CAT S52 review: the "unbreakable" smartphone with a human face and NFC

By: Alex Chub | 14.02.2020, 16:08
CAT S52 review: the "unbreakable" smartphone with a human face and NFC

The range of protected smartphones is now dominated by thoroughbred Chinese brands, which offer all the essentials at a very humane cost. Today we have a protected smartphone from a more "promoted" brand CAT, whose name is more associated with various special equipment.Inthe Bullitt Group is producing unbreakable smartphones under the Caterpillar brand. Today we will get acquainted with the current model CAT S52, which is somewhat surprising with its high price compared to most of its competitors. Let's see if it is justified.

  1. What is it?
  2. What's interesting about CAT S52?
  3. What's in the box?
  4. What does CAT S52 look like?
  5. What about protection?
  6. How good is the screen?
  7. What about performance, memory, sound and battery life?
  8. What about the interface?
  9. How good is the camera?
  10. In a nutshell

What is it?

CAT S52 is a shockproof, water-resistant smartphone, IP68-rated, with a 5.65-inch display and an octa-core MediaTek processor.

What is interesting about CAT S52?

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The most important characteristics of such smartphones are, of course, protection against external influences. CAT S52 is certified IP68 and MIL-STD-810G. They promise that the smartphone can be submerged in water to a depth of 1.5 meters for 35 minutes, can withstand a fall onto concrete from a height of up to 1.5 meters, is not afraid of high and low temperatures, drops in pressure and vibration. Otherwise, everything is not so impressive: the smartphone is equipped with a 5.65-inch IPS-screen with HD+ resolution (1440x720), which is quite modest. But it promises to work with wet hands and gloves. Inside, there's an octa-core MediaTek Helio P35 processor, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage, plus a separate slot for microSD and dual-SIM cards. The smartphone comes with a fingerprint scanner, dual-band 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, a standard headphone jack and Type-C for charging. A controversial point of the smartphone is its battery, the capacity of which is only 3100 mAh, which is somehow quite weak considering the class of the smartphone. It is non-removable, fast charging is supported. The main camera in the smartphone is a single 12 MP with an aperture of f/1.8, 1.4μm, dual pixel PDAF and electronic stabilization. The front-facing camera is 8 MP. The CAT S52 runs on Android 9 Pie.

What's in the box?

The smartphone comes in a cardboard box in black and orange, with a picture of the smartphone and the main specifications. Inside is the standard set of the smartphone, Type-C cable, charger and documentation.

What does CAT S52 look like?

Apparently, the main idea of the engineers during the development of CAT S52 was to create a durable shock- and water-resistant smartphone in a relatively compact and discreet body. Indeed, most rugged smartphones are huge, very heavy and not particularly comfortable. The CAT S52 turns out to be somewhere in the middle between the aforementioned models and standard smartphones. With its rugged features, it is not dramatically larger and thicker than conventional smartphones and weighs "only" 210g, which is more than good in its category.

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The front of the CAT S52 looks like a typical mid-range smartphone from a year and a half or two ago. The frames are there, quite noticeable, but within reasonable limits, especially for a rugged smartphone. Above the screen there is a speaker, a front camera and a rather bright LED indicator. There is nothing under the screen. The entire panel is covered by sixth-generation Gorilla glass, over which the protective glass is glued from the factory. All around the perimeter there is a small protruding edge, which (theoretically) increases the chances of the screen surviving a fall.

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On the perimeter of the smartphone there is a massive metal frame with Torx screws. Decorative or functional it is hard to say, but it looks thorough. On the left side there is a cover, under which there is a tray and a small reset button in a recess.

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To pull out the tray is not the easiest thing to do, I had to use a screwdriver for it. Maybe someone can get it with his fingers. Anyway, the tray fits both a MicroSD card and two SIM cards. So no one was left out.

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On the right side there are massive metal power and volume buttons. The latter are separated, rather than made in the form of a "swing". The power button was embossed:

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On the top side there is an additional microphone and a standard 3.5 mm headphone jack.

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On the bottom is the external speaker mesh, microphone and USB Type-C connector.

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The back cover is made of thermoplastic polyurethane with a rubberized surface. It is divided into two parts. On the bottom there is an additional relief for a more secure grip. The surface is pleasant, remotely reminiscent of Soft-Touch in feel.

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At the top of the back panel is a fingerprint scanner, embossed CAT logo and a single main camera with a flash in the upper left corner.

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In its dimensions the smartphone rather resembles not a protected model, but an ordinary large smartphone in a protective bumper. Somewhat like that it feels. The rubberized back part has a positive impact on the grip: the phone will not fall out of your hand. The device is assembled very qualitatively.

What about the protection?

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As we have written before, CAT S52 is IP68 protected and certified MIL-STD-810G. In theory, the smartphone can be submerged in water to a depth of 1.5 meters for 35 minutes and withstand a fall onto concrete from a height of up to 1.5 meters.

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We didn't have a task to kill the smartphone, but we did perform some basic tests: the smartphone withstands falling from an outstretched hand without any problems. But remember: miracles don't happen and the metal frame will get dented and chipped with regular drops on hard surfaces. The CAT S52 survived immersion in a tank of water without any consequences.

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How good is the screen?

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The smartphone uses a rather modest in terms of the characteristics of the screen: the diagonal of 5.65 inches, IPS-matrix with a resolution of HD + 1440x720, pixel density - about 285 ppi, aspect ratio of 18:9. Taking into account the cost of the smartphone, you still expect a cooler screen. Visually, it is a typical modern IPS-matrix with the corresponding viewing angles and a good margin of brightness. The picture graininess is not striking also thanks to the usage of IPS, but not AMOLED with PenTile. But still, after constant use of smartphones with FullHD+ and above, the difference is felt a bit. The claimed operation of the screen with wet hands and gloves in practice is confirmed. What's interesting, the mode of operation in gloves is separately enabled in the screen settings, but even when disabled the standard rag gloves are normally accepted by the screen.

Measurements show that the screen has very impressive brightness and contrast. The maximum brightness is 521.2 cd/m², the brightness of the black field is 0.208 cd/m² and the static contrast is 2506:1. That said, the screen is not badly calibrated. There is a skew to cool shades, but very small, and the color gamut is close to the sRGB color space:

Comparison with other models:

Device Name White Field Brightness,
cd/m²2
Black Field Brightness,
cd/m²2
Contrast
CAT S52 521.2 0.208 2506:1
Sigma Mobile X-treme PQ39 MAX 242.987 0.111 2189:1
Nokia 4.2 333.087 0.283 1177:1
Oukitel WP2 358.108 0.168 2132:1
CAT S60 602.743 0.765 788:1


What about performance, memory, sound and battery life?

In terms of hardware, the CAT S52 has a 12nm MediaTek Helio P35 (MT6765) processor, which includes 8 Cortex-A53 cores with a maximum clock speed of up to 2.3GHz and a PowerVR Rogue GE8320 graphics accelerator. The amount of memory is quite sufficient (considering the class of the smartphone): RAM - 4 GB, built-in - 64 GB, supported memory cards up to 512 GB. In terms of performance everything is quite modest: applications work well, the interface is not slow, although it is difficult to call it lightning fast. In synthetic tests the results are appropriate, rather "budget" in level. In the game too, in general, you can play, but the most advanced with heavy graphics are on minimal settings with not the most comfortable framerate.

There are no problems with operation stability, the case doesn't get warm under continuous loading.

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I was pleased with the set of wireless interfaces. There are dual-band 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, Bluetooth 5.0, and NFC. Global positioning systems GPS, Glonass, BeiDou and Galileo are supported. The quality of the signal reception is all in order. In terms of sound the smartphone is not particularly different, neither for the worse nor for the better. The speaker is average in volume, the volume reserve in the headphones is not bad, but in quality everything is at an absolutely standard smartphone level.

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To unlock the smartphone there is a traditional fingerprint scanner on the back. It is well placed, works quickly and accurately. Although it would be strange if there were any problems with its work.

The main oddity of the smartphone is its 3100 mAh battery, which is quite modest. And not only by the standards of protected smartphones, today's "regular" models in the majority offer a larger battery. Fast charging is supported. In fact, probably due to the low screen resolution, the autonomy is standard. Day smartphone lives steadily. If we consider that it will obviously be bought for communication, but not for games or constant shooting on the camera, it quite survives a day and a half. Although anywhere in the campaign to take - only with the power bank.

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What about the interface?

CAT S52 runs on almost pure Android 9 Pie, without any of its own add-ons or an abundance of additional applications. In fact, of its own there are only a couple of shortcuts, which are really just links. Toolbox is to Bullitt's proprietary app store and registration is self-explanatory. Plus the camera app is its own. Otherwise, it's the usual Android 9 Pie with push-button and gesture-based navigation options. They promise a mandatory update to Android 10. Of the nuances, the localization is not yet complete.

How good is the camera?

The main camera in the smartphone is single, which looks unusual in recent times. The sensor is 12 MP Sony with a pixel size of 1.4μm, aperture f/1.8, uses dual pixel PDAF and electronic stabilization. The camera app is proprietary and extremely simple. There is no translation. On the main screen there are all the necessary settings, including HDR operation, flash, timer and switching modes. There are only three of them: photo, portrait and video. The settings have extra trivia like grid, face detection, geotagging, and resolution selection.

Cameras have never been a strong point of protected smartphones. It's hard to compare the CAT S52 with other secure smartphones on this parameter. To do so you need to try a couple of dozen of them. In absolute terms, I expected worse results. During the day the pictures are very good, but in the evening it is difficult to get a clear picture. Although, it is quite realistic. The smartphone takes pictures with HDR very slowly: either the modest processor or not the best optimization affects it. Or a combination of these factors.

Video smartphone writes in FullHD resolution of 30 frames per second, it is declared electronic stabilization. Visually, there is something, although it does not work in the best way.

In the dry residue

Smartphone CAT S52 looks like a tourist, which successfully masquerades as an office worker: the company quite well managed to combine the features and advantages of protected models and fit it into a decent, neat body of relatively adequate size and design. If we evaluate CAT S52 without reference to its cost, we have a shock-resistant, waterproof smartphone, which (given the experience of using CAT S60) for durability and quality is indeed better than inexpensive Chinese. It is equipped with not bad in color rendering, very bright display, which pleases to work with gloves and wet hands, but does not please its resolution. The smartphone has a rather modest performance "iron" and a small by the standards of the class battery, but there are all modern interfaces, including dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, Type-C, and, as a bonus, a tray, which will fit in and two SIM-cards, and memory card. The main problem of the smartphone is its price 16,000 UAH (by the way, on the official website the price is not much different: £449.00), which is certainly very expensive. Even if we assume that it will last longer than a couple or three inexpensive protected competitors. For the same amount of money, you could get a Samsung Galaxy S10e with moisture protection, for example, and wrap it in a shockproof bumper.

4 reasons to buy CAT S52:

  • protection from knocks and falls, dust and water;
  • very bright and contrast display with support of work with gloves and wet hands;
  • full tray with places for 2 SIM-cards and MicroSD;
  • advanced interfaces: dual-band Wi-Fi, NFC, USB Type-C.

3 reasons not to buy CAT S52:

  • very high cost;
  • small battery, modest battery life;
  • modest hardware.
CAT S52 Specifications
Display IPS, 5.65 inches, HD+ 1440x720 (aspect ratio 18:9), ~285 ppi
Body dimensions: 158.1x76.6x9.7 mm, weight: 210 g
Processor Mediatek MT6765 Helio P35 (12nm), (4x2.3GHz Cortex-A53 + 4x1.8GHz Cortex-A53), GPU PowerVR GE8320
RAM 4GB
Flash memory 64GB, MicroSD
Camera 12MP, f/1.8, 1/2.55", 1.4µm, dual pixel PDAF; Front camera: 8MP
Wireless technologies Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac (dual band, 2.4 and 5GHz), Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, FM
GPS GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS, BDS, GALILEO
Battery 3100 mAh, non-removable, fast charging
Operating system Android 9 Pie
Sim card 2xNanoSIM
Optional IP68 and MIL-STD-810G certification. Immersion in water to a depth of 1.5 meters for 35 minutes, fall on concrete from a height of up to 1.5 meters


For those who want to know more:
  • Oukitel WP2 review: survivalist smartphone
  • Sigma Mobile X-treme PQ39 MAX review: state-of-the-art protected battery phone
  • CAT S60 review: world's first smartphone with thermal imager
  • Huawei P Smart Pro (2019) review: no memory too much
  • Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite review: flagship on minimum
  • vivo V17 review: competitors, move it up!