Cat S42 is a rugged smartphone for clumsy people (review)

Cat S42

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.

The sole reason to buy this is for its durability

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.

What are CAT phones?

CAT makes a range of smartphones that have different environmental tolerances and features

  • S31
  • S42 (this review)
  • S52 (World’s thinnest truly rugged phone)
  • S61 (Thermal imaging camera, indoor air quality sensor, laser measurement)
  • S62 Pro – Everything!

So on with the mini-review of the CAT S42

  • Website here
  • Price: $439
  • Warranty: 24-months  
  • 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.

Cat S42

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.

Cat S42

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.

Tough Mudder

Cat S42 base specs – all fit for purpose

  • MediaTek Helio A20 quad-core
  • 3GB/32GB/microSD to 128GB
  • 4GX, Single Sim, VoLTE and VoWiFi
  • 5.5”, 1440 x 720, 18:9 GG5 screen
  • Wi-Fi AC, BT 5, FM Radio, GPS, NFC
  • 4000mAh battery, micro-USB charger 5V/3A/15W, 9V/2A/18W, 12V/1.5A/18W
  • Android 10

Screen – PASS+

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.

Direct sunlight overhead L-R: Cat S42, VIVO y20S, OPPO A53s, OPPO A53, Nokia 8.3
Maximum screen brightness – devices as above.

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.

Cat S42 throttle

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

  • Accelerometer
  • Gyroscope
  • Proximity
  • Magnetometer

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.

Test – PASS

  • 50% screen 1080p video, BT, aeroplane mode, 15 hours
  • Wi-Fi, BT and typical use – 13 hours
  • T-Rex 100% video load 11.49 hours and 1036 frames
  • 100% load complete drain 7 hours

Sound – PASS

It has a single, mono earpiece speaker and a front-firing bottom speaker. It is what it is – designed for clearer voice with no bass, emphasised mid and treble for clear voice. Music is not its forte.

Maximum volume is 80dB – loud enough, but I would expect a tradie phone to be deafening.

The dual mics have good sensitivity but no ANC, so I found myself cupping the mic for clarity.

Handsfree is adequate although I would expect little more volume from a tradies phone.

It has the standard BT 5.0 SBC codec and provides ample clarity and volume to BT headphones and speakers.

Android – EXCEED

Android 10 – scheduled to get 11

Security Patch date: 5 September 2020

90-day security patches for two years from launch and 1-year ESMR (Enhanced Specialized Mobile Radio used push-to-talk over cellular networks)

Google Assistant and Google Lens are available. It has all Google apps and a range of removable productivity apps.

OnGuard Solo

One app is called OnGuard Solo that allows you to create a ‘guardian group’ to monitor Lone Worker in hazardous environments. I could not test it nor verify if it works in Australia.

CAT ToolBox is a range of apps including CAT Financial Quote, Remote Asset Monitor, Cycle Timer, Value Estimating tools and many more – Ditto

There are many other applications in the ToolBox. Zello is a push-to-talk app, which turns the CAT S42 into a walkie-talkie.

There is an extra programmable key on the left.

But where it exceeds is Android Enterprise Support and Zero-touch support (remote management). It supports EMM Services VMware Workspace ONE, IBM MaaS 360, SOTI, Mobile Iron and more.


Bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 20, 28 – all you need for all Australian Telcos but not a great international phone.

Single sim supports VoLTE, VoWiFi, and 4GX (2CA)

Rated speed is 300/50Mbps DL/UL, and I achieved 39ms ping, 28.3/12.4Mbps DL/UL in a three-bar reception zone. This is reasonable.

Signal strength is -99dBm/51.6fW in a three-bar zone (average) finding the next tower at -106dBm/25.1fW – a good stable signal but I did find it was more often 3G than 4G.

It is a good city/suburbs/regional centre phone. If you need better rural reception, Tough Max 3 is Tel$tra Blue-tick approved.

Build – EXCEED

161.3 x 77.2 x 12.7mm x 220g

I have covered IP68/69K and MIL-SPEC 810H elsewhere.

Apart from the Charger and USB-A to micro-USB cable, no accessories come in the box.

It also lacks fingerprint and face ID.

Cat S42 camera – PASS

I was pleasantly surprised because the Helio A20 SoC does not offer a lot of post-processing power.

The 13MP rear sensor is a new Samsung S5K3L6 which has improved low light sensitivity.

It has both a software and hardware button for underwater photography.

Decent, if a little soft images under day and office light.

Camera – Primary

  • 13MP, f/2.0, 1.12um
  • Sensor: Samsung S5K3L6
  • 68° FOV
  • Flash ad HDR
  • PDAF
  • 1080@30fps H.264
Cat S42 1x
1X – colours are a little muted (lower dynamic range) and detail is soft but overall its a social media class image
Cat S42 4x
4x digital zoom – shows what a bit of post-processing can do to tart up an image
Cat S42 macro
There is no macro setting but this shot taken from 4cm is acceptable. Perfect for photos of spare parts etc.
Cat S42 office
The focus is a little soft but overall its social media acceptable
Cat S42 dark
This is am amazing shot for <40 lumen. But to the trained eye focus is soft, colours are bright but off, and screen detail is blown out. There is no night mode.


  • 4MP
  • Sensor: GC5034
  • F-stop unknown but likely 2.0
  • 1.12um
  • Screen fill flash or HDR (not both)
  • FF
  • 86°
  • 720p@30fps

GadgetGuy’s take – CAT S42 is a tough mudder

If you want a reasonably priced device, this is it. Although some of the other CAT models may interest you too.

As far as a phone goes – it will make and receive calls and SMS – what more do you need? And being Android, it will run all the apps, albeit slowly in some cases.

Over the review period, I kept thinking that this is the perfect phone for school children – unbreakable. But alas it does not have an expensive fruit logo on it!

I like the device. It is reassuring to know you can mistreat it and it will still work well tomorrow.

Rating this is easy – it is a tough phone first and foremost, and the specs are quite respectable.

Who is it for?

Tradies, construction workers, miners, farmers, outdoor adventure enthusiasts or anyone seeking extra protection and durability in a smartphone.

Cat S42
Value for money
Ease of Use
Tradie tough – in fact tougher than a tradie
Decent social media camera
2-day battery life
I would have expected a brighter screen for a tradie phone
Storage is very slow
Barely enough SoC power but it is fit for purpose