The CAT S41 is easily a poster child for rugged devices
CAT isn’t generally known for its smartphones, but the brand has put its name on a few products before and the S41 is its latest device, built for those with a need for a rugged phone in mind, and the CAT S41 is just that, a rugged phone that is built to take a beating and withstand the harshness of everyday life and all its unpredictable possibilities. We’ve spent the last week or so with the S41 to see how it stacks up, how it functions, how well it holds up to its durability and other factors like the dustproof and waterproof nature of the phone that CAT is boasting. Let’s take a closer look at the CAT S41 and see what all it has to offer.
When it comes to specs the S41 is a mix of pretty decent and more standard specs. It comes with just a 5-inch display with a Full HD resolution. It’s also equipped with 3GB of RAM which is not usually the standard as many phones these comes with 4GB of RAM or more, but 3GB is likely sufficient for this device. Alongside the RAM, it comes with 32GB of internal storage space and it also supports expandable storage up to 256GB using a microSD card if you need more room.
The S41 is powered by a Helio P20 processor from MediaTek, so it doesn’t have the most powerful CPU out there but then this isn’t meant to be a top-end flagship as its focus is to provide the user with a functional phone that is extremely durable, and that it certainly delivers on. To keep the device powered on all day the S41 comes with a pretty big battery, with a capacity of 5,000mAh, and this not only serves as a big battery for the S41 itself, but the phone has a unique battery share feature that allows it to share the battery with another device like a power bank, something which could come in handy if you need to help a friend or coworker charge their device. For the cameras CAT has used a 13-megapixel sensor for the rear camera complete with an LED flash, and on the front the S41 has an 8-megapixel sensor for selfies and video chat. The phone is IP68 certified and is rated to be dustproof and waterproof up to to 2 meters for up to 60 minutes. It comes with Corning Gorilla Glass 5 display protection, uses micro USB for charging and data transfer, and it runs on Android 7.0 Nougat for the software.
In The Box
You don’t get a lot of extras with the CAT S41 but you don’t get just the charger and the phone either. You also get a screen protector, and an OTG cable so you can utilize the battery share feature if you need to help charge another device.
Hardware & Design
As this is meant to be a rugged phone it sports the look and build quality of such a device. It has a touch rubberized outer coating that feels mostly comfortable to hold and yet you know that if you drop you can feel safe that it will be just fine. This tough exterior is what feels like a thicker plastic material designed to be protective against drops and dings. There’s no mistaking that the device is built with people in mind that are tough on their mobile devices. It’s not necessarily sleek, so those looking for a stylish phone would want to look elsewhere, but then people who want stylish devices generally aren’t the target market for a device like this in the first place.
On the front of the device there are hardware keys for the home button, back button, and recents button, and the front camera sits up top in the left corner just next to the logo. Flipping the phone over to its side, the left side of the frame carries the SIM and microSD card slots, as well as a shortcut button you can configure to bring up anything from shortcuts to launched applications. On the right side of the frame you have the power button and the volume up and down buttons, while on the bottom you have the charging port and speaker, and up top you have the 3.5mm audio port for plugging in wired headphones. The back is pretty minimal save for the rear-facing camera in the top left corner and the CAT logo in the center, while the rest of the back has the rigid and textured feel thanks to the rugged materials used which definitely helps with the grip to ensure the phone isn't easily dropped. Overall, the S41 is a decently designed device for the market it’s trying to cater to, and it definitely feels like it can stand up to everyday beatings without issue.
Full HD screens are still pretty standard these days and CAT is keeping it standard with the S41. That said, Full HD is still Full HD and the screen still looks nice. It’s also not all about the resolution of the display as the S41 is meant to be a rugged device so the importance of the resolution takes a backseat to the durability of it. The nice thing about this phone is that while the resolution may be more standard, the protection is not. It’s using Corning Gorilla Glass 5 which is the best that Corning has to offer at this point for screen protection against drops, dings, scratches and cracks. This is definitely needed given the type of consumer that CAT is marketing the S41 towards, which is anyone who works in a tough job environment that may have a chance to bang up their phone a little more, such as contractors, fisherman, construction workers and the like. Of course, anyone who is just tough on their phones and wants something stronger would benefit from the durability of the display on the S41 too.
Moving away from the strength of it, the screen on the S41 is decently bright, it looks good at multiple viewing angles, and the responsiveness is pretty good without any issues arising from the screen not recognizing finger presses or anything like that. In fact it seems that the CAT S41 has a pretty good digitizer so you’re not likely to come across any problems with touch responsiveness. Color accuracy is good though not necessarily the best on the market, but unless you’re use to the best color accuracy available or are used to using devices with AMOLED or Super AMOLED displays, you shouldn’t be disappointed with what’s on offer from this phone. If you find that the color is a little bit off, you can simply go into the display settings and tap on the MiraVision option, then tap the slideout menu and tap on picture mode to change things from standard to vivid if you want something that looks a little brighter and more lush, or you can tap user mode if you want to adjust things to your liking more specifically.
Depending on what you’re used to when it comes to performance your mileage may vary here, but when it came to performance during our review period things were ok. They weren’t excellent or over the top but that’s simply because of the components inside which are limiting to an extent. To test the performance we played a fairly new game called ICEY with some pretty good graphics and special effects and the game ran fine with minimal issues, such as a little bit of lag and stuttering during the more intensive portions of the game, but overall it ran ok. Now just because we didn’t run into any issues with the performance of this game during gameplay, that doesn’t mean that it won’t run into any issues with other high-end games that have better graphics and more effects, so it may be different for you depending on the games you’re trying to play. For performance with the rest of the phone use, everyday tasks like browsing the web and social media, emails, video, were all fine and didn’t seem to give us any problems even when we had multiple apps open at once and running in the background. You’re not likely to run into many problems with performance while using the S41 and that shouldn’t be too shocking as it does have the Helio P20 CPU and 3GB of RAM, and while 3GB of RAM is not nearly the highest at this point, it’s plenty for a majority of smartphones for most tasks.
If there’s one area where the S41 really shines it’s with the battery life. Sporting a 5,000mAh battery the S41 is no slouch here, and if you’re the type that wants or needs their phone to be available to use at all times without fear that it’ll die on you halfway through the day, then this will serve that purpose. During our testing it typically had close to 15 hours of screen on time, which is a ton and more than most smartphones out there. In fact, we ran it through PCMark’s battery test and this resulted in even longer run times, coming up with a rating of about 15 hours and 19 minutes. Now, this is keeping in mind that it’s based on average use, and how you use the phone will definitely play a role in whether or not the battery lasts this long. It’s also worth keeping in mind that this was without trying to use the battery share feature which lets you use the included OTG cable to charge another device while the S41 acts as a power bank. All that aside, the S41 has amazing battery life and if you need a long-lasting phone this is it.
Just like with all phones and tablets we review, we ran the CAT S41 through some benchmark tests to see how it would score, and it came up just as we’d expect for a phone with mid-range specifications. In short it did ok for its range after putting it through AnTuTu, 3DMark, and Geekbench 4, and if you’re interested in seeing what those scores look like you can view them in the gallery just below.
Phone Calls & Network
The CAT S41 is an unlocked device and it does actually support plenty of global cellular network bands, including those in the U.S. that are 4G so this does work on U.S. networks like T-Mobile and AT&T, but it won’t work on Sprint or Verizon. During our time testing the device it did tend to work on just about any of the network frequencies as it supports 2G, 3G, and 4G. When we used it phone calls sounded pretty clear on our end and we were told that we sounded fine on the other end too. For the most part you should have no issues with using the phone for voice calls. This is only a single SIM phone, so you won’t be able to use two services at once and switch between them. Overall the phone calls and network capabilities work just fine should you need to this to be your main phone.
Sound quality on the S41 is where the phone shows a little bit of weakness. It only has one speaker which is still common on phones these days, but it’s not the best speaker out there and at higher volumes (lower than we would have expected) it began to sound a little bit tinny and would also start to sound blown out just a little bit. This is not the worst thing in the world especially if you tend to either use headphones for things like music and other entertainment, but if you value really good quality audio you aren’t really going to get it here with the S41. That isn’t to say it’s terrible as it will certainly pass muster for many consumers, and worst case scenario you can always plug in headphones or connect it to a speaker for better audio.
It might not look like it at first when you boot up the phone but the S41 is using stock Android Nougat software. Save for the shortcut button function, everything looks just like it would on the Nexus 6P with Nougat, from the quick settings panel to the regular settings menu. Even the app menu looks like stock Android with the white background and the slider indicator on the right side to show where you are in the list of installed apps.
Since most of the software is stock you’re not going to find anything out of the ordinary here that you wouldn’t find on a Nexus device. Google Assistant is present, for example, so you can use it for controlling smart home devices or asking questions, and most of if not all the other Nougat-related feature are available to. Just about the only thing that is different with the software on the S41 is the option to configure the shortcut button on the left side of the frame, which lets you launch apps or open up shortcuts to certain features in apps, like sending a new message or composing a new email. Of course there’s also the battery share feature, but for the most part you aren’t going to get any software extras or adjustments. Everything is fairly basic and for some that might be a good thing, while for others it’s likely to be a little disappointing since there aren’t many additional functions to enhance the user experience.
Pictures are not a strong suit for the S41 but they’re not completely terrible, and in a pinch any camera is still better than no camera at all. Camera quality aside for a moment, the camera on the S41 doesn’t have a lot of options so if you’re used to having a smartphone camera that gives you those things then you might be disappointed here. When it comes to the software, the camera has three different modes, which include the automatic mode or essentially just a standard camera, the panorama mode, and a Picture-in-Picture mode. You also have a video mode for recording video, and there is an HDR button as well as options for adding different filters to your photos before they’re taken.
While the camera on the S41 may not have the most options or different feature to enhance the images, it does still take an ok photo in most respects. Pictures came out looking mostly clear where it was possible to make out what the images were and even see a fair amount of detail in them, especially in good lighting where it was easier to see more detail too. The camera also snapped photos pretty quickly so you weren’t waiting around for the camera to process the image before it was ready to take another one, though it’s not necessarily the fastest phone on the market when it comes to this particular aspect. When it comes down to it the camera is not the best camera, but it is decent enough to get the job done, and when you consider the type of the consumer that is looking for a durable phone like this one the camera is more likely to be an afterthought.
Extremely rugged and durable
Insane battery life
Battery share feature
3.5mm audio port
Android Nougat software
Not many additional features or software extras
Heavy due to the durable materials used
Not the best performance
Can be a tad sluggish during high-end games with demanding graphics
The CAT S41 is easily a poster child for rugged devices. It's not going to be the perfect smartphone for everyone and that’s due to lots of factors. Not everyone is going to want an extremely rugged phone that is a little on the thicker side to help with the durability, and some people might want a device with more powerful specifications. The S41 does offer some decent specs and features though and it does have some pretty nice functions that would be nice to see in other devices.
Should you buy the CAT S41?
If you’re in need of a rugged smartphone that can withstand plenty of tough situations and take a little damage here and there, and has an IP68 rating against dust and water, then it’s hard not to recommend this device. It will provide the majority of users with what they would need for most smartphone tasks, and it’s even got the battery share feature so you can either charge a second device using the phone’s internal battery or help out a friend in a pinch who needs a charge on their own phone. For about $450, the CAT S41 is a great rugged device that shouldn’t be overlooked, unless you’re in the market for something more sleek and comes with high-end specs.