Cat B15 Review
Rugged smartphones: will the Cat B15 stand up to the test?
You might be more familiar with seeing the Cat logo plastered across building sites, on diggers and machinery with the recognisable black and yellow branding. However, Cat has started to break into the mobile phone arena by offering a range of rugged smartphones for use by, well, anyone who has a tendency to drop, dunk, or scratch their phones on a regular basis.
Hands on YouTube video of the Cat B15:
So how sturdy will the Cat B15 be when put to the test? And will it provide users with all the same features and functions as other Android smartphones?
At first glance, the Cat B15 looks like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Coated in shades of black, silver and yellow, the device is instantly recognisable as a Cat product. It has a chunky design with squared corners to minimise the impact when dropped. The phone is also formed of a slightly rubbery polycarbonate casing, which feels soft on the hand whilst also providing a protective layer which won’t scratch or scuff as easily as most smartphones. On that note, it is worth mentioning that the Cat B15 passed the ‘pocket test’ with flying colours; not only is the device small enough to fit in any pocket, its polycarbonate chassis doesn’t create any friction, making it easy to slip in any out of your jeans without hassle.
In terms of design, Cat has extended the industrial theme by leaving the phone’s fixtures clearly on display, and I think that, if nothing else, this adds to the sturdy look of the device.
Although the B15 has a 4-inch touchscreen, the phone itself feels slightly bigger because of the wide bezel which surrounds it. That said, the phone only measures in at 170g, which, whilst being heavier than most top of the range devices, doesn’t actually make the phone feel bulky in any way.
Now let’s get down to the interesting stuff that officially makes the B15 ‘rugged’. First of all it’s waterproof, dustproof and shock proof. That means, in theory, you should be able to dunk it, drop it and knock it without it falling apart. And when put to the test, we found this to be the case. What’s more, the B15 is operational in extreme conditions, from -20°C to 55°C, again unlike most ordinary smartphones. Because of the protective casing encompassing the device, the Cat B15 doesn’t overheat like other handsets, making it much more comfortable to use for long periods of time. Also, in case you’re having to use your rugged smartphone out in the pouring rain, the touchscreen offers wet finger tracking, allowing your phone to function perfectly come rain or shine.
Another handy little feature that you don’t tend to see in many British-sold phones is dual SIM capabilities. Although many people think that the ability to use two SIM cards at once is a gimmick, when it comes to using the Cat B15 for work on a building site, as well as for your personal life, having two separate SIM cards could prove mighty handy.
The only downside in terms of the phone’s build (as a rugged phone) is its minute 4GB internal storage. That said, this can be easily extended using a removable SD card, so it’s really not the be all and end all.
Phone Set Up
As for the Cat B15’s set-up, there’s not too much to add. Unlike most rugged phones on the market, the Cat B15 offers a pretty recent version of Android. Although its 4.1v isn’t quite as up-to-date as the latest 4.3v, users get everything that Google-operated phones have to offer, including Google’s built-in apps, internet browser and user-friendly interface.
On the front of the phone’s fascia are three permanent touch buttons: one to return to the home screen, one to go back and another to bring up the menu option. I also found it useful that you can access Google and the phone’s camera from the lock screen, making it even quicker to get to the application that you want.
However I really felt that the B15’s dual-core 1GHz processor let the phone down, as it repeatedly proved sluggish when exiting and opening various apps. Also, considering the phone has been designed for use by- I imagine- big burly builders, lumberjacks, or general workers in the rugged industries, I felt that the small keyboard, which featured tiny letters, was hard to type on at the best of times and could prove difficult for the target audience to master.
Again the Cat B15 runs the majority of features as most other Android smartphones including Chrome, Google+, Play Music and Navigation, so there’s not too much to report to here either.
Saying that, Cat has installed a few Cat-built apps onto the B15 including Cat Used, which, as you might have guessed, lets users search for used Cat equipment, from trucks to planers, cranes to drills. Whilst this might be handy for tradesmen, the app is essentially just a link to the website, which doesn’t make the feature that useful at all.
Also built into the B15 is an app which links directly to the Cat Phones website, which could prove useful if you’ve got a problem or want to check any of the features on the phone. However, the website isn’t mobile-compatible, making it incredibly difficult to actually use on the 4-inch screen.
Camera & Video
The Cat B15, understandably being a rugged phone, falls slightly behind the competition of ordinary smartphones with a 5 megapixel lens. However, the device surprisingly features a number of camera modes, including Normal, Face Beauty, Smile Shot, Best Shot, as well as Continuous Shot Mode which captures multiple successive shots in multiples of 4, 8 or 16.
Also, I was impressed that a phone which offered few editing options did allow you to take impressive sweep panoramic shots, as well as 3D multi angled photos, which I’ve not seen before. Simply sweep the phone to the left or right and the camera will capture an image which you can move to see it in various angles- perfect for photographing room layouts or constructions.
While the in-built editing suite on the Cat B15 isn’t the most amazing- nor did I expect it to be- it does offer a variety of scene modes (including night, sunset, landscape, theatre, beach etc.) as well as colour effects (mono, sepia, negative) and different modes according to the weather. The latter I found the most useful, and changing the white balance according to whether it is daylight, cloudy, twilight or in the shade really made a difference to the quality of the photograph.
Taking photographs one after another is also really quick on the Cat B15 which is always something I like with a smartphone camera, and I like having the option of using either the physical capture button on the side of the device or the touch icon on the phone’s screen.
Now, let’s come onto the photographs themselves. Considering the Cat B15 only has a 5MP camera, I wasn’t expecting huge things from the device. Which is a pretty good job, because the photos I took were little more than average, at best. Although I selected the appropriate mode to take the photos on (it was cloudy at the time), the pictures emerged looking strikingly green and a little artificial.
The camera didn’t particularly cope with bright light either, making the photos look a little washed out and blurry. That said, the aim of a rugged phone isn’t to provide a state of the art camera: it’s far more important that its camera reflects the sturdiness of the phone.
According to the official website, the Cat B15 has a talk time of up to 16.3 hours, and a standby time of 26 days if you’re using just one SIM and 19 days if you’re using two. In practice, I found that the B15 had a similar battery life to most other Android smartphones.
When leaving the phone idle overnight, the battery went from 100% to 89%, and after taking photos with the device for approximately an hour, the battery wore down to 77%, which wasn’t particularly impressive.
The one thing that I did like about the B15 was that you have the option of displaying the phone’s battery percentage on your screen permanently, which I find really help to keep track of your battery usage throughout the day.