There’s something refreshing about a smartphone that you’re encouraged to drop. Thanks to the glass sandwiches we keep in our pockets these days, you’ll likely be in one of two schools of thought. Like me, you might find the heaviest and most rigid case you can afford; or, if you’re like our esteemed Theunis van Rensburg, you’ll probably enjoy the nude look best.

For CAT, the S range has been the chance to demonstrate its hardware excellence in smartphones that you’re encouraged to push to the limit. That generally means throwing, dropping, freezing, scorching, or otherwise misbehaving with your smartphone will afford you freedoms that the likes of the curviest Samsung or glossiest Huawei device won’t.

With the S42, however, CAT is back with an upper mid-ranger that’s intended to mould a graceful evolution of their hard-hitting design language with refined software. While this isn’t the phone intended to woo you with a sleek body and sexy specs, can this juggernaut reach that acclaimed status we’d otherwise call… an absolute unit?


The S42, like its forebears, is intended to be thick, heavy, brick-like and bold. This isn’t the smartphone that you’ll want to place in the line of your dinner jacket, but it’s the device you’ll be more than happy to use when venturing through the great outdoors.

Interestingly, you’ll notice that CAT’s maturing design language means the S42 is a slightly more graceful affair than the dress its forebears wore. While it doesn’t have the infinity display you’re likely accustomed to on mid-range and upwards smartphones, you do get a rubberized form factor and edges that meets IP68 and MIL-SPEC 810H military standards.

Let’s talk numbers. The S42 weighs 220 grams. While not unwieldy, that’s not light, either. Similarly, it’s some 12.7mm thick. There’s also a 5.5-inch IPS LCD with a 720p display, so you can party it up like it’s 2011.

The good news is that all these sacrifices afford you longevity. The S42 will free you from the frustration of shattered glass, and is guaranteed to survive a drop of up to 1.8 meters, which is nearly skydiving standards insofar as modern flagship phones go.

The S42 will also last for 35 minutes in depths of up to 1.5 meters. All in all, the S42 isn’t at all a displeasing phone if you’re prepared to buy it for what it will enable you to do. The device is pleasant to hold, is comfortable thanks to its rubberized edges, and is ready for adventure. A built-in convenience key also gives you the ability to tweak the device to your liking by setting an app to trigger whenever you press it.


Given that the S42 sits below the flagship S60 range and is powered by a Mediatek Helio A20, you might expect that performance isn’t great, but passably good. Fortunately, the S42 has its moments and is compelling enough to avoid frustrating you; by this, I mean that system interactions are suitably smooth, that the device doesn’t crunch through the battery (more on this later), and CAT’s software additions feel meaningful and useful for the outdoor applications that the phone is marketed to.

3GB of RAM aside, the S42 won’t grant you salaciously smooth gameplay through the latest games on the Play Store, but you will be able to enjoy all the multitasking and general tasks you might enjoy in your day-to-day. 32GB of internal memory makes for slim pickings, though this is at least supplemented by a MicroSD tray.

Though CAT has more recently removed some of its favored features from the Toolbox application, there’s still enough in there to offer fast enough access to utilities that you’re most likely to need while out and about.


While smartphones marketed for lovers of the outdoors can generally sell themselves on a shock and awe design, a great battery, and a sprinkle of brand pedigree here and there, they don’t generally offer convincing cameras.

In that vein, the S42 doesn’t exactly delight. There’s a single-lens, 13-megapixel rear camera (which feels delightfully dated in the face of multi-camera mid-rangers), as well as a 5-megapixel primary camera up front.

Images taken with the primary shooter feel dreary and uninspired, and lack accurate colour reproduction with even the brightest tones falling into muted hues. The S42’s primary camera, too, fails to convince with a soft focus and its struggles against highlights.

The S42 also – if you’re wondering – doesn’t come equipped with the nifty thermal features its flagship forebears have; meaning that if you need a solid camera, you might be better set to look upwards or elsewhere.


The S42 can afford to join that special ‘peerless’ category thanks to the fact that it doesn’t have to worry about being slim nor trim; the S42 carries a 4,200mAh battery which, while hardly the largest nor the most impressive on the market, does chug along brilliantly.

In heavy use, we found that the S42 can regularly push through into a third day, and thankfully sips battery during more intensive tasks – meaning that this is a phone we’d feel comfortable taking into the great outdoors.


Rugged smartphones, in hindsight, might have a somewhat easier job than their conventional brethren, in that they just need to do one thing right. Fortunately, for the S42, CAT has delivered another worthy contender that’s ready to shake up the great outdoors with its solid design and brand pedigree.

While the S42 can’t compete with its slinkier and sexier siblings, it doesn’t need to. While this isn’t a phone that’s a performance powerhouse, it is a well-designed contender that slots nicely into an affordable gap in the market for those of us who love the outdoors.

If you’re looking for a camera-focused smartphone that can capture natural beauty while you’re out and about, you should look elsewhere. Yet, in terms of battery life, a clean build of Android 10, solid hardware, and all the guts and glory to tackle the thousand shocks the body is heir to, the S42 makes for a great companion.