It's a cruel world out there for tablets: Every day, there's the possibility they will be dropped, knocked, spilled on or just shaken around. And that's just in a normal business day — if you use your tablet outdoors, while traveling or in a work zone, the odds of a disaster go up precipitously.
In its report Mobile Device TCO Models for Line of Business Solutions, VDC Research estimates that the failure rate for conventional tablets in the workplace is 18% per year. That translates into roughly one in five systems failing at work each year.
"Unless you want to treat tablets as disposable, this failure rate should be unacceptable for businesses today," observes David Krebs, executive vice president at VDC Research. "By contrast, rugged tablets have been built for business use and have a 4% failure rate."
Rugged tablets offer reinforced frames, tough skins, watertight seals, hardened glass, soft corner bumpers and major components that are shock-mounted. In other words, if ordinary consumer tablets can be considered sports (or economy) cars, rugged tablets are tanks.
To see what the current state of the art is for rugged tablets, I gathered together three of the newest Windows-based worker-proof slates: the Mobile Demand xTablet Flex 10, the Getac F110 and the Panasonic Toughpad FZ-G1. I also tried out Samsung's Galaxy Tab Active, a reinforced Android tablet.
Meeting a standard
The gold standard for ruggedness is the Military Standard 810G rating (also known as MIL-STD-810G), a set of protocols that the U.S. Department of Defense uses to assess mobile computers. The 810G standard specifies a variety of trials, including 48-in. drops onto two inches of plywood over concrete, ill-treatment from temperature (high and low), and tests for resistance to humidity, altitude and vibration.
All three of the Windows tablets tested here meet the 810G drop standard. Two — the Getac and Panasonic — meet all the 810G requirements as well as the IP65 standard against intrusion by dust and jets of liquid. The Android-based Samsung Galaxy Tab Active (which is more of a ruggedized consumer tablet) isn't certified to meet any of the 810G standards but is certified to the IP67 standard, which means it can withstand dust and immersion in water.
The price for this robustness is that the systems are significantly larger and heavier than their consumer-oriented cousins. For instance, while the current 9.7-in. iPad Air 2 weighs just under a pound and is about a quarter of an inch thick, the smallest and lightest of the three Windows systems reviewed here is one inch thick and weighs twice as much.
The Galaxy Tab Active, at 1.1 lb., is closer to consumer proportions but is still heavier than less sturdy tablets such as the iPad Air 2 and Samsung's own 8.4-in. Galaxy Tab S, which weighs 10.37 oz.
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