The Cat S42 is for clumsy people that drop their phones, let the dog eat it, and generally expose it to harsh conditions. And that is the sole reason to buy – tradies, firies, essential workers we are looking at you.
The key is that the Cat S42 has IP68, IP69K and MIL-SPEC 810H. It is so tough soap and water are afraid of it (yes you can wash it).
As far as the phone goes, it is quite basic. Gorilla Glass 5 screen (5.5”), rear camera (13MP), battery (4200mAh) and the usual Wi-Fi, BT, NFC, GPS and even a 3.5mmm jack.
But the conundrum here is that our traditional smartphone review parameters don’t really apply to this type of phone. Purists would eschew the micro-USB port, Mediatek Helio A20, 3/32GB/microSD and indeed some early reviews have said that the specs don’t match the price. They just don’t get it.
Well, it is $432 from Tel$tra or $36/18 on 12/24-month payment plus a voice/data plan. But I say avoid plans and buy it outright. Then get a fantastic no-lock-in month-to-month sim from Boost, Woolworths (10% of one monthly shop), Aldi or Aussie Broadband (these use the Telstra network but believe in real human service).
What is Cat?
The Caterpillar Orange and Black, the rugged design and of course the CAT name is to associate it with Caterpillar earth moving equipment.
In fact, it (and several models) are made by Bullitt Mobile Limited (part of the Bullitt Group Est. 2009). It aims to bring brands together with technology. So, it licenses the Caterpillar name to make a range of rugged mobile phones. It has a deal with Land Rover for an Outdoor Phone. It also has arrangements with Ted Baker, Kodak, JCB, Ministry of Sound and more.
We say mini-review as the test parameters need to focus on ‘fit for purpose’ rather than necessarily the best specs. We use FAIL, PASS or EXCEED against test parameters.
First impression – PASS+
I have reviewed its closest competitor the $499 Tel$tra Tough Max 3 4.4/5 made by ZTE. On specs alone, there is not much between the CAT S42 and the Max 3.
This is a little larger with a more rugged ribbed TPU casing and corner drop bumpers. These bumpers are key to protecting the phone from the most common off-angle drops up to 1.8m that will crack a typical case or screen. The raised case edges add extra screen protection.
On the left side are power and volume. On the right side are a dedicated programmable key (e.g., for Google Assistant) and the micro-SD and SIM slot.
The rear has a single camera and flash, and the 5.5” Gorilla Glass 5 screen has the large bezels you expect. All the ‘holes’ have rubber covers.
Rugged rating – EXCEED
It also has IP68 for continuous immersion in 1.5m water for 35 minutes.
It also has the highest rating you can get – IP69K with the rubber plugs in place. This means protected against close-range high pressure, high-temperature spray. Yes, you can Karcher this!
And MIL-STD-810H (above 810G) means -25°C (-13°F) to +55°C (131°F) for up to 24hrs. it is also resistant to vibration and has category 4 resistance to humidity and salt mist.
It is also resistant to bleach, alcohol and various industrial chemicals
This is one tough mudder. If you want some adventure the Cat S42 is for you.
It is a 720p 60Hz, 18:9, 298ppi IPS/LCD screen, so text and images are not quite as crisp. But it is quite bright at (measured) 540 nits (max) and about 1000:1 contrast. It makes no claims to colour accuracy, but I measured 90% sRGB, which is very good.
You are going to use it on maximum brightness. Daylight readability is OK but not in direct sunlight.
It has glove mode to increase touch sensitivity as well as lift to wake. Haptic feedback is light but adequate.
The screen is a fingerprint magnet. It has Gorilla Glass 5, so it is impact resistant.
CPU – PASSable
The Helio A20 is an entry-level 12nm, 4 x 1.8Ghz SoC – fit for purpose as a phone.
It has 43,014 GIPS and averages 35,529 losing 28% of its performance over 15 minutes. But as a phone, it will never reach those stress levels.
As is the case with IP69K, cooling is harder in a sealed environment. Still, it is quite acceptable.
Geekbench 5 single/multi-core 131/437 – it is about 10% slower than a Qualcomm SD429.
The PowerVR GE6300 GPU 550 MHz can play very basic low frame rate games.
Ram: 3GB LPDDR4-1866
32GB eMMC (15GB free)
Micro-SD to 128GB
Supports USB 2.0 OTG for backup to flash drives
Comms – PASS
Wi-Fi 5 AC 1×1– it has a single Wi-Fi antenna and reaches -43dBm/390Mbps (maximum is 433) on 5Ghz at 2m from our ASUS AX11000 router. At 5m it drops to -70dBm which is unusable, and 2.4Ghz takes over.
NFC- it supports Google Pay.
I suspect that the Wi-Fi signal strength is lower due to the rugged case.
Sensors – PASS
Screen rotation is really touchy, indicating a combo sensor. I had to turn auto-rotate off.
Battery – PASS
It has a large 4000mAh battery that should go a couple of days without charge. Over seven days use I charged four times.
The Charger is micro-USB Charger 5V/3A/15W, 9V/2A/18W, 12V/1.5A/18W. It is unusual in that it appears QC 2.0 compatible, but the device only accepts 5V/.5A/5W charging for a linear, not fast charge.
It will charge from 0-100% in around three hours.
Battery discharge at idle is around 200mA, meaning around 20+ days standby.