It’s a rare phone that makes it 24 hours in my house without some sort of scratch or ding appearing on its screen. Hell, I even managed to scratch a brand new Kindle once in my sleep. The Kindle was a good two metres away from me. I’ve no idea what happened.

So I’ve always fancied a CAT phone: designed for mining and construction workers, they’ve always struck me as being perfect for dusty, jostling Joburg. How tough are they? There’s no other phone manufacturer that kicks off its launch events with a video of a digger driving across a road made from smartphones and not leaving a mark.

The trouble is, that they’ve never really appealed aesthetically or technically. While the outside may be cutting edge technology, inside they’ve always been a bit prosaic with humdrum processors, pale screens and un-upgradable operating systems.

Seals around the ports meet 1P6X dustproof standards and 10X7 waterproofing to 1m.
Seals around the ports meet 1P6X dustproof standards and 10X7 waterproofing to 1m.

Plus, all that armour casing really ruins the line of your coat, right?

All that might change. Yesterday CAT launched its latest S50 phone in Germany, at IFA. And today it was in South Africa to give us a chance to get a quick hands on. So what’s it like?

Let’s look at the tech specs, and compare it to my current phone – a Samsung Galaxy S4. At 185g, it weighs just 55g more than the former Samsung flagship. No mean feat considering it’s waterproof to 1m as well as being specced to 810G Mil Spec standards for toughness, dust resistance, ability to withstand stupid temperatures like -25 degrees Celsius.

The battery is slightly larger at 2630mHa compared to 2600mHa for the Samsung, and there’s Qi compatible wireless charging built in too. It has a slightly smaller 4.7inch screen and a 1280×700 resolution IPS panel.

The downside of being tough? The battery door is now sealed closed - there's no removable cell.
The downside of being tough? The battery door is now sealed closed – there’s no removable cell.

So far, so impressive. It’s even more so in use. In the hand it’s a little large, but surprisingly thin and light. Indeed, it’s as comfortable as that S4, I’d argue, and while the IPS screen may be a little lower resolution than we’re used to, it’s very bright and perfectly coloured. I’d go so far as to say that on first impressions, it’s up there with – and better than – some flagship phones I could mention.

Things are a bit more disappointing on the processor and storage front. The Snapdragon 400 series MSM 8926 gives the phone LTE capabilities but is far from the fastest around. Two gigs of RAM is a fair amount but 8GB of storage feels a bit pokey for a phone so large.

Worldwide pricing is $499 (R5 000) SIM free, and pricing for South Africa will probably be around R7 000 we’re told – although that’s yet to be confirmed. It’s definitely the first CAT phone I’m really looking forward to reviewing, and may well be the ultimate smartphone for Africa if it lives up to the promise.

Adam is the Editorial Director at htxt media. He has been writing about technology for almost two full decades now. In a previous life, he was the editor of PC Format and Digital Camera Shopper in the UK, before going on to work as a freelance journalist for seven years. His work has appeared in or on Stuff, The Guardian, Linux Format, TechRadar, Wired.co.uk, PC Gamer, Green Futures, The Journalist, The Ecologist and The Review. Adam moved to South Africa in 2012 and loves 3D printers, MakerFairs and tech hubs. He hates seafood. None of his friends remember this when cooking.