Xplore tablet can take a beating

If you're looking for a tablet PC that can roll with the punches — and the drops, splashes and bumps that come with harsh environments — you'll want a machine with some form of "rugged" in its description.

You'll see tablets and notebooks labeled semirugged, ruggedized and rugged. Semirugged is the lowest level and means the computer is a little tougher than standard systems, perhaps featuring a magnesium-alloy case and shock-mounted hard drive so it can withstand a few extra bumps.

Ruggedized and rugged are often used interchangeably, although technically rugged or fully rugged is the highest level. Both terms mean the computer has met certain standards for withstanding drops, shocks, vibrations, moisture, dust, temperature extremes and more. Such machines usually sport features such as rubber bumpers, protected internal components, and sealed ports and displays. Federal buyers should look for systems that meet Military Standard 810F (MIL-STD 810F) for harsh environments, which in 2000 replaced an earlier standard called MIL-STD 810E.

We recently tested an excellent example of a rugged computer, the iX104-TPC tablet PC from Xplore Technologies Corp.

You can tell at first glance this is one tough tablet. Thick rubber bumpers protect all four corners and the ports are sealed with sturdy rubber covers. The tablet's function keys, including a handy joystick navigator button, are also sealed with rubber.

The docking connector on the left side of the unit is completely sealed and consists of rows of flat metal circles. Xplore makes both a traditional office desktop dock and a vehicle-based dock.

Two connectors appear on the top and right side of the unit. These are called XPL expansion ports and they are USB 1.1 compliant. In the future, customers will be able to use a special device called an XPL snap-on expansion module to connect devices such as cameras, radios and fingerprint scanners to the tablet. Xplore is currently working with third-party vendors to develop these modules in addition to modules for Bluetooth and differential global positioning system (DGPS).

We applaud the designers for attaching the digitizer pen to the tablet with a plastic-coated wire cable. When the pen rests in its holder on the bottom of the unit the cable wraps around grooves on the rubber bumpers to keep it tucked out of the way.

The iX104-TPC meets MIL-STD 810F standards for temperature cycling, humidity, drop, moisture (according to Xplore, the unit can withstand submersion in 30 centimeters of water for 30 minutes), blowing dust, vibration, altitude, solar radiation and salt fog.

But that's not all. At the request of customers in the oil, gas and manufacturing markets, the tablet carries an Underwriter Laboratories UL1604 certification to operate in hazardous environments.

An internal and external magnesium framing system protects the housing, and the inside is vacuum sealed to protect internal components, which are then further protected by a special sealant to guard against moisture, humidity and condensation. The tablet also offers high/low voltage protection up to 20kv.

An ultra low voltage Intel Corp. 866MHz Pentium III-M processor powers the iX104-TPC. It contains a 40G hard drive, 512M of memory and a 133MHz system bus. Ports include one USB 2.0, FireWire, 10/100 Ethernet, VGA and audio in/out jacks. The ports are isolated and sealed from the core electronics to protect the system's integrity.

Our unit came with a digitized screen and pen, but a touchscreen version is also available. The 10.4-inch TFT XGA display runs at 1024x768 resolution and automatically brightens or dims depending on external lighting conditions, thanks to a built-in light sensor.

The system does not have a set amount of graphics memory. Instead, Dynamic Video Memory Technology (DVMT) allocates memory to the graphics engine according to an application's requirements. The unused memory can then be applied elsewhere in the system to speed up performance. The maximum video memory available is 48M.

We liked the instant off feature that allows users to instantly turn off the backlight by pressing the power button. This could come in handy for lights-out security situations.

The standard 4500 milliampere-hour (mAH) lithium phosphate battery pack is rated for up to three hours of battery life. Our unit came with an optional 9000 mAh battery, which adds almost half a pound in weight and is rated for up to six hours of life.

A rechargeable bridge battery is located under the hard drive and allows for battery hot-swapping in the field. The bridge battery charges from the battery pack or A/C power supply.

The tablet contains internal wireless radio bays that can accommodate 802.11b and wireless local-area network (CDMA2000 RTT and GPRS/GSM) communications simultaneously. The internal antennas allow the unit to meet the MIL-STD specifications for a four-foot drop onto concrete with the radios installed. In addition, a range of external radio options is available via the vehicle docking system.

Even with all the ruggedization, the tablet weighs only 4.45 pounds with the standard battery installed. It measures 11.2" x 8.25" x 1.6".

Agencies with workforces in the field, especially those working in harsh or hazardous conditions, should consider the iX104-TPC.


iX104-TPC Tablet PC

Xplore Technologies Corp.
(888) 449-7567

Price and availability: Available for approximately $3,550 on the GSA schedule.

Remarks: This tablet is as rugged as they come, with certifications to operate in extremely harsh conditions and hazardous environments.


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