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Built well, Cat S61


The Caterpillar brand has long been associated with construction machinery and equipment, but the company has successfully licensed that brand out to a wide variety of different manufacturers producing everything from boots to smartphones.

British smartphone manufacturer the Bullitt Group is behind the Cat series of phones and it has found success by targeting a niche audience and building them a device that serves their needs. The Cat S61 is the latest refinement in the flagship series and it’s aimed squarely at people who need a rugged device for tough environments.

This is a chunky tank of a phone, capable of surviving falls, bumps, and dunks without a case. Bullitt has gone further than that by packing in thermal imaging, laser measurement, and even air quality sensors to serve engineers, plumbers, builders, farmers, the military, and other groups seeking a particular set of skills from their phones. Here’s what it’s like to use it.
Built like a tank

It’s immediately clear when you pick the Cat S61 up that it has been designed to be tough. A thick, matte aluminum frame with a glossy edge contrasts with the black plastic, and a distinctive, angled protrusion at the top bears the Cat logo.
cat s61 back outside
cat s61 front angle
cat s61 profile
cat s61 back
Simon Hill/Digital Trends

The 5.2-inch display has three physical buttons below it for access to back, home, and recent apps, enabling you to navigate the Android interface even if your hands are wet or dirty. There’s a polycarbonate lip around the screen to prevent it from touching down if you drop your Cat S61; it also comes with a screen protector already applied over the Gorilla Glass 5 display.

It’s an average IPS LCD with a 1,920 x 1,080-pixel resolution. We found it comfortable to read on for long periods, but the brightness struggled with sunny outdoors and we frequently had to override the auto-brightness and crank it up.

This is a chunky tank of a phone, capable of surviving falls, bumps, and dunks without a case.

On the bottom edge there’s a speaker and a flap that opens to reveal the USB-C charging port. On the right you’ll find a textured power button with the separate volume buttons further down. There’s an orange programmable key on the left edge, which offers a handy physical shortcut. It can be used for a push-to-talk mode, or you can map two different functions like the flashlight and answer or end calls to short and long press. There’s also another flap that conceals the SIM and MicroSD card tray. Up top there’s a final flap with the standard 3.5mm audio jack behind it.

Flipping over to the back, the protrusion accommodates the Flir camera sensor for thermal imaging which sits above the regular 16-megapixel camera lens. There’s a subtle Flir logo next to it, but it’s the big, shiny Cat logo that will catch your eye. At the bottom left there’s the laser lens for measuring distances.

The back is textured for enhanced grip, and it’s a pretty comfortable phone to hold, though it does weigh a staggering 260g (9.17 ounces). To put that in perspective the iPhone X weighs 174g and even the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus, with its 6.2-inch display, only weighs 189g.

You’ll generally want two hands to use this phone, but there is an advantage to all this bulk – the Cat S61 is seriously tough. It can handle falls from up to 1.8 meters (6 feet) onto concrete, temperature ranges from -13 degrees Celsius to 131 degrees Fahrenheit (that’s -25 to 55 Celcius), and even salt mist spray.

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