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A rugged smartphone built for extreme sports fans

CAT's new S50 is a 4.7-inch Android phone that's waterproof, shockproof and dustproof, making it ready for a life at the mercy of extreme sports fans.

Flagship phones like the iPhone 5S and Sony Xperia Z2 may come with stunning, sleek designs, but hurl them down a mountainside and those pretty bodies will be smashed to smithereens.

If you live a rough-and-tumble, extreme lifestyle then a ruggedised phone may be a wiser choice. CAT -- maker of enormous diggers and mining trucks -- has just such a phone, named the S50. It's waterproof, shockproof and dustproof. It also has a 4.7-inch display, runs Android KitKat, has 4G LTE and an 8-megapixel camera.

It's due to go on sale later this year for $499 in the US and €499 in Europe. That's about £300 or AU$700, based on a direct conversion, although CAT wasn't specific about exactly which regions the phone will be available in.

Design and display

With its metal edges, exposed screw head and rubber back panel (which looks like the tyre tracks from a mining truck), there's absolutely no escaping this phone's rugged skills. Pretty it isn't, but if you're into macho, industrial looks then you'll no doubt take manly satisfaction in the CAT S50. Its hardened looks aren't for show -- it's waterproof to 1 metre, dustproof, and can be dropped 1.2 metres onto concrete numerous times without breaking.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

If the most extreme part of your day is running to catch the bus then you likely don't need this kind of durability in a phone. But if you spend your free time cycling down steep hills or hurling yourself down river rapids, the CAT S50 will be a better option than an iPhone. It's much chunkier, sure, but that could be a wise compromise if it won't shatter into a million pieces when it accidentally falls off your handlebars as you hurtle down a mountain.

To keep the water out, all the main ports have rubberised flaps covering them. That includes the 3.5mm headphone jack, which will become annoying if you regularly pop headphones in and out. The Sony Xperia Z2 is also waterproof, but somehow has been able to leave its headphone jack free of covers and still keep the water out. I'd have like to see CAT use similar technology.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The display is 4.7 inches in size and has a 720p resolution. It seemed fairly crisp in my hands-on time and fairly bright too. How it fares under bright sunlight on a mountaintop remains to be seen.

Features

Hardened construction aside, the CAT S50 is pretty similar to any other Android phone around. It runs Android KitKat and CAT has done very little to the interface, so existing 'droiders will feel right at home. CAT has loaded it with a few bits of software such as AVG security and the SwiftKey keyboard.

You'll also find CAT's own app service, which points you towards a selection of apps it thinks are most relevant to owners of the S50 -- expect to see activity trackers, running apps and mapping services to help plan and then record your extreme adventures.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

An 8-megapixel camera peers out of the back, surrounded by an aggressive-looking screw head. I haven't had a chance to use it yet, but so long as it's capable of snapping a good shot from a lofty peak, or recording full HD footage of a base jump, I'll be satisfied.

The phone has 4G LTE for nippy data downloads, and it's powered by a 1.2GHz quad-core processor, which seemed capable of delivering a reasonably swift experience. It has wireless charging built in too, using the popular Qi standard, so it'll work with a wide range of wireless charging pads.

Outlook

With its chunky, rubberised design, the CAT S50 definitely won't turn heads in fancy cocktail bars. If you'd rather impress on the mountain than in the club, however, the S50's ruggedised, waterproof design is far more likely to put up with your active lifestyle than slim devices like the iPhone 5S.

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