Cat S41 review

A rugged smartphone that delivers the goods and then some

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Our Verdict

The Cat S41 has hit a sweet spot by going after an audience who will know about the brand, and are likely to request VAT refunds and look for a solid aftersales service – which similarly priced Chinese-sourced rivals won’t be able to match on either count.

For

  • Conservative design, unlike some rivals
  • Recognizable brand
  • Can be used as an emergency charger
  • Stock Android

Against

  • No biometric security
  • More expensive than the competition

More than a year after we reviewed the Cat S60, a rugged smartphone equipped with an infrared FLIR camera, we’re checking out the S41, another device from the Bullitt group which licenses the Cat brand (along with Range Rover and Kodak) and has been gradually growing its clout in the small but highly profitable ruggedized vertical.

Design

Described as a phone “which won’t win any beauty contests” by one of our peers, the Cat S41 is actually not that bad looking (beauty, as always, lies in the eye of the beholder). It’s aimed squarely at a different audience from those looking for an aesthetically eye-catching model like the Samsung Galaxy S8 or the iPhone X.

It is a ruggedized phone with a 5-inch display and while it is both bigger and heavier than a standard smartphone with a similar screen size, it’s likely to be far more resistant all-round, and, more importantly perhaps, won’t require a separate case to protect it.

The designers opted for a rubberized outer casing with a Cat logo displayed prominently on top (next to an 8-megapixel front-facing camera), and at the back of the device (below a 13-megapixel Sony camera sensor).

Like its predecessor, the S41 is fitted with large physical system buttons, and these are essential when you are working mostly outdoors, with gloves or dirty fingers.

The earphone jack is located at the top behind a flap, and a speaker grill and a microUSB port (again behind a flap) can be found at the base of the smartphone.

A dual SIM tray, a microSD card slot and a programmable key are located on the left-hand side, with a volume rocker and the power button located on the opposite side.

The phone is IP68 certified, which means that it has been tested (rather than just designed) to withstand a drop onto concrete from a height of 6 foot, and it can operate properly even after spending one hour under water at depths of 2m.

The Cat S41 is also MIL-STD-810G compliant which means that it will survive the sort of trashing that a piece of tech can expect from a life in the military: dust, salt, high humidity, vibration, massive variations in temperature and much more.

To cap all this, there’s a layer of Corning Gorilla Glass on the display that protects the device from abuse and shock, although fingerprints tend to stick to it far too easily.

Cat S41 specs

Weight: 218g
Dimensions: 152 x 75 x 12.85mm
OS: Android Nougat 7
Screen size: 5-inch
Resolution: 1920 x 1080
CPU: Mediatek MT6757
RAM: 3GB
Storage: 32GB
Battery: 5000mAh
Rear camera: 13MP
Front camera: 8MP 

Hardware

The S41 was launched nearly 18 months after the S60, so it isn’t surprising that the hardware sported by the latter is now mid-level (or maybe even entry-level) material. The S41 beats its predecessor easily: it has a better modem, a Cat 6 model, that not only delivers higher download speeds but also supports far more LTE bands.

The screen it uses has a higher Full HD resolution compared to the HD resolution offered by the S60, and the newer smartphone boasts a better processor (Mediatek MT6757, better known as the Helio P20), a step higher than the Snapdragon 617. Graphics are handled by the Mali-T880 GPU which easily trumps the Adreno 405.

Both handsets have 3GB of RAM and 32GB on-board storage as well as 802.11n Wi-Fi – there’s no 802.11ac here. The pair of phones also offer NFC and both lack a fingerprint reader or any method of biometric authentication, which doesn’t come as a surprise.

Users will also appreciate the far bigger battery with a 5,000mAh capacity, one that Bullitt claims can keep the phone running for 44 days of standby time and 38 hours talk time; that’s impressive if verified.

You will also be able to use it as an emergency power bank using Cat’s proprietary Battery Share cable. Just make sure that you don’t lose the cable or you will have to get a replacement one from Cat.

Benchmarks

Here’s how the Cat S41 performed in our benchmark tests:

Geekbench: 911 (single-core); 3,740 (multi-core); 2,849 (compute)

Quadrant standard: 47,391

Antutu 3D: 3D Marooned: 4.86 fps; 3D Garden: 7.77 fps

Antutu: 63,212

PCMark (Work 2.0): 3,841

Passmark: 5,319

Passmark CPU: 122,234

Androbench (sequential): 256 (sequential read); 120 (sequential write)

Androbench (random): 67.16 (random read); 13.26 (random write)

3DMark Slingshot Extreme: 730

Fast: 28Mbps

In use

We received a few updates to the smartphone which is always a good sign even if the handset runs stock Android 7.0 Nougat already.

There’s very little sign of bloatware, which is also good to see. There’s a link to the Cat phones website, along with the popular OfficeSuite and App Toolbox, the latter of which offers a curated list of free and paid apps – there’s a lot of useful ones in that proprietary store but you could just as well use Google’s Play Store instead (indeed, the App Toolbox seems more like a collection of shortcuts that just open GPS).

In that context, the Doogee S60 does a better job by bundling a toolbox loaded with useful workforce-focused applications.

The phone is fast enough for an average non-mobile gamer: there are enough resources, both in terms of compute power (don’t forget that the CPU has eight cores) and storage, to keep Android and a slew of apps running happily for the foreseeable future.

Final verdict

The Cat S41 is more than good enough for the audience that it’s targeting. As an instantly recognizable brand, its IP68 rating and subdued rugged looks will make it popular with builders and outdoor professionals.

However, unlike the Cat S60, which had a strong unique selling point – the FLIR camera – the S41 doesn’t have any similar differentiator. So while Cat bets a lot on the transfer of brand loyalty, many will perhaps just look for a similar smartphone at a lower price.

Yes, one thing we haven’t spoken about is the pricing – Amazon sells the Cat S41 for under £390 (around $515). That’s about 50% more than the AGM X1 or twice the price of the Blackview BV7000 Pro, two excellent rugged smartphones that you can buy from Amazon, which puts them on equal footing when it comes to taxes and aftersales (as those are imported from China).

As it stands, though, the S41 remains the only widely available, widely distributed IP68 ruggedized mainstream smartphone on the market, unlike most of the (direct) competition from mainland China.