By Stephen Schenck | August 3, 2012 10:14 AM
Last week, Casio announced a pair of new, ruggedized dual-core Ice Cream Sandwich tablets. Simply by sake of these being Casio models, I didn’t give much attention to the news, but it got me thinking: where are all the rugged tablets? Even if the sort of rugged smartphones we have on the market are a bit behind the curve technology-wise, at least they’re available; in the tablet market, they’ve seemed practically non-existent. What’s going on here?
If we go back a few years, rugged tablets were a lot more visible. I’m talking about a previous era when “tablet” meant traditional PC hardware in a tablet form factor, not the Android and iOS devices we have now. Perhaps as a consequence of their high prices, these tablets were favored by industries where a rugged construction was a necessity; you’d see them in hospitals, or employed by engineers working out in the field. A tablet as we know it now is a far-more consumer-oriented device, but does that mean that we don’t have a need for rugged models of our own?
I don’t mean to imply that rugged Android tablets don’t exist; beyond the Casios we just learned about, there are a number of options, including Panasonic’s Toughpad series. What we don’t see, though, are these kind of devices from the companies we consider the major players in the smartphone and tablet market. To an extent, that’s true about phones, as well, but while there are at least a few of those, you won’t find a rugged tablet from any Motorola or Samsung.
Does it matter that the big boys aren’t making rugged tablets, so long as someone else is? I think so, mainly because a device from such a manufacturer would be our best chance at seeing such a tablet with proper high-end hardware. Like we notice with rugged phones, the few available rugged designs can’t touch the performance of top-tier traditional tablets. They’re getting better, sure, but we’re still talking about dual-core chips, when that should be last year’s hardware.
I’m sure plenty of you are wondering if any of this discussion is really necessary, since you can always slap a waterproof case on an otherwise run-of-the-mill tablet. There’s a ton of variation in what kind of quality cases come in, with price points to match. Even with the high-end models, I can’t help but get quite apprehensive at the through of trusting my expensive gadgets to a third-party case company. I realize that’s probably an irrational reaction on my part, but it’s hard to put a price on peace of mind, and I really want the kind of faith in a device’s water, dust, and impact resistance that I only find in products expressly designed with these features in mind. I want a tablet I can toss in my bag, take to the beach, and generally chuck around like I’ve never even heard the phrase “kid gloves”.
Motorola might be the mainstream manufacturer most likely to make a rugged tablet, if only by virtue of the number of rugged smartphones it churns out, but I’m not sure how I feel about that. It’s clear from the company’s rugged phones that it doesn’t equate this kind of model with the need for bleeding-edge hardware. Frankly, though, there’s nothing stopping it from producing the sort of high-end rugged tablet I’m dreaming of, and that might be a good way to revitalize its presence in the tablet market. That last bit goes just as much for HTC; if you want a tablet people will take notice of, do one unlike anything Samsung’s producing.
Have I sold any of you on the worth of a high-performance, accident-proof tablet? Is my inability to trust after-market waterproof cases totally irrational?