When we first got our hands on the CAT S60 we found that its standout features were only suitable for a select group of users.
It was also rather pricey considering the specs. At R13 000 it was around the price of a flagship smartphone at the time but the specifications were decidedly mid-range.
Now there is a new CAT on the market in the form of the S61 and it sports some familiar features such as the thermal camera.
But does this sequel suffer from the failings of the original? Let’s find out.
Middle class meander
The silicon in the S61 has been upgraded from the S60 to a Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 which sports an octa-core CPU running at 2.2GHz.
This is paired with 4GB of RAM and an Adreno 508 GPU. These specs are average and wouldn’t seem out-of-place in a mid-range smartphone.
The trouble is that the S61 tries to do more than that silicon is capable of.
For this review we will be separating apps into two categories: regular and tools. Regular apps are things such as Uber, Facebook and the like. Tools are apps designed for use with this handset such as the FLIR camera.
Where this handset suffers is when you try to use the tools. There are noticeable delays when opening these apps and even while using them I would experience considerable lag.
It must be said that the phone never crashed and stopped working but it came close.
Apps such as Twitter, Uber and YouTube perform well and I never noticed a slowdown while using them.
In the synthetic benchmark tests we achieved scores of 4807 in PC Mark and 52252 in Antutu. The killer of the S61 comes when editing word documents or spreadsheets. Browsing, taking photos and even light video editing are handled well.
The performance is not bad but it’s also not spectacular.
Apps for the workers
The S61 is an Android handset and as such has access to the Play Store but there is another storefront called the App Toolbox.
This is simply a curated collection of apps for construction, farming, hiking, running and more so you still get the security of the Play Store but don’t have to sift through all the trash that lives there as well.
That having been said the S61 has three features no other brand of smartphone has at time of writing:
- Thermal camera
- Laser measurement
- Air quality measurement
The FLIR camera is once again a very useful tool even if you aren’t in construction, mining or the sort of field where you might use the tool everyday.
The maximum temperature we read with the camera is 150 degrees C. CAT claims it can read temperatures up to 400 degrees C but we don’t have anything that hot to test. The lowest we could measure was -20 degrees C. It appears as if lower temperatures can be measured but we live in South Africa and Winter is no longer with us.
The laser measuring tool has a maximum range of 8m and it works, sometimes. Because the tool uses a laser it needs to be able to detect what the laser is bouncing off and in bright daylight it fails.
You’ll also need to recalibrate the laser should it take a knock. It’s a fiddly app that really is overshadowed by a physical measuring tape, especially when you consider the limitations of the app.
Finally the air quality measuring tool.
At first I was well impressed with this feature but that changed quickly.
Now to be clear, CAT warns users that “the app is not a tool for checking whether an area is safe”. Adding, “It must not be used in life threatening situations or where there is risk of injury or illness”. So what then is the point?
The app is meant to measure the amount of volatile organic compounds in the air indoors. While these compounds can be dangerous they are also everywhere including in cigarette smoke.
So during my time with the CAT S61 I would light a cigarette and check the air quality. Only once did I get a reading of dangerous but since then air quality has remained “Excellent” at 9ppb.
Good thing that warning is there when you open the app because I found it useless.
The normal features
There are still features you would find on any other handset including a 16MP snapper at the back and an 8MP selfie camera up front.
The rear camera is capable of shooting UHD (3840 x 2160) and FullHD (1920 x 1080) video at 30 frames per second.
The results are decent but the S61 is a far cry from the content creation orientated phones we’ve seen released this year such as the Samsung Galaxy S9. Granted these two handsets appeal to completely different people but its worth drawing the comparison so you know what you’re getting into. A gallery of snaps follows on below.
The battery is a massive 4 500mAh affair. In our testing we have been getting two full days of use from this handset. Naturally the bulk of the S61 makes fitting a monsterous battery such as this possible but its nice to know that with all those extra features there was still space for a chunky power source.
The question to answer then is whether the S61 is worthy of the price of admission and that answer is harder to come by than you might think.
For one this is an improvement on the S60
The price of admission is an uncertainty. We were directed to ruggedphones.co.za by the public relations team at CAT at which point we’re forced to request a quote for this handset. That quote comes to R14 500 excluding VAT or delivery fees.
Quick maths brings the total to R16 675 excluding courier fees.
Then, we found this handset on Takealot for R22 899.
Essentially pricing drifts between iPhone X pricing and iPhone Xs pricing and if you ask us, that’s not compelling at all.
A laser distance meter will cost you R2 000 depending on the brand, a FLIR thermal imaging camera attachment for a smartphone will cost you R7 799. The only feature we couldn’t find easily was the air quality sensor and those we did find are tremendously expensive.
One could argue that this in itself is a redeeming quality but my experience of this feature was more miss than hit.
Sadly the sum of the S61’s parts make it difficult to recommend especially when performance doesn’t even come close to phones in the same price range.
If you’re the sort of person that makes use of any of the tools featured in the S61, stick to those tools. The S61 is an expensive smartphone with features that end up being pointless on most days.