CAT B15 – the ruff with the smooth

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Caterpillar’s tough new handset – which has particularly admirable specifications for the notoriously low-spec ruggedised device market – is thrown to the dogs as part of our scientific survivability tests

Rarely does a handset review involve chucking the device down a flight of stairs, submerging it in water or forcing a dog to take a bite,  but that’s exactly what we did with Caterpillar’s rugged CAT B15 handset.

The device, as you would expect from a firm like CAT which specialises in building heavy-duty construction equipment and the odd splurge in footwear, falls into the unglamorous category of rugged handsets.

Traditionally, owners of ruggedised handsets have had to forfeit style and the latest breakthroughs in technology to ensure their device makes it through the day in one piece.

But CAT, like its rival JCB before it, is looking to help bridge that gap, combining credible specs, such as Wi-Fi, GPS, camera and video with a more stylish piece of kit. And the B15 succeeds on both levels.

Like its core business, the CAT B15 is designed to take a beating and, based on what we have seen, has achieved its goal.

All areas are covered. For starters, the B15 is IP67 certified, which means it is completely water and dust resistant – ideal for those working in outdoor conditions.

The exterior casing is made from a mixture of aluminium and shock absorbent rubber placed around the edges and on the back. The device also includes a large four-inch capacitive touchscreen – made from scratch-proof Gorilla Glass.

CAT claims the B15 can withstand a drop from around 1.8 metres without sustaining damage both inside or out – something we tested for ourselves.

Features such as these have often resulted in devices becoming large and heavy, but CAT has clearly worked hard on the design, keeping size to a minimum.

Of course it’s still bigger than anything else found in the bestsellers section. The depth of the phone is 15mm, a thickness almost double that of the iPhone 5. And it weighs in at 170g, again around 60g more than Apple’s flagship device.

But could the iPhone survive a drop down the stairs or a trip around the U-bend? I doubt it.

And in its defence, we’ve seen many a slick, beautifully designed smartphone spoiled by enormous plastic cases, some of which far exceed the dimensions here. This merely cuts out the middle man.

CAT has opted not to include its more prominent yellow and black branding on the device, which was a good move. The mix of silver and black is more easy on the eye – and doesn’t scream out rugged handset like, say, the bright yellow splashed over the JCB Toughphone range.

The only clear yellow colouring featured on the B15 is found on the physical buttons along the top (power) and down the right hand side (volume control and camera).

All charging and headphone ports are well protected with a rubber seal and require opening before use. The micro USB charging point is based slightly deeper than on most devices, meaning many universal USB cables will not fit.

Around the back
The back of the device is made almost entirely of hard rubber, displaying the large CAT logo in silver in the centre and the silver-coated camera lens towards the top left.

It’s worth noting the simplicity of opening the back of the device, as historically this has been far from simple with rugged handsets.

Instead, the B15 has a simple sliding unlock button across the bottom. Closing it is essential as water will filter into the device if it is open. To ensure users don’t make this mistake, a yellow strip is revealed if unlocked.

Once unlocked, removing the back cover does require a strong fingernail, but given this is designed to keep it airtight and waterproof that’s to be expected.

Full article in Mobile News issue 539 (May 20, 2013).

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