Over the past several months, I have field tested Caterpillar’s entry into the rugged mobile device market, the Cat B15 smart phone. Manufactured by Bullett Mobile Ltd. under license from Caterpillar, the B15 is billed by Cat as “the most progressive, durable and rugged device available on the market today.” Among the listed features are drop-resistance up to 1.8 meters (nearly 5 feet), water resistant (submerged up to 1 meter for 30 minutes), imperviousness to dust, and easy wet-finger tracking ability.
Although I was skeptical of the phone’s ability to work after being submerged and dropped, I was excited to put the phone to the test. The B15, starting at $349, ships unlocked to work with any carrier. After procuring the requisite two SIM cards from a wireless carrier, I was able to easily connect to the wireless network. Signal strength for voice services was excellent compared to other phones I have used in the same area.
Initial setup was simple and intuitive, with a bright VGA 4-inch multi-touch screen. Web navigation was easy, and most pages seemed to load reasonably quickly, although the B15 did seem a bit sluggish when opening large, photo-heavy web pages and video files, likely a result of the phone’s lack of 4G connectivity. The B15 operates on the latest version of Android and supports 3G wireless connections. According to Caterpillar’s Sarah Crab, there are no plans for the B15 to support LTE (4G) data connections.
The B15, under normal conditions, operates pretty much as you would expect from an Android-powered touch-screen phone. The first rugged feature that I tested was wet-screen finger tracking on the VGA touch screen. I have used several other touch-screen phones and have always had difficulty with wet-finger tracking, especially if there is any oil or grease present. The B15 masterfully handles wet finger gestures on its screen, even with some oil residue or grease on the fingers.
I next tested the waterproof claim. After submerging the Cat B15 for 30 minutes in 1 meter of water, I pulled it out, shook off the excess moisture, and was able to use the phone immediately for both voice calls and Internet connectivity. I repeated this trial a few times over the several months of testing, wondering if the phone would eventually quit working due to corrosion after multiple submersions. To its credit, the B15 easily handled multiple submersions over the three months I used it. I could see no sign of corrosion when removing the SIM cards at the end of the testing period.
Pleasantly surprised by both the B15’s wet-finger tracking ability and water-resistance, I then tested the phone’s ability to handle the 1.8-meter drop onto a concrete surface. Its aluminum-and-rubber construction lived up to claims. I dropped the phone from 1.8 meters a number of times, with no apparent damage.
As with voice calling, use of the B15’s other features and Android applications was solid, if unremarkable. Under normal operating conditions, the B15 operates as I’ve come to expect from smart phones, with the exception of slightly slow handling of large web files such as videos or pictures. Under difficult conditions such as climbing around on construction equipment in the rain with greasy fingers, however, the B15 really shines. Its waterproof design, combined with exceptional wet-finger tracking and my confidence that I could drop the phone without damaging it, made the phone a pleasure to use in damp or rainy conditions. Over time, the B15 proved its rugged design and instilled in me the confidence to use it on the job without heading back to the car to get out of the weather. The B15 is a solid performer when moisture and impacts are a concern, and it should work well for anyone who needs this extra durability.
For more on the phone, visit the Cat Phone website.
--Content courtesy of Construction Equipment Magazine