The company known for big yellow construction equipment has a rugged, speedy and surprisingly light smart phone for the field.
It's pretty safe to say that government, and especially the military, is the driving force behind the creation of rugged gear. The standard set by the military, specifically the U.S. Military Standard 810 document, is the measure used to determine if a device is actually rugged, or simply hardened. Increasingly, Ingress Protection standards have also become important because they measure how much dust or water a device can stand before breaking.
Besides adding bulk to most products, ruggedizing gear can increase the cost. Most people won’t spend extra money for a rugged phone, especially if all it's going to do is make a comfortable commute from work to home once in a while. But military, law enforcement and other government personnel are often exposed to harsher conditions on the job, from thunderstorms to extreme temperatures to hostile environments, so rugged gear is needed.
So I was a little surprised to see that Caterpillar was releasing a fully-ruggedized smart phone that might be a good fit for both government and consumers. Called the B15, it’s a pretty sleek looking unit, with the ability to take a beating.
The B15 is an Android-based phone that runs the 4.1 Jelly Bean operating system. It's got a 4-inch WVGA display with the required Gorilla Glass for extra ruggedness and a shatter-proof screen. The whole thing is driven by a 1GHz MediaTek MT6577 Dual Cortex-A9 chip, so it's pretty speedy. And it even has some nice extras, like a 5-megapixel rear facing camera for teleconferencing and a lower-resolution front-facing camera for snapping pictures or taking video around a worksite. And it has built-in GPS navigation, complete with turn-by-turn directions.
In terms of ruggedness, Caterpillar says its new phone can withstand a drop of up to six feet, which would make it Mil-Std rugged for shock. It also has an IP 67 rating, meaning that it's totally impervious to dust (the 6 rating) and can survive for up to 30 minutes operating three feet underwater (the 7 rating) without fail.
What’s most impressive, however, is that the rugged specifications didn't seem to add much bulk to the phone. The B15 is only 4.9-inches by 2.7-inches and .58-inches thick. It weighs 0.37-pounds, so almost a lightweight. The price of the phone is also good for a rugged device, at $349 for an unlocked model that could be used with almost any network.
Of course there is a certain cool factor involved with anything branded with the Caterpillar, or CAT name. When you think of that company, images of giant tractors and bright yellow construction equipment come to mind. But the B15 looks to be a bona fide rugged smart phone in its own right, not just a branding scheme. Given government's interest and need for rugged gear, it's always great to see another device of that type make its way into the market.