3/27/17 Updates: Three new rugged tablets have been added to this list.
I like my Nokia smartphone. It’s light, it works well, and people mistake for an infinitely more expensive iPhone from afar. On the other hand, it’s weak. If you dropped it from five to ten feet onto concrete, you’d be buying a new one. God forbid it gets wet or dusty. If you’re sending your techs out into the field with cheap smartphones or Amazon tablets, you’re going to be in for some bad news the first time someone feels clumsy.
Luckily, there are a whole host of tablets designed to be abused. These things can take a range of lickings and keep on ticking. While you might never need a tablet that can survive a week in the jungle, it’s nice to know you’d have the option.
IP rating (Ingress protection)
The “IP rating” I’ll refer to below means “ingress protection rating.” IP rating measures whether dust and water can “ingress” (get into) the device. In other words, whether stuff can get into your tablet, and possibly break it.
The higher the numbers, the more secure the tablet is. Check out this handy guide below to learn what each IP rating number means:
Here’s a breakdown of seven of the best rugged tablets for your field service techs, organized alphabetically:
The Archos 101 Saphir may be no frills, but it’s also one of the cheapest options on this list. The 101 Saphir was announced in early 2017, and Archos plans to release it this summer. Archos says the tablet will retail for 150 Euros, which comes to about $160. Its major distinguishing feature? It’ll come with a keyboard, so if you’re looking to use your tablet as a laptop, this might be the one.
The 101 gets an IP54 rating, which means it’s “dust protected” (as opposed to “dust tight”), and it’s good if a little water splashes on it. Dropping the 101 in water, however, would mean problems.
Archos says the 101 can survive a fall of up to three feet. The 101 runs on Android, so if you have an Android phone, you’d get the same experience. It has the smallest amount of RAM on the list (only 1 GB), and its rear camera is only 5 megapixels. That said, you can’t beat the price.
At the basic level, Samsung has released a toughened version of its popular Android tablet. With an MSRP of $699, the Tab Active is relatively cheap. It carries an IP 67 rating, which means that it’s dust tight and can spend 30 minutes in water. It’s likely to cover all the day-to-day sorts of interactions your field techs will come in contact with.
Samsung has added data security features as well, to keep lost tablets from turning into major liabilities. The Tab Active includes a 3.1 MP camera so you can take pictures of worksites or documents while in the field. At under a pound, the Active Tab is one of the lightest rugged tablets we’ll see.
On the downside, the Tab has less fall protection than some other options, with Samsung only claiming it has an ability to survive a five-foot onto wood flooring. The Tab doesn’t have a cell option, either, so while you can collect data in the field, you can’t send it back to the office without Wi-Fi. Those can be serious limitations for businesses, but for the price, the Tab Active might still be a good bet.
The Toughpad FZ-X1 claims to be “the world’s most rugged 5-inch Andoid tablet with 4G data and voice services.” Its IP 65 and IP 68 durability rating is more encompassing than the Tab Active and it can survive a ten foot fall onto concrete. The FZ-X1 runs on Android, while the similar FZ-E1 is a Windows machine.
The FZ-X1 also has awesome battery life, an 8 MP camera, can be used as a phone, and you can even order a version with a barcode scanner. It’s got all the bells and whistles. Not surprising for a phablet – it’s a little small to call it a full on tablet – that costs a cool $1,799.
With all that protection, the FZ-X1 ends up being a weighty and chunky device. It only has a five inch tall screen, but it weighs in at 0.96 pounds and it’s 1.2 inches thick. If you absolutely positively need your field devices to take a beating, it would be hard to find a stronger device than the FZ-X1.
The Motion F5m isn’t as rugged as either the Tab or the Toughpad. With an IP54 rating, it can withstand dust and getting water on it, but if you drop it in the pool you’re going to be out of luck. It can survive a five-foot fall, though, so this tablet is still no push over.
The F5m also has an 8 MP camera and comes with RFID capability, making it a good fit for logistics or warehousing companies.
At $1,999, this is not a cheap piece of technology. Motion wasn’t out to make a standalone tablet, though. The F5m is really designed to be used as a part of an ecosystem of Motion products. CEO Peter Poulin said, “We design and manufacture purpose-built mobility solutions for which the tablet is just one component.”
For businesses looking for a larger solution to their technology needs, the pull to an integrated system of products might justify the high price tag on the F5m.
The Getac F110 is a heavy bruiser. It rolls in at three pounds, putting it at the top of the weight scale. But that weight is all directed at keeping the tablet safe in rough and tumble environments. Its IP65 certification means it’s not susceptible to dust and can sustain some water exposure.
In addition, the F110 comes with a MIL-STD 810G rating, which means is can survive lots of vibration, impacts, and things like salt fog, which can affect lesser devices. The F110 runs Windows and has a 5 MP camera to give you all the recording capability you’ll need.
At even more than the F5m, the F110 is a $2,300 investment – with an even higher MSRP of $2,899. If you want a larger screen then the Toughpad but you like the ruggedness of that device, the F110 might be a solid solution. It also comes with some communications features that make it a good pick for vehicle intensive industries.
The HP ElitePad 1000 Rugged has an IP rating of 65, so dust can’t get in. Neither can water from a faucet, not to mention rain, or incidental splashing. It runs on Windows 8.1, and costs around $2,000.
Another plus? If you drop this one while you’re climbing out of the truck, it might be fine. HP says the ElitePad 1000 is good for “a 6-ft. drop onto linoleum-covered concrete” (though HP’s website adds that “drop damage is only covered with an optional Accidental Damage Protection HP Care Pack.”). The 1000 has 4 GB of Ram, and 128 GB storage. It also has an 8 MP camera on the back, so you’re covered if you need to take photos.
The Flex 10A is a pared-down option, but it’s hard to beat the $595 price tag. With a 5 MP camera, your pics won’t be as clear as HP’s ElitePad or Panasonic’s Toughpad, but you’ll also be saving a lot of money. If you’re interested in what 5 megapixel photos look like, these images from ruggedpc.com should give you an idea.
The Flex 10A can also survive a four-foot fall onto concrete, so accidental slip-ups shouldn’t be a problem. One downside, however, is that the Flex 10A isn’t waterproof. Thus, outdoors work might not be a good fit, but facilities managers or factory floor workers might find it useful.
As for the Flex 10A’s durability, this video says it all:
Making the most from your tablet
Regardless of what tablet or rugged phone you land on, you’ll need to load it up with the right software. Check out Capterra’s directory of field service management software if you’re thinking about making a purchase.
Have you used any of these rugged tablets? Are there tablets out there that I missed? Let me know about them in the comments below!
Looking for Field Service Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Field Service Management software solutions.