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Think all rugged laptops and tablets are the same? Here’s everything you need to know.

Any reasonable buyer would expect that if a device is marketed as rugged it is at least a little more durable than a standard off-the-shelf consumer product, but how durable is it really? In today’s mobile computing market, it can be difficult to understand what the term “rugged” really means. How can buyers be assured the devices they are investing in will be reliable when it counts the most?

This may seem arbitrary, but questions about ruggedization can have real consequences for end users. Our growing dependence on mobile technology few instances where computer downtime does not have a major impact on productivity. In the case of first responders and
military personnel, to declare computer uptime as “mission-critical” is to understate the challenging environmental conditions they face and the important responsibilities they are tasked with every day.

Rugged Testing: MIL-STD-810G

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD, developed a series of tests in 1962, called MIL-STD-810G specifications
(Mil-Spec), used to validate the level of ruggedization in a piece of technology. These Military standards include dozens of tests rather than just one single test, with strict parameters to simulate how a mobile device will operate under various environmental conditions. Once a device passes MIL-STD-810G specifications, they are approved for use by all departments and agencies of the United States DoD.

Drop Test

What is a drop test? One of the most common causes of damage to mobile business devices are drops. Given the unconventional work environments that mobile workers are faced with a drop is even more likely in the course of their day. The device is dropped from various heights at 26 different angles (every edge, corner and side) onto 2-inch thick plywood over steel plate on concrete. The height at which the unit will still turn on and operate, generally between 12 and 72 inches, is the rated drop specification.

What Questions to Ask? While MIL-STD-810G specifications allow for companies to use up to five devices to pass drop testing, Panasonic conducts all tests on the same unit to mirror our users’ true working conditions. Does your device’s manufacturer do the same? How many devices did it take to pass? At what height was the unit tested?

Rain Test

What is a rain test?
This test simulates using the device in inclement weather or on a job site around water. A device is blasted with 5.8 inch-per-hour rain and 70 mph winds, for 30 minutes per surface while operational. Few mission-critical workers can put their work on hold due to a rainstorm.

What Questions to Ask? Many devices are marketed as “water resistant.” What does this really mean? Is it just spill resistant? Did it merely pass the vertically falling rain/drip test (Procedure III)? Is the device only showing an Ingress Protection (IP) rating instead of submitting to this test?

Vibration Test

What is a vibration test? Mobile devices experience heavy vibration when mounted in jeeps, tanks or trucks; or in the public safety market, mounted in patrol cars, fire engines, ambulances and even helicopters. This test simulates the vibrations typically experienced in an off road vehicle or even helicopter mounted environment.

What Questions to Ask? Was the device operating during the test? Was it mounted during testing as it actually would be in use? Ask about the specific conditions and duration of testing to ensure they mirror the types of environments your workers will face in the field. Also, ask what parameters the manufacturer set for the test conditions. This could be anything from simulating gentle driving on paved surfaces to a rocket launch. For helicopter mounting, make sure the units are tested using Category 24 of this test.

Altitude Test

What is an altitude test? Conducted on a device in an altitude chamber simulating 15,000 feet above sea level, while operational this performance test is for workers collecting valuable data or leveraging data to make mission-critical decisions in high-altitude locations can’t easily replace a failed device. Standard hard drives find this type of situation to be a challenge, where the needle floats on a cushion of air above the platter. With
the reduced atmosphere at 15,000 feet, it is much easier for vibrations to cause an impact between the needle and the platter. This simulates use in an unpressurized cargo aircraft or in mountainous locales.

What Questions to Ask? For unpressurized aircraft environments, ask if the device was also tested for vibration to see how a standard hard drive will hold up. Might this device be used in mountainous regions above the altitude for which it’s been tested?

High Temperature Test

What is a high temperature test? Performed at 140°F for thirty minutes this operational test simulates a devices exposure to high temperatures for an extended period of time, like a device being left in a vehicle on a sunny day or a hot factory environment. This test shows the ability of the device to survive and operate in extreme temperatures. While most processors function well at room temperature, but experience catastrophic failure when exposed to extreme hot or cold.

What Questions to Ask? Find out how long the device was tested in the extreme heat.

Sand and Dust Resistance Test

What is a sand and dust resistance test? Dust then sand is blown at a device over several hours in an environment
of 140°F while operational simulating situations like desert sandstorms or devices with fans or unsealed internal components are exposed and can be damaged due to contaminants.

What Questions to Ask? Ask for details about how the test was performed, to ensure the test is reflective of the environment your workers may find themselves needing to operate in. Factories, mills and mines can have these types of conditions as much as outdoor environments can.

Low Temperature Test

What is a low temperature test? Placed in a -20°F environment for thirty minutes and powered on in the extreme cold the devices successful completion means the device was able to boot in extreme temperatures without causing damage to the hard drive.

What Questions to Ask? If you ever work in a cold environment, ask if this test was
performed and how data integrity was tested.

Temperature Shock Test

What is a temperature shock test? A series of three tests where the device is placed in an environment of 200 degrees F then -60 degrees F to test reliability when moving between extreme temperatures. Thermal shock can cause fogging or condensation inside the device which can impact the screens readability; this test simulates the environment a delivery driver might encounter when restocking food from a freezer truck or from a cooler.

What Questions to Ask? Was this test performed and do I want to risk damage from
thermal shock if it was not?

Humidity Test

What is a humidity test? The device is tested in temperature cycles of 86 degrees F to 140 degrees F at 95% humidity to simulate a worker in an outdoor tropical environment. The main issue in these types of environments is the ability to transfer heat. If the device becomes overheated, it can become inoperable maybe even permanently.

What Questions to Ask? Has the device been tested for high humidity? Will it
survive everywhere it may be needed?

Rugged Device Buyer’s Guide

Once you understand the rigorous Mil-spec testing is the first step in selecting the highest quality yet most reliable rugged device for your needs. A manufacturer may claim to have a “Mil-Spec” ruggedized device, but when you read the fine print, you may see it was only tested for altitude and not drops or spills, the most common causes of failure.

The simple fact is, any device can be labeled “rugged.” Customers must be armed with the right information to ensure they get the ruggedized mobile computer or tablet that meets their needs and offers the lowest total cost of ownership (TCO).
Therefore it is important to remember;

  • Consumer grade devices disguised as “rugged” do not offer the same level of durability or security as mobile computers that are built from the ground up for enterprise-grade applications and to perform reliably in the harshest environments.
  • Customers evaluating rugged devices need information that helps them understand what MIL-STD-810G tests mean, which tests really matter, and what questions they should ask to ensure the device will be the right technology for their needs.
  • Tight budgets require mobile computing technology to last longer than ever. Customers should evaluate TCO based on the cost of owning the technology over the full lifespan of the product, not just the initial investment. Whether you are looking for mobile computers or tablets, it is essential to understand how and where the devices may be used to ensure you get what you expect and select the right technology that can provide a durable and reliable solution for years to come.

For questions or more information on truly rugged solutions call 800-TOUGH-31 or email

October 05, 2016

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