For a similar price, there are mobile phones with superior specifications, but they cannot transmit messages outside of cell phone tower coverage. That one unique feature might justify its high asking price for some users.
Price When Reviewed
There has been a dry spell in CAT-branded phones since the excellent S62 Pro, but that’s now ended with the arrival of the S75.
For those curious about CAT and how they combine heavy industrial construction equipment with the entirely different demands of phone making, the S75 had been made by Motorola.
Sold as the Motorola Defy 2 in some regions, but now also part of the CAT product range as the S75, and the phone carries the familiar CAT branding.
As would be expected with this brand, the S75 is a phone that can take knocks and keep rolling, but there are many inexpensive rugged phone designs that also meet those criteria.
Where this phone diverges from the path is that it can send and receive messages even when there is no phone service, incredibly.
Does that make it worth the premium pricing for what is a medium performer in other respects? Read on and find out.
Design & Build
Built to handle abuse
Lightweight for a rugged phone
No need for rubber plugs
Typically, for a Motorola-originated design, the S75 is a clean and elegant form that avoids the theatrical excesses that blight some other rugged phone designs.
The screen is slightly recessed, leaving a lip all around the front face that might well save the screen from severe damage falling face down.
Even if it does encounter objects other than fingers, it’s covered with 0.8mm-thick Corning Gorilla Glass Victus, making it remarkably resilient.
Covering the sides and underside is an impact-resistant rubberised coating that gives the impression of invulnerability, even if there are limits to what this design can handle.
But, the overall impression is that at 268g, this isn’t excessively heavy, and with its rubberised finish, it won’t easily be flying out of your hand or pocket.
Most rugged phones are now using a button layout where the power button is below the volume rocker that often doubles as a thumbprint reader. The S75 is more like a standard phone design, where the power button is above the rocker, and the fingerprint reader is placed in the middle of the back like Motorola phones of yesteryear.
While placing the fingerprint sensor in that location is helpful for those that are left-handed, the sensor is small and having it there has resulted in the camera cluster being displaced to the left.
What’s more pleasing is that the USB-C port isn’t hidden behind a rubber plug, even though the phone is rated to handle 15m of immersion for a limited period.
However, there is no audio jack, and CAT doesn’t provide an adapter to get this functionality from the USB-C port.
Screen & Speakers
Sharp and bright display
Not ideal for outdoor use
The usual poor speakers
In my first examination of the S75, I noticed that the speaker ports are on the bottom end of the phone, which doesn’t seem ideal to have them both at one end.
Once I used the phone, it became evident that the screen was also a speaker as the sound was louder coming from the screen than the bottom vents.
There isn’t a huge amount of frequency range, probably because the protective glass coating is damping the output, but for phone use, the sound is very clear and not obviously clipped.
The screen is a mixed experience, depending on what you are trying to do.
Having a resolution of 1080 x 2408 pixels, this IPS panel has a 20:9 ratio and a ~400 ppi density, making it slightly oversubscribed for playing back 1080p video. The front-facing camera does take a little of this resolution, as it’s notched into the screen, but not significantly.
Brightness is highly adjustable, and it can be made very dim or dramatically bright, but this scope doesn’t help much when you are outside. The naturally smooth and reflective surface of the Gorilla Glass makes using the phone outside a challenge, and this has ramifications for using satellite messaging, sadly.
If you are not fighting reflections, the 120Hz refresh rate of the display makes for a smooth experience, and colour reproduction is decent. There are some rugged designs appearing with OLED displays, but the one in the S75 is a good quality IPS, and it probably uses less power to run.
Specs & Performance
GPU features are missing
Once you’ve excluded Apple from any list, the choice of SoC used by most phone makes boils down to a small list of chip makers that includes the likes of Samsung, Qualcomm, Broadcom, Marvell, STM and MediaTek as the most prevalent.
The S75 uses a MediaTek SoC that is a variation on its Dimensity 900 platform, the 930.
Comparing the Dimensity 930 with its 900 predecessor, the core arrangement and clock speeds are remarkably similar. The significant changes here are a better ARM instruction set and the switch from the GPU to the PowerVR B-Series IMG BXM-8-256.
While the extra instructions help, the GPU change is a less convincing alteration.
We’ve previously tested Dimensity 900 phones and found that they can run the 3DMark Wild Life test, but the CAT S75 and its Dimensity 930 lacks the features to execute that Vulkan code. The same is true for the Geekbench 5 Compute Vulkan test, which failed to run all the sub-tests.
To put this phone into the correct context, I’ve compared it to some recent rugged phone designs from AGM and Doogee. The AGM uses the Snapdragon 782G, the Doogee V20 Pro a Dimensity 700, and the Doogee S100 has a MediaTek Helio G99.
Across the benchmarking board, the Dimensity 930 can’t match the Snapdragon 782G, but it can beat the Dimensity 700 and even the Helio G99.
All the other phones used in these tests have 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, so memory and storage probably aren’t a huge factor in benchmark performance. More is always better for the loading of multiple apps, but for single applications, the amount in the CAT S75 is adequate.
Where it is much less consistent is in the GPU. It performs marginally better than those using the Mali-G68 MC4 GPU in GFX Aztec and GFX Car Chase, but it is dramatically superior in the GFX Manhattan 3.1 test.
Those results suggest that better driver integration might make this GPU significantly better after it has been tuned.
What’s not covered by these benchmarks is the party trick of the S75, specifically its ability to communicate with geostationary satellites to both send and receive messages.
UK company Bullitt announced in late 2022 that it would be partnering with MediaTek to use that company’s 3GPP NTN (Non-Terrestrial Network) chipset.
Bullitt Messaging is the result of that agreement, a service that makes it possible to communicate outside of cellular data range, up a mountain or in a remote region.
This isn’t a globally available service but is in the process of being rolled out regionally.
Starting with the whole of Europe, including Scandinavia, USA has been added with Canada on the to do list. A final expansion phase is planned for later in the year across South America, Africa, Oceania, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
The Middle East, Russia, India and China aren’t planned to be covered, unfortunately.
Other than the CAT S75, the only additional technology you need to get this facility is the Bullitt SIM that comes with the phone and a contract to use the service.
What’s interesting is that the S75 will work with Bullitt even if the phone has no conventional mobile service SIM installed, as this technology does not need that to work. The only caveat is that you need some internet connection to set up the service, but after that registration process, it can be used whenever the owner needs it.
There are Satellite Plans you’ll need to take into consideration here as although there is a free option, ones with messaging start at $4.99 per month. More on those later.
Good main camera
Other sensors are less impressive
Only 1080p video
In megapixel competition, the 50MP Samsung ISOCELL JN1 50MP sensor on this phone seems to be trailing the field. However, it has an excellent pixel binning feature that results in high-quality images at 12.5Mp.
For those that want greater resolution, the sensor supports pixel-for-pixel 50Mp, but these captures lack the clarity and noise suppression of the pixel-binned snaps.
On the rear are also an 8Mp GalaxyCore GC08A3 made for super-wide shots and a very low-resolution 2Mp depth sensor used for effects. Neither of these is especially wonderful, but they can help the main sensor extend its features.
But the biggest sensor disappointment is the front-facing 8Mp ISOCELL 4H7, which is below the quality level seen on many phones that use the latest 16- or 32Mp Samsung sensors.
In terms of camera functions, it’s a mixed bag. The selection of special modes includes super-macro, underwater, bokeh and panoramic. But all these, including shots taken in Professional mode, are in JPG, with no RAW output.
Video can be captured in slow motion, timelapse, and with either a wide-angle mode or normal aspect. But the biggest regret with video is that even with a 50MP main sensor, only 1080p video is offered, not even 1440p! With most phones doing 4K and some 8K, being only capable of 1080p seems limited.
I should also mention that, unlike so many rugged phone designs, the CAT S75 supports full Widevine L1 encryption, enabling it to stream video from the likes of Netflix and Amazon in the best quality, and not the blurry 480p that phones without this capability are saddled.
Not that you can watch Netflix over the Bullitt satellite connection, but if you do use your phone for watching, it’s a useful capability.
Battery Life & Charging
In testing, the S75 lasted just under 15 hours of continuous activity on the PCMark battery test, which is efficient for a phone with only 5000mAh of battery. The balance here is that, as rugged phones go, this is a lightweight device, and those with much larger batteries aren’t.
That’s the same capacity as the battery Motorola put in its ThinkPhone, another lightweight rugged design from the same source.
The logic to this battery size choice is that if you are ‘off the grid’, then there is little point having the phone on all the time. Only when you intend to send and receive satellite messages, and that typically won’t be all day.
And, if you’ve not in the wilderness, charging is likely to be available from a vehicle or building.
The other advantage of a smaller battery is that it charges quicker, even with the ‘Fast Charge’ limits of 15W that Motorola put on this design. Curiously, that 15W limit is on both wired and wireless charging that this phone supports.
Being able to get 30% of the battery replenished in just 30 minutes is helpful even though it’s not really up to modern fast charging standards.
We’ve seen rugged phones that support 66W charging on wire and 33W on wireless, but I suspect that the heat that would be generated by pumping that much power into a battery of 5000mAh might well overheat the phone and/or damage the battery.
Rugged phones that support 66W charging will often have 22,000mAh batteries that can handle that level of recharging.
Software & Apps
Google Apps plus social media
The CAT S75 is a by-the-numbers Google Android 12 phone, which avoids any radical modification of the standard toolset or interface.
That’s what most customers want, and they’ll also be pleased that this phone doesn’t come preloaded with games they never asked for or oddly regional-centric apps that aren’t in their native language.
Alongside all the standard Google tools, CAT pre-installed Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp and Twitter, along with a few useful CAT toolbox apps.
But the tool that is so far unique to this phone and its Motorola Defy 2 brother is the Bullitt Messenger app, to send and receive messages with a satellite hanging 22,000 miles above the Earth.
Where this service differs from mobile comms is that you can’t make a call, only send messages, and you must be outside to get a clear line-of-sight to the spacecraft.
When you run the application, it has a display that indicates if the satellite can be connected and how you might want to reorientate better to establish that. Once the connection is made, messages can be sent and received using the app. It would be nice if the Bullitt technology interfaced via Google Messenger, but that it works at all is remarkable given the distances and the power output of the phone and satellite.
In addition to messaging, the app can also make an SOS service request where your location is relayed to a service centre for help to be sent. And a ‘check in’ service where your exact location is sent to a predetermined person who is tracking your progress.
Bullitt has promised a variation on the checking-in feature where a map can be published with pushpins to show where you are at any given point in your journey.
Price & Availability
The price directly from CAT for the S75 is $599/£549/€599 making this a premium-priced Android device that doesn’t have the high specifications of a Google Pixel or Samsung Galaxy.
However, it has Bullitt Messenger, and that unique feature has elevated its price accordingly. It will be sold in the USA as the Motorola Defy 2 and should be available on Amazon.com soon.
Alongside the outlay for the phone, owners will need a plan if they wish to use Bullitt Messenger since satellites cost plenty to build, launch and maintain.
Prices range from $4.99/£4.99/€4.99 a month for 30 messages up to $29.99/£29.99/€29.99 for 300 messages. Alternatively, a one-off payment of $59.99/£59.99/€59.99 gives you 250 messages spread over a year, should you only need this level of communication for a specific job or trip.
These prices compare well with satellite phone costs, where Iridium handsets start at twice the price of the CAT S75 and plans for monthly use start at $75 dollars for just 30 minutes of inclusive calls. While these phones allow calls, the usual cost of an SMS message is 45c in either direction.
By comparison, the CAT S75 is not only cheaper to own, but the plans are more affordable, and the cost per message is substantially less.
The critical takeaways from the S75 are that it is very robust, does have sufficient performance to deliver a decent user experience and, most important of all, the Bullitt Satellite Messaging solution works as advertised.
Considering you need to be outdoors to position the phone for satellite comms, having a screen that worked better in bright sunlight might have made it even better, but workarounds can be found.
The specification of the phone isn’t amazing, but it’s more than most users will need unless they’re using a graphically intensive app or gaming. However, the one silly mistake is that you can’t use a MicroSD in this phone alongside a conventional SIM and the one needed to make Bullitt work.
If ever a phone needed an e-SIM capability, it was this one.
The price seems high for the specification, but it’s much the same cost that Motorola will be selling the identical Defy 2, and when you have a unique feature like Bullitt, there isn’t any competition to mention.
A true satellite phone with the ability to make calls would cost substantially more, and the cost per communication would also be greater.For the money, the CAT S75 provides genuine remote communications but at a price that many customers will like.
CPU: MediaTek Dimensity 930 CPU Spec: Octa-core (2×2.2 GHz Cortex-A78 & 6×2.0 GHz Cortex-A55) GPU: IMG BXM-8-256 RAM: 6 GB Storage: 128GB (expandable to 2TB with MicroSDXC) Screen: 6.6″ IPS LCD, 120Hz Resolution: 1080 x 2408 pixels, 20:9 ratio (~400 ppi density) SIM: Dual Nano SIM or single SIM and MicroSD Weight: 268g Dimensions: 171 x 80 x 11.9 mm Rugged Spec: IP68, IP69K and MIL-STD-810H (water resistant up to 5m for 35 min) Rear cameras: 50 MP f/1.8 wide, PDAF 8 MP, f/2.2 ultrawide, 2 MP f/2.4 macro Front camera: 8 MP, f/2.0 wide Networking: WiFi 5, Bluetooth 5.1 OS: Android 12 Battery: 5000mAh
Mark is an expert on displays, reviewing monitors and TVs. He also covers storage including SSDs, NAS drives and portable hard drives. He started writing in 1986 and had contributed to MicroMart, PC Format, 3D World among others.