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The Rugged Tablet vs. the Rugged “Clamshell”: How Different Are They?

Military service members experience some of the harshest working conditions of any industry. Yet they always find a way to overcome physical, environmental, and communications-related challenges that are as diverse as their daily land, sea, and air operations.

The sheer level of mobility required to execute critical missions of any scale, in any location, within a very tight timeframe has long driven the military’s commitment to cutting-edge mobile technologies. Military leaders understand that mission success is contingent on the successful transmission of real-time, actionable intelligence between globally dispersed teams. And not just during forward deployed operations.

Data dictates military units’ ability to:

  • Maintain air power from the ground.
  • Sustain proactive peacekeeping missions across multiple continents.
  • Take fast action against threats.
  • Respond to calls for military support at home and abroad.
  • Manage budget spend.
  • Protect troops, their families, and civilians on installations.
  • Identify and secure sensitive intelligence.
  • Design and execute every military plan and program needed across all commands.

Considering the sweeping global presence and intense operational tempo of today’s militaries, genuinely rugged tablets, laptops, and notebooks are the only computers capable of delivering such a high volume of secure data to decision-makers in real-time.

Xplore Rugged Tablet Mobility for Military

However, of all these MIL-STD-810G certified rugged computer form factors, only one is truly mobile. Meaning only one can easily follow troops literally everywhere they need to go without restriction, without packing on more pounds to their gear, and without an increased risk of device failure or data disconnect: Military-grade rugged tablets.

Yet, there’s still a perception that military-grade rugged tablets are not as strong, durable, reliable, or (you fill in the blank) as “clamshell” devices. The point of contention is the screen. I frequently field concerns that tablets’ always-exposed display creates more opportunity for device damage and/or failure than more traditional, “closeable” laptop or notebook form factors. But here’s what you have to remember:

  • Form factor doesn’t dictate the level of inherent rugged protection for any mobile PC; stringent testing and well-defined industry standards and certifications do. A MIL-STD-810G certified rugged tablet with the exact same specs and Ingress Protection (IP) rating as its rugged clamshell counterpart is designed – and expected – to thrive under the very same extreme conditions as the clamshell. If both a MIL-STD-810G, IP65 rugged tablet and a MIL-STD-810G IP65 rugged laptop claim to survive a 7’ drop onto concrete, then it doesn’t matter if the screen is exposed or closed into the keyboard – it has been tested and certified to survive that scenario.
  • Rugged tablet displays are made of ultra-durable Corning® Gorilla® Glass (or a similar chemically-hardened glass), while most non-rugged devices (and even many rugged clamshell form factors) are not. But, not only are rugged tablet displays hardened to protect against drops and damage, they are much thicker pieces of hardened glass than what’s used in the screens you’re likely to see with off-the-shelf mobile computers . Even if another ruggedized laptop or notebook claims to use the same shatter-resistant display technology, they don’t use as many layers of glass as most rugged tablets do. Therefore, the measure of durability isn’t necessarily the same.
  • That being said, one could claim that a clamshell rugged computer is just as prone to device failure as a rugged tablet – sometimes just for different reasons. Sure, a laptop or notebook has a screen the folds down for storage purposes, but that folded position does not guarantee any more protection to the screen – or to any other part of the rugged computer – than a well-designed, exposed rugged tablet screen that’s chemically-hardened, sealed against dust and water ingress, capable of surviving daily dunks into bleach water for disinfection after exposure to grease, jet fuels, etc. You can see where I’m going. A closed clamshell design is not going to guarantee that dust/sand or fluids won’t seep in between the screen and keyboard, even when closed and stored. Rugged cases don’t cut it when you’re in the middle of the desert in a sandstorm. And think about a drop – or the impact of a heavy object being dropped on the device: A clamshell screen is not always closed. If a laptop is dropped when the screen is open, think about the potential consequences. And a heavy object dropped onto an open – or closed – clamshell can still damage the keyboard or disturb internal components.
  • Only rugged tablets are truly capable of meeting every one of the military’s mobility and workflow requirements without limitation, not just the data requirements. Because laptops and notebooks don’t travel well – and many don’t offer the same genuine protection against dust penetration, salt fog corrosion, drops, or fluid/chemical contamination as ultra-rugged tablets – these clamshell computers aren’t always as accessible in the field. Troops will leave them behind in their tent or office if they’re going to be on foot for long periods of time. If they do bring the clamshell computer for use in the field, they have to find someplace to set down the device to use it. Again, not ideal for those expected to multi-task and/or communicate in real-time during an operation. Even if all the internal components were identical between the tablet and the clamshell form factor, even rugged laptops and notebooks often need rugged cases for extra protection or easier transport. The protection provided by rugged cases is nowhere near as extensive as built-in rugged protection for both internal (SSD) and external components.

In short, military decision makers can be confident that both a rugged tablet and a rugged laptop (assuming their MIL-STD-810G and IP rating specs match up) will indeed offer the same level of rugged protection. So the real question becomes: What are the performance and price (Total Cost of Ownership) variances that define whether the rugged tablet or rugged clamshell form factor should be favored for various military applications?

This guide will help answer that question in detail: Is Your Mobile PC Really Built to Last?

Download Our "Built to Last" Guide

Also read what  Solutions Architect Bob Ashenbrenner had to say on the subject.