Mark Bridge writes:
There’s no doubting the CAT B100 is a tough looking phone. It’s the kind of phone that needs to be described by someone with a voice rather like James Earl Jones or Isaac Hayes. The promotional video shows a chap on a building site and another guy on a motorbike delivering emergency supplies to a hospital. Apparently that’s the target market.
What’s this all about? Well, the CAT B100 was launched in Las Vegas at the beginning of 2014. Like other phones in the current CAT range, it’s been created by Bullitt Mobile. CAT is best known for its construction equipment, which is probably why the phone sounds like a diesel tractor when you switch it on. And when you switch it off.
To be honest, it’s a little reminiscent of a kids’ toy - but you can switch the noises off. And although the phone might send itself up occasionally, it really is a tough piece of kit - even though some of the rugged styling seems a little exaggerated, a little like a prop from the Judge Dredd film. (That’s the Stallone one I’m talking about, of course.)
So - exactly what does it look like?
Dimensions are 123.5 x 56 x 17mm, with a weight of 136g - which means it’s a similar height, width and weight when compared with an average smartphone, although it’s a fair bit deeper. But this isn’t a smartphone. It’s a feature phone in what’s often called a ‘candybar’ format, with a 2.2-inch display taking up the top half of the device and a physical keypad on the bottom half. Most of the colour scheme is black with metal panels and chrome detailing.
Some of the tiny screws that hold the phone together are visible on the sides and back as part of that detailing - or perhaps to make repairs easier - and there are a couple of big screw heads on the back to hold the battery cover in place. You’ll find similar attention to physical security elsewhere: the headphone socket on the top has a protective cover, as does the micro USB socket on the side.
Switch it on and you’ll discover a clean-looking user interface on the 240 by 320 pixel display with a grid of twelve icons. You can use four-way buttons to navigate around them, and there’s a central button to select whatever you want. And there are a couple of menu buttons that relate to whatever’s on screen above them. Pretty familiar to anyone who remembers Nokia products from a few years back.
Although it’s not a smartphone, the CAT B100 does its best. There’s the Opera mobile web browser, email functionality, an option to download Java-based games and apps, a music and video player, a sound recorder, calendar, tasks and even an FM radio. Anyone who wants more storage can unscrew that back panel and pop a microSD card inside.
You’ll find a torch on the back, along with a 3 megapixel camera and a loudspeaker grille.
But the real story about the B100 isn’t what it can do. It’s what YOU can do with IT.
You see, it’s durable to IP67. That's one of the ratings in the International Electrotechnical Commission standard, which rates the amount of protection provided by equipment casings.
The 6 is the maximum rating against solid particles, which means it’s completely dust tight. And the 7 means it won’t be damaged by being left in up to a metre of water for 30 minutes. So you shouldn’t jet wash it but it’ll be okay in a puddle. At least in theory.
And that’s not all. It also meets MIL SPEC 810G, which is a United States Military Standard for testing equipment.
I took the CAT B100 out into the ‘real world’ for a series of tests, including dropping it, submerging it in water and freezing it. You can listen to the results on our website audio player, by downloading the MP3 or via the Stitcher.com app.
As well as all these staged ‘accidents’, I had an entirely genuine accident with the phone. Unintentionally I left it switched on after using it. After a week sitting on my desk, not only had the phone proved itself to be dust proof, there was still plenty of charge left. The published standby time is 23 days - and although these figures can often be theoretical rather than real-world calculations, I can certainly confirm it's nigh-on miraculous when compared with a smartphone. Even talk time is ten hours, which means you might be able to exceed your monthly tariff allowance without even recharging the battery.
Ultimately, the CAT B100 isn't for everyone. On the other hand, it has many more uses than might be evident at first. It’s not just for the construction worker and the biker… or indeed the cowboy, the Native American and any other members of the Village People. It would make a great glovebox phone for nervous drivers. It’s the perfect holiday phone if you’re leaving your smartphone at home. Some older customers might appreciate its big buttons and durability. And if you want a rugged smartphone - well, CAT makes one of those too. But that’s another story.