Cat says its new R8,000 smartphone is ‘truly rugged’ – so we gave it to a toddler

Business Insider SA
A buried and watered smartphone
  • Cat says its S42 smartphone is "truly rugged".
  • So we gave it to one of the most destructive forces known to humanity: a toddler.
  • The phone was buried (and then watered), dropped, trampled, painted, and washed many times.
  • It didn't really seem to notice.
  • For more stories go to

At a retail price of just about R8,000, the Cat S42 smartphone doesn't make much of an impression in normal use. It sits heavy in the hand, and it isn't particularly responsive. It has no fingerprint reader, and no other hardware tricks. The camera is distinctly average compared to even cheaper phones.

In fact, what Cat bills as "the essential work phone" comes with just one selling point: it is, the company says, "truly rugged" – which includes being proof to high-alcohol sanitisers and washing.

"We aim to simulate the real world scenarios that our phones are used in," it says of its own tests, "and to ensure they will withstand that treatment."

But Cat's testing does not include one of the most destructive forces known to humanity, especially when it comes to smartphones: the average toddler. 

See also | We put a baby and a dog in a R2 million Maserati to see if it is any good at running errands

We handed a S42 to a toddler, and waited to see what would happen. Initial results were disappointing due to an expected respect for the fragility of high-tech devices. With a little encouragement, though, our test phone was eventually trampled, thrown about, buried, watered, and painted.

The phone was powered on throughout our testing. When it required cleaning between tests, that was achieved by the simple expedient of scrubbing it in the sink using dish washing liquid. There were no special solvents, and no mercy.

There was, as best our subsequent functionality testing could show, no apparent impact on the phone.

Here's what we put Cat's S42 smartphone through to see if it is, indeed, truly rugged – and capable of withstanding a small human.

We threw it from the top of the highest slide in the park – twice.

We dropped the phone off the slide – twice

On both occasions it landed on grass – but this was end-of-winter Johannesburg grass, just barely clinging to life on hard-packed end-of-winter Johannesburg ground, making it nearly indistinguishable from concrete.

Nearby parents expressed some disapproval of the example this set.

The phone also suffered many more minor falls and bumps over the course of more than a week, as well as being trampled by animals.

A Cat trampled by a dragon and an elephant

We left it in the communal water bowl in the park, in an ultimately failed trap for dogs.

Cat in a bowl

Despite vigorous efforts, no dogs could be convinced to drink from the bowl, and be surprised by what it contained.

Nearby parents expressed violent and loud disapproval of the example this set.

We buried it in the sand pit...

Phones can be buried treasure

... quite thoroughly.

A well-buried smartphone

We also buried it in the garden – then watered it, to see if it would grow overnight.

A buried and watered smartphone

But, disappointingly, there was no evidence of roots sprouting by the following morning.

A caked Cat.

The phone joined a small menagerie for a bath in the kitchen sink, in water that in addition to dish soap also featured blue food colouring, for reasons never adequately explained.

Ritualistic bathing of animals, and a phone.

We then forgot about it, when called away on urgent toddler business.

A forgotten Cat.

We half-buried it in the remains of a long-dead fire...

Cat in a (cold) fire

... which left it pretty thoroughly coated in very fine wood ash.

Cat after fire

We used it as a canvas for an art project....

More painted Cat

... and when the glass turned out to be less than receptive, we painted the back too.

Painted Cat

In the only somewhat lasting effects of our testing, the paint stuck around for a bit, in the speaker grill and around the camera lenses. It made no difference to the functioning of the phone, though, and a bit of work with a toothpick cleared out most of the evidence pretty quickly once the paint went dry and flakey.

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