Rugged Cat phones look to crack U.S. market through new deal with Sprint

Cat S48c

Cracked screens and chipped frames are an unfortunate reality for smartphone owners, which is part of the reason why rugged smartphones have been steadily growing in popularity. King of this emerging category is Cat phones, and U.S. carrier Sprint has spotted its progress and struck a partnership to develop and launch the new Cat S48c smartphone exclusively on its network.

The Cat S48c is a rugged smartphone capable of shrugging off drop damage, dust, vibrations, submersion in water, and extreme temperatures. It has a 5-inch LCD optimized for legibility in direct sunlight, a large 4,000mAh battery, and a 13-megapixel camera. There’s a Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 processor inside, backed by 4GB of RAM, and 32GB of storage with a MicroSD card slot for expansion. It runs Android 8.1 Oreo out of the box, but we’ve been assured it will be upgraded to Android 9.0 Pie soon.

The real attraction of the Cat S48c is the rugged construction. A tough protective body scores it MIL-SPEC 810G, meaning you can drop it without fear, the IP68 rating means it can be submerged in up to four feet of water for 35 minutes without suffering damage, and it can deal with temperatures from minus 13 all the way up to 131 degrees Fahrenheit. There’s a programmable key on the side of the phone that can be used for push-to-talk with Sprint Direct Connect Plus and that 5-inch screen can also be used with gloves or wet hands.

All this ruggedness makes it an ideal device for anyone who works outdoors or in a harsh environment, but it may also appeal to people who are sick of expensive repair bills. The Cat S48c comes with a one-year extended warranty that includes free screen replacement if you manage to break your display.

Cat S48c

“We see this as a workhorse, rugged smartphone that sits right in the middle of our line up at a mass market price point,” John Tudhope, Director Device Portfolio Strategy for Sprint, told Digital Trends. “We think it has great appeal for the small business and enterprise segments, as well as for consumers who want something rugged at an affordable price.”

Tough devices fit perfectly with the Caterpillar brand which has long been associated with machinery and construction. While Sprint has been selling rugged phones for a while now, they have traditionally lacked strong branding.

The British manufacturer behind Cat-branded phones is the Bullitt Group, which has also turned out devices under the JCB, Kodak, and most recently Land Rover brands. Apart from a wealth of experience in the smartphone industry, the Bullitt Group has found success by working closely with brand partners, listening to customer feedback, and incorporating it to develop devices with thoughtful features that deliver what people are asking for.

“To be working with Sprint is really exciting for us,” Peter Cunningham, vice president of product portfolio at Bullitt Group, told Digital Trends. “We think Sprint are a perfect partner for us to help us grow our business in the U.S.”

We’ve reviewed Cat phones before, most recently the flagship Cat S61, which packs a thermal imaging camera, an air quality sensor, and some other specialist tools for professionals, but it costs $1,000. The Cat S48c is a simpler prospect, but also much cheaper at $480 plus tax. You can also pick one up for $20 per month with Sprint Flex Lease. The Cat S48c is available from November 9. Stay tuned for a full review.

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