The CAT brand is at home in construction, but over the last couple of years CAT have branched out into the mobile space, producing phones that fit the needs of your builder, plumber or groundworker, amongst others.
Essentially designed to be tough and reliable. Fitting the needs of many these devices might, but put one next to an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy and there is an obvious difference. The S50 has been designed from the ground up to be more appealing and more capable, yet retain the rugged nature that CAT equipment and phones have become synonymous for. The S50 is rather feature rich device and even those who do not require a rugged phone will appreciate the specifications here. Some may comment CAT and similar band phones are weaker due to their choice of processor, but CAT have even addressed these concerns replacing MediaTek for Qualcomm. The hardware is not going to pip the flagship smartphones, but the S50 really is not far off. Fancy dropping a Galaxy S5 or HTC One M8 onto concrete from a height of 1.8 meters?! You can with the S50 thanks to the Mil Spec 810G rating. Conforming to the highest rating of dust resistance, it can be immersed in water at a depth of 1 meter for up to 30 minutes. It must be fresh water and all port covers must be closed. However, should it be dropped in the mud, in sand, in a pond, in a bucket or even down a loo, then the S50 will live to tell the tale. So whether you are emergency service personnel, in a trade, moutain rescue or just a user who wants a tougher phone, the S50 is probably as good as it gets. To put all this into perspective, the S50 is a tougher version of the more consumer friendly Samsung Galaxy S4 Active. You do not need to be a smartphone expert to see that the S50 is carrying a little extra bulk around the edges.This weight does serve a very important purpose. It is a mixture of tough plastics, silver in colour to look like metal and thick rubber, most noticeably in the 4 corners. Whilst not the most attractive, this combination is not the most unsightly. It is a very solid feeling handset that sits quite comfortably in the hand. It does not have quite such soft edges as some, but they are chamfered. The rear cover is not removable like precious CAT phones, everything is sealed internally in the S50. A point to note is that for many a power button on the right side of the device will feel more natural than the one on the left, as it is on the S50. The good news is though that the torch button can be used to power on the screen. A criticism of tough phones has always been the screen resolution. The lower resolution ensures that battery performance is good, but does not necessarily help when you want to view images or really appreciate digital content. Thankfully the S50 does away with the lower screen resolution and now has a 4.7” 720×1280 resolution display. This is the same resolution as is found on the powerful Z1 Compact from Sony. It is not full HD, but it is a marked improvement and a great middle ground in offering improved visual experience without compromising on battery life. I am a little disappointed with the screen. Whilst better than the B15Q it certainly does not have the same punch of the Z1 Compact’s screen. It lacks that punch of colour and vibrancy I would have expected of a screen of this type. That said, reading and reply to emails, text messages, social network comments and more this was perfectly adequate. Whether it is the keys or coins in our pockets or bags phone screens often come into contact with objects that can damage the screen. The S50 has Corning Gorilla Glass, which is engineered to be more resistant to scratches and impact. The result should be fewer scratches and marks on the S50 display over the time of ownership. There is a term often used in conjunction with software on Android smartphones, this term is ‘Stock Android’. This refers to Android as Google intended it to be without any additional tweaks or customisation from the manufacturer of the Android phone. Some customisation can add real value to you as the user whilst other additions and changes may affect the experience and leave unwanted content on the phone. CAT have left the S50 in virtually a stock condition with only a few alterations. Performance is fairly snappy when you consider there is a quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM built in. The lack of additional software out of the box also means that you get around 5GB of the 8GB internal memory free to use. One small addition is a keyboard that goes by the name of ‘Swype’. You may have heard of it. It is one of the most popular aftermarket additions that usually costs, but it is included for free on the S50. As the name implies, you can ‘swype’ your finger to different letters to input a word. As an Android device you are granted full access to the Google Play Store, meaning you can add any apps you then choose from the marketplace, to the device and personalise the handset the way you want. Download your favourite games, social media apps or productivity tools, there are all there for you. There is an FM radio and of course all the usual Google services. Cat have also added a few shortcuts to the app drawer which are web links to CAT websites. Out of the box, the device has quad band GSM, tri band 3G support along with support for 6 different 4G frequencies. The S50 takes a single micro SIM card which you probably already have or can easily obtain from your network provider. CAT has included GPS, aGPS and GLONASS, so wherever you are GPS signal should be possible and because Android comes with Google Maps included street level navigation on a global scale is possible (just make sure you have a data connection). We all use WiFi to connect to the internet at some point, and the S50 has WiFI built in including support for the 5GHz frequency. You can even use the S50 as a wireless hotspot. Near Field Communication (NFC) and USB on the go are also supported giving various options for sharing files as well as Bluetooth 4.0 Waves Audio is a technology that has been built into this CAT phone. The comprehensive audio processing software looks to provide you and I as the listener with the best audio experience possible based on the sounds we are listening too. Offering deeper bass, crisper highs and generally better clarity the audio experience should surpass competing devices. There was a clear difference when Waves was switched on. Sounds were most certainly deeper, richer and generally more pleasant to listen to and whilst not scientifically tested, louder too. The decibel meter produced some reasonable readings in the high 80’s to low 90’s which is extremely useful when this device is likely to be used in some noisy environments. Whilst the single rear speaker is not too easy to muffle when in the hand, lay it flat on a desktop and all sounds is lost. The main camera on the S50 sits on the rear of the phone and is rated at 8 megapixels. It has autofocus and an LED flash as well as being capable of 1080p HD video recording. When it comes to the camera it is not all about megapixels and the S50 does just enough to scrape through with passable results. The camera application is the default camera app from Google and whilst functional it is not the most inspiring. Most importantly it works but you do not get lots of value added features. The layout is not the most intuitive in my mind, but that is just my opinion. Whilst on first glance there is no dedicated camera shutter button, the torch and volume keys do act as a camera shutter buttons. Image and video results were nothing more than ok given the right lighting conditions. They are just passable and on many occasions I feel you will be disappointed with the results. If anything this was the weakest part of the device. General image quality, despite being set to the highest resolution was poor. Whites were blown out and over exposed with yellows and other light colours oversaturated. Using HDR did not give any better results to speak of really. Zoom into an image and the quality is quite quickly lost. The odd shot came out quite nicely but on the whole the results were less than impressive. This experience with images was the same with recorded video. Just generally a bit disappointing. A small bonus is that you can zoom in with the camera by pinching and zooming on screen when taking a still or video. With a 2630mAh battery built into the S50, whether you need to ring clients or wholesalers, navigate from job to job, send images of sites to colleagues or kill some time on your lunch break playing games that the S50 will last. Your usage will be different to mine, but the vast majority can be confident that from the moment you leave the house to the time you return the S50 will still be powered and ready to go. Lighter users may even get 2 days out of it. Should you find yourself short of power for whatever reason the S50 has Qi (Chee) wireless charging built in. You can sit your S50 on a wireless charging plate and not need to connect any wires to the handset itself. There is of course the traditional microUSB connection on the left side of the device. Measuring 144.5 x 77 x 12.6 mm the S50 is not small, but it is not massive either. It does not feel or look as slick as an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy but the robust nature of the handset inevitably means the additional size and bulk. I felt quite comfortable with it, considering my personal preference is for smaller sized devices and having spoken and demonstrated this handset to a few iPhone users who work in the trades whilst many were not immediately sold saw the potential and would consider the device next time they were in the market for a new phone. At the time of recording (prior to launch) the final RRP is still to be confirmed but is likely to be around the £325-£350 price point inclusive of VAT. I think this price is justifiable and in line with comparable devices for those who need a tough phone that does not look like it has been designed to be tough and nothing else. You will most certainly not be paying over the odds. Should it fall below the £300 price point it will be an excellent value handset that many more should consider purchasing if you are aware of the pros and cons of this phone. The S50 is a logical addition to the CAT phone range. The specification has taken a much needed boost to make it more premium and the price tag reflects this. Comparing it to a flagship from HTC, LG, Sony and Samsung is not exactly fair, it will lose out on spec and desirability. That said it has a specification that is much closer to these than many other tough phones. Tough phones are a bit of a niche. There is an obvious need for them in both a business and consumer world, but they are often the unspoken or looked down on as being inferior. The S50 has the specification and visual appeal to be successful for a large number of smartphone users, but the brand and association of trades will impact on the success I feel. Rebadge the S50 with one of the flagship brands names and add active to the name and this would get a lot more publicity. If you are smart enough to look beyond the fact the S50 will not be in every phone store window and there will not be the same glitzy marketing or the apparent value added software additions that the likes of Samsung and LG offer; then you will be making a very sensible purchase and one that comes at a lower price point had it been made by another firm.