Comparison: Consumer tablet computers with touchscreen to rugged tablet computers

Updated: Mar 27

With so many companies advertising the benefits of their tablets, it can be difficult to know what is actually true and what is a bit of an exaggeration. Ever since the first touchscreen broke, everything has slowly become more rugged. But what makes a truly rugged tablet a rugged device?

Rugged vs. consumer tablets

The first thing to consider is the difference between true rugged tablets and consumer tablets that come with a rugged case. There are many cases on the market, and some of them claim to be durable or even rugged. There is nothing wrong with these cases. They are even capable of holding your device securely in case of a drop. But few, if any, can compete with a tablet that is built to last.

True rugged tablets are built tough from the inside out. Every component and material used is selected and placed with the intention that these devices will be used in harsh environments. They must be able to handle these environments and continue to function properly. Sand, dust, rain, ice, snow, heat and cold are all things that could destroy a consumer device, even in an enclosure, but rugged devices can handle them with ease.

One of the most important indicators of a rugged tablet is proper testing. While these tests cover a wide range of items and situations, the most common are those for shock and vibration. The shock test is performed by dropping the tablet on all sides, edges and surfaces. This is done on plywood over concrete and ensures that the device can withstand the accidental drops that are inevitable during its working life.

Another sign of a rugged tablet is its IP rating. To be classified as rugged, most tablets must have at least an IP65 rating. To be honest, this is not sufficient for most environments where a rugged device will be used. An IP65 rating would be advisable. At IP67, a tablet is fully sealed against dust and can withstand a water jet from any direction for 15 minutes.

While rugged tablets themselves may be the most important element, the peripherals are the lifeblood of the device. The peripherals that can be used in conjunction with a tablet are what turn it from a simple tool into a workplace machine. But the benefits aren't limited to the ability to use almost any tool alongside the table. There are many other peripherals such as barcode readers, RFID, hot-swap batteries and fingerprint scanners that can be built into rugged tablets.

Another advantage of rugged tablets is their ability to be mounted almost anywhere. While consumer tablets can be mounted, there are certain scenarios where they simply cannot stand upright.

One common situation where a consumer tablet can't keep up is on a forklift. Forklifts vibrate, shake and often go into extreme conditions. Going from -20°F in the freezer to 105°F outdoors can quickly destroy a consumer tablet that is not designed to withstand such extreme conditions. Going from -20°F in the freezer to 105°F outdoors can quickly destroy a tablet that isn't designed to withstand such severe temperature swings. And that's just one aspect of temperature. Forklifts vibrate so much that the technology stops working. If the tablet isn't built to withstand that, it won't survive for long.

Durability is another factor that differentiates a rugged tablet from its consumer counterpart. Consumer tablets are only expected to last a few years. After that, a new model hits the market and makes the older one obsolete.

Rugged tablet computers have a different life cycle. They are equipped with high-end components, so they can remain productive for longer periods of time. They are routinely updated and maintained for five years or more. This only increases their value as a work tool.

While a consumer tablet will work in a rugged case in the right application, there are many situations where a fully rugged tablet is required. They each belong to their own category of productivity tools, each with specific advantages and disadvantages. It's important to find out how rugged a device you need and make sure that what is claimed is accurate.

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