If you are in the market for a new smartphone, then chances are that you are looking for a Samsung, an LG, a Motorola or maybe a new Nexus smartphone. In fact, the choices are endless at the moment. However, instead of opting for a smartphone based on the name or the greatest specs and features available, maybe it is wise to look for one based on its purpose. The CAT S40 is a prime example of such a smartphone. While you might not pick one up just because it is a CAT phone, what this one does offer is its purpose-built protection. This is not your average smartphone and by the same token, is not built for your average environment.
When it comes to the specs, there is not exactly much to write home about here. However, this is not really a device which is designed to be spec-heavy. In terms of the specs, the CAT S40 comes with a a Super bright 4.7-inch IPS display with a 900 x 540 resolution. Inside, the CAT S40 comes equipped with 1GB RAM and powered by a Snapdragon 210 Quad-core processor (clocking at 1.1 GHz). Internal storage is set at 16GB as standard, although there is the opportunity to expand when needed, thanks to the inclusion of a microSD card slot (up to 64GB). In terms of cameras, the CAT S40 comes equipped with an 8-megapixel rear camera which is coupled with a 2-megapixel front facing camera. While everything is powered by a non-removable 3,000 mAh battery and the device comes running on Android 4.4 (KitKat) out of the box. Of course, when it comes to the CAT S40, the big selling points is its rugged nature and on that note, the CAT S40 is IP68 certified for water-protection as well as being Military Standard 810G approved for shock and drop resistance. So this is a dust proof, waterproof and shockproof device.
Design & Hardware
The design of the CAT S40 is not particularly an attractive design, as in contrast to many of the more modern smartphones, it does come with a dated look. It is a thick phone and is rather squarish in its presentation. However, these are purpose designed elements and when taking this into consideration, the device neither looks dated nor modern, but instead, it looks strong. When looking at the CAT S40 it is clear that this is a device built to be protected. The sides of the device come equipped with an aluminum frame held into place with lock nuts.
The top and bottom of the device makes use of reinforced rubber edges which are designed to take the bulk of impact when encountered and which again, are held in place with lock nuts. Moving to the back of the device and the rubberized approach continues with a full covering rubber backing (which is non-removable). However, unlike the edges, the back rubber comes with grooves to add to its tactile appeal and offering a much-improved level of grip when held.
In terms of the buttons, even these are designed to be more durable and consist of very firm and 'clicky' buttons The left-hand side is where you will find the volume up, down and power button. Along with the nano-SIM and micro-SIM slot.
While on the right-hand side you will find what is best described as the "CAT button". In stark contrast to the rest of the device, this button adopts the famous CAT yellow coloring which makes it easily distinguishable from the rest. Not to mention, this is also where you will find the USB charge slot too.
Software & User Experience
When it comes to the software, how close to stock a device is out of the box, is always one of the big selling or turn-off points. To cut straight to the chase, the CAT S40 comes running a surprisingly close to stock Android experience. On first boot up, the CAT S40 is loaded with Android 5.1 (Lollipop) and as such, there are no major issues with the operating system version on offer. This is the latest version of Android (excluding the release of 6.0) which means that it does come with all the usual and typical Lollipop aspects and design in place.
Beyond the stock experience, the CAT S40's software is extremely light which is more than likely an element CAT purposely decided to help with what would be considered as a lower performing level of internal specs. This phone does not come bogged down with any necessary software, apps or otherwise. This is a very light version of Android and this is a very good thing on this occasion.
However, there are a few minor tweaks which have been included for a more CAT-experience. The first is what we have already briefly commented on in the design section and this is the use of the CAT button. This is a yellow button positioned on the right-hand side of the device and one which essentially acts as a shortcut to any feature that you assign. In short, a programmable button. So by heading through the menu to the button section, you can choose the function of the button from a select list of features, which includes the likes of the camera, flashlight, wake and recents, among other. Once assigned, by holding the button down (sometimes for a couple of seconds with features like flashlight) activates the feature.
Moving to the app sides of things and there is a CAT Phones app included. Although, in truth, this is not actually an app but just a shortcut to the CAT Phones website where you can find information about the range of services and support for your CAT S40.
There is also an App Toolbox app which essentially is a quick shortcut to a bunch of apps that the owner of a CAT phone might be more inclined to purchase or download. Besides a few promoted apps, categories on offer include Construction apps, Farming apps, Engineering News and so on. Which is a nice addition for those who might be using the CAT phone in the industrial or enterprise sector. Although, the apps won't be for everyone, it is not exactly an intrusive app to have at your fingertips.
Other than this, the only other add-on apps consist of a small selection of commercial apps which come pre-installed out of the box. Namely, CleanMaster, SwiftKey, OfficeSuite and AVG Antivirus. So although, there are some, they are rather minimal compared to what you might find on many other manufacturer offerings.
Purely based on the level and type of smartphone the CAT S40 is designed to be, camera abilities are not going to be top of the agenda or a reason for you to specifically pick up this device. In terms of the numbers, the rear camera consists of an 8-megapixel camera while the front-facing camera is a 2-megapixel offering. So based on the MP-count alone, these are not anything too special. This goes for the general camera software on offer. While the device, overall, is quite close to stock, the camera settings are very basic. Although, you do have everything you need here and you can make use of the likes of HDR, the rest of the settings are quite basic. Although, there is a bunch of modes to try and account for different lighting conditions. Overall, the software experience is a rather basic, but sufficient one.
Moving away from the software and to the actual use of the cameras, in reality the photos taken with the S40 were not that bad. Yes, they are not going to compete with the many flagship devices that are currently available, but when you consider that this is more designed as a durable on-the-job sort of device, they will certainly be good enough to take work pictures and selfies for social media. In fact, there was nothing obviously wrong with the image quality when tested. They were certainly good enough for everyday capturing and especially during light conditions. During lower light times, the camera does definitely suffer and this will not be ideal for those conditions, but overall, certainly good enough and in line with the rest of the device's hardware and purpose.
You can see a few examples of the image quality in the gallery below.
Battery Life & Performance
Battery life is quickly becoming the go-to problem for manufacturers and consumers alike. Both are fixated on battery life and for good reason, as it is an increasing issue as devices become more battery hungry. Thankfully, the CAT S40 is designed with battery life in mind and does provide a surprising good level of usage off the charge. Especially, if you are someone who does not use your phone that often. The standby battery usage of the CAT S40 is excellent and during testing could easily be left on for a seven-day period with minimal usage. In doing so, would only result in around a thirty percent battery drop. Using this as a rule of measurement, it does seem likely that you could easily use this is standby mode for anywhere up to a month. Although this might not sound feasible for 'normal' usage of a smartphone, when you consider that some of the markets this phone will be aimed towards, it is a good feature to have on board.
Moving to the more normal levels of usage and the CAT S40 does not offer amazing battery life, but does offer suitable battery life. The CAT S40 makes use of a 3,000 mAh battery and using in a very on and off manner would typically yield a return of about 3 hours of screen on time. This, of course, did vary on how much was used for video playback and brightness although, even when trying to drain the device with the brightness turned up and video playback on continuous, it still easy achieved two hours of screen on time.
In terms of charging, there are no advanced charging features on offer here, but that does not mean the S40 is slow at charging. In fact, during testing, the phone typically recharged in roughly two hours. Which by normal standards, is more than fine.
Again, this is not something which should be expected to draw meaningful conclusions from. Benchmarks do provide a good indication of how a device is running and what it can do, however, this is not a device which is designed for blazing multitasking or great performance. So even before running the benchmarks, it would be expected that it would not score greatly and this was the case. Running AnTuTu, the CAT S40 scored 19,119 which placed it quite low down the list and certainly lower than most of the other 2015 devices. While on Geekbench, the CAT S40 scored a multi-core score of 1031 and a single-core score of 315. Again, these scores were lower than pretty much everything else currently available, with the multi-core score coming in at about the Nexus 7 (2013) level and the single-core score coming in at the Moto G level. We could not run 3D Mark as the hardware was not sufficient enough to run the tests.
You can check out the full benchmarks results in the gallery below.
This is a dual-SIM device which does seem to be a trend which has been increasing this year. However, with the CAT S40, the use of dual-SIM does make more sense. This is designed to be a device which can be used in the workplace and as such, making use of the dual-SIM with one SIM for work and one for personal use does offer an added benefit.
However, for testing, we only did use the one SIM and during that testing, there were no notable issues with call quality or functionality. Calls were clear and crisp and there was never any experiences of call dropping with a reliable use of service and quality wherever. Although, it is worth noting that we were using a European version of the device in the U.S. on T-Mobile and therefore, the best data connection we experienced was HSPA+. As such, testing the data reliability or speeds was not really noted on this occasion.
The CAT S40 really is not your average smartphone. That is, in spite of it coming with some very average specs. This is a smartphone which is built for the elements and with the increasing number of premium smartphones arriving which all come made of glass, aluminium or liquidmorphium and yet cannot seem to withstand any sort of dropping or when put through their paces, the CAT S40 (and devices like this in general) are constantly carving out their sub-industry. And so far, the CAT S40 is certainly one of the clear winners here.
Should you buy the CAT S40?
Well, this is simple. It depends on if you see the value in such a phone. If you are looking for an extremely rugged device which won't let you down, regardless of the conditions, then you cannot do much better than the S40. This is not the fastest device in the world, it is not the most processing-capable device in the world, but it is a hard working and well-protected device. One that you can rely on.