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When Rugged Tablet Displays Show Their True Colors

Sometimes, you just have to see something to believe it. For those who work in field service, it may be hard to trust that a rugged tablet screen will be any easier to read under direct sunlight than the other mobile computers that claim to be outdoor viewable (and really aren't). We've all had that one device screen that seems to goes dark outside when the sun is shining, even when the brightness setting is turned to the max. It completely defeats the purpose of having a mobile computer that’s supposed to be usable “anywhere.” Unfortunately, the loose definition of "outdoor viewable" and the wide variations of display technology used within each mobile device class make a confident decision challenging sometimes without seeing a laptop or tablet’s true colors for yourself – in the actual outdoor working environment, not a simulated one.

It can also be hard to decipher between truly rugged device displays, and consumer devices that have been “ruggedized” but won’t pass muster when you throw caution to the wind and start using them during inclement weather or in real work scenarios. We’ve always said, the whole purpose of investing in a rugged mobile computer is so that the priority remains on taking care of the task at hand – not taking extra care of the device.

After all, there are consequences to using ruggedized consumer devices in situations where they were never intended to be used – such as for utility and telecom work, mining, manufacturing, public safety, military applications, or forklift and heavy machinery applications. Frequent exposure to fluids, gels, fuels, decontamination, drops, and even sand can take a toll on touch screens and other mobile PC screens that haven’t been chemically hardened and reinforced with an industrial strength display technology. Just look at this “ruggedized” – and very popular – smartphone that wasn’t as water proof, or really as water resistant, as it claimed. Or this “rugged” device display that won’t crack when dropped, but will get scratched every time something accidentally brushes the always- exposed screen (as Network World exposed).

And these are just two reasons why it’s so critical that you look closely at the durability and performance of the display itself before making a significant mobile computer purchase. Check out each of the following capabilities in your typical work elements:

Xplore Rugged and Outdoor Viewable Displays

  • Outdoor viewability: Be sure that whichever ruggedized tablet, laptop, or handheld you may be considering will really be bright enough to view the smallest data points without straining. Test the maximum brightness setting (400-800 nits is ideal, though some hardcore applications even require 1300 nits); see if there is a glare (anti-reflective tech can be used in the better devices); and check the readability of every application indoors, outdoors, day and night. As Sgt. Kelvin Raven with the Brenham Police Department recently noted, “the max screen brightness [of their rugged tablets] is a huge plus in the bright Texas sun.” However, he also noted that screen dimming is just as important. “The ability to almost go black on the screens and still have sharp details is great for night operations.” Those in the military and defense industries prefer rugged devices for a similar reason: Military-grade tablets are going to be more highly compatible with the night vision technology necessary for safe mission execution in complete darkness.

  • Screen Size: While display brightness and sharpness is important to easy data review, so is a larger screen. Smaller 5” handhelds aren’t amenable to full screen document viewing (i.e. blueprints, Excel spreadsheets, etc.), and checklist or email tasks are about all that’s really manageable on these devices. While laptops certainly offer the right screen size, they’re also nearly impossible to handle in one hand while you’re walking and working. That’s why 10-12” rugged tablets are preferred by those that spend most of their days on their feet or in a vehicle. The tablet form factor can be easily docked and removed with one hand, as well as carried without too much added weight. And that screen size won’t require users to strain to read small details. If you really want to get the most bang for your buck, look for rugged tablet displays that boast wide angle and multiple angle viewing technology.

  • Damage Resistance: As recently called out by NetworkWorld, some “rugged” smartphones may be drop resistant, but they aren’t scratch resistant. The only way to ensure a mobile PC display holds strong against drops, bumps, and bruises that occur during typical handling is to use a chemically-strengthened technology (such as Gorilla Glass) – and multiple layers of it. This will protect the screen without impacting digital pen or finger touch responses. The best display technologies will be MIL-STD-810G certified and IP rated against damage from exposure to all environmental elements, such as water , fluid contaminants, dust/sand, salt fog, humidity, extreme temperatures, and even the vibrations and shocks common in fire truck, ambulance, forklift, and other heavy machinery mobile device use.

Remember: When you invest good money in devices that are marketed as “ rugged” and “outdoor viewable,” it can be frustrating to find out sooner than later – after you’ve rolled them out in the field – that they fail in the very situations they’re supposed to be built to survive without issue. We get it.

That’s why you can’t always trust what’s on a spec sheet. It’s also why we’re always more than happy to oblige when people ask to see Xplore rugged tablets’ screens outside versus in the indoor lighting of an office or industry event hall. We’ve also been known to drop our ultra-rugged tablet PC down a flight of marble stairs, in  a bucket of disinfecting bleach water, and in the middle of a blazing fire to show that it does exactly what it claims it will do; power on and keep working as if nothing happened, no matter how extreme the wear-and-tear abuse.

Want to research mobile device displays in more detail?

See what Field Service News discovered about touch screen technologies when they started decoding the jargon and terminology used by mobile device manufacturers.

Check out these videos of rugged tablets being put through the rigors of real life:

Frozen in the Polar Vortex

Dropped in the mud, then run over by a truck