With so many companies shouting the benefits of their tablets, it can be difficult to know what is actually true and what is a bit of a stretch. Since the first touch screen broke, everything has slowly become more rugged. But what makes a true rugged tablet rugged?
Rugged vs Consumer
The first thing to look at is the difference between honest rugged and consumer tablets outfitted with a durable case. There are many cases out there, and several of them claim to be durable, or even rugged. There's nothing wrong with these cases. They might even be able to keep your device safe in the event of a drop. But few, if any, will be able to match a tablet built to be rugged.
True rugged tablets are built rugged from the inside out. Each component and material used is chosen and placed with the idea that these devices will be carried into rough environments. They have to be able to handle these environments and continue to function flawlessly. Sand, dust, rain, ice, snow, heat, and cold are all things that might destroy a consumer device, even in a case, but rugged devices handle without trouble.
One of the first indicators of a rugged tablet will be MIL-STD-810G tested. While these tests span a massive array of items and situations, the most common are for shock and vibrations. The shock test is performed by dropping the tablet on every side, edge, and surface. This is done on plywood over concrete and ensures the device can handle the accidental drops that will inevitable happen during its working life.
While the original test allows for five devices to be dropped while off, and only one needs to survive, we do our tests a bit differently. We drop only one device while it’s on. It has to pass every drop, with few exceptions.
Ingress Protection (IP)
Another sign of a rugged tablet is an IP rating. In order to be classified as rugged, most tablets need to have a rating of at least IP54. In all honesty, that is not enough to handle most the environments that a rugged device will be taken into. A rating of IP65 would be advisable. At IP65, a tablet is completely sealed against dust, and can withstand being sprayed with a jet of water from any direction for 15 minutes.
While it is important to look at IP ratings, don’t let those be the only factors you look at. More and more consumer grade devices are gaining higher IP ratings. This is often due to the elimination of ports, and thus access points of water and dust, but just because a device has a high IP rating does not mean it’s built rugged.
While rugged tablets themselves may be the beating heart, peripherals are the lifeblood of the tool. The peripherals that you can use in conjunction with your tablet are what allows them to go from just another tool to a workhorse. Yet the benefits don’t stop at simply being able to use almost any tool alongside your table. There are many that can be incorporated directly into your device. Barcode readers, RFID, hot-swappable batteries, and fingerprint scanners are just a few of the things that can be built into rugged tablets.
Another advantage of rugged tablets is their ability to be mounted nearly anywhere. While consumer tablets can be mounted, there are certain scenarios where they just can’t hold up.
A common situation where a consumer tablet can’t keep up is on a forklift. Forklifts are far from gentle. They vibrate, shake, and often venture into extreme conditions. Going from a freezer at -20°F to 105°F outside can quickly destroy a tablet not built to handle such harsh swings in temperature. That’s just taking into consideration the temperature. Forklifts vibrate to the point of causing technology to malfunction. If the tablet isn’t built to handle it, it won’t survive long.
Longevity is another factor that makes a rugged tablet different from its consumer cousin. Consumer tablets are only expected to have a couple years lifespan. After that, a new model will come out, making the older one obsolete.
Rugged tablets march to a different beat. They're designed with high end components, so they can continue staying productive for longer stretches of time. They're routinely updated and maintenance for five years or more. This only further increases their value as a tool.
While in the right application a consumer tablet in a durable case will work, there are many situations where a fully rugged tablet is required. They're each part of their own distinct class of productivity tools with specific advantages and disadvantages to each. The important thing to discover is how rugged a device you need, and making sure what is being claimed is the truth.