproofing is catered for, while we never went as extreme as 5m for one hour, we dropped the phone in a glass of water and the bath and it still works.
My biggest problem with the 5m for one hour claim is that you have to flip two gold switches at the top and the bottom of the phone for it to actually be resistant at 5m for an hour.
Sadly you can’t have those switches flipped at all times as they block off the speakers to protect them. You can still hear audio with the switches flipped but its incredibly faint.
If you don’t touch the switches the S60 is waterproof up to 2m.
Other features worth mentioning are the programmable SOS button which you can set to send a text when you’re in trouble, the decision to put it behind a flap is both smart (so you don’t accidentally hit it) and confusing because in an emergency you would need to fiddle with it a bit to get it open.
Cat S60 reviewed: Specifications
Let’s make something very clear right away. Even though the S60 is priced in the same bracket as flagship phones like the P9, the iPhone 6s and the Samsung S7, it doesn’t have the same performance.
There is an octa-core Cortex-A53 CPU split into two quad-cores clockd at 1.5GHz and 1.2Ghz. This is paired with 3GB of RAM and as a whole the system works well. There are some apps that take a while to load, such as the FLIR app but once open it runs well.
As I mentioned right at the start, this phone is not meant to beat every benchmark it faces and is most certainly not geared towards high performance. As you can see from the graph above, the S60 is more like last year’s flagship smartphones than this years bevy of handsets. My experience with the S60 overall is that it is capable, apps run well, and won’t slow your need to work down.
Games run nicely but I found the form factor of the S60 a bit of a problem. For instance its far to heavy at 223g to hold with one hand and while the body is bulky I found the 4.7inch display a bit small for gaming.
Granted, the focus of this handset isn’t gaming so I haven’t punished the phone for it, its just something worth mentioning.
Other apps such as Google Docs run nicely and you can quite easily do a bit of document editing without frustration setting in.
The pre-installed FLIR app is a nice touch. The app allows you to compile a PDF with both a thermal image and a plain image into one document with estimated temperature readings on each side, it’s a really nice feature for those in the field.
We’ve also included the results of our WiFi test below. While the line we tested on was a slow 2Mbps affair, the results show that the WiFi in the S60 is good and signal degradation is in keeping with what you would expect at varying distances.
|Same room||5m away||10m away|
As for the 13MP snapper at the back of the phone it performs well as long as there is light around. Taking photos in conditions with low to no light will yield an almost black screen while photos in low light look quite nice actually but be the judged of that for yourself below.
Cat S60 reviewed: Power station
The S60 is powered by a 3 800mAh battery which doesn’t give up. This doesn’t really surprise me too much though because the specs on the S60 are low and the screen isn’t all that big.
Using the phone as a WiFi hotspot , with screen brightness at full as well as switching between apps gave me eight hours of life.
With WiFi, Bluetooth, and mobile data switched on and the screen set to full brightness you can squeeze ten hours of continuous use out of the S60.
With mobile data off, and the WiFi on you can get two full days (48 hours) of use from the phone.
Cat S60 reviewed: So is it worth R13 000?
If you spend more time in Mugg and Bean than muggy mining shafts then no, the Cat S60 is not going to be worth R13 000 to you. As cool as the thermal camera is and as incredibly robust as the S60 is, its just not made for the person running about town.
As I mentioned in passing, the handset is also heavy and awkwardly shaped, I’ve noticed my jeans now sag when the S60 is in my pocket though that may be more of a sign that I need a new belt more than anything.
However, the S60 most definitely is a breath of fresh air and offers users an experience that isn’t trying to mimic another brand.
Unfortunately, the key features of this phone will only benefit a few select people in industries such as construction, mining and engineering to name a few.
I joked at the launch of the S60 that you could get a FLIR USB camera for a cheapo phone and use that but the S60 is more than its thermal camera.
There’s a good smartphone under that carbon fibre with a huge battery and enough ruggedness to withstand most things you can throw at the S60.
I do think R13 000 is a hard ask all things considered but if you’re sick of breaking your phone and need something that takes a beating, the S60 is as tough as you can get.