Remember the previous Cat smartphone? And we’re not talking about a phone for your feline friend. Cat, the massive construction equipment company has been making smartphones designed to endure just about anything. In our review of the S60 we found that it had a very nifty thermal camera — not the sort of thing that you encounter every day. So what does the Cat S41 Smartphone have to impress us with?
Out of the box it does not offer anything as cool as the thermal camera see in its predecessor. It just looks like a typical Cat smartphone, with a rugged body, signature brand colours and the Cat logo on the top left of the screen. Okay, we get it… it’s made by Cat. What else does it offer? That’s about it, actually, but that’s not necessarily negative.
It may look like something nobody would ever use, to us at least, but this device is aimed specifically at people who work out in the field – like construction workers and farmers. With its rugged body and IP68 rating it’s the ideal handset for people in a particularly demanding line of work. The sort of people who expect their devices to outlive a 2m fall into a puddle of mud. Being run over by a bulldozer? Not so much but it should handle most other scenarios.
Design – Built like a bodybuilder
The body of the S41 is covered in hard plastic reinforced with a texturised rubber around the back and sides, with a small lip around the 5.5 inch Gorilla Glass 5 screen. The phone is not going to be getting a crown for prettiest handset in the world, but that’s not the point.
This thing is made to endure through whatever life can throw at it…or how hard you can throw it at life. The S41 adheres to the military’s MIL-STD-810 standard for durability and is built to brush off 2m drops onto concrete. A crash onto the Stuff office floor didn’t even scratch the surface and the phone functioned perfectly well afterward. And that wasn’t the first crash…
The screen has large bezels but also has a brilliant display, being just as strong and durable as the rest of the phone. It does pick up a lot of fingerprints, but CAT was feeling very giving and included an extra screen protector in the box, which will help with the fingerprint situation. And possibly cracks on the phone’s one weak point, as well.
Speaking about fingerprints, the S41 does not include a fingerprint-sensor, just clickable buttons around the sides and chunky physical navigation buttons below the display. This is meant to aid people whose hands are always covered in gloves or oil to still be able to operate their handset. On the left-hand-side of the device there is a brilliant gold button – which is programmable – that Cat has build in. This button can be programmed to open/activate a whole range of apps like Google Assistant, the camera, flashlight and pretty much any app that is loaded on to the handset.
Along with the programmable key on the left, the device has a power button and sound-controls on the right, a headphone jack on the top and a micro-USB charging port on the bottom – both with protective flaps to keep water out.
Battery life – Can you keep up?
If we can call the thermal camera on the previous Cat S60 a gimmick, this would be the S41’s gimmick. You are able to use the device to charge up another handset when you’re in a pickle, a feature called Battery Share. In the box we found a short micro-USB to female USB cable that is used to charge another device via their USB port. You definitely should not lose this cable as you would need to get it replaced by Cat directly. Or so we’re told.
We don’t really grasp why you wouldn’t just use the Cat S41 to get yourself out of this situation. There doesn’t seem to be a need to charge up a different phone, but you never know. There might come a moment when you would need to charge up someone else’s phone because of an undefined life-or-death situation. Maybe you’re both stranded in the jungle and have to split up, or something.
The S41 lacks wireless charging, but it does support fast charging with the included Pump Express 2.0 wall adapter. Pump Express is MediaTek’s counterpart to Qualcomm’s Quick Charge technology, though 2.0 is actually an outdated standard – newer devices have Pump Express 3.0. Even so, it helps the S41 fill up 45 percent faster than it would without fast charging.
Software – Android with a touch of Cat
The S41 runs on stock Android 7.1 Nougat, and isn’t nearly as busy as its bulky exterior. The system looks smooth and does not have a Cat-system skin and hardly any bloatware.
The only non-stock apps that are available on the S41 are the Cat-phones manuals, the App Toolbox and OfficeSuite. Of these, the Apps Toolbox is probably the most useful. It is basically the Android Play Store for the outdoorsy guys.
With categories like Fishing, Sport, Construction and Farming apps, it is ideal for the market they are aiming for (in South Africa that would probably be the boertjies). This includes a whole feature list of the most useful apps for anyone brave (or mad) enough to work out in the sun for more than 12 hours.
It is obvious that Cat kept it simple here, rather than fussing with Android. And it’s safe to say that the features the S41 does add, like Underwater Mode and the programmable-key functions, should be useful.
Camera – Missing the thermal
It would have been phenomenal to see a thermal camera on this one along with all of its other features. Instead, Cat opted for a very mediocre lens, and this is definitely where the phone lacks a bit.
The S41 is equipped with a 13-megapixel rear-facing camera, but it seems more like a 5MP camera they found in an old box in the factory.
It’s probably safe to say that pro-photographers don’t make up the device’s demographic but we would have liked something better. The images taken with the S41 are not bad, as such, but better mobile cameras are everywhere these days. The Cat especially struggles with either too much or too little light and tends to overexpose pictures taken in direct sunlight. Don’t even try and capture something in low indoor light. It won’t work. Or it will but you’ll wish it hadn’t.
It can take images underwater, but then so can the latest Sony Xperia devices and many other top-of-the-line phones on the market, so nothing special here. It has a rear camera and a front-camera. No comment further.
Performance – It’s good enough
The S41 is powered by 2.3GHz octa-core Helio P20 processor (often compared with the Snapdragon 820 from Qualcomm) and it comes with 3GB of RAM. It will run as you would expect any mid-range Android handset to run, and you will definitely have enough space after expanding the stock 32GB of internal storage via a microSD card.
Once the handset has finally started up (it has a lengthy boot time), everything runs smoothly and without any unnecessary hiccups. If the hardware ages as well as the body you should be good for quite a while.
Cat S41 Smartphone Verdict
Looking at their target audience, Cat got it spot on. The S41 will be able to outlive pretty much any ‘accident’ that it will come across while working in the field. In a South African context, this device is perfectly designed for farmers, construction workers and mine workers – and the price tag suits the pocket a bit more than one would expect.
Although you won’t find the S41 at one of the cellular providers in SA, you can buy it from Takealot for R10,000.