Cat's S61 is an ideal phone for blue-collar workers

It has a thermal camera, an air quality sensor, and a laser-based measuring tool.

Two years ago, I was shown a Cat-branded smartphone with a thermal camera for people who work in construction and other outdoors-y, get-your-hands-dirty professions. I wasn't the target market, of course, and struggled to judge whether the feature was a gimmick or not. Turns out it was the latter; Bullitt, the British phone maker that built the Cat S60, is back with a new model called the S61. The heat-sensing FLIR camera now goes up to 400 degrees celsius (the S60 maxed out at 120 degrees) so workers can analyze faulty engines, electronic equipment and more.

But that's not all. The company has added a Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) sensor that can monitor nearby air quality. It's aimed at people who work in cramped workshops (i.e. sheds) and half-built homes filled with wet paint, solvents and cleaning products. The Cat S61 will take a reading every 30 seconds and send an alert if the environment becomes unhealthy. There's also a tiny laser system on the back that can measure distances up to 10 meters. The resulting measurements can be combined with regular photos from the S61's rear-facing camera for easy storage and reference.

Otherwise, it's a fairly predictable mid-to-high-end smartphone. You'll find a Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 inside, coupled with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage. It's powered by a beefy 4500mAh battery and runs a mostly stock version of Android Oreo (an Android P upgrade is promised) on a 5.2-inch, 1080p display. The phone is also rugged, with an IP68-certified body that can withstand 1.8-meter drops onto concrete and up to three meters of water. The S60 could dive to five meters, but you had to flick some fiddly yellow switches first — Bullitt wasn't happy with the solution, so it's traded some depth for a switch-free design this time.

If it wasn't clear from the photos — the S61 is built like a tank. It has a strange, CAT-branded bulge at the top (it's necessary for the thermal camera, presumably) physical keys (how many Android phones have physical keys anymore?!) and a textured back. The design isn't grotesque though — if I was a plumber, carpenter or electrician, I wouldn't feel embarrassed pulling this out of my pocket. It's thick, admittedly — you won't get this in a pair of skinny jeans — but it's oddly refreshing to hold a phone that prioritizes battery life over a needlessly thin design in 2018.

The price, though, could be an issue. The Cat S61 will cost £799/€899 (roughly $1,110) when it goes on sale in the second quarter of this year. That's a big jump over the $599 S60 and the same price as a 64GB Pixel 2 XL. It only makes sense, then, if you're an enterprise customer who desperately want its speciality features. Otherwise, you might be better off with a regular ruggedized Android phone; one that offers durability at a slightly cheaper price-point, or with a marginally better spec shoot. Or, you could just stick with a regular flagship and buy an Otterbox protective case.

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