Best Tough Tablets for 2021-2022: The Nuffield Technologies Guide

Best Tough Tablets for 2021-2022: The Nuffield Technologies Guide

It’s easy to see the appeal of tough tablets. They offer far more screen space than a rugged mobile phone but are also more portable and adaptable in the field than a rugged laptop.

The Nuffield Technologies Best Tough Tablets for 2021-2022 guide reveals our top recommendations. We’ve tried to present a broad cross-section in terms of price and functionality, so wherever you’re coming from – education, logistics, construction, pharma, defence or public sector – there will be something for you.

As for the tough factor, if you’ve landed on this page you may be convinced of the benefits of rugged devices already. But a quick recap: they’re going to be durable in the field and survive knocks and drops, typically have longer lifespans and better power management than consumer devices (and often extraordinarily good maintenance plans), and an ecosystem of add-ons such as carry straps and barcode readers that further increase functionality.

All of the tablets on this page have excellent MIL-STD rugged credentials and an IP (Ingress Protection) rating of 65 or higher unless otherwise specified. You can find more about these international rugged standards here.

Without further ado, here’s the guide.

Panasonic Toughbook G2: the versatile tablet ideal for data-sensitive industries

Image source: Panasonic
  • Cost: ££££
  • OS: Windows 10 Pro, upgradeable to Windows 11
  • Weight: 1.19kg
  • Maintenance plan: 3 year warranty out of the box with options to extend to 5 years and for accidental damage
  • Notable feature: Optional keyboard for two-in-one functionality
  • Room for improvement? Trackpad on optional keyboard could be better

Our review:

For some industries, heightened security will be just as important as ruggedness – think the police, emergency services and defence. That’s where the Panasonic Toughbook G2 is a great choice. It features biometric user authentication, a Microsoft Windows Secured-Core PC and – the standout feature – a quick-release SSD so the hard drive can be safely stored away.

But it’s more than security performance that makes this one of the most hard-working tough tablets. There’s an optional keyboard, to provide instant laptop functionality; an optional hot-swap battery; impressive screen brightness; and plenty of hardware modules to tailor this device to your requirements, including options for a contact smart card reader, thermal camera, extended batteries and additional ports. The Panasonic Toughbook G2 runs on a 10th Gen Intel Core processor with Intel vPro technology and 16GB ram, with an option to outfit it to 32GB. One feature that owners of earlier versions will appreciate is backwards compatibility with the G1’s accessories, so you can keep using existing hardware and avoid unnecessary expense on new peripherals.

Samsung Galaxy Tab Active 3 (8-inch display): the well-built device with adaptable screen options – great for presentations

Image source: Consumer Reports
  • Cost: £
  • OS: Android 10
  • Weight: 429g
  • Maintenance plan: 24/7 Enterprise Technical Support available, including device replacement and on-site support in some cases
  • Notable feature: Samsung DeX
  • Room for improvement? Screen is fairly small

Our review:

The feature that most catches our eye about this reasonably priced tablet is Samsung DeX. This lets you simply connect two different screens, so your tablet instantly accommodates multiple document viewing – for instance, when accessing a spreadsheet on one screen and writing up a report on the other. You can use this DeX functionality to connect to a smart TV, to give impressive reports or presentations – a great feature for managers and sales teams. Or attach a keyboard and mouse and switch to ‘DeX mode’, and you can use your tablet just like a PC: open multiple windows, drag and drop, right-click etc. This really does unlock a whole new level of functionality for a tablet.

Tough tablets at this price won’t match the leaders in the market, but the Tab Active 3 is still a hard-working device. It’s sturdy, with an IP68 rating and MIL-STD 80H; it features replaceable batteries and you can even plug in and work without a battery; the screen performs well with gloves on; and the 13mp camera uses Google ARCore to track motion and sense surroundings, ideal for hands-on augmented reality training or technical support. The device runs on a Samsung Exynos 9810 processor paired with 4GB Ram and 64 GB internal storage. At just 429g, it’s surprisingly light, too.

Getac K120-EX: the ultimate military-grade tablet for extreme conditions – handles even explosive environments

Image source: Getac
  • Cost: £££££
  • OS: Windows 10 Pro
  • Weight: 1.76kg
  • Maintenance plan: Industry-leading three-year warranty
  • Notable feature: ATEX certified (functionality in explosive environments)
  • Room for improvement? Very costly device

Our review:

According to the marketing, the Getac K120-EX has ‘more power, more connectivity and more convenience’. All of that may be true, it is a mighty machine (and more on its specs in a moment) but the one feature that will stand out for many is its ATEX and IECEx Zone 2/22 certification. This helps to ensure safe functionality in potentially explosive environments (think flammable gases, mists, vapours or combustible dust) because it will not generate sparks and potentially trigger explosions. If you work in industrial manufacturing, oil and gas, or even logistics, this may be a very important feature for you.

On to the power and connectivity part: the latest generation Intel Core processor helps it undertake multiple tasks without overheating and the Intel Iris Xe graphics will let you see more impressive visuals with less battery drain. Its compatibility with 4G/LTE, and the new Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) standard makes for smooth mobile connectivity and more bandwidth. The device has solid security credentials, too, with multifactor hardware and software security options and a removable SSD.

Lenovo 10e Chromebook: the ultimate tough tablets for kids (and the workplace)

Image source: Tech Inn
  • Cost: £
  • OS: Chrome OS
  • Weight: Approx 0.5 kg
  • Maintenance plan: None available
  • Notable feature: Nice and light
  • Room for improvement? Low memory and storage

Our review:

Although the Lenovo 10e Chromebook is often marketed at schools, this tough tablet is a also a great choice for businesses. It has a robust profile and plenty of functionality – and comes at a competitive price. The MediaTek MT8183 processor will keep videos playing (and recording) and the FHD (full high definition) screen is sharp and bright enough for outdoor work. It's nice and light, and Dragontail Glass is scratch resistant with outstanding strength.

The Chrome OS is intuitive and will fit seamlessly into environments using Chrome / Google Workspace. Meanwhile, the ten-hour battery life will be more than enough for most shifts. On the rugged side, we can’t find an IP (ingress protection) rating, but almost all other reviews do attest to its durability and suitability for kids- and if it can withstand being handled by children, it should do well in a work environment. Security support is available until 2028.

On the downside, the speakers barely scrape a pass and the optional keyboard attachment lacks a trackpad, which means it can’t operate in true laptop mode. Still, weighing up the pros and cons, the Lenovo 10e Chromebook is a great tablet for work that won’t break the bank.

Zebra XSlate L10 Rugged Tablet: Our STAR BUY

Image source: Zebra

Cost: ££££

  • OS: Windows 10 Pro; or Android 10 upgradeable through Android 12
  • Weight: 1.3kg
  • Maintenance plan: OneCare maintenance plans offer guaranteed: next business day, three-day and five-day repair turnarounds
  • Notable feature: Fantastic brightness levels; great for outdoor use
  • Room for improvement? Speakers may struggle in very noisy environments

Our review:

This durable, rugged machine will handle just about anything you can throw at it. The Zebra XSlate L10 comes in a number of processor options and each is blazingly fast, handling multiple tasks with ease. It provides super-fast wireless connections via WiFi, Bluetooth, cellular, GPS and NFC. Meanwhile, the hot-swappable battery is going to go on and on for up to 27 hours if you choose the extended version. Also, it comes with either Windows or Android, which means there’s a good chance you’ll be choosing a tablet that instantly feels familiar.

These alone tick off some of the key wish list items for most tablet users, but it offers so much more. Firstly, there’s that famous Zebra ecosystem of accessories to raise functionality still further: the keyboard instantly turns it into a laptop and the barcode reader will increase its usefulness for warehouse and logistics operations.

The security support and maintenance plans will never leave you hanging – with a OneCare contract you get up to 10 years of security support and various options for quick repair turnaround. It’s not cheap but, still, from a return on investment point of view, you’re always going to be thinking this is great value for money.

Zebra ET56 Rugged Tablet (8-inch display): a light, consumer-style tablet with strong rugged credentials

Image source: Zebra
  • Cost: £££
  • OS: Windows 10 Pro; or Android 11 upgradeable through Android 14
  • Weight: 570g
  • Maintenance plan: OneCare maintenance plans offer guaranteed: next business day, three-day and five-day repair turnarounds
  • Notable feature: Sleek, consumer-style profile
  • Room for improvement? Some may find the screen a bit small

Our review:
There’s no other way of putting it: some of the hardest-working tough tablets are a bit on the bulky side. That is a description you’ll never give to the ET56. The 8in display version of this rugged tablet packs the punch and durability you’d expect from a Zebra machine and yet it has the slim, sleek and light profile of a consumer model.

Whether you choose the Windows or the Android version, it will almost certainly have the processing speed to handle what you’re going to throw at it. The Android version runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 octa-core 2.2 GHz; the Windows on Intel Atom E3940 quad-core 1.6 GHz (Turbo Frequency = 1.8 GHz).

It has plenty of connectivity options too, including powerful Wi-Fi and top of the line Bluetooth with a range of more than 100 metres.

As with the XSlate L10, the screen is readable in even strong daylight and this is a great model for adding a barcode reader from Zebra’s huge range of accessories and add-ons.

As with other Zebra models, a OneCare maintenance plan delivers up to 10 years of security support and exceptional support and repairs.

Our blog has lots more expert advice on rugged devices to help you find the right model for your business. Read about the best tough phones, the importance of calculating the total cost of ownership before buying a device, and the pros and cons of a bring your own device policy for your business.

Best Tough Phones for 2021-2022: The Nuffield Technologies Guide

Man in high-vis and hard hat using a tough phone

Tough phones – or ‘rugged’ phones to use the industry terminology – should cope with the knocks, drops and general abuse handed out in a business environment. But, just as there are many business environments and requirements, there are many tough phones out there to choose from.

Our Best Tough Phones for 2021-2022 guide gives you a snapshot of what we think are among the most impressive out there right now. We’ve tried to highlight some of the key features, so you can quickly focus on a phone that might be a perfect fit for your workforce. We’ve also tried to include a broad price range to cater for different budgets.

Before continuing, here’s a little housekeeping on what we mean by ‘tough’ or ‘rugged’.

● All of our featured devices comply to at least MIL-STD 810g, which proves they have survived multiple drops from four feet.

● Most devices, apart from where indicated, comply to at least an Ingress Protection rating IP68, which suggests they can withstand dust, dirt and sand, and are resistant to submersion up to a maximum depth of 1.5m underwater for up to 30 minutes.

You can find out more about rugged classifications here.

Meanwhile, all devices run on the Android OS. We think it’s the best choice for business and you can find out why here.

Finally, we’ve indicated if a phone includes optional maintenance contracts and, where possible, the amount of time it takes for the manufacturer to guarantee a fix. Without these contracts, you may need to take your chances with a local repair.

Here’s the list of Best Tough Phones 2021-2022.

Samsung XCover Pro: the affordable all-rounder that’s great for outdoor workers

Samsung XCover Pro front and back
Image source: Samsung
  • Cost: £
  • OS: Android 10, upgradable to Android 11
  • Security support: At least four years from 2020 launch
  • Maintenance plan: Not available
  • Notable feature: Large, attractive display
  • Room for improvement? Processor lacks punch and minimal storage

Our review:

Measure the Samsung XCover Pro against any rugged or tough phones checklist and it ticks so many boxes. It has wet touch and glove mode, and can even be used with standard gloves. It features two programmable buttons, which you can use to quickly start up an app. There’s push-to-talk for challenging comms environments (although this needs to be combined with other software, for example Microsoft teams, to make it work). There are even pogo pins, which means it will support docked charging – always a bonus in busy environments. Add the sleek design, easy-on-the-eye 6.3in display and the fact it takes card payments and there’s a huge amount going for this affordable rugged all-rounder.

When you get under the hood, we would quibble – at least a little. The 2.3GHz processor powered by the in-house Exynos 9611 chip isn’t going to rock many worlds in terms of speed. Just 4GB of RAM and 64GB of onboard storage feels a bit on the modest side too. Also, a tired battery can be changed, but you do need to pry off the back cover to install a new one. Finally, the screen does struggle a little bit in bright daylight. That said, it’s a solid rugged performer at a great price.

CAT S62 PRO Smartphone: the thermal camera phone with a super tough profile

Front and back of CAT s62 PRO tough smartphone
Image source: Cat
  • Cost: ££
  • OS: Android 10
  • Security support: Up to three years from 2020 launch
  • Maintenance plan: Not available
  • Notable feature: Detects elevated body temperatures
  • Room for improvement? No replaceable battery feature

Our review:

The standout feature on this phone is the impressive FLIR thermal imaging camera. This will detect heat sources up to 10 feet away, to help you locate heat, draft hotspots and heatloss, making it an asset in industries from law enforcement and leak detection to electrical inspection and housing surveys. It will even screen people for elevated temperatures, helping to fulfill a very urgent need, given the pandemic. One other thing you’ve got to love is the sheer ruggedness of this tough phone. Manufacturers say it will survive six feet drops onto concrete and it is IP68 and IP69 rated, giving it superior ingress protection. Add a decent screen-size and excellent screen visibility and you have a great phone for the construction industry, for example, although other industries will like it too.

The camera is so-so at best – at least compared to similarly priced phones – and one thing we don’t love is the battery set up. You can’t take off the back cover and replace a depleted battery for a new one, which, in the worst-case scenario, could see work and productivity grind to a halt.

If this isn’t likely to be an issue for you – i.e. charging points will be available nearby – all in all, it is a great phone.

Point Mobile PM45 Ultra Rugged Smartphone – the entry level tough phone with great push-to-talk functionality

Point Mobile PM45 Ultra Rugged Smartphone front and back
Image source: Point Mobile
  • Cost: £
  • OS: Android 8.1 and upgradeable to Android 9
  • Security support: Seven years from release date
  • Maintenance plan: UK-based repair plans available
  • Notable feature: Convenient hard keys for quick access to apps
  • Room for improvement? IP rating lower than other models, OS is out of date.

Our review:

This tough phone anticipates even the loudest, most challenging industrial environment – and does everything it can to keep you talking. The PM45 brings ease to the push-to-talk experience with a large tactile side button, a powerful speaker, an external push-to- talk remote speaker microphone so you can talk without holding your phone, and headset support. It also features three hard keys for the standard Android buttons, which is increasingly unusual but can be useful when wearing gloves. The phone is billed as pretty snappy too, with a 1.8GHz Octa-core processor.

Businesses will be grateful for features that keep their tough phones working hard, such as options for dockable charging and replaceable batteries. You can also choose an extended-life battery.

Naturally, at this price point you won’t see the performance of more costly, powerful phones and its IP67 Ingress Protection rating lags a little behind (although this will be a high enough rating for most users). But it is a great entry-level buy.

Sonim RS60 Mobile Computer and Smart Scanner – the barcode reader with plenty more to give

Sonim RS60 Mobile Computer and Smart Scanner
Image source: Sonim Technologies
  • Cost: £££
  • OS: Android 10
  • Security support: Five years of support from 2021 launch
  • Maintenance plan: Not available
  • Notable feature: A HUGE battery capacity
  • Room for improvement? On the heavy side

Our review:

There are times when a barcode-reading app using a standard camera just isn’t going to cut it. Enter the Sonim RS60. Its integrated barcode scanner features quick-scan capabilities that will rapidly capture large amounts of data (30 scans per second, including degraded barcodes). But it’s more than a scanner. This smartphone-style device has a large 6in display that is readable in sunlight, making it ideal for calls and all your comms needs. Nice enterprise touches include the glove-friendly mode, anti-fingerprint coating, support for docked charging and a whopper of a battery – it’s 8000mAh, the largest we’ve encountered. It can be swopped too.

Our quibbles with this device is that the camera isn’t great and it is pretty weighty – of course, the huge battery and barcode scanner will see to that. It’s also IP67 rated, not IP68 like many of the other featured devices. Having said that, it’s a great enterprise scanner / phone that’s going to suit many in warehouses, logistics and manufacturing.

Zebra TC57 Touch Computer – our STAR BUY rugged device

Zebra TC57 Touch Computer
Image source: Zebra Technologies
  • Cost: ££££
  • OS: Android 10, with upgrade support to at least Android 11
  • Security support: Up to 8 years support with OneCare contract
  • Maintenance plan: OneCare maintenance plans offer guaranteed next business day, three-day and five-day repair turnarounds
  • Notable feature: Eco-system of Zebra software, accessories and support
  • Room for improvement? Other devices are prettier

Our review:

If we tell you that the Zebra series of tough phones are the Rolls Royce / Ferrari (take your pick) of the tough phone market, you’ll realise we are sold on these models. And for good reason. The phones are one of the most rugged devices in their class and the only with a unibody design, which provides extra impact protection for sensitive electronics. They feature next-gen Wi-Fi 6, for extremely fast connectivity and low latency, and the fastest processor in the enterprise market at 2.45 GHz, paired with 4GB RAM/32GB UFS fast memory. The barcode reader features a SE4720 scan engine for faster, easier capture of even the most challenging barcodes. The crystal-clear 5in fully HD touch screen can be used with gloves or a stylus. There’s push-to-talk functionality and impressive 14 hours of battery life with hot swappable batteries. Also, this device features Zebra’s Mobility DNA, which enhances Android’s system for tighter security, easier centralised management and seamless app development. We could go on…

However, it’s the ecosystem around the devices that will ensure they stand the test of time. There is a full suite of cradles and car charging accessories, and also very targeted devices such as pistol grip snap for barcode reading which can significantly increase efficiency. These are all forwards compatible, extending your investment when you need to replace devices. You can also rest easy with excellent, long-term security support and a OneCare maintenance plan that swiftly repairs and returns devices.

What don’t we like so much? The smooth finish can make the device feel a little less secure in the hand than its premium range counterpart, the Zebra TC7X series, but if it’s functionality and ROI that matter most to you, there’s nothing to see here in terms of negatives.

Zebra TC26 Touch Computer – ‘The Best Budget Device on the Market’

Zebra TC26 Touch Computer
Image source: Zebra Technologies
  • Cost ££
  • OS: Android 10, with upgrade support to at least Android 11
  • Security support: Up to 10 years support with OneCare contract
  • Maintenance plan: OneCare maintenance plans offers guaranteed next business day, three-day and five-day repair turnarounds
  • Notable feature: Eco-system of Zebra software, accessories and support
  • Room for improvement? You’ll need an add-on for heavy scanning

Our review:

Imagine you want to make a move away from low-cost, low-performing devices (and you definitely should) to a model that will be a gear change in terms of optimising efficiency. However, you can’t significantly increase your budget. Probably the smartest choice you could make is the Zebra TC26 Touch Computer. It offers more options than any device in its class in terms of battery, connectivity, RAM and scanning accessories, so you can almost certainly find something for your business and your budget. It has a great 5in HD screen you can use with gloves on, superior voice quality and functionality, and comes ready to use Push-to-Talk Express. You can scan with the hi-res 13MP rear camera or, for heavier scanning, add one of a range of scanners suitable for your needs. The battery is removable and there are 10 hour and 14 hour options.

The Zebra TC26 is a significant improvement on the previous generation model, the TC25, and is a seriously impressive device at this price point.

As with the TC57, the ecosystem around this device is exceptional. There are masses of accessories to boost productivity (check out the RS5100 Bluetooth ring scanner for a complete hands-free solution), single and multi-slot chargers, wearable carrying solutions and much more. Mobility DNA tools will enhance security and manageability, and Zebra’s exceptional OneCare plan will ensure your devices are repaired promptly and your people keep working.

Want to delve further into the tough phone market? Download our white paper ‘Consumer Vs Enterprise: Why choosing consumer devices for your business might cost you more than you think.’ It will lead you step by step through the rugged phone market, helping you decide which features should be crucial in your decision-making when choosing a device.

9 Reasons Why Your Business Mobile Devices Are Failing (And What You Can Do About It)

9 Reasons Why Your Business Mobile Devices Are Failing (And What You Can Do About It)

One of the biggest mistakes made by businesses buying technology is choosing consumer mobile devices instead of rugged ones.

That’s a pretty bold statement, but the facts bear it out. The failure rate of consumer devices is 2.9 times higher than enterprise phones [1]. In other words, organisations are using business mobile devices that are not up to the task. They are paying for this mistake in lost productivity due to device failure, and in the need to regularly replace defective handsets; anecdotal evidence suggests that workers frequently break as many as five phones in three years.

But why are these consumer mobile devices failing? We look at nine ways they fall short for businesses. We’d encourage you to think about which of these failures might apply now or in the future for your organisation. And then consider carefully before purchasing cheaper consumer phones over rugged models ­–­ because, as you’ll see, they will cost you far more in the long run.

Why consumer devices fail:

1) They can’t take the shocks and drops

Rugged phones are designed to conform to MIL-STD, a rugged classification system for shocks and drops designed by the US military. During testing, they will be dropped from four feet up to 27 times, including on the edges and corners. They survive because their casings and, crucially, internal components are designed to withstand this harsh treatment. Consumer phones will not meet as high a standard. When they fall, they will often break. Even if you pair them with a rugged case.

2) They can’t take the heat (or cold)

You may not have heard of ‘thermal throttling’, but any of your people working in hot environments using non-rugged business mobile devices will know its effects. In this scenario, your phone’s CPU gets hot and automatically slows down to reduce the heat. Your employees, meanwhile, get less work done. Conversely, extreme cold can cause your touch screen to become unresponsive and the battery drain more quickly. Your phone might even shut down unexpectedly. Not so good for employees working in refrigeration, or extremely cold weather. Rugged models, meanwhile, commonly withstand ranges from -20 °C to 50 °C (-4 °F to 122 °F ).

3) They let in liquids and small particles

Everyone has their story about dropping their phone into water, or perhaps getting it covered in sand. It rarely has a happy ending. That’s because consumer phones are unlikely to have the high IP (ingress protection) rating of rugged phones, which can see them withstand water jets, total immersion and tiny particles. Find out more about all of these first three points in our post What Makes a Rugged Mobile ‘Rugged’.

Wet business mobile device
Getting it wet can often mean the end of life for consumer phones.

4) They run out of battery too quickly

A modern phone’s battery functions for two to three years before it starts dropping charge by around 20 per cent. This drop increases the chance your workers will be left high and dry with powered-down phones. These days, it’s impossible to change the battery on many consumer phones, meaning the only option is to replace the device. If you’re a rugged phone user, however, you can switch the battery and work uninterrupted. Many rugged device users can also ‘hot swap’ batteries – replace a depleted battery with a charged one without powering down the device.

5) They are supported for only a limited time

Most consumer devices have a limited warranty and support for only a few years, and accidental damage is unlikely to be covered. After this relatively short period, your business mobile devices will be left high and dry in terms of support and repairs. In this scenario, businesses are essentially living on a knife-edge hoping nothing goes wrong, because there will be no one there to fix devices.

Rugged devices are designed so repairs, parts and peripherals are available for as long as 10 years [1]. Also, the support provided by rugged manufacturers can be incredibly comprehensive. For instance, Zebra’s OneCare range of plans will fix whatever issues you are having with devices and software rapidly, so you won’t need to endure costly shutdowns while waiting for a solution.

6) They are not necessarily secure

The limited support mentioned above also relates to security updates. Consumer Watchdog estimates that 20 per cent of Android devices no longer receive vital security updates from Google, leaving them open to malware and other security breaches [1]. On average, these breaches cost £11,000 per incident for small businesses [1]. Of course, you could replace all devices every two to three years, which would significantly increase the total cost of ownership. Or you could invest in a rugged device, where support and security updates are available for up to 10 years.

Chart showing rugged business mobile devices are secure for longer
Many rugged device manufacturers offer support and security updates for up to 10 years so your devices stay in service for as long as possible.

7) They may struggle to support accessories

Take one consumer device and add barcode and RFID scanning hardware, mobile printing accessories and vehicle-mounting devices and you have an increasingly versatile piece of technology. You’re also going to pay a lot for these add-ons which, in many cases, may already be integrated or included with a rugged device at the time of purchase.

Even when you do need to buy accessories for a rugged device, they are likely to be a far better investment than when buying similar add ons for consumer models. This is because – unlike most consumer devices – rugged devices are designed for backwards compatibility. When you upgrade your devices, all of the accessories will not suddenly become defunct – you’ll be able to continue using them. This makes far better business sense and reduces the total cost of ownership when compared to consumer devices.

8) Their features may not be fit for purpose

The name of the game with any device for business has to be productivity. But what if your consumer device appears to have the functionality of a rugged counterpart, but in truth isn’t performing to anywhere near the same degree? A classic example is the barcode scanner. Yes, consumer device cameras can often be used as barcode scanners, and that might be a solution for you. But a consumer camera will never pick up codes as quickly or efficiently as purpose-built tech. In fact, rugged devices with built in barcode scanners are a different beast altogether. The expanded working range and wide field of view allows workers to scan barcodes nearer and farther away, while omnidirectional scanning delivers true point-and-shoot performance – there is no need to align the device with the barcode.

9) They fail to charge properly

One of the biggest points of failure for consumer devices is the charging mechanism: fragile pins are inserted in and out of chargers repeatedly, get damaged and work intermittently or fail. This can be disastrous for businesses, resulting in more downtime and more failing devices. Rugged devices use industrial charging solutions that remove the need for cables and fragile pins. They are backward and forward compatible, too, which helps prolong the life of a device.

Zebra Technologies TC72 can be charged by sliding the device off a robust charging mount, causing far less wear and tear than inserting cables.

Conclusion

We hope you’re convinced that consumer models are often a fragile and precarious option for your business mobile devices, compared to rugged counterparts. The data says it all: a rugged device chosen to match the requirements of your business is likely to last three times longer than a consumer device [1].

So why do people persist with consumer devices?

Undoubtedly, it is down to cost. Initial outlay for consumer devices is less than for rugged counterparts. However, research by tech market intelligence company VDC shows that when you take into account the full cost of ownership ­– initial outlay, deployment, training, support and productivity loss caused by downtime ­– rugged devices have a 52.7% lower total cost of ownership than consumer devices over five years [1].

Our view? When you consider our nine ways consumer devices commonly fail and take into account the true cost of ownership, making the right choice is easy.

It’s rugged every time.

Take a more detailed look at the consumer versus enterprise phone debate, and make an informed choice for your business, by reading our white paper.

[1] Data and sources available at Nuffield Technologies White Paper Consumer vs Enterprise.

What Makes a Rugged Mobile ‘Rugged’?

Mountain range rugged landscape

‘Durable’ and ‘robust’ are words commonly used in marketing and the media to describe mobile devices. However, anyone procuring technology for a business will be right to look for something more precise.

So, what exactly is a rugged device and how can you tell when you have one in your hands?

Fortunately, there are ways to pin down that definition and make an educated choice for your business. In this short guide, we’ll look at what makes a device rugged. We’ll also examine MIL-STD 810G* and IP ratings, as well as details around performance at different temperatures, to help you ensure you’re getting something that will stand up to the stresses and strains of your workplace for years to come – and adds up to a great return on your investment.

Zebra L10 range of rugged Android tablets
Zebra L10 range of rugged Android tablets

Rugged: A Definition

In its simplest terms, a rugged device will work in challenging environments without failure. This is because good-quality rugged devices are toughened, with a stronger screen, thicker case and tighter seals, to protect against water, shock, vibration, dust and other potentially harmful factors.

However, they are not simply standard devices wrapped in a hard outer shell. Rather, a quality rugged device is designed for robustness from the inside out. Here’s one example of this inside out approach: many rugged devices have solid state hard drives (SSD) rather than hard disk drives (HDD), because SSDs have no moving parts and a high degree of shock resistance.

Some websites refer to three classes of rugged phones: ‘semi rugged’, ‘fully rugged’ and ‘ultra rugged’. In our view, identifying between these vague definitions quickly gets confusing. A far more precise approach is to take a close look at the factors mentioned in the introduction that truly measure a phone’s ruggedness: MIL-STD 810G certification, IP ratings, and performance across different temperature ranges. Once you understand these, you’ll be in a good place to assess the true ruggedness of a phone.

What is an IP Rating?

Ingress Protection (IP) ratings have been developed by the European Committee for Electro Technical Standardization to describe the environmental protection offered by a device’s enclosure.

There are two things we need to keep out of our devices – solids and liquids. IP ratings describe a device’s resistance to each of these.

  • Protection Against Solids is rated from 0 to 6, with zero offering no protection and six offering total protection against dust.
  • Protection Against Liquids is rated from 0-8, with zero offering no protection and eight protecting against long periods of immersion under pressure.
Guide to IP rating numbers

The actual IP rating you’ll see on a phone packaging or marketing materials is made up of two numbers, the first of which addresses solids and the second liquids. For instance, IP67 would offer a solid protection of 6 and a liquid protection of 7.

To put this into context, according to VDC Research a device should be rated at a minimum of IP54 to be considered fully rugged. However, rugged expert Zebra recommends a rating of at least IP65 to ensure the longest life for your rugged tech and a suitable return on investment. This provides a sufficient level of ruggedness against dust and protects against water from any direction, so will protect against spills. However, it will not protect against immersion in water, so if this is important seek a higher rating.

What is MIL-STD 810g?

What would happen to your device’s functionality if it were dropped again and again from height? The correct answer should be very little at all, providing it has passed the MIL-STD 810G drop test. This is a rating designed by the US Department of Defense and is used to ensure technical equipment can withstand being dropped from four feet, onto two inches of plywood over concrete, at various angles.

There are a wide range of MIL-STD 810G tests, ranging from the ‘drop’ or ‘shock’ test outlined above (these terms refer to the same test) to various others measuring the effects of humidity, rain, vibration, immersion and more. When reading a MIL-STD 810G rating, ensure you know which test or tests it refers to and don’t assume it has passed them all.

Also, in the case of all tests, the devil really is in the detail. For instance, while the MIL-STD 810G drop test involves a drop onto plywood (the most common ground material in military installations) over concrete, the industry standard for phones is a drop straight onto concrete. Look out for this in detailed specs of any product you intend to buy. If it says ‘hard surface’ and not specifically concrete it almost certainly isn’t concrete, and the phone in question may not be tough enough for you.

Bear in mind also that by far the most common MIL-STD 810G test in relation to rugged technology is the shock / drop test; the industry typically uses the IP classification for ratings concerned with ingress.

Zebra E10 tablet being dropped onto concrete
Zebra E10 tablet being dropped onto concrete floor

What do you need to know about temperature?

Will a device remain functional in extreme heat or cold? While this information may not be given with reference to a particular industry standard or accreditation, any worthwhile rugged device will explicitly state the temperatures at which it will remain fully operational. A typical rugged device may include a range from -10° C to +50° C (14° F to 122° F). However, if your employees are working in cold storage environments, you’ll want your devices to operate as low as -30°C (-22°F). For a device to operate at this temperature, an internal heater is usually required.

Putting it all together

As a minimum, we recommend that your rugged phone has an Ingress Protection rating of at least IP 65 and has passed the MIL-STD 810G drop test, with a specific mention of a four-foot fall to concrete. Of course, this is a minimum requirement and you must think carefully about your needs in terms of ruggedness, particularly with reference to water ingress.

However, a word of caution. While IP ratings are achieved via independent certification, MIL STD 810G can be verified ‘in house’. This clearly isn’t ideal from a consumer point of view, so what can you do?

We recommend you ask two questions to any company selling rugged computers:

1) What tests do you or the manufacturer regularly undertake to ensure your technology is sufficiently rugged?

2) Is your warranty based on the product's IP rating and MIL STD 810G rating? For instance, if you drop the device from up to four feet onto concrete within the warranty period, is it covered? (If the answer is yes then the company is ‘putting its money where its mouth it’; if no, you might want to question why.)

You’ll also want to check reputable reviews of the company and of its products.

Nuffield Technologies helps businesses across many sectors source high-performing rugged technology that confirms to stringent tests according to both the Ingress Protection and MIL STD 810g standards. We can share detailed specifications of all of our devices’ rugged features and rugged tests with full transparency, to help ensure you are procuring fit-for-purpose technology for your business.

* Note: MIL STD 810G was superseded by MIL STD 810H in January 2019. However, with the majority of devices still testing to MIL STD 810G, we have used this standard to illustrate our post. As MIL STD 810H becomes more widely adopted, we will update this post to reflect the new standard.

How Rugged Mobile Computers Will Transform Businesses in the Next 5 Years

Connected dots symbolising the connected future for rugged mobile computers

In the years ahead, rugged mobile computers will play a key role in helping to solve several perennial business challenges.

Solutions range from stemming the tide of counterfeit and pirated goods (projected to cost 5.4 million jobs by 2022) to significantly reducing the amount of food spoiled in the supply chain.

We look at five of the most notable developments on the horizon and reveal the benefits they are likely to bring to businesses, and their employees and customers.

1) Barcode scanners will help to secure supply chain integrity

From goods incorrectly labelled organic to unethically sourced blood diamonds, unscrupulous (and sometimes oblivious) traders are flooding the market with produce that is not quite what it seems.

In the months and years ahead, issues of supply chain authenticity and provenance will be tackled with rugged mobile computers’ barcode scanners. With a little help from blockchain technology, sensors, and IOT (Internet of Things)…

Here’s how it works.

Currently, barcodes and/or radio-frequency identification (RFID) are used in more sophisticated supply chains to track items. However, they rely on centralised certificate authorities and databases. These are insecure, because they have a single point of failure, making them open to insider fraud or cyber attacks.

Decentralised blockchain systems track a product back to its origin, and through every step of the supply chain. At each point, an RFID or NFC chip is scanned and a smart contract generated. Information is checked by multiple ‘trust nodes’ in the supply chain and written to the blockchain ledger. It is also cryptographically signed and encrypted, to make fraud and hacking almost impossible. This secure, transparent process makes it quickly possible to validate a product’s authenticity.

Traceability can be taken even further with the detailed information now available on a product’s provenance and history of movement through a supply chain. Location history is available via GPS coordinates, custody history from IDs, and environmental conditions during storage from temperature and accelerator data (the latter for damage assessment). This information is usually provided by IoT devices – a network of smart devices that collect and exchange data through an existing network infrastructure – and is stored, securely, on the blockchain.

Watch this space: your business’s rugged scanners are likely to play an important part in a revolution guaranteeing product provenance and authenticity.

2) Press to talk (PTT) rugged devices will make communicating quicker and easier

Press to talk (PTT) is a two-way radio technology that traditionally uses a land mobile radio (LMR) network. It’s often deployed by the emergency services and logistics organisations to provide the quick, one-push access to a colleague so often necessary in fast-moving operations.

PTT has been around in one form or another since the 1930s – and it shows. Compare the functionality of a conventional PTT device (basically a walkie-talkie) to a rugged mobile computer with its access to voice calls, emails, maps, cameras etc and it does seem like a somewhat antiquated, one-trick pony. However, PTT has retained its hold on the market because smartphones simply can’t compete with the one-push mechanism: launching a dialer app and then punching in a number is time-consuming by comparison. It also allows ‘one to many’ (group) communications, which a standard call doesn’t.

Zebra Technologies PTT Express app enables communications between compatible devices over your existing Wi-Fi network

This is why the launch of PTT rugged devices is a game-changer. This cost-effective tech offers PTT functionality over mobile networks, which have improved massively in terms of reach and reliability. Devices include programmable PTT buttons for instant voice communication ­even when the user is wearing gloves. Crucially, they also include the features of standard rugged phones, so users can send and receive data and enjoy all the functionality they offer.

Businesses can choose to invest in PTT mobile devices; or they can integrate apps such as Zebra’s PTT Express with compatible models, which is a cost-effective way of introducing the technology to a business.

3) Augmented reality will increase the ‘first-time fix’ rate for field workers

First-time fix rate – the proportion of issues solved on the first visit by an engineer – can have a huge effect on customer satisfaction, profitability and worker productivity. The good news for businesses is that augmented reality, in which computer-generated information is overlaid onto real-world environments, is likely to boost that fix rate considerably.

Here’s a scenario to illustrate its potential. A technician visits a customer to undertake a complex repair. Using a rugged mobile computer with an AR headset, they activate a service manual. This overlays 3D animations onto real-life components, providing instructions on assembly, disassembly or repair. These graphical displays over the real physical environment are clearer and easier to follow than a print or digital manual. In other words, it becomes easier to deliver that first-time fix.

AR technology can also be used to remotely assist customers and train technicians. It could even give accurate information about parts – such as serial numbers, the model, performance, expiry dates – by simply looking at them.

Augmented reality software allows field workers to overlay 3D animations onto machinery

A caveat. While many newer devices will already have AR software integrated into the OS, building AR solutions is currently expensive. This means rollout is limited to date. However, interest is building and we can expect to see AR become more widespread in the years ahead.

4) The Internet of Things will cut logistics supply waste

It is estimated that a staggering one third to one half of all food produced is wasted. However, recent advances in technology are likely to play a significant role in reducing this.

The Internet of Things is key here. To elaborate on our definition of IoT in point 1, these devices collect and exchange information through an existing network infrastructure, with each device being uniquely identifiable.

For food, IoT can play a part at the very beginning of the supply chain in the field. Smart sensors can help to monitor and protect crops, providing information that lead to better decisions around maximising yield. Next, in processing and distribution, smart sensors can monitor temperature every 30 seconds (for instance in warehouses or lorries) and even detect freshness using sensors that monitor for the presence of ethylene gas, which indicates spoilage. Product can then be redirected to the closest available location if necessary. The same temperature and spoilage tech can be used in-store to generate accurate ‘consume by’ dates.

Which leads us to rugged technology. Apps for rugged mobile computers offer immediate access to the sensor data, so product can be monitored and tracked. For instance, a user can receive alerts in case of a temperature problem. They can also receive detailed information for analysis, to ensure they are complying with food regulations.

Of course, we are just using food here as an example. Others perishables such as flowers and pharmaceuticals could benefit massively from this game-changing tech.

Expect more data, more analytics to track your goods, and more successfully shipped products.

5) Rugged devices will help businesses boost their sustainability credentials

Many companies put their sustainable and environmental credentials front and centre. And for good reason. According to one report, 64 per cent of millennials consider a company’s social and environmental commitments when deciding where to work.

Sustainability is key to attracting both employees and customers

We can vouch for this: conversations with Nuffield Technologies’ clients are increasingly steering towards the sustainability of the products and services we offer.

The good news is that rugged mobiles are leading the way in sustainability. While the recent launch of a ‘sustainable’ phone was praised for its forward-thinking, rugged devices have been offering the same kinds of features for many years. Rugged tech is sturdy, well supported for repair and batteries are also replaceable, helping to extend the life of the product (typically 10 years as opposed to two to three years for consumer models). Also, unlike many consumer models, new devices are commonly backwards compatible with chargers, cradles and other accessories, extending the life of peripheral products.

For these reasons, we strongly believe there will be a further shift to rugged mobile computers, and companies who may employ hundreds or even thousands of workers in logistics will rightly shout about these sustainable gains.

Nuffield Technologies offers a full solution – from consultancy to procurement and software development – for businesses looking to boost their performance with rugged technology.

We also keep our customers up to date with all the changes in the rugged tech world. Read our definitive guide to migrating your rugged technology from Windows CE to a new OS – a change all businesses using rugged tech need to address. Download this white paper here.