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A rugged phone with a superpower: It can see through walls

The Cat S60 is a rugged phone with the unusual addition of a thermal imaging camera. We take a closer look at Mobile World Congress.

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If the Cat S60 smartphone were to star in a Hollywood movie it would play the role of the rugged, unconventional superhero. Its superpower is not shooting spider webs from its USB ports, but rather infrared heat mapping.

This rough-and-tumble phone's major selling point is a Flir thermal imaging camera, which can visualise heat as a colourful map, taking measurements from up to 30 metres (100 feet) away. You can use it for a huge number of tasks, from detecting heat loss around windows and doors to identifying overheating circuitry, or just seeing in the dark.

The main target audience is, as with previous Cat-branded phones, people who work in construction and plumbers or electricians. The S60 will be available later this year for $599, which converts to around £425 or AU$835.

In case of emergency

Flir imagines that others, including emergency first responders and outdoor enthusiasts, may also find uses for the phone. If police come across an abandoned car, for example, they can use the thermal imaging camera to determine whether the engine or seats are still warm, or whether there's a body anywhere in the vicinity.

The heat sensor is on the back of the phone, just above the 13-megapixel camera. Use the two together and you get not just a heat map, but a picture that combines the heat map with details observed by the camera that add extra context, such as architectural and facial features.

The preinstalled Flir app is slightly different from what you'd download if you bought a plug-in thermal imaging sensor. It's designed to take full advantage of the phone's octa-core processing capabilities and the latest version of Google's Android software, nicknamed Marshmallow. If you capture an image and want to find out later what the exact temperature was in any particular spot, it's possible to press on it to find out -- all of that detail is captured with the picture and stored in its metadata.

flir-6.jpg

See that burly back?

Katie Collins/CNET

Take a tumble

Cat has its own set of priorities. Whereas most phones are all smooth lines and sleek ergonomics, the Cat phone is unabashedly bumpy. It may not be pretty, but it's also not going to slip out of your hand. And even if it does, it's more than likely it'll survive unscathed, as it's built to withstand a fall onto concrete from a height of 1.8 metres (5.9 feet).

As you would expect from a superhero, the S60 can take a battering better than most. It can also go for a swim, down to a depth of 5 metres for as long as an hour. If you plan to take the S60 snorkelling you can take a belt and braces approach by flicking two little switches, one at the top and the other at the bottom of the phone, that totally close off the phone's speaker cavity, its most vulnerable spot.

In addition to the 32GB built-in, you can expand the phone's storage with a microSD card, which may prove necessary for storing all those heat map images.

Key specs

  • Strengthened die-cast frame
  • Drop to 1.8 metres, MIL Spec 810G
  • Super bright display (typical 540 nits), Gorilla Glass 4
  • 4.7-inch HD capacitive multi-touch with auto wet finger & glove support
  • 3,800mAh battery
  • Underwater 13-megapixel main camera with dual flash, 5-megapixel front-facing camera
  • Support for 4G LTE networks
  • Snapdragon 617 octa-core processor
  • 32GB storage, 3GB RAM
  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow
  • Dedicated FLIR thermal camera app with MSX technology; still image, panorama, and video capture; changeable heat palettes; temperature spot meter; and min, max, and average temperature data

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