Who on Earth Is Buying These Rugged Android Phones?

Who on Earth Is Buying These Rugged Android Phones?
It's a smartphone you can wash with soap and water. (Image: Cat)

Caterpillar, the same folks behind forklifts and the other big machines you have to wear hardhats around, makes Android devices for a very particular set of users in the field. Their latest device, the Cat S42 H+, is fascinating, because you can run it under water and wash it in the sink at the same time as your hands.

The Cat S42 H+ gets its moniker from the “Hygiene Plus” technology used on the exterior. Cat partnered with Addmaster to use its antimicrobial casing on the device, and the claim is that it inhibits any bacteria cells that have globbed on to it from replicating.

The chassis is sealed, so you can run the phone under a faucet to clean it off with your favourite dish soap. For extremely tough cleanup jobs, it can even withstand bleach with water.

The rest of the phone’s specifications are underwhelming. There’s a 5.5-inch display with 720p resolution, an underpowered MediaTek processor, and 3GB of RAM inside, plus it ships with the rapidly ageing Android 10. Those who wear gloves most of the workday will like the shortcut button on the side that’s programmable for push-to-talk functionality or a quick SOS call, plus the 4200 mAh battery. The phone costs about $US300 ($388) and will debut in the U.S. later this winter.

Editor’s Note: Stay tuned for local Australian pricing and availability.

I’ll level with you here: These Cat smartphones made to withstand rugged industrial work aren’t typically on my radar because they’re pretty niche. But Cat continues to release rugged phones, and they’re not the only manufacturer still carrying the torch for this phone category. Samsung stopped making ruggedised versions of its Galaxy S flagship phones a bit ago, though it offers the Galaxy XCover Pro. And Kyocera is still making rugged smartphones for Verizon, with the latest device offering 5G connectivity.

Rugged Android phones are floating around in more places than you might think. A report on the global rugged smartphone market showed North America and Europe accounting for about 30% of rugged phone sales in 2019. The report mentions brands like DOOGEE and OUKITEL, both of which sell rugged budget smartphones overseas. There’s also Blackview, which recently launched a global 5G rugged smartphone featuring an underwater camera and a massive 8580 mAh battery.

You could always buy a hardcore Otterbox case or another equivalent to protect your smartphone from the elements of your day job. But there are other perks with rugged phones that you won’t get merely by popping your current breakable slab of glass into a case. You won’t always get the latest hardware in a rugged smartphone, but you will get unparalleled water and shock resistance and at least one extra programmable button. Most rugged phones are also dual SIM devices or offer swappable batteries, a hard-to-find feature on any smartphone made in the last seven years. Cat even offers some models with a built-in FLIR infrared camera for augmented reality-based thermal imaging.

Rugged smartphones sales dipped slightly during the pandemic, though it’s to be expected with how related industries have been impacted. It’ll be interesting to see if there’s an uptick after more of the population becomes vaccinated, and the need for sterile gadgetry on the job is a necessity rather than a suggestion.

For its part, Cat intends for the antimicrobial S42 H+ to be used in hospitals, medical facilities, and by “anyone constantly exposed to other people.” With that kind of description, perhaps we should all be carrying rugged phones all the time.