Caterpillar’s rugged Cat S31 and Cat S41 smartphones can take a beating

Why it matters to you

Caterpillar’s new Cat S31 and Cat S41 are built to survive the harshest of construction sites — and tiled floors.

Rugged smartphones aren’t just a niche anymore and there is a good reason for that: They provide peace of mind that your phone won’t shatter when it hits concrete, or corrode after you’ve fished it from the bottom of a pool. So it seems almost fitting that Caterpillar Industrial, the company behind tractors, forklifts, and other heavy-duty construction equipment, is putting its spin on the trend with two new Android devices, the Cat S41 and Cat S31.

The Cat S41, the high-end model, has a Gorilla Glass 5-shielded screen that is scratch resistant, readable in direct sunlight, and responsive to wet and gloved fingers. Its textured soft-touch body, which has been MIL SPEC 810G drop-tested onto concrete from a height of six feet, is IP68 rated to withstand 6.5 feet of water for up to an hour.

But there is more to the S41 than meets the eye. A programmable shortcut key lets you launch utilities like the camera and flashlight with a single tap, and an included Battery Share connector turns the Cat S41’s 5,000mAh battery into a portable power bank.

The Cat S31, on the other hand, does not have as many bells and whistles as its bulkier counterpart and it is a bit less durable. A Gorilla Glass 3 screen protector and 4,000mAh battery stand in for the S41’s Gorilla Glass 5 and 5,000mAh battery, and the S31 cannot survive the watery depths that the S41 can. (It will survive four feet of water for 35 minutes.) But it has been drop-tested onto concrete from the same six-foot height, and it retains the S41’s IP68 water resistance rating and convenience key.

The other differences are internal, mostly. The Cat S41 has a 5-inch HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixels) screen, and the Cat S31 has a smaller 4.7-inch 720p (1,280 x 720p pixels) screen. The S41 sports a 2.3GHz octa-core MediaTek processor, 3GB of RAM and 32GB, while the S31 makes do with a 1.3GHz Qualcomm quad-core chip, 2GB of RAM and 16GB of memory (both phones have a MicroSD card slot). And the S41 supports LTE speeds up to Cat 6 as opposed to the S31’s Cat 4.

The S41 is equipped with better cameras too. The rear 8-megapixel selfie camera and 13-megapixel rear camera, the latter of which has an LED flash and phase detection autofocus, can shoot photos underwater. The S31’s 8-megapixel rear camera and 2-megapixel front camera, on the other hand, can’t.

But the S31’s makes up for its shortcomings with a discount. When the S31 goes on sale later this year it will start at $392 — a good deal cheaper than the $535 S41, which begins shipping on August 31.

Both come with Android Nougat onboard.

Caterpillar didn’t design the phone itself, but Bullitt Group, the company’s global licensee, said it stayed true to the brand’s reputation for toughness.

“The Cat S41 is an uncompromised smartphone that’s truly fit for the tough environments in which our customers use their phones,” Peter Stephens, CEO of Bullitt Group, said. “We’ve been careful to listen and build on what we know is most critical for them.”