Cat B100 review

The rudimentary, but rock-hard Cat B100 toughs it out in our rigorous Alpine review

Reasons to buy
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    Bomb-proof bodywork

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    Booming speaker

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    Noise-cancelling mic

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Primitive web browsing

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    No Wi-Fi

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    Frustrating email retrieval

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Need a rugged phone that can survive the elements? It may be basic, but Cat's latest is certainly tough. Check out our Cat B100 review

Resembling some kind of industrial candy bar, the Cat B100 is a fortified feature phone built to survive the trials of our review; namely a 1.8m fall, -25°C temperatures and 30 minutes under water.

Best know for its bright yellow industrial diggers and stout footwear, Caterpillar reckons its mobile phones are also as hard as Ray Winstone in a hard hat.

In fact, the rubberised Cat B100 is IP67 certified, which is to say it can resist temperatures between -25° and 55° C, falls from 1.8m, dust and up to half an hour under 1m of water.

Claims that we couldn't resist putting to the test on a skiing trip to the French Alps. What's more, the noise-cancelling mic, noisy loudspeaker and dazzling flashlight make this potentially, the ideal telephone for your tool bag.

Cat B100: Size and build

But before we hack this handset (to pieces), let us explain why it exists and who its unique features are aimed at. On paper and in the flesh, it is a throwback to 2006 and the pre-iPhone age when all phones looked a bit like this.

Clunky and covered in buttons, there's just a tiny low-res screen and no Wi-Fi because this isn't, like the step-up Cat B15 Android handset or the Quechua Phone 5, a smartphone. But in many ways, this primitive phone is better at what it does.

Large touchscreens are liable to crack and they don't respond well to wet hands, or gloved fingers. This phone has buttons big enough to operate in ski gloves and a 2.2-inch screen made of toughened glass.

All the edges are bevelled like a throat lozenge, so you won't chip them and the sides are reinforced with steel bars. Unlike the sleek smartphones, this handset is bolted together like Frankenstein's monster with extra large screws at the back so you can open it up with a coin to access the battery, SIM and micro SD card.

The plastic parts are covered in rubber making it grippy and tactile as well as tough. It feels more solid than the Samsung Solid Immerse, for instance, and being quite weighty (136g), it makes you want to bang in a nail using its metal side cheeks, although this is of course going too far. What it will do is survive being bounced around without picking up too many marks.

Cat B100: Features

With only the most primitive OS and processor, Caterpillar (or rather Bullitt Mobile who makes the Cat phones under licence) has included only the apps you really need on a building site, or out in the wild, like Assisted GPS, Google maps, email and rudimentary web access. A suite of rubbish games is the only attempt at making this phone fun.

Only 50MB is available for adding music, video and photos - that's about three songs and some photos, but we added a 32GB micro SD Card full of music to test out the rear-facing speaker, which turned out to be a real boon and a potentially useful feature for workers on a noisy building site. Keeping to that logic, the mic is fitted with noise cancellation to reduce the sound of your Caterpillar digger when you yell into it.

Our favourite features though, are the rear speaker, which makes the sound of a Catapiller truck of some sort chugging into life whenever you power up the phone, and an LED torch that, by a stroke of genius, lights up when you press the middle yellow button. It's basically the camera flash, that remains lit in torch mode.

Cat B100: Screen

Sensibly, the screen is only 2.2 inches and laughably low resolution by today's standards (240x320). This is all good news for the battery. The default home page shows nine icons in Catapiller yellow on a rugged terrain background.

Cat B100: Camera

The camera is only 3 megapixels, but the image quality is good enough to record key moments of your adventure holiday, or drains if you're a builder. The video is a little disappointing and not ideal for capturing our daring manoeuvres on skis in the Alps.

Cat B100: Performance

Compared to water resistant smartphones like the Sony Xperia Z and Panasonic Eluga, this feature phone is dull indeed, but those other phones are only certificated IP55, and not truly waterproof (unlike the new Sony Xperia Z2 which is fully waterproof).

The Cat B100 survived full immersion in both water and snow with no side effects. It also bounced off rocks without wincing and simply laughed off the dust we rolled it in. In short, we are satisfied that the IP67 claim is genuine.

What was more surprising is how pleasant this decidedly unsophisticated phone is to use. You can assign shortcut buttons to things like the camera and music player, allowing us to access key features without removing our enormous ski gloves, or having to peer at the crummy and highly reflective screen.

The mono loudspeaker isn't going to lure audiophiles away from their hi-fi systems, but it is very good at generating enough volume to fill a modest room with music. Or if you use it to put your foreman on speakerphone, it's loud enough for the whole work gang to hear his orders. Likewise, the noise-cancelling mic isn't especially clear, but it does usefully reduce background noise.

Cat B100: Battery

Battery life is a big deal for phones that purport to be useful for work, or extend your lifeline into the great outdoors, so we were pleasantly surprised that it lasted two whole days on the piste with almost constant use. Of course, with no touchscreen, hungry processor, Wi-Fi etc, it was always going to do well on this measurement.

Cat B100: Verdict

When your expensive smartphone lies cracked and glitching in a puddle, its battery life ebbing away as it struggles to manage your social media feeds, you'll be glad you also brought your trusty Cat B100.

It's not there to entertain, (although the torch is fun for a while), but like military hardware, the B100 is something you'll want to have clipped to your utility belt when the going gets tough.

Cat B100 release date: March 2014

Cat B100 price: £129 (SIM free)