The rugged phone which can withstand water, falls – and a dog’s appetite
Reviewer: Michael Garwood
Rarely does a handset review involve chucking a handset down a flight of stairs, submerging it in water or forcing a dog to take a bite, but that’s exactly what we did to test Caterpillar’s CAT B15 handset, billed as a rugged handset that can handle a construction site.
The device, as you would expect from a firm like CAT, which specialises in building heavy duty construction equipment and the odd splurge in footwear, falls into the unglamorous category of rugged handsets.
Traditionally, owners of ruggedised handsets have had to forfeit style and the latest breakthroughs in technology to ensure their device makes it through the day in one piece.
But CAT, like its rival JCB before it, is looking to help bridge that gap combining credible specs, such as WiFi, GPS, camera, video, with a more stylish piece of kit.
And the B15 succeeds on both levels.
Around the device
Like its core business, the CAT B15 is designed to take a beating and based on what we have seen, has achieved its goal.
All areas are covered. For starters, the B15 is IP67 certified, which means it is completely water and dust resistant – ideal for those working in outdoor conditions.
The exterior casing is made from a mixture of aluminium and shock absorbent rubber placed around the edges and on the back.
The device also includes a large four inch capacitive touch screen ‘ made from tough scratch-proof gorilla glass, meaning the likelihood of experiencing a cracked screen is all but eliminated.
Such is their confidence, CAT claims the B15 can withstand a drop from around 1.8 meters without sustaining damage both inside or out ‘ something we tested for ourselves with mixed results (see ‘Rugged claims put to the test’).
Features such as these have often resulted in devices becoming large and heavy ‘ but CAT has clearly worked hard on the design, keeping size to a minimum.
Of course it’s still bigger than anything else found in the best sellers section. The width of the phone is 15mm which is double that of the iPhone 5 is doubled. And it’s not light either, weighing in at 170g, again around 60g more than the iPhone 5.
But could the iPhone survive a drop down the stairs or a trip around the u-bend? I doubt it.
And in its defence, we’ve seen many a slick beautifully designed smartphone spoiled by enormous plastic cases, some of which far exceed the dimensions here. This merely cuts out the middle man.
CAT has opted not to include its more prominent yellow and black branding on the device, which was a good move. The mix of silver and black is more easy on the eye’ and doesn’t scream out rugged handset like, say, the bright yellow splashed over the JCB Toughphone range.
The only clear yellow colouring featured on the B15 is found on the physical buttons along the top (power) and down the right hands side (volume control and camera).
All charging and headphone ports are well protected with a rubber seal and require opening before use. Important note, the micro USB charging point is based slightly deeper than most devices – meaning many universal USB cables will not fit.
Around the back
The back of the device is made up almost entirely of hard rubber, displaying the large CAT logo in silver in the centre, and the silver coated camera lens towards the top left as you look at it.
It’s worth noting the simplicity of opening the back of the device, as historically this has been far from simple with rugged handsets. For example, the Nokia 5210 released in the early noughties, had an almost deep sea diving styled rubber casing which took considerable efforts to separate.
And there’s the Sonim XP3300 released last year which actually requires a screw driver to access the battery and SIM card. Not ideal, you can imagine.
Instead, the B15 uses a simple sliding unlock button across the bottom. The importance of that button being closed is essential, as water will filter in to the device if open. To ensure users don’t make this mistake, a yellow strip is revealed if unlocked.
Once unlocked, removing the back cover does require a strong finger nail, but given this is designed to keep it air tight and water out ‘ that’s to be expected.
Rugged claims put to the test
No review of a rugged handset would be complete without testing its durability claims ‘ and CAT makes some bold ones.
We decided to test the device against some of the most common killers of mobile phones, water, dropping and household pets.
Here’s how it got on…
It’s unsurprising that water is by far the biggest killer of mobile phones. We all know someone who uses their handset whilst in the bath or feels the need to answer a call outside in a thunderstorm.
There are all kinds of methods in a bid to save them: buried in a bowl of rice is common, as is leaving in an airing cupboard or even placing the devices under a hair dryer. Sometimes it works; most of the time it’s back to the shop or a call to the insurance firm. How would the CAT B15 cope?
Firstly off, we plonked the device in a glass of water ‘ which had no affect. The phone was dry inside and continued to work as normal. Even the screen responded well despite wet hands.
So we upped the stakes, holding the device under a fast flowing tap. Whilst the stream of water seemed to activate the apps and options it happened to pour over, there was no damage and the phone remained in perfect working order.
Dropping on concrete
According to CAT the B15 can withstand drops of 1.8 meters without being damaged. We got the tape measure out and dropped it screen down on to a concrete floor. Despite a loud bang, and the the phone bouncing wildly across the floor, there was no damage.
Just for good measure, we tried it again from the same height. And whilst the phone survived in tact, on several occasions the back of the phone did pop open – although the lock prevented it from spearing completely.
Most dogs like to chew things, unfortunately my dog Ruby isn’t one of them. It took some persuading, but after smearing the device with peanut butter, she sank her teeth in to the direction of the screen and took the phone away. After a few heart-stopping creeks, one of which I was sure was the sound of the screen cracking, Ruby realised the taste of plastic wasn’t for her, and discarded the now wet, gooey heap.
A quick run under the tap however revealed no damage ‘ not even a tooth mark.
Underneath there are a few surprises. The first being the sheer size of the 2000mAh battery ‘ making up around half the size of the whole device.
According to CAT, the battery offers an impressive nine hours of talk time ‘ and a standby time of nine and half days.
But that wasn’t the only surprise. Beneath the battery is space for not one but two SIM cards ‘ something rarely seen on major handsets.
Just beneath that is the micro SD card slot.
The device includes a 800 x 480 megapixel screen ‘ which is a far cry from some of the new HD handsets entering the market, but by no means terrible.
Switching on for the first time requires the user to go through the standard Android set up menu, before being presented with the traditional Android unlocking screen, where you are required to slide the padlock to either the camera, web browser (Google) or the unlock screen. All very simple.
The home screen is again as you come to expect, with four available home screens which can be filled with your favourite apps.
Curiously, CAT has opted not to include a dedicated weather and time widget, or a calendar which is often the standard for others using Android. Instead, there are just four pre placed shortcuts, Gmail, Playstore, Camera and Maps. The three other screens are blank.
Below these are the standard Android functions to make calls, send emails, access main menu, text and web.
Inside the main menu are 53 apps, widgets and options spanning across three screens. All the usual Google apps are here, plus a few CAT specifics, all centred around its core construction business, such as hiring equipment and using the GPS to find nearest stockists.
For those of you wanting to add social networking apps such as Twitter and Facebook, you will need to sign in or sign up to Google and download via the Playstore as they are not pre-installed.
The B15 is equipped with a very credible dual core 1GHz processor, which does a decent job. At no point during the testing, did I experience delays when flicking between menus.
Accessing the web was also a decent experience, with web pages loading fast, especially when using WiFi. However the screen quality lets the experience down somewhat, with images, particularly smaller ones displayed poorly and a little washed out.
Its performance when streaming videos from sites such as the BBC News channel and You Tube (which is preinstalled) worked surprisingly well with good quality sound – albeit a little on the quiet side.
Perhaps the biggest let down on the device was the performance of the camera.
The B15 includes both a rear facing five megapixel and front facing VGA camera which can be accessed through the shortcut button down the side. The five megapixel is average at best whilst the VGA should be completely avoided.
Images on the five megapixel camera appear dull and washed out ‘ particularly in poor light where colours seem to just blend into one. The lack of any form of autofocus means pictures are captured quickly with almost no delay, but the quality is very hit and miss.
The camera has no flash either ‘ so forget using it in the dark, or in low lit environments.
The same issues are experienced with the B15’s video recorder.
Again, it struggles with poor light and colours are washed out. With so many cameras including HD now, anything less will always seem old fashioned and the B15 struggles more than most in that department.
However, one redeeming feature is that it copes surprisingly well with recording sound ‘ particularly from close up.
The B15 is never going to be a mass market phone ‘ and will pose no threat to the world’s leading manufacturers. That said, it absolutely has a place in the market ‘ albeit niche. Whilst builders and construction workers are ultimately the key target, the CAT phone has enough about it to appease anyone simply after a device which they can rely upon, whatever the environment.
+ Decent specs for a rugged device
‘ Camera / Video
OS Android 4.1 Jelly Bean
Processor MediaTek MT6577 Dual 1GHz CortexTM-A9
Size 125mm x 69.5mm x 14.95mm
Screen 4” WVGA 480×800 LCD, Capacitive Multi-touch, Gorilla glass, wet finger tracking
Memory 4GB storage + 512 RAM
Camera 5.0 MP Rear, VGA Front
Video 720P recording 30 FPS Codecs H.263, H.264/AVC, mpeg4/SP, VP8
Talk time Up to 9 hours
Stand By Up to 9.5 days
Connection: microUSB, microSD 32GB, 3.5mm audio
GPS A-GPS mode
Temperature Operational range -20o C to + 55o C
Drop testing 1.80M Concrete
IP rating IP67 waterproof to 1m for 30 min Impervious to dust