CAT B15 review: CAT B15

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4 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

3 stars 5 user reviews

The Good Water, dust and shock proof; Runs Android Jelly Bean; Dual SIM card slots; Expandable storage.

The Bad Very poor screen; Lacklustre performance; Unimpressive camera; Bigger and fatter than most 4-inch phones.

The Bottom Line The CAT B15 is water, dust and shock proof, but unlike some tough phones it boasts a 4-inch touchscreen and Android Jelly Bean software. It's strong enough to put up with a tough life on a building site, while letting you enjoy apps and games from the Google Play store when you've finished constructing things.

8.3 Overall

In order to survive the batterings, drops and splashes thrown at them each day, toughened phones generally need to be hefty, armour-plated beasts. The CAT B15 is no exception.

It's fat and chunky, but this heft is due to it being water, dust and shock-proof. It has a 4-inch screen and runs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. That means you can play with apps and games from the Google Play store on your break from building houses, chopping down trees or blowing up asteroids.

It's available now, SIM-free, from Amazon for £300. Interestingly, it has two SIM card slots. That'll come in handy if you regularly travel to another country and want to keep a local SIM card inserted at all times.

Should I buy the CAT B15?

If you've been lusting after a top-of-the-range Android phone to show off at your mate's house then no, move along to the HTC One immediately. If however, you're a builder, lumberjack, or anyone whose day-to-day activities involve a lot of dirt, action and general burliness, it might be the phone for you.

It's water, shock and dust proof, but unlike some other tough phones on the market, it also packs a host of smart phone features. It has a 4-inch touchscreen, which together with its Android software, means you can properly take advantage of the hundreds of thousands of apps from the Google Play store.

If you need a tough device for work, but can't afford to buy a smart phone for apps and games when you're not building things, the CAT B15 is a good compromise. If you only want the toughest phone for work and don't need apps, the Sonim Land Rover S2 might be a better option. Similarly, if you want a great Android phone you can spill a drink on, Sony's Xperia Z will be the phone for you.

Design and build quality

It's immediately obvious that the B15 is designed for a rough and tumble lifestyle. At 15mm thick, it's a lot chunkier than most recent smart phones. Its size, together with the rubber surrounds, makes it look like you've got a regular smart phone shoved inside a big protective case.

CAT B15
The Cat B15 is tough as nails... or perhaps screwheads in this case.

Its design is exactly what you'd expect to see from a company that specialises in producing mining machines weighing tens of thousands of tonnes. The black rubberised edging is offset by aluminium sides. The screwheads are showing on the sides too, which is of course an intentional effort to make it look more burly.

It's far from pretty, so it's not going to win you any favours if you whip it out on the catwalk. Its aggressive style and exposed screwheads might just draw a smile on the building site though -- all truly tough chaps love exposed screwheads.

The hardened looks aren't just there for show though. The B15 is designed to put up with the tough life faced by any builder's tool. It's IP67 rated, meaning it's waterproof to one metre for up to 30 minutes. Unless you're building a swimming pool, you're unlikely to submerge it to that extent, but it at least means it can handle on-site rain and an accidental dip in the foreman's PG Tips.

CAT B15
Splish, splosh, splash. The Cat B15 can have a lovely time in the water without having to worry about damaging its innards.

The screen has been designed to operate when wet, too. You can't use it underwater, but it's fully functional when covered in flecks of water. Many touchscreens aren't able to properly track a a finger when wet, meaning using them in the rain is a no-go. The B15 should still be responsive regardless of what you spill on it -- although I wasn't able to test it with wet cement.

It's drop proof up to 1.8 metres too. I did numerous drop tests onto a solid floor and found it held up fairly well. The screen showed no signs of cracking and the rubberised edges weren't damaged. On a couple of occasions though, the back panel did pop out, along with the battery. If you dropped it inside, it's not a problem, but having it expose its delicate internals like that might be a problem when you're out and about.

Sony's new flagship, the Xperia Z, has the same waterproofing as the B15, so if you're just after a mobile that can survive a dunk in the bath, that might be the blower to go for. Its all-glass front and back however means that it's not going to put up with much abuse in a manual work environment.

On the edges you'll find a power button, volume buttons and dedicated camera shutter button, all of which are bright yellow, presumably to make them easier to see when covered in mud. The volume buttons are easy to press but the power button on top sits very flush with the rubber surround. It's slightly awkward to press with a finger, so expect it to be almost impossible when you have thick work gloves on.

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