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.