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May 28, 2013

Caterpillar, Kyocera Add Ruggedized Smartphones

Anyone who has dropped a smartphone into water, cracked a screen or had some other mishap resulting in device destruction might be interested in the latest offerings from Caterpillar and Kyocera. Both companies announced hardened phones last week at CTIA that were a step forward, but lacked use of the latest nanocoating waterproofing technologies.

The Caterpillar B15 smartphone, built by licensee Bullitt Mobile, is able to withstand a six-foot drop onto a concrete slab, have its Corning Gorilla Glass screen wacked onto the edge of a table without a scratch, and can be submerged in three feet of water for 30 minutes -- if all the little rubber gaskets and covers are sealed before the dunk.

Priced at $350 list, the B15 has a four-inch touchscreen that can be used with wet fingers and the device is dustproof and scratch resistant. Talk time is up to nine hours while standby time is up to 9.5 days and it can be used in a temperature range from -20 C to +55 degrees C. 

"Caterpillar has been looking for a while for a mobile phone," said Andreea Marciuc, brand director at Bullitt Mobile. "It wanted to find the right partner."

Targeted audiences for the B15 range from outdoor adventurers to (as you'd expect) industrial and construction workers, or "anyone looking for a phone that withstands dropping, bumping, water and dust.” More Caterpillar mobile devices will be unveiled throughout the year, Marciuc said, but she wouldn't indicate if the lineup would include a tablet -- I'd be surprised if at least one Android tablet didn't make an appearance.

Kyocrea is building upon its success with a 2012 waterproof phone by announcing the Hydro Edge and Hydro XTRM smartphones. While not ruggedized, the Hydro Edge is built to withstand sprayed water or submersion in up to three feet of fresh water for 30 minutes. One of the unique features of Hydro Edge is a conduction-style vibration system replacing a traditional speaker, with vibrations transmitting sound directly to the ear akin to the "bone conduction" sound. The Kyocera Hydro XTRM is a ruggedized phone certified for Mil-Spec 810G shock and IP57 dust and waterproofing -- the same three feet for 30 minutes of water submersion as the Hydro Edge.   

The Hydro Edge is available through Boost Mobile and Sprint while the Hydro XTRM is being offered through U.S. Cellular's network at a price of $29.99 after an instant rebate.

Regrettably, none of the new phones can hold up to the waterproofing/liquidproofing demos for nanocoating processes.   P2i's Dunkable technology, currently used on some Motorola and Alcatel One touch phones, enables full immersion and operation of the phone in water without having to worry about sealing up a bunch of rubberized gaskets and latches.  

It's alternatively cool and sobering to see an off-the-shelf Samsung phone running a lap timer while fully immersed underwater in a wine bucket.   A P2i representative said run-time underwater for the Samsung  is typically around four hours before the battery is drained; there's more power pulled on the radio trying to find and keep signal lock through the water.

I'd like to see all mobile phone manufacturers include nanocoating waterproofing at the factory, instead of making it either a third-party process or as a part of a "ruggedized" phone, but nanocoat manufacturers have been coy at discussing how much adding their process might add to total bill for phones and other electronic devices.

Edited by Alisen Downey

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