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Cat S60 review: If Superman was a phone

You know you have a heavy-duty phone on your hands when it has a thermal imaging camera and tiny switches that prepare it for a 16-foot underwater dive.

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Xiomara Blanco
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Xiomara Blanco

Associate Editor / Reviews - Tablets and monitors

Xiomara Blanco is an associate editor for CNET Reviews. She's a Bay Area native with a knack for tech that makes life easier and more enjoyable. So, don't expect her to review printers anytime soon.

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4 min read

The Cat S60 is thick and hefty with an unapologetically industrial design. In addition to being a tough SOB that can endure 6-foot drops and the most waterproof phone made to date, it also has one thing no other phone possesses: a built-in thermal imaging camera.

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7.4

Cat S60

The Good

The Cat S60 features a built-in thermal imaging camera. It can consistently survive 6 foot drops onto concrete and can take a 16 foot dunking into water. It has an expandable microSD card slot and loud front-facing speakers.

The Bad

It's significantly thicker and heavier than other smartphones. The thermal imaging feature while cool and fun, is mostly useless aside from some specific cases.

The Bottom Line

The Cat S60's durable build is impressive, but its appeal is limited to those who can make good use of its built-in thermal imaging camera.

If you have to ask why anyone would need a durable, waterproof phone with a thermal imaging camera, the Cat S60 probably isn't for you. Those of you whose ears perk up at the mention of the phone's features should definitely stick around, however.

The phone is available for pre-order in the UK for £529 unlocked. US and Australian pre-orders have yet to be announced, but the UK price converts to around AU$920. In the US it will sell for $599 unlocked and work with GSM networks like T-Mobile and AT&T.

Cat S60 is a the first phone to pack a FLIR thermal imaging camera

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Thermal imaging camera included

A thermal imaging camera gives you superpowers. It allows you to visualize the temperature of objects, like an animal in the dark or frozen pipes. The built-in Flir thermal imaging camera is located on the back of the phone, above the 13-megapixel rear camera and next to the microSD card and SIM slots. It's the same one found on the Flir One thermal camera accessory, which is available for iOS and Android devices for $250 or £200 (AU$330, converted) -- a bargain considering most thermal imaging cameras cost thousands of dollars.

The Flir camera app takes a whopping 10-15 seconds to launch on the S60. The app offers nine different filters (they range in color palette and help make certain temperatures more visible than others) and you can take photos or videos. There's also the Flir Tools app (free in the Android app store) that allows you to see a variety of detailed data attached to the thermal images (like the temperature of a specific spot or the range of temperatures in the photo) after you take them.

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The Cat S60 is the first phone with a built-in thermal imaging camera.

Josh Miller/CNET

I enjoyed using the thermal camera to take colorful, trippy photos and psychedelic videos, however I, personally, found little practical use for it. It came in handy when a friend needed to know the accurate temperature of her oven while baking a cheesecake (the temperature markings on the stove's knob had faded) and when I wanted to know if my coffee was cool enough to drink, but that's it. If you're a firefighter, independent contractor or work in construction, you're more likely to come across situations where this type of technology comes in handy.

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The waterproof-iest phone available.

Xiomara Blanco/CNET

Durable design

Even with its smallish 4.7-inch screen, the Cat S60 still feels cumbersome. It's almost twice as thick as the iPhone 6S and tired out my wrist when I held it too long.

It's still comfortable to use in short spurts. The smooth, rounded edges afforded it a satisfyingly tactile feel and its buttons are conveniently big and easy to press (like a kids toy). The weaved etching on the back panel also makes it easy to grip and use if your hands are wet or you're wearing gloves.

It's IP68 certified and can withstand a 6-foot (1.8m) fall onto concrete and can be submerged up to 16-feet (5m) underwater for up to 60 minutes -- making it the most waterproof phone on the market.

I didn't take the Cat S60 diving, but I used every opportunity to get it wet. (I splashed it with water numerous times and dunked it 3-feet underwater for the duration of three Friends episodes.) After a quick towel off, it worked fine every time. Sometimes, if the screen was still a bit wet, my swipes and taps wouldn't be recognized, even though the Gorilla Glass 4 touchscreen is supposed to be "wet finger-compatible." Completely drying the screen fixed the problem.

Unique features

This phone is definitely meant for more than just Snapchat and Twitter.

The SOS button is hidden behind a waterproof flap and when pressed for a few seconds, it activates an app that can send a location alert to emergency contacts.

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A phone made to exist in a rugged workplace.

Josh Miller/CNET

There's also a programmable yellow button underneath the power button that can perform custom functions, like opening an app or show notifications.

The pre-loaded curated app store feature specific categories -- like sports and outdoors, construction and farming -- and is pre-loaded onto the homescreen.

But how does it perform?

  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow
  • Qualcomm octo-core MSM8952
  • 1,280x720-pixel resolution
  • 32GB internal storage
  • 3GB RAM
  • 3,800mAh battery

In comparison to the Samsung Galaxy S7 and the Motorola Droid Turbo 2, the Cat S60's specs are underwhelming. However, I was never disappointed; games and apps launched within seconds, navigation was swift, web pages loaded quickly and the screen was sharp and bright. The front and rear cameras are a bit disappointing (lots of visible noise and graininess in dark environments), but the rare presence of the FLIR camera makes it somewhat forgivable.

CAT S60 9,861 3,376 752Motorola Droid Turbo 2 25,442 4,761 1,324Samsung Galaxy S7 29,031 5,429 2,323Apple iPhone 6S 27,698 4,404 2,527
  • 3DMark Score (Ice Storm Unlimited)
  • Geekbench 3 Score (Multi-Core)
  • Geekbench 3 Score (Single-Core)
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Using the provided charger, it took about two hours to fully charge if battery was completely drained. We're currently testing it in the CNET Lab and will update the review with the final results soon. Anecdotally, the phone's battery comfortably lasted an entire day. With heavy use (lots of downloading apps and playing games) and the brightness jacked all the way up, it lasted me about five hours.

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Though it works fine for streaming video and playing games, the heavy duty Cat S60 is a niche device.

Josh Miller/CNET

Should I get it?

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Its industrial aesthetic matches its sturdy construction.

Josh Miller/CNET

Most thermal imaging cameras cost thousands. If, as an alternative, you were to buy a decent, cheap, waterproof Android phone and added on the Flir One accessory, you'd pay only $50 less than the S60.

Having all those features in one device is worth the extra money in my opinion -- if those extra features appeal to you.

The Cat S60's thoughtfully executed design puts functionality and durability at the forefront. The fact that it's made to work under distressing conditions -- ones that would literally break most phones -- makes it perfect for anyone who works in a precarious environment or has a very active, outdoorsy lifestyle. That said, it's not worth it for someone, like me -- who does none of those things -- to lug around and use everyday.

Specs compared to similar phones

CAT S60Samsung Galaxy S7 ActiveMotorola Droid Turbo
Display size, resolution 4.7-inch; 1,280x720 pixels5.1-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels5.4-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels
Pixel density 312ppi576ppi540ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 5.8x2.9x.5 inches5.8x3x.38 inches5.9x3.1x.36 inches
Dimensions (Millimeters) 147.9x73.4x12.7 mm148.8x75x9.9 mm150x78x9.2 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 7.9 oz;225g6.5 oz; 185g6.0 oz; 169g
Mobile software Android 6.0 MarshmallowAndroid 6.0 MarshmallowAndroid 5.1.1 Lollipop
Camera Main: 13-megapixel; Thermal: FLIR12-megapixel21-megapixel
Front-facing camera 5-megapixel5-megapixel5-megapixel
Video capture 1080p4K4K
Processor 1.5GHz + 1.2GHz octocore Qualcomm MSM89522.15GHz + 1.6GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapgradon 8202.0GHz eight-core Snapdragon 810
Storage 32GB32GB32GB or 64GB
RAM 3GB4GB3GB
Expandable storage 200GB200GB2TB
Battery 3,800mAh (nonremovable)4,000mAh (nonremovable)3,760mAh
Fingerprint sensor NoHome buttonNo
Connector Micro-USBMicro-USBMicro-USB
Special features Waterproof up to 5m for 60 minutes, dust-resistant, shatter-resistant for drops up to 6-feet, military grade body, SOS and customizable action keyWater and dust-resistant, shatter-resistant for drops up to 5-feet, military grade body, customizable action keyShatterproof screen, two types of wireless charging, fast wired charging
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My friend's oven needed to be alot hotter.

Xiomara Blanco/CNET
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7.4

Cat S60

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 8Camera 7Battery 7
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