BARCELONA—Rugged phones with extra durability and waterproofing are a must for blue collar workers, travelers, and anyone who’s a tad clumsy.
The Cat S61 takes things up a notch. By any measure it’s extremely durable, with a reinforced aluminum frame, Mil Spec 810G, IP68 waterproofing, layered Gorilla Glass 5, rubber flaps covering everything, and all the other bells and whistles that make it as resistant to damage as a tank. That’s all great and similar to what we’ve seen on the Cat S60. But what makes the Cat S61 special is its nose.
We speak, of course, of the VOC indoor air quality meter and humidity sensor on the right side of the device. Using a pre-installed app, the sensor can measure the general air quality of an indoor area with a surprising degree of sensitivity. There are four generalized levels of quality—Excellent Air Quality, Good Air Quality, Moderate Air Quality (the regular air inside the Mobile World Congress convention center), Poor Air Quality, and Unhealthy Air Quality.
The important thing to keep in mind is that these air quality levels aren’t necessarily identifying a specific cause of air quality degradation; it could be anything from hand sanitizer spray to carbon monoxide. What they’re intended to do is serve as a general monitoring mechanism—an air quality Fitbit, if you will—allowing you to keep tabs of the environment around you. So if you’re painting a room in your house and you see the air quality level has spiked to unhealthy, it might be time to open some windows.
That said, sensitivity is surprisingly good. During the demo, when a small bottle of solvent was opened near it, the phone immediately registered a spike in poor air quality and the orange circle turned to an alarming red. If you give the app permission, it can also notify you when such spikes occur. While Cat wouldn’t recommend using it for something that requires a high degree of precision, it serves its purpose as a general tool.
If the nose isn’t enough for you, the Cat S61 comes equipped with an laser-assisted area and distance measure. Located on the phone’s back, the laser can measure the distance of something up to 10 meters away, after which accuracy degrades. Again, it’s a good tool if you want to measure something without necessarily needing perfect accuracy. For instance, a realtor trying to get the dimensions of a room or a contractor trying to get the sense of how much material may be needed to tile a floor. The laser dot can also serve as a reference point; save a picture and add measurements later, including distance and area.
Like the Cat S60, the standout feature on the S61 is still the FLIR thermal image camera. Changes in hardware and software make it more useful than before, primarily the widening of the range of temperatures it’s capable of measuring. You can now go from -20 degrees Celsius to 400 degrees Celsius, up from the previous top level of 120 degrees Celsius. Image resolution has been sharpened with images and objects more clearly defined, and the app now supports livestreaming to Facebook Live, potentially allowing workers out in the field to get help from colleagues.
Hardware is pretty solid, too. There’s a 5.2-inch 1080p display on the front with extra brightness for outdoor use, gloves mode, wet finger mode, and physical buttons for taking pictures underwater. Under the hood it’s powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 processor clocked at 2.2GHz with 4GB RAM, 64GB storage, and a miroSD card slot for more expansion. All this is powered by a 4,500mAh battery compatible with Qualcomm Quick Charge 4.0.
The regular camera consists of a 16MP rear camera capable of 4K video recording and a 5MP front sensor. The phone comes running Android 8.0 Oreo, with a promised update to Android P. Cat of course has a custom UI layer, but it’s pretty minimal, largely resembling stock Android aside from the curated apps and widgets. Connectivity protocols include Cat 13 LTE, VoLTE, VoWi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, and dual-band 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi. There’s no fingerprint sensor because it’s a point of potential breakage and can’t be used if you’re wearing gloves or have wet hands.
The Cat S61 is expected to launch in Q2 for 849 euros, which is certainly on the high range, but to be expected given the sensors and tools packed into it. Distance and air quality measurements make it a significant improvement over the S60, but if all you want is a standard rugged phone, more affordable devices will get the job done, too.