Technology On The Job: Rugged Tablets


Words: Steve Hansen
Photo: Getac, MobileDemand, Panasonic, Samsung

Modern tools for mason contractors go way beyond a mixer and trowels. Computer systems are foremost among the must-have tools, and with good reason. The entrance of the tablet computer a decade or so ago was a game-changer that enabled contractors and other professionals to be on-site with access to the internet and all their digital designs and records, increasing efficiency and productivity. 

Tablets and mobile internet access, either from WiFi or cellular, have transformed many contracting business offices into mobile offices. As a result, you can do nearly anything from your truck or field office that you ever did at your main office.

Working on construction sites can present some challenges when using electronics. Dust, dirt, water, and forceful impact can result in sketchy operation, not to mention broken screens that may still work but are irritating to use daily. A construction site demands far greater durability and predictable performance from a tablet than what is needed for home use, and fortunately, you have several excellent choices.

Here we'll take a look at tablets designed for contractors in the field. These tablets all take a fairly standard approach, similar to a consumer-grade tablet, but with a beefed-up, weather and impact-resistant housing and components designed to endure work outdoors. 

You can enhance productivity further with options like a keyboard, trackpad, and stylus, and the built-in camera can be handy to keep track of daily progress, share photos, and so on. WiFi can be built-in, and cellular connectivity is an option as well. Some contractors may not need cellular connectivity in their tablet, but trying to pick up a WiFi signal or tether from your phone can be an unwanted task and unreliable, so a cellular connection makes sense. 

Some specific standards apply to these tablets, too, such as ingress protection known as IP. This standard involves testing the device and rating its performance on two scales: dust protection and water resistance. This group of tablets rates at IP 65 and up, meaning they have maximum dust resistance and excellent water resistance. 

That doesn't mean you can immerse them for a while and expect no harm, but they can be used in light rain and handle random spills and other normal wear and tear. That's the point: they'll quickly take what's normal for jobsite use, far beyond what a consumer tablet could endure.

All of these tablets will have a plethora of accessories and doodads, such as docking stations and screen protectors. They're not for everyone, but you have some choices to fine-tune the functionality for yourself.

Samsung Galaxy Tab Active Pro 10.1" 64GB 

Samsung is one of the top electronics manufacturers, and their expertise shines through in this tablet. You'll have to put your hands on a couple of options to see what you prefer, but the 10.1" screen is good-sized, so you can see much more than you can with your phone, but it's not too cumbersome like a laptop would be. This size makes it convenient to go over plans and view photos right where you're working. 

With an IP68 rating, this Galaxy Tab uses the Android OS and includes the S Pen so notes can be written rather than typed. The pen also works for sketching and communicating ideas in real-time. You can also connect a keyboard when and if you choose. The touch screen is said to be designed for use with gloved hands to make it easier to use without removing gloves when using the tablet. 

There are 4GB of RAM and 64 GG for the drive, expandable to 512 GB. Battery life is as essential as the tablet is rugged — it's crucial. According to Samsung, this tablet can deliver with up to 15 hours of battery life. It has WiFi, and cellular connectivity is an option as well. 

The Vanquisher SV-86 takes a slightly different approach, offering an 8-inch screen and a single fixed battery. It is the smaller, lighter, and somewhat cheaper option. The tablet has an IP67 and a 1.2-meter drop rating. The Vanquisher uses Windows 10 for the operating system, provides 2GB memory and 64GB storage, dual cameras, WiFi, and supports 4G LTE service.  

Panasonic Toughpad FZ-G1

Panasonic is another electronics manufacturer that you've heard of, and they've been making commercial-quality gear for decades. With an IP65 rating, 11-hour battery life, 10.1" screen, a stylus/pen, and rugged housing, the Toughpad has similar specs to the Samsung. It offers a 48" drop rating, a user-replaceable battery with a 22-hour extended battery option, and connectivity, including cellular, USB, and serial. Accessories like a hand strap and shoulder strap are available as well.

MobileDemand xTablet Flex 10B

Mobile Demand makes a range of tablets for field use. According to the company, the Flex 10B is designed for "light- to medium-duty" use, which includes construction duty. The rugged housing has been certified in a 4-foot drop test, and it uses the expected 10.1" scratch-resistant screen. Connectivity includes WiFi, a mini HDMI port, SD card, and the unit uses the latest Windows Mobile operating system for standard integration with multiple applications. 

This tablet uses the latest Windows Mobile OS and offers 4GB RAM and 128GB storage, standard and functional systems. The battery life is about 4-6 hours, a stylus is included, and a keyboard is optional for those who need it. 

Getac ZX10

The ZX10 tablet has a 10" screen and dual cameras. The tablet is designed for typical rugged construction use, including the now-ubiquitous Zoom meetings.

This tablet has IP66 certification and a 6-foot drop rating. Connectivity consists of WiFi, Bluetooth, dedicated GPS, and optional 4G LTE broadband service. As mentioned earlier, it's possible to do the work by tethering your cell phone, but that can cause problems if calls start to come in. So, a dedicated cellular connection may be something to consider. 

The ZX10 has the latest Android OS and comes with 4GB memory and 64GB storage, with the option to upgrade to 6GB/128GB. Battery life is labeled as "full shift," and there's an extended-life battery available. Getac also offers a three-year warranty that covers "bumper to bumper." 

Making a Final Decision

Choosing the best piece of rugged tech can be a challenging call. But it all depends on the user's needs, what the tablet will be used for, and its overall operations. The best way to make this decision would be to check out each respective tablet and see if they will stand up to the demands of your jobsite. 

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