Durable against water, dust, shocks
- Surprising camera quality
- Good sound and loud rear speaker
- Low-resolution video recording
- Small, low-resolution display
Cat is primarily known for its heavy-duty machinery used in the construction industry and farming, among other areas. What may not be well known is the fact that it sells its own Cat-branded mobile phones, devices said to withstand the rigors and hard-wearing working environment typically associated with the vehicles. Following on from the Cat B25 feature phone and the more recent Cat B15 Android smartphone, the Cat B100 is another feature phone that is vying for the attention of construction workers looking for a phone as tough as their jobs.
Design and construction
The B100 is a hefty and fairly large device for a feature phone, measuring 56x17x121mm (2.2x0.7x4.8 inches) and weighing 4.8 ounces, but then again it needs to be. Using a thick rubberized-plastic shell, it has two metal supports on the side to help it maintain its shape, held in place by large screws. Metal accents and the exposed-screw motif elsewhere on the phone give it an imposing appearance, suggesting it is tough enough to be used as a hammer.
On the side is a protected microUSB socket, with a similarly-protected headphone jack at the top, and Cat-yellow volume buttons on the other side. The front is split between a normal number pad with chunky buttons and navigational controls, which can be easily used while wearing gloves, and a well-protected 2.2-inch display.
On the back is a camera that is slightly sunken into the body, presumably to help protect it, a similarly-styled flash, a speaker grille, and a battery plate that is tightened down by two large screws.
Display and Performance
Turning on the device greets you with a relatively-dated interface on a low-resolution, 240x320 display. Inside is a MediaTek MT6276W processor with just 64MB of RAM, 128GB of ROM storage, and a mere 50MB of user-accessible storage. These may sound disappointing, but since it runs MTK Nucleus as its operating system instead of something needing more power, such as Android, it doesn't really matter.
The phone is meant as a working device first and foremost, so it allows for phone calls, text messaging, sending and receiving emails, and organizer functions. Making and receiving calls are straightforward, with a standard contact list making it easier to call others quickly, and though text messaging is relatively functional, the emailing aspects are probably best just for checking the inbox.
It does have a section marked Fun & Games, which grants access to Java games, though it is unlikely many would want to do so on this phone. Sound recording, photo editing, a media player, FM Radio, and mapping via Google Maps are also included, while the included Opera Mobile browser provides limited access to the Internet. These are unlikely to be used, bearing in mind the relatively limited capacity of its internal storage, but anyone wanting to use the media player will most probably insert a microSD card instead for music storage.
Audio is a fairly strong point for the phone. While it could not compete with a nearby washing machine at full spin, the noise-canceling microphone worked well against a background of traffic. The external speaker is also commendable, playing the engine tick-over noise when booting, and loud enough to blast music from the memory card at a considerable volume.
Using its removable 1150mAh Lithium-Ion battery, the B100 is claimed to have a talk time of up to 10 hours and a standby time of up to 23 days. This seems fairly plausible, as the low resolution display and power-conserving specification of the phone works in its favor. During the lengthy period of time it has been loaned for review, it has only needed to be charged once, and only after being here for a few days.
Despite being a feature phone with a relatively limited skill set compared to a typical smartphone, it still manages to offer a rear three-megapixel camera. Though the low-resolution display slightly hampers efforts to take an image, the camera app provides options to change the exposure, white balancing, offers Auto and Night modes, a continuous shot mode, flash options, face detection, and other effects. Image sizes for stills range between the wallpaper size and the full 3-megapixel image, though the video recording mode can only output a maximum resolution of 480x320.
Cat B100 camera (Full image)
Cat B100 camera (Cropped)
Cat B100 camera (4x zoom)
Photographs taken with the B100 come out surprisingly well, despite being a fixed-focus device, but it is advisable to avoid the 4x digital zoom option. Even so, it is a serviceable camera for someone wanting to take the occasional photograph, and could be useful for providing evidence of work done or things such as accidental vehicular damage sustained to employers or supervisors.
As expected from a feature phone, it offers connections over 2G and 3G, but not LTE. Its cellular data connection allows for maximum downlink and uplink data rates of 384Kbps, but bearing in mind what the device is capable of doing, this is unlikely to be necessary. It also lacks Wi-Fi, though the minimal web experience provided by the included browser, Google Maps, and the email functions are not likely to burn through any data allowances too quickly.
Cat bills the B100 as IP67-certified, making it waterproof at a depth of up to one meter (3 feet 3 inches) for 30 minutes, as well as impervious to dust. It is also claimed to be able to function in temperatures between -25 and 55 Centigrade (-13F to 131F), and able to withstand a drop of 1.8 meters (5 feet 11 inches). It's Military Standard 810G specification claims it can survive humidity, "temperature shock," vibrations, and salt fog.
While not entirely scientific, the loaned handset went through a number of scenarios to test these claims. With the flaps for the headphone jack and microUSB socket closed as per the warning when unplugging the charger, it was dropped into a shallow stream roughly one foot deep for about five minutes. After being pulled out from the water and left to dry for a few minutes, it was lightly thrown a short distance into muddy areas of a park, then washed off with a quick dunk in the stream again. After seeing it continued to work fine and allowing it to dry completely overnight, it went through other tests, including placements on top of a heater and in a freezer for hours at a time, with it working perfectly after each.
In terms of being able to survive small accidents, it performed admirably, and though the extremes of its various limits were not reached in testing, it at least shows that it will most likely survive in an industrial environment in instances when other devices will almost certainly fail.
The Cat B100 is a phone designed for a specific type of person in mind: someone involved in heavy industry. Most normal smartphone users will be turned off by its basic functionality when compared to iPhones and Android devices, with its low-resolution display, camera, older-styled operating system, and abysmal storage capacity. Those who need a phone that can survive knocks and scrapes, accidental spillages, and dust, will welcome the phone's durability, and are far more likely to warm to its basic, utilitarian approach.