In strict technical terms, the phrase “rugged tablet PC” probably is redundant, because hard-working professionals in the most demanding fields expect power and durability from their go-everywhere machines. Still, among all the standards and specifications you would use to assess the value of an industrial tablet computer, “ruggedness” inevitably and undeniably tops the list.
The experts agree, “Virtually all rugged computers share an underlying design philosophy of providing a controlled environment for the installed electronics to survive the rigors of the plant floor,” crime scene, operating room, construction site, or battlefield. Rugged tablet PCs now are standard equipment in police cruisers and ambulances; and most architects and engineers carry their vital specifications, schematics and drawings in tablets, preferring their lightweight convenience and multi-tasking capabilities to unwieldy old-fashioned documents. All of the nation’s largest hospitals and major HMOs have digitized patients’ medical histories and charts, so that all caregivers have instant access to up-to-the-minute information on patients’ conditions and treatments. Not surprisingly, the middle east war has driven significant advances in the most robust tablet PCs, triggering quantum leaps in their resistance to environmental hazards and shock, also inspiring significant gains in power, battery life, and functionality. Manufacturers naturally have adapted most of their knowledge from military products for use in commercial and professional devices
How to evaluate a rugged tablet PC
Of course, most professionals look first at a rugged computer’s resistance to dust, water, and extreme temperatures. Ordinary consumer tablets-notably the iPad and its new rivals-operate between 72 and 110 degrees Fahrenheit, and users’ operation of the most popular tablets beyond optimum temperatures invalidates their warranties. Most professionals demand additional cooling with air filtering, and some even will demand the industry’s most sophisticated cooling systems-forced air, conduction, or liquid temperature regulation. Most rugged tablet PCs have metal rather than plastic cases, and most have shock-absorbing features throughout their cases. Moreover, the best rugged tablet cases feature water-proof and dust proof seals, and the very best have extra gaskets, making them either extremely water-resistant or worthy of certification as “water proof,” and many come with depth and immersion ratings. Just as importantly, the most rugged tablet PCs protect the case and system against compromise with sealed Mil-Spec or Circular-MIL connectors. In other words, the plugs and connections are at least as robust and error-proof as the tablets’ cases. By the same principle, locked doors or other protective devices control users’ access to the I/Os. Professionals in exceptionally demanding or hazardous environments generally insist their rugged tablet PCs have “watchdog timers” that automatically restart the machines in cases of software lock-up.
Rugged tablet PC operating systems
Before 2010, the finest rugged tablet PCs ran on Windows XP, the industrial workhorse with the widest range of applications and greatest compatibility. If you are shopping on a tight budget, you will get far more value from a reconditioned high-end XP tablet PC than you will find in a mid-range product with a less powerful operating system. Since Google debuted its Android operating system, however, the majority of rugged tablet PC manufacturers have switched to Android, affording users more diverse applications and greater internet capability with less demand for power and less drain on batteries. Manufacturers regard Android as “the operating system of the future,” and they wisely recognize the majority of independent software and app developers are building their products for use with Android.