A handsome beast of a thermal-imaging smartphone

The supremely tough Cat S60 from Caterpillar has a cool infrared camera

Cat S60, £530
Cat S60, £530 | Image: Hugh Threlfall

Adventurous sorts, as well as those who are all thumbs, often consider buying a ruggedised mobile – a big, strong, macho slab that works in extreme conditions and is easy for the clumsy to wield. If you have such a notion (or perhaps just want a phone that stands out), then this handsome beast from Caterpillar, the tractors-to-bulldozers people (more accurately from Britain’s Bullitt Group and branded Caterpillar), is the phone to buy.

The Cat S60 is a supremely tough Android smartphone capable of surviving 60 minutes under up to 5m of water and a drop from 1.8m. It has a pretty good electronic specification for a ruggedised phone, with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 processor, 3GB of RAM, a big 3,800mAh battery that can keep going for a couple of days and an OK 13MP camera. There’s even an app to blast water out of the speakers sonically, should your S60 get an unexpected dunking.

But the Cat S60 has one unique feature that is so out there, so cool and fascinating – and possibly even useful – that any self-respecting gadget lover should find it irresistible: an infrared thermal imaging camera from Flir, the Oregon-based specialists whose standalone heat-detecting cameras normally cost hundreds, even thousands of pounds.

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The S60’s heat-sensing camera works splendidly. I used it to check whether the roof insulation was working effectively in our early-18th-century house (it is; and our solid walls are also doing better at heat retention than I would have expected). It also detected that the wireless speakers I leave on month after month run quite warm and are using more power than I’d imagined. It can even pick up, from several metres’ distance, the heat signature of a hand after it has been placed briefly on a wall.

As a geek, of course, I’d want a thermal imaging phone. But why would you want one? Well, if you happen to be a heating engineer or in construction, or on a search-and-rescue mission or researching bats (which I’m guessing you’re not), the reasons will be obvious. But you could also use it to trace wires when you’re drilling holes in a wall, or to spot overloaded sockets or electrical faults, or even to look for the dog in the dark.

Even if none of these thermal imaging ideas warms your heart, the S60 is still a great party trick, and produces rather cool (perhaps I should say hot?) arty pictures.

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