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Cat is a brand owned by the Caterpillar company. Caterpillar are probably best known for their tractors and other farm or agricultural machinery. They expanded the brand to clothing, notably their work-boot fashion range, some years ago. Eventually, they made the step into the smartphone industry with the intention of building a phone to match the toughness of their vehicles. The Cat range of smartphones, by their nature, is not intended as a budget range. However, in the mid-range smartphone market, they offer a lot for the money. Great performance, married to incredible toughness, means that they go beyond the niche rugged phone customer base. Cat phones may not have the ultra high specs of some flagships, but that would miss the point of them. The S30 was the first in the S series, and our review explains why it was very highly regarded by users and experts alike.
Introducing the Cat S30
On release, the Cat S30 caused something of a stir. We’d seen many rugged phones before, but none which promised such a combination of toughness and performance. And in a full screen smartphone too. The display is by far the weakest point of any smartphone. And yet here were Cat, claiming the S30 would survive a drop onto concrete from 6 feet. Often, manufacturers will claim drop resistance, but without giving specifics. The Mil-STD 810G standard does have such a drop test, but none of it relates specifically to smartphones. We rely on manufacturers doing their own tests and staying honest about the results.
As a result, it’s refreshing to see Cat actually state what the S30 can survive. Actually, the MIL-STD 810G standard goes much further than what Cat claim for the S30 in terms of durability, and it is likely that the phone will clear the minimum requirement. However, the tests Cat do cite will cover most requirements for the protection of a smartphone.
We asked our team to have a look at not just the ruggedness of the S30, but the performance as well. After all, it’s no good having a phone that would survive being run over by a train, if it’s unusable as an actual smartphone.
Scores For The Cat S30
Our reviews team gave the S30 a total score of 4.3/5. This is an overall average of the categories below:
- Design (4.2/5)
- Build (4.4/5)
- Display (4/5)
- Camera (4.1/5)
- Ruggedness (5/5)
- Hardware (4.2/5)
- Software (4/5)
Given that it is now a couple of years since the release of the S30, our team really like how it has stood the test of time. In particular, they were beyond impressed at just how tough the S30 is.
|5.59 x 2.86 x 0.52 in
|480 x 854 px
|5MP / 2MP
|MicroSD Card Slot
|Yes – up to 64GB
|18 hours Talk time / 936 hours Standby
Design and Build
Cat settled on a fairly consistent design for their smartphones from the off. If you are going to build a truly rugged phone, then some design compromises are inevitable. The S30 isn’t the prettiest smartphone, as a result of the compromises, but nor is it the ugliest. In reality, Cat actually did a great job of balancing the extra toughness against keeping the S30 looking like a smartphone.
Drop resistance which, if we’re honest is the biggest test – and biggest worry – for any smartphone, is key to the S30’s appeal. Cat have tested the phone from 6 feet onto concrete, and claim it will survive. Our tests showed they’re probably not wrong. Onto the sidewalk outside, the S30 case seemed to absorb everything it needed to. After one drop onto the curb edge, it did take a little piece of the case out, but the S30 itself survived without a scratch. The squaring off of the case corners clearly helps to absorb the impact and distribute it sufficiently. Making sure no one section of the phone takes the whole force is essential when trying to resist harsh drops.
The buttons on the front face are all physical buttons, which our team always think is a good idea. The rear case is grooved which, on first glance, perhaps isn’t the best look. Until you use the S30 with thick gloves, that is. Then, the grooves make a huge difference to the grip available. On that subject, the side buttons could perhaps have been just a shade bigger to facilitate the use with gloves, but they are well located otherwise.
The 4.5″ display isn’t especially hi-res at 480 x 854 px, but this doesn’t seem to affect performance too much. Graphics and images are clear and the colors are good, and the screen is easy to read in very bright conditions. Given that the S30 is for outdoors as well as indoors, this is a real plus which is missing from many smartphones.
The display won’t win awards, but it does what it needs to do. The pixel density is enough to keep things sharp, and we had no issues at any time with any task we were doing.
Although the camera is becoming an increasingly competitive part of the sales pitch of any smartphone, it is necessary to approach many claims with caution. More pixels doesn’t necessarily mean better pictures. It’s a case of what the app does with those pixels, and how efficiently it does it. Images from the rear, 5MP, camera are good. The app is quick, and focus is also fast. The LED flash is brighter than many devices, making it genuinely useful.
One important aspect of the rear camera is the ability to capture Full HD video at 60 frames per second. The standard for many smartphones is still to record Full HD at 30 frames per second. By doubling that rate, the camera provides super smooth recordings. Given that the S30 is designed for industrial environments, images and videos may be required for inspection or maintenance uses. In such circumstances, the smoother the video recording, the better.
The 2MP front camera also does its job well. There’s no gimmicks with the camera. In fact there’s nothing above being able to take selfies, but the images are clear and bright with good color. If you won’t miss the filters and nonsense many front cameras foist on you nowadays, then this is as good a selfie camera as any.
Try as our team might, they failed to break the S30. As well as the drop resistance, the phone is dust resistant, and waterproof to a depth of 6 feet for 30 minutes. Amazingly, the screen still works underwater, which is not common on smartphones at all. Cat also claim that the S30 is oil and chemical resistant. Oils and chemicals which might do harm to smartphone simply aren’t available to device testers, unfortunately, so we will need to take Cat’s word for it. Normally we’d be reluctant to do that but, seeing as how the S30 outperformed Cat’s drop test claims, we’re happy to accept it here.
Never once, during our deliberately clumsy handling of the S30 did we fear it would break, and it didn’t. We can’t speak for any cumulative effects of constant drops, of course, but we’re more than happy with what we saw. We really do think that the S30, along with all the S series actually, is as tough as it gets.
Because the display on the S30 has limited resolution, the Quad Core processor is easily enough to drive things along. It is helped, in no inconsiderable measure by the 3000 mAh battery. Somehow, Cat manage to squeeze huge batteries into their quite normal sized smartphones. The life according to the specs is 18 hours talk time and nearly 40 days of standby. It took a huge amount of constant movies running on the S30 to get it to surrender close to a full charge. This is important if you work in a job where charging points could potentially be miles away from where you are.
8GB of internal storage is great for what isn’t really a media device. You can, though, add a further 64GB vie the MicroSD card slot, if you so desire. The S30 has external speakers, also. Most smartphones today have a hands-free mode, of course, but this is completely next level stuff. At the side of a very busy road, we had no problems hearing the other end of the conversation on loudspeaker. This, again, shows Cat didn’t just add features out of duty, they actually though about what was needed.
WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS and even an FM radio make up the comms list.
The Cat S30 ships with Android 5.1. Cat have, wisely, chosen not to bloat the S30 with apps or other unwanted and unneeded software. In general use, we found no lag or glitching, even when switching between apps.
Startup is also pretty fast, again probably due to the almost stock version of Android installed.
The S30 is an excellent choice not just for those with specific rugged needs, but for anyone who wants their smartphone to last. The S30, in all honesty, will last a lot longer than just about anything else.