Bill Bennett ‘talks tough’ on the options for work situations that require toughened computing and smartphone devices. Be prepared to dig deep.
It’s true that technology choice can be a difficult decision if you spend a lot of time working in a car, on a building site or anywhere other than an office. Digital devices don’t exactly thrive in dirty, bumpy or messy conditions.
So, in such circumstances, you really have three options.
First, you buy everyday kit and accept there will be an
Second, buy the same everyday kit, but wrap it up in a protective layer.
The third option is to buy ‘ruggedised’ hardware specifically built to cope with the worst you can throw at it.
If you’re lucky, sticking with everyday hardware can work out cheaper in the long run. It may make sense if you only take occasional risks with that hardware.
Sticking with everyday hardware means you’ll stay closer to technology’s cutting edge. That’s because you’ll be upgrading faster than normal. If you decide on this option, invest in a first-class cloud backup option. That way, you can restore your data when the inevitable happens.
(We looked at a good cloud backup service, Acronis True Image, in the December 2017 edition of NZBusiness.)
There’s an entire industry making protective cases and shells for digital devices. Most technology retailers have stacks of options on show. Protective cases range from decorative covers to military-grade shells. You can also get laminates to add an extra layer of defence to glass screens.
A few years ago I reviewed an impact-absorbing iPhone case made from material the US Army uses. It can stop bullets. It was ugly as sin, but according to the makers it could protect the phone from a three metre drop onto a hard surface. You’ll forgive me if I didn’t test this claim.
Protective covers can work wonders. In relative terms they are not expensive. You might pay an extra $50 to $100, which is a bargain when you pay the thick end of $2000 for a phone or tablet. They work better with phones or tablets which are, in effect, metal and glass slabs, than with laptops. That laptop hinge complicates matters.
The downside of protective covers is they can add a lot of bulk to devices. A few millimetres might not seem much, but when phones are only seven or eight millimetres thick you notice the extra size in your pocket.
Covers can often add weight, too. I’ve also seen airport
security ask passengers to remove protective cases from devices. None of these negatives are deal-breakers, but if you go down this route prepare for
The ruggedised option
Ruggedised hardware is a specialist category. For years the dominant laptop maker in this sector has been Panasonic, with its Toughbook range. The company now also makes ToughPad tablets.
Toughbooks and Toughpads are the ‘Tonka Toys’ of the PC world. Toughbook models are built to handle shock, vibration and dirt. They are not fully waterproof in the sense you could use them under water, but they should be able to cope with New Zealand’s rain and, on a good day, they can survive a brief dunking.
There are two levels of Toughbook. Panasonic calls them ‘fully-ruggedised’ and ‘semi-ruggedised’. Fully-ruggedised models can stand extreme temperatures: from minus 20˚C to plus 60˚C. You pay a hefty premium for a fully-ruggedised laptop. Typically expect to spend twice what you’d pay for similar non-ruggedised hardware. Sometimes more. It sells in New Zealand for approximately $5500, and in most cases the product is priced on a project basis.
These days the best place to buy a Toughbook is to go direct to Panasonic New Zealand. That way you’ll get local support.
Rugged laptops don’t sell in the same high volumes as everyday models, so the product lines are not refreshed as often. This means specifications can slip a little behind. That’s not a problem with the software, you can update Windows yourself, but if you need a lot of computer power you’re in for a big price tag.
It’s not just Panasonic that’s coy about ruggedised prices either – Dell advertises a Latitude 14 Rugged Laptop, but you have to call for prices.
Phones get all rugged too
In May, Spark started selling the Cat brand of rugged phones. That’s Cat as in Caterpillar, the construction equipment company. The $1100 Cat 60 phone is drop proof and has a scratch-resistant screen. It can go five metres underwater for up to an hour. Cat says this makes it the most waterproof phone on the market.
The phone’s signature feature is a thermal imaging camera. It can pick up heat and measure surface temperatures from up to 30 metres. If you’re renovating a house it helps you see where heat is leaking. An electrician can also use this feature to see wires behind a wall, and so on.
Cat designed the phone for ‘tradies’, but Spark device lead Carey McGregor says it also appeals to outdoors types. He says it fits the bill for tramping, hunting, fishing or kayaking. The touchscreen can be read in bright sunlight and will work even if you are wearing gloves or have wet fingers.
Another feature likely to appeal to outdoors users is the Cat 60’s ability to retain standby battery life for up to 44 days.
McGregor says this isn’t Spark’s first ruggedised phone. It has previously sold a version of the Samsung Galaxy 4 with “increased ingress protection”. However, he says the Cat 60 takes the idea a lot further. The phone also comes with a screen damage warranty. If it is broken in the first 24 months, Cat will replace it. (Huawei has run a similar offer in the past with its phones.)
Cat phones are made under licence by a UK company called Bullet Mobile. The company also makes a Land Rover-branded phone which sells in the UK for £600.
The Land Rover Explore phone shares some features with the Cat 60, but is more geared towards adventure pursuits and has a home screen that gives fast access to weather information and GPS data. It also features an add-on battery pack which has an antenna to boost GPS reception – making location information more accurate than in an everyday phone.