• CAT B15Q Tough Smartphone Review

    Modern smartphones are products of countless hours of design and engineering to craft them into the glamorous and shiny objects that they are, but they are not built to survive the the more challenging environments that tradesmen, engineers, emergency service personnel and more find themselves in.

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    CAT B15Q

    Many phones from Apple, Samsung, HTC and Sony have all died an early death at working within these tougher industries. Protecting this with a case is all possible, but a chunky case detracts from the design. Those that really survive are often, big and bulky and unattractive. CAT stepped in with a happy medium 12 months ago, that offered a mid-range specification with a design that is not unsightly but can withstand the water, knocks and bumps. A year on and the B15Q has now arrived offering identical robustness, but improved specifications, bringing it up to speed with mobile devices of today. The specs are in line with many of the best selling phones today. There might be scope for further improvement but the impact will be on the price and practicality for many. The B15Q appears to strike an ideal balance. So how does the B15Q differ from last years B15? Aesthetically there is no difference apart from on the back cover, that is now home to the camera flash and tweaked speaker grille. The B15Q now has Android 4.4 as opposed to 4.1. The processor has increased to a 1.3GHZ quad-core from a 1GHz dual core and the RAM has doubled to 1GB. The internal memory and display remain the same as does the microSD memory card slot, although there is support for 64GB cards now. Bluetooth has jumped to version 4 from 3 and the camera now has an LED flash. The B15Q it is not the prettiest, yes it is a little chunky but big can be beautiful right? Unlike similar devices the B15 is not wrapped in inches of rubber or adorned in colours that could pass as high visibility. A few yellow accents with the buttons make this stand out from others and the screws on the casing give a tough look to the handset, but it does not in my opinion detract too much from the overall design. There are covers over the ports which fit tightly to ensure the IP67 rating, but is not so flimsy or tight that when opened they will easily break. On the right side nestled between the volumes keys is a button that with a long press turns the camera flash on and off to be used as a flashlight. A short press on the button will also activate the phone screen like the power button and it does to act as a camera shutter button. Measuring 125 x 69.5 x 14.95mm and 170g in weight this phone is by no means diminutive but it is smaller than the more industry recognised Motorola Solutions products that are also about 4 times the price and do not run Google Android! It is also receives the military 810g standard able to survive temperatures between minus 20 to positive 55 degrees celsius and drops onto concrete from heights of 1.8 meters not forgetting surviving immersion in fresh water for up to 30 minutes at a depth of 1 meter. With a resolution of 480 x 800 the screen on the B15Q will not blow you away and watching back high quality HD footage is not something that you will be doing here. However for browsing the internet, making calls, sending texts, writing some emails and calculating measurements and more, then this is perfectly acceptable. Compare it to the flagship Sony, HTC or Samsung phones and yes the difference will be noticeable. The B15Q has Corning Gorilla Glass which is tougher and more resistant to damage and scratches. Our phones often come into contact with keys, loose change and other things that can leave their mark on a screen. Gorilla Glass will as best as possible resist these marks and other impacts. If it get a little dirty just give it a wash under the tap. Whilst under the pressure of a running tap the screen can go a little wild, there is no need to dry it or your hands as wet finger tracking helps the screen work better even when water residue is still on the device. In practice there is an improvement to a point over other IP rated phones but human nature often has us wipe the worst off the phone or our hand before using the screen again. However, getting caught in rain shower and you should find the screen remains reasonably responsive. At 4″ the screen is smaller than many of the newer phones we see arriving on the market today, but the B15Q offers a screen size that is practical. It can be easily held in hand but is still big enough that you can easily do things you require on screen. A built in light sensor can automatically adjust the backlight if you want, or you can manually set it to a brightness of your preference. Whilst there is no one phone which is superb in bright sunlight, the B15Q does struggle slightly. In direct sunlight it can be a bit difficult and it will be likely that you will need to shield the screen to see the on screen contents in detail. ‘Stock Android’ is a term that refers to Android being as Google intended it to be without any additional tweaks or customisation from the manufacturer of the phone. Some customisation can add real value to you whilst other additions and changes may affect the experience and leave unwanted content on the phone. The B15Q is virtually stock, with the only apparent addition being the Swiftkey keyboard. As a result the performance is fairly slick and it is not bulked up with unnecessary apps and features you will not use. With full access to Google Play Store, you can add any apps you then choose to the device and personalise the handset in the way you feel fit. Change the wallpapers, ringtones, the home screen layout and more. Put apps in folder and make this phone yours. The aforementioned Swiftkey is an aftermarket keyboard that is very widely used and CAT have included for free as a little value added extra, which should give an improved keyboard layout and performance. Included also is a file manager, which is useful for accessing content and sharing and managing files and folders, an FM radio and of course all the standard Google services. Powered by a quad core processor and 1GB RAM the general performance on the B15Q was acceptable. Really push the phone with lots of demanding tasks at once and there was a little lag. Try playing some more demanding games and the experience may not be perfect but generally we give the B15Q the thumbs up here. With a SIM card inserted the B15Q can make and receive calls, send text messages and with a mobile data plan you can use the phone network to connect to the internet, social media and more. The B15Q has quad band connectivity and tri band 3G which ensures support around most of the world for voice and data connectivity. Seeing as the B15Q is the next generation of toughphone it is a shame to see that 4G has not been included. WiFi is included, so when in the office, at home or in a wireless zone you can connect to the internet this way and benefit from the increased speeds WiFi bring. Disappointingly, the newer, but increasing popular 5GHz frequency is not supported, only 2.4GHz, which is the most common. Whether you need to make a call or send an email with image attachments, in the majority of scenarios you will be able to do so without issue. Mobile network signal tended to pick up pretty well, not the best but by no means bad. The addition of 4G, and 5GHz WiFi would have been great and given the B15Q that extra edge. Whilst not demanded so much here in the UK, one other addition that could go some way to make it more desirable would have been Push To Talk (PTT) technology. Being able to hear the caller or whatever you are playing from your phone speakers is important, but on a building site, it can be quite noisy, so being able to hear someone on the phone becomes even more important. Thankfully the B15Q has a good earpiece and a loud rear speaker, which can’t really be muffled unless you are actively trying to do so. In fact I was quite surprised by the rear speaker, not only was it reasonably loud but clear. With a variety of media, it did not really sound like it was struggling and it certainly did not sound weak or tinny. For a phone of this type it delivered a very admirable performance here. I had not expected the camera to have so many options or controls as it did. It certainly is not the most minimal of camera interfaces that I have seen but it is not the most complete or organised, but functional none the less. With a 5 megapixel camera on the back and a VGA on the front, the B15Q is perhaps a little under par here, when you consider, 8, 13 and 16 are becoming more common. An 8 megapixel rear camera would have perhaps been better. However, with many of us viewing photos back on screen rather than as an actual printed image, is it that important? The addition of a flash on the Q goes some way to improving images over the original B15. There are various shooting modes within the camera so that you can get more from it along with quite a few settings for both camera stills and video recording. You can change the exposure, colour effect, white balance, HDR, flash, voice capture (say cheese and it take a picture), face detection, self timer, continuous shooting, ISO, time lapse option and more. Such controls put me in a good mood for the potential results. But maybe I should not have got my hopes up. The image results really were a bit hit and miss. They capture a scene but lack a level of colour, vibrancy and detail that would normally pull you in. Whites were often overexposed and darker colours appear dull. There was a lack of sharpness and detail that many cameras give. Zoom in and the image quickly becomes pixelated. They might not have been the best photos, but the shot is still passable. Shots in darker environments surprised me, even without the flash. Writing off the camera I am not, but it just is not quite up to where it should be. Software updates may help, as might manual tweaking of the settings, all my photos were taken in auto mode really with no playing about with the settings as I believe this is how most of us capture images. The video was on par with the images with the colour balance being off. The microphone picked up a lot of wind noise when there was not all that much wind. To get the best results touching the screen to focus during recording was a big help. There is 4x digital zoom, you have to pinch and zoom on screen to take advantage of it. It works but using the volume keys to do this would be nice, but sadly this option does not exist. You can use the torch key as a shutter button for the camera, which is a bit of a bonus. And lastly as a bit of a saving grace there are some nice editing tools available for a bit of post shot creativity to make it look a bit better. With 2000mAh to get through the B15Q will last a working day. The lower resolution display become a bonus when to comes to battery drain and you can can leave home in the morning and be confident (unless using it for power intensive tasks like navigating) that the phone will still have power when you get home. It is capable of 16 hours of talk time and as such could last you 2 working days, but I would not like to be without a phone if I relied on it for business, so for safety’s sake, charge it overnight. On jobs you are often away from power and although the micro USB connectivity makes it simple to charge, it is not always practical. The B15 was strong on battery performance and the improved specs seem to have little impact on that on the 15Q. The B15Q has the specification to compare with normal smartphones available on the high street, but they do not have the same desirability because they are less robust. The B15Q is considerably more practical than a device designed specifically for industry from the likes of Motorola, Intermec and so on. The B15Q has its own little space in the market. It is for those who need a smartphone that is capable of everyday smartphone tasks, but can also survive the tougher conditions that it will beused in. Whilst we all will desire the best, often it is not necessary or affordable. The B15Q has performs well on the main phone and smart elements, with a pleasing speaker but a poor camera experience. If you are in and out of a van, dropping your phone, leaving it on the side, in a toolbox, in a utility belt on top of the pile of building materials then this could very well be your next smartphone. It does not claim to be the next best thing, it does not scream look at me, it quietly sits there and becomes a reliable workhorse and that is what you need to keep you and your business functional.

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