CAT S41 review: A rugged smartphone for users working in extreme conditions

Hardware Reviews / Reviews
CAT S41

Priced at $449.99USD on Amazon, this phone is a real value for those who are looking for a rugged smartphone they don’t need to worry about breaking.

TA-ratings-93Most smartphones we review here are generally consumer grade everyday use type devices. The CAT S41 is most certainly not an everyday device and not meant for your everyday user. The iPhone and Note8 are great consumer grade phones meant for use in normal everyday environments. While there are several cases that can transform those devices into rugged smartphones, most rugged users would rather not spend over $1,000USD on a smartphone.

That’s where the CAT S41 comes in. This rugged smartphone clocks in at under $450USD but delivers the performance expected from users in extreme conditions. No, this is phone doesn’t have all the super specs of the top tier consumer phones, but it has it where it counts because some people aren’t as gentle with their phones. Read on for our full review of the CAT S41 rugged Android smartphone.

Specifications

The CAT S41 has the following features and specifications:

  • OS: Android 7.0
  • CPU: MTK 6757 OctaCore 2.3GHz
  • RAM: 3GB LPDDR3
  • Internal Storage: 32GB
  • External Storage: SDXC. Class 10/Ultra high speed/up to 128GB
  • Display: 5.0″ 1920 x1080 TFT
  • Connectivity: NFC, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, LTE
  • Camera:
  • Rear – 13MP AF with LED Flash
  • Front – 8MP FF
  • Battery: 5,500 mAh
  • Protection: IP68 and 1.8m MIL-SPEC 810G, Shock and Drop, Category 4 vibration
  • Operating Temp: -25°C (-13°F) to 55°C (131°F)
  • Dimensions: 152 x 75 x 12.85 mm
  • Weight: 218g

What’s In The Box

  • CAT S41 Android smartphone
  • Screen protector
  • Wall wort
  • MicroUSB to USB-A cable
  • USB OTG cable

Design

So let’s get something straight, not everyone wants an exquisitely designed iPhone or Pixel 2 XL. Why? Well, mostly because those types of phones can very easily get broken and they cost a ton of money to fix or replace. So no, not everyone wants an expensive slab of glass. Some users need their smartphones to be rugged and durable and that is exactly what the CAT S41 is.

The first thing I thought of when holding the CAT S41 was OtterBox. OtterBox makes tough cases for those expensive, more easily breakable smartphones, which covers up the beauty and eliminates half of the reason people buy those phones. The exterior of the CAT S41 is tough plastic/rubber material that actually feels quite nice in the hand. The textured shell gives you a nice grip and it is very nice to hold.

Surprisingly, the CAT S41 isn’t as heavy as I thought it might be weighing in at just over 7.6 ounces (218g). The 5″ screen isn’t as big as I’d like (5.5″ would have been nicer) but given the phones already girthy size, it’s probably best they used a 5″ screen. Reachability is about the same on this phone as a 5.5″ consumer grade phone. In other words, some things will take two hands to accomplish.

CAT S41

It’s a rugged phone but still rather attractive.

On the back of the phone, you have the CAT logo which is really cool. It reflects in certain light but remains black when not in the right light. The 13MP rear-facing camera and the LED flash are also located on the back. Located on the top of the phone, you’ll find the headphone jack and a couple of microphones. Along the bottom of the phone, you’ll find the Micro-USB port and speaker. These ports on top and bottom are covered for maximum dust resistance and waterproofing.

On the right side of the phone, you’ll find the volume rocker and power button. These are placed a bit higher than other phones, I would have liked them a bit lower where my thumb naturally sits. Along the left side of the phone, you’ll find the MicroSD slot and SIM slot as well as the programmable key. The front of the CAT S41 houses the 5″ display, front-facing camera, sensor array, and physical navigation keys. Yes, this phone has physical nav keys, not software keys.

CAT S41

Made for to work.

Overall, this is a really rugged design that actually looks really good. While it is heavy duty looking, it’s not bad looking either.

Display

The CAT S41 houses a 1920 x 1080 FHD display that’s actually pretty vibrant and crisp. While it won’t outperform or outdo the panels on the iPhone, Note8, or Pixel 2 XL, for this price point it is a decent display. Touch responsiveness is excellent and the panel gets to a decent brightness. I did find it struggled in extremely bright sunlight but again, this isn’t a top-level display.

Colors are vibrant though and blacks and whites are acceptable for a panel of this caliber. The main selling point of this display is its durability. We never do drop tests on devices here, but given the durability rating of this device, we couldn’t resist. We dropped the CAT S41 several times down the stairs and from 6 feet levels several times without any screen cracks or breaks. This was also done without the included screen protector.

CAT S41

5″ FHD screen

Overall, this is a very nice FHD display whose main selling point is its durability, which it has in spades.

Software

The CAT S41 is running on Android 7.0 and isn’t likely to get Android 8.0. On the consumer side, that’s usually a big deal but I don’t think the buyers of this phone will care all that much. There are a few extra apps thrown in like OfficeSuite, File Command, and App Toolbox that aren’t needed. But overall there isn’t a lot of bloatware here. It also doesn’t look like there’s any sort of skin here, other than those few apps, everything else seems stock Android.

There is one included app called Share. Share allows you to use the CAT S41 as a battery bank and charge other phones with it. Surprisingly, the phone also comes with NFC and the ability to use Android Pay, something that was unexpected. Even though this device runs on Android 7.0, it runs smooth and I had no issues with at all.

CAT S41

Physical navigation buttons.

Performance/Durability

The software performance on the CAT S41 is good, with 3GB of RAM and MTK 6757 chip, it motors along just fine. Scrolling is smooth, pinch to zoom is fine, and everything from browsing to games ran just fine on this device.

Where this phone shines is its durability. This is a working person’s phone. It’s meant to take a beating and it’s meant to not be taken care of. When you’re working as a construction worker, firefighter, or police officer. The last thing you want to worry about is damaging your $1,000USD smartphone. That’s what the CAT S41 is for. It takes a beating like a tank and keeps on going.

CAT S41

Volume rocker and power.

I wouldn’t be surprised if many users of phones like these actually have two phones. The CAT as their working no holds barred phone and a more expensive phone as their play phone. Or maybe not, because it feels good to have a device that costs half the price and can withstand a whole lot more punishment.

Overall, the performance and durability of this phone earn it a perfect score. It’s not made for everyone, but for those, it is made for. It’s going to perform superbly.

Camera

Shockingly, the camera is actually pretty decent. It’s not super good in low light but in good lighting and sunlight, the images are more than acceptable. The camera app is fairly simple and straightforward and the shutter is nice and quick. The button on the left side of the phone can be mapped to launch the camera which is useful. I do wish it could be mapped to be used as the shutter release. Overall, the camera is decent and competitive with other smartphones in this price range.

Speakers/Sound

The speakers are decent, but nothing to get excited about. They’re not great with bass but don’t sound as tinny as some other smartphones. Still, you’re better off with headphones for any sort of sound you care about. For basic voice audio and YouTube videos, these speakers work fine.

Reception/Call Quality

Reception is good and solid, nothing out of the ordinary here. Call quality is decent, again, competitive with other smartphones in this range. Callers could hear me fine and I could hear callers fine as well. There were no weird hollow sounding moments or echoes all worked as it should.

Battery Life

With a 5,000 mAh battery, I could not kill this phone in a day of use. I usually can get my review units down to 5-15% by the end of my day but the CAT S41 was still hanging on around 45-55% by the end of my days. This phone should easily go a few days without needing to be recharged. Of course, that is highly depending on how you use the phone.

Price/Value

Priced at $449.99USD on Amazon, this phone is a real value for those who are looking for a rugged smartphone they don’t need to worry about breaking. CAT does warn that the device is durable, but not indestructible. Still, the average extreme condition worker will find that that durability will meet their needs. I think the CAT S41 is priced right and holds tremendous value to a certain market.

Wrap Up

The CAT S41 isn’t for everyone and isn’t a phone for the average consumer. It’s not pretty, it’s not expensive, it doesn’t run the latest software, and it’s not a status symbol. What it has going for it is it’s a functional and rugged tool that is meant to be used and can be abused. Buyers seeking those attributes will love this phone.

*We received a review unit of the CAT S41 smartphone for the purposes of this review.

CAT S41

$449.99USD
CAT S41
9.3

Design

9.5 /10

Display

9.0 /10

Software

9.0 /10

Performance/Durability

10.0 /10

Camera

9.0 /10

Speakers/Sound

9.0 /10

Reception/Call Quality

9.0 /10

Battery Life

9.5 /10

Price/Value

9.5 /10

Nailed it

  • Design is actually aesthetically appealing
  • No need for a case, the phone is the case
  • Camera is actually decent
  • Lightweight despite its bulk
  • Rugged and IP68 certified
  • Massive 5,000 mAh battery
  • Display is surprisingly vibrant and nice
  • Programmable side button is slick

Needs work

  • Physical nav buttons
  • Android 7.0 no 8.0
  • I would have liked a 5.5" screen
  • Volume rocker and power could stand to be placed lower
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