CAT B15 review

Can the CAT B15 rugged smartphone stand up to the T3 test?

Reasons to buy
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    solid design

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    Uncluttered Jelly Bean

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    Dual-SIM functionality

Reasons to avoid
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    Poor screen resolution

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    Meagre storage space

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    Substandard camera

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The CAT B15 is the first Android smartphone from the industrial machinery company and it's ready to take whatever you can throw at it

It's unlikely that desk-dwelling users like us will ever need the kind of smartphone reinforcement found on the new CAT B15. It's an Android smartphone forged by a company better known for manufacturing industrial machinery. And it's harder than the proverbial coffin nail.

In context, that's a rubber and anodised aluminium chassis, Gorilla Glass display and IP67 waterproof rating. Raising the bar from other rugged devices like the Samsung Galaxy Xcover Extreme S5690 or the Sony Xperia Go, the B15 should really be your go-to choice for hardcore telephony.

Rather predictably, the CAT B15 doesn't boast the greatest spec sheet but focuses instead on offering the most effective choice for a niche customer.

Impervious to dust and waterproof up to 1m for 30 minutes, the CAT B15 has been drop tested on concrete from 1.80m. It'll keep working long after the iPhone 5 or Samsung Galaxy S4 goes home with a cracked screen and wounded pride.

CAT B15: Size and build

We can honestly say the CAT B15 is unlike any other smartphone out there when it comes to size and build. Firstly, it's massive. Measuring in at 15mm thick, the B15 weighs 170g, nearly 25g heavier than the Sony Xperia Z - a phone that also boasts water and dust resistance.

Secondly, everything is built to resist the elements. The 4-inch LCD display is crafted from Gorilla Glass and both the 3.5mm headphone jack and MicroUSB charging port are covered by thick rubber flaps. The chassis itself is an octagonal blend of anodised aluminium and black rubber with plastic buttons clad in the well-known CAT yellow.

Despite looking so different from the current crop of svelte handsets the CAT B15 hasn't been beaten with the traditional ugly stick for rugged gadgets. Give it time and you start to appreciate the look of the device. The size and weight obviously make it a no-go area for suits or skinny jeans - but we guarantee it'll turn heads.

CAT B15: Features

Conventional internal goodies like NFC, a 1080p resolution or Micro HDMI connectivity haven't made it to the B15; instead it wears its features proudly on its sleeve. The phone can be submerged in 1m of water for up to thirty minutes, is dust and shock proof and has an operating temperature range of -20∫ C to + 55∫ C.

Inside the wilderness of the T3 office we subjected it to running water, repeated drops and general survival tests and, we're happy to report, we couldn't kill it.

In fact, we ran into trouble in much more trivial areas. The B15 has dual-SIM support for regular-sized SIM cards that slot into compartments inside the phone. Getting the back off is easy (there's a small release switch) but getting the SIM card in and out is a prolonged exercise in patience. And if you've got a micro (or nano) SIM, youre going to need either an adaptor or a time machine.

CAT B15: Screen

The LCD display on the CAT B15 has wet finger tracking, allowing you to use it in the rain. However, the 800 x 480 resolution is nothing compared with the other smartphones coming out this year. You might not mind the difference when it comes to apps or games, but load up a video and the shortcomings of the screen become apparent.

That being said, we were impressed at the brightness of the display. We've noticed other reviewers criticise the brightness level on this handset but for us it wasn't a problem as soon as we set it to the maximum level.

Size, as they say, matters. Although new smartphones are pushing for a 5-inch display (or 5.5-inches in the case of the LG Optimus G Pro) the B15 takes a step back by offering a mere 4 inches. If you're looking for masses of screen real estate, you won't find it here.

CAT B15: Camera

Out in the wilds you're going to want a decent camera to record your adventures. The B15 offers a 5MP rear-facing snapper and a front-facing VGA lens for video calls. You can also shoot 30fps MP4 video at 720p HD resolution.

There are a few additional settings to fiddle with - you can add colour effects like sepia, black and white, etc as well as scene modes like 'party' or 'sunset' for taking pictures at parties or sunsets. Although you can adjust the white balance, any advanced camera features like panorama or burst shot aren't available here.

The middle button of the three on the right hand side of the phone serves as a dedicated camera launch hotkey. It can also be used as a physical shutter button when taking pictures which is a nice touch.

It's unlikely you'll pick the CAT B15 based on its camera credentials - but it does have access to Google Play where you'll find several photography-based apps to download.

CAT B15: Performance

Tucked inside the gruff, tough exterior of the CAT B15 is a warm and fuzzy dual-core MediaTek MT6577 built on the Cortex A9 architecture. The processor is clocked at 1GHz and there's 512MB of RAM also working away in there. It doesn't add up to much, but the CAT B15 is surprisingly speedy because it ships with Android Jelly Bean 4.1 pre-installed.

CAT has wisely decided not to tinker with the operating system and so this unmodified, unskinned version of Android practically flies as you navigate through the homescreens or jump into apps.

Aside from the usual roster of Google apps - Chrome, YouTube, Maps and Calendar - CAT has included a few of its own. They're little more than internet links to CAT equipment dealers. Hardly cutting edge, but if you're in the construction industry they could prove useful.

CAT B15: Battery

Prise the rubber back away from the CAT B15 and you're greeted with the removable 2,000mAh battery.

According to the official literature, this'll give you up to 16.3 hours of talk time on the B15 and a standby time of 26 days on a single SIM. If you slot in an extra SIM for a separate data connection, that standby time drops to 19 days.

The lower screen size and resolution as well as the lack of additional Android processes mean that for day-to-day usage, the CAT B15 is pretty capable. We charged the handset overnight for a fresh start in the morning and uses the B15 right through until the following evening.

Power-users will go through the battery life quicker, while others could disable 3G and eke out a longer lifespan. For the collective middle like us, you can expect to get two days of mid-level usage: making calls, texting, browsing the web as well as listening to music and shooting video.

CAT B15: Verdict

The CAT B15 is a niche handset and, as such, is very easy to pin down for a verdict. It's unquestionably one of the best rugged handsets we've looked at and will stand up to the rigours of outdoor usage whatever the weather. The inclusion of Jelly Bean and the versatility of the Google Play store give the B15 scope for customisation, and basic necessities like Bluetooth and GPS are included.

But it can also be said that most customers shopping for a smartphone in 2013 are going to want to future-proof their purchase with power, resolution and extra features. Even mid-level handsets from the likes of Sony and Samsung can match the B15 for processing grunt and picture clarity.

Being a perfectly capable Android handset that excels in its sector nets the CAT B15 a solid three stars. If you aren't interested in a rugged phone then drop a star and check out the HTC One instead. But, if you do, then add an extra star and consider this your due diligence.

CAT B15: release date: Out now

CAT B15 price: £299

Jeff Parsons

Jeff Parsons joined T3 as New Writer but was quickly promoted to News Editor. He studied journalism at The University of Sheffield. You can find articles by Jeff on on the subjects of wearables, future tech, smartphones, camera equipment, cars, watches, VR headsets and much more.