CAT S41 Rugged Smartphone Review
If you can get past the camera, the CAT S41 is an outstanding option for a rugged phone with mid-range price and specs.
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It’s amazing to think how our work life has changed over the last 25 years. Communication used to mean a 2-way radio, then a brick cell phone, flip phones, and now smartphones. In order to thrive on the jobsite, they have to be tougher than most. That’s where the CAT S41 smartphone enters the scene.
Personally, I was perfectly happy in the pre-smartphone age. Even push-to-talk through Nextel was a little too connected for me. In the smartphone world, we’re connecting on a completely different level. Email, text, and social media are all at our fingertips. Some of it is even work-related.
Without spiraling completely off topic, smartphones really do help us be more productive in a world that demands constant information updates. What we need to find out about the CAT S41 is if it has the capability to work in the real world where sexy smartphones are afraid to get their pretty little screens dirty.
5,000 mAh Battery
Back in the day, one cell phone charge would last me nearly all week. Today, I’m lucky to get a full day out of it. The CAT S41 has a 5,000 mAh battery that lasts more than a full day in our testing. According to CAT’s data, it’ll give you up to 38 hours of talk time and 44 days on standby.
The CAT S41 carries a MIL SPEC 810G rating. That’s great, but what does that really mean?
For CAT, it’s an IP68 rating against water and dust ingress along with Corning Gorilla Glass 5 that’s drop rated up to 1.8 meters onto concrete. I don’t know about you, but two things have killed my previous smartphones: water and drops. It won’t take long for this phone to pay for itself on the jobsite.
The Gorilla Glass screen comes with some additional jobsite benefit. Namely, you can still tap and swipe with gloves on. It’s not as smooth using your bare finger, but it’s still effective.
CAT takes waterproofing to another level. The Kyocera DuraForce Pro is pretty impressive with its ability to stay 2 meters underwater for 30 minutes – the CAT S41 gives you an hour.
No Guts, No Glory
Protecting what’s on the inside is fine as long as it’s worth protecting. The CAT S41 sports a pretty impressive hardware set with a 2.3 GHz Octacore processor from MTK accessing 3 GB of RAM. It’s a nice middle ground between the 2 GB I require on a phone and the 4 GB I prefer to have.
Onboard storage is 32 GB, but you can add a monstrous 2 TB micro SD card. I’d like to at least see a 64 GB option, but 128 GB would be even better.
Given the major competition for CAT in this rugged smartphone space, all the stock hardware is on par except the processor which is a nice upgrade.
The S41 runs on Android Nougat (I wonder what they’ll do when they run out of candy and alphabet for the OS names…). Android is up to 8.1 now – Oreo – so the OS is a generation behind. You can check out the differences for yourself. From a productivity standpoint, I’ve been running Marshmellow and not feeling any ill effects of being behind.
CAT adds a couple of nice features on the software side. Battery Share allows you to use the included cord to give a friend a power boost. With a 5,000 mAh battery, you likely have some to spare. You’re able to set a minimum charge stop to avoid draining your own battery too deep for your own comfort.
For those of us that would rather not scroll through hundreds or thousands of apps to find what we’re looking for, CAT includes an App Toolbox. This is a collection of pre-selected apps to help you narrow down the choices from games to tools. You can still search the Play Store if you can’t find what you’re looking for in here.
Aside from that, CAT – mercifully – doesn’t add much in the way of non-stock bloatware or apps.
With a 13 MP main camera and 8 MP front facing, getting the shot won’t be an issue. The question with cameras these days is the picture quality. Here’s a side by side of the same shot. The CAT S41 is on the left and the center is shot with my Kyocera DuraForce Pro. The Canon D70 I use for photography took the right side. Aside from adjusting the size to 1000 pixels long, none have been altered.
What stands out immediately is how the S41 captures overly warm tones and Kyocera captures overly cool ones. Neither one does a great job on true color capture, even for a phone camera. If you’re using S41 for your vacation photos, you may want to get familiar with Photoshop Express before sharing them on social media.
The trend with sexy smartphones is to attempt to remove buttons and ports altogether. Personally, I find that annoying. I want a power switch and volume adjustments at a bare minimum. You get bonus points in my book for a camera button and programmable button. Curse you if you think I don’t need a place to plug in wired headphones or earbuds. Not everyone wants to be stuck if their Bluetooth battery dies on a 5-hour flight with a screaming kid on board.
Now that I have that out of my system…
Android’s standard three navigation buttons (back, home, and overview) are physical buttons on the front. Volume and power on the right side as you’re looking at the screen and a programmable button is on the left side.
Your SIM and SD card access are also on the left. That’s a nice touch since you won’t have to open up the phone back to access them.
The micro USB charging port is on the bottom and a headphone jack is up top. Pretty much the only thing missing for my tastes is a dedicated camera button, but I can task the programmable one for that.
The screen is bright and crisp – a nice surprise for a mid-range phone at this price point. With a resolution of 1920 x 1080, you get true high definition playback. While the screen is just 5″ diagonal, it’s really pleasant to watch on when your only option is your phone. It’s not a replacement for a good monitor or TV, but it’s solid for phone viewing.
On phone calls, the sound is clear. You can still get better with a nice headset, but it’s not a required upgrade to this phone. When it comes to listening to music or videos, the sound is acceptable. Spoken voice comes through pretty well. Again, it’s not as good as headphones or a Bluetooth speaker, but it gets the job done effectively.
The Bottom Line
Keep in mind that the CAT S41 is a mid-range phone. Comparisons to the higher end of the spectrum will make it look like it’s falling short aside from its incredible battery life. In its price class, it’s a pretty capable device, though its camera leaves much to be desired.
The design isn’t particularly sexy and many people will think you already have a case on it due to its comparative bulkiness to non-rugged phones. It’s all in the name of protecting your asset without the need for accessory purchases. Plus, it’s lighter than it looks. On a toughness level, I don’t know that this phone has much competition. For users frequently on jobsites or just need something to survive their own day-to-day clumsiness, you have a winner with the S41.
For compatibility, Verizon and Sprint customers are out of luck. This phone has a GSM chip that works for services compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile.
Kyocera DuraForce Pro
Kyocera DuraForce XD
CAT S41 Rugged Smartphone Specifications
- Model: CAT S41
- Battery: 5000 mAh internal
- Talk Time: Up to 38 hours
- Standby Time: Up to 44 days
- Resolution: 1920 x 1080
- Screen: Gorilla Glass 5
- Camera: 13 MP Main, 8 MP front
- Bluetooth: 4.1
- Wi-Fi: 802.11 b/g/n
- Processor: MTK P20 MT6757 Octacore 2.3GHz
- RAM: 3 GB
- Internal Memory (ROM): 32 GB
- Micro SD Capacity: 2 TB
- Operating System: Android Nougat
- IP Rating: IP68
- Waterproof: 2 meters for 60 minutes
- Drop Rating: 1.8 meters
- Dimensions: 5.98″ x 2.95″ x 0.5″
- Weight: 0.48 lbs
- Price: $449