On test: New hard-as-nails Cat S42 smartphone

Many smartphones have come a cropper in merciless farmyard environments, but Cat reckons its latest drop-proof S42 can survive where the bigger names fail.

The new rugged handset is built by the Reading-based Bullitt Group, which licenses the Cat name as well as that of Land Rover and, until 2017, JCB.

Its standout feature is undoubtedly its toughness – even without a case it is designed to cope with being dropped 30 times from 1.8m onto solid steel and plunged into ice-cold water up to 1.5m deep for 35 minutes.

It’s backed up by an IP68 rating – a global standard relating to ingress protection – that means it can withstand dust, dirt and sand, thanks to its rubberised outer and tightly fitting socket covers.

It can even be submerged and scrubbed in hot soapy water to clean off any farmyard nasties.

See also: Apps help lone workers stay safe on the farm

How big is it?

The payoff for the tough skin is weight. It’s more than 10% heavier than an iPhone 11, though this only becomes noticeable if you spend a lot of time with phone in hand. The extra few grams also account for a decent-sized battery, which lasted us well over two days.

For the most part, the phone feels pretty pocket friendly. It’s marginally bigger than its mainstream rivals, but the added protection provided by the raised outer ridge eats into the screen size by a few millimetres.

The end result is a 5.5in display, shielded from most damage by scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass.

It has a reasonably effective ‘glove mode’, too, which we found useful when operating the touchscreen with wet fingertips.

One of the stand-out features involves a bronze-coloured button on the phone’s flank that can be assigned as a hotkey to access one of several functions, including the torch, camera, or lone worker SOS app.

It can also be used as a walkie talkie and its double-tap engagement usually prevents it being inadvertently turned on while in the owner’s pocket.

The company has also added a back button on the touchscreen, the absence of which is said to have been a bugbear on the old model.

Elsewhere, there’s a centrally positioned 13MP rear camera, which provides decent quality pictures. The front one only offers 5MP, which is some way short of the competition but not a major loss unless you’re particularly keen on taking selfies.

smartphone outdoors

Dual SIM

As with the rest of Bullitt’s phones this model has the capacity to carry two SIM cards, making it attractive to employees who want to keep separate numbers for their work and home lives.

This arrangement may also turn out to be handy for those wanting two service providers to overcome patchy rural signal problems.

However, there are a few omissions on the S42 that set it apart from the fancier models in the Cat-branded range.

These include thermal imaging and air monitoring gizmos found in Cat’s flagship S60 range – things that most owners could forgo considering its modest-sounding £229 asking price.

Its other major shortcoming is storage capacity. Though it runs the latest Android 10 operating system, just 32GB of memory is quickly gobbled up by pictures and music files. This can be remedied by inserting an additional micro SD card.

Verdict

The S42 might not offer the big brand name and exciting gimmicks that come with an equivalent iPhone or Samsung, but for farmers looking for smartphone functionality and a decent camera in a tough case, it may well fit the bill.

The modest list price will certainly sweeten the deal, particularly when compared to other tough phone alternatives such as the American-made Sonim XP8, which comes in at close to £1,000.

Likes and gripes

Likes
Tough
• Good battery life

Gripes
• Modest memory capacity
• Screen smaller than rivals

How they compare

  Cat S42 Samsung Galaxy S20 iPhone 11
Weight:  220g 163g 194g
Operating System Android 10 Android 10 iOS 13
Battery 4200mAh 400mAh 3110m/Ah
Memory 32GB 128GB 64GB, 128GB, 256GB
Dimensions 161x77x13mm 152x69x8mm 150x76x8mm
Front Camera 5MP 10MP 12MP
Rear camera 13MP 12MP 12mp
Price £229 £899 £729 (64gb)

S62 Pro

Smartphone with thermal imaging

Cat has also unveiled a new top-of-the-range S62 Pro model.

The basics are the same as the S42, but it comes with a  fancier thermal imaging camera than the company offered on its 60-series predecessor, which can be used to locate hotspots, draughts, leaks and blockages. It costs £599.