There are plenty of tablets around, but few that can claim to be operable in all possible working conditions. Getac, specialist maker of rugged notebooks and smartphones, recently added the 7-inch Z710 'fully rugged' tablet to its portfolio, with a starting price of around £800 (inc. VAT; £667 ex. VAT).
What's interesting about this tablet is that it runs Android (version 4.1) — you might expect a rugged device that's designed for vertical markets operating in challenging environments to run Windows.
Getac has packed plenty of features into the Z710's tough chassis, which meets MIL-STD-810G and IP65 standards. The tablet's capacitive touchscreen can be operated with a finger — even a gloved one — or a stylus.
The stylus is designed for use with heavily gloved hands, being relatively stubby and secured in a groove on the back of the chassis by a strong magnet. You can literally drop it into place and it stays there. We carried the Z710 around for a considerable while and tried to dislodge the stylus with fingers but failed. It has to be wrenched out of its slot with a pull on the cord which attaches it to the main body. It's a clever, ergonomic design.
The housing is as solid as you'd expect from Getac, whose rugged devices have to function in some of the harshest conditions possible. There's a thick rubber surround to the entire chassis, which provides ample protection for the main body. The backplate is also tough rubber.
A range of ports and connectors are dotted around the edges. On the bottom are connectors for (optional) GPS and 3G antennas, Micro-USB 2.0 host and full-size USB 2.0 client ports, and a docking connector. Getac offers a range of accessories that take advantage of the latter, including an office docking stand, a vehicle mount plus a magnetic stripe and smartcard reader. Other accessories include a shoulder strap and a hand strap which fit onto a plate on the back of the chassis. A hand strap is also provided as standard.
There are two slots on one of the left edge, both behind firmly sealed rubber covers: a MicroSD card slot and a SIM card slot. To access the latter, you need to first remove a small screw that holds the rubber slot cover down.
On the upper edge there's a small bay of three recessed rubber buttons for power, volume control and a 'trigger' that activates a built-in barcode scanner, also on the upper edge. There's a 5-megapixel camera on the back with a small LED flash. On the front, above the screen, are LEDs signifying mobile network connection, wi-fi and battery charge status.
The ruggedising features make the Z710 a fairly large and heavy tablet. It weighs 800g and is exceptionally thick by general tablet standards at 27mm. Since it's a 7-inch tablet, it has a relatively small footprint of 218mm wide by 142mm deep. The screen does looks a bit lost inside its bezel and protective housing though.
The general specifications are reasonable for a device of this type. The Z710 runs on a 1GHz dual-core TI OMAP 4400 processor with 1GB of RAM and 16GB of solid-state storage. Wireless connectivity includes 2.4GHz 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1 and optional HSPA+ mobile broadband.
Android might not seem like the perfect fit for a rugged tablet aimed at vertical markets, but Getac has made a good fist of it here.
The screen's moderate resolution of 1,024 by 600 pixels is perfectly adequate for the kinds of inventory management and field-based tasks for which the Z710 is designed. The tablet's 7,600mAh Lithium-polymer battery is good for up to 10 hours of life, according to Getac.
Android, with enhancements
The preinstalled Android OS is not hamstrung in any way: the full Play store is available, and Getac has added barcode applications into the mix alongside making a fair few other tweaks and additions. A panel at the bottom of the screen offers four touch-sensitive function keys in addition to the usual Android buttons.
These buttons can be configured as you wish. By default, one takes you into a neatly designed file manager, another accesses the GPS and e-compass app, which can give your precise latitude and longitude, speed and direction as well as offering an electronic compass complete with pitch and roll information; the third function button takes you to the camera and the fourth to Google Search. If you don't need these buttons, you can simply hide them.
Android might not seem like the perfect fit for a rugged tablet aimed at vertical markets, but Getac has made a good fist of it here. The barcode, e-compass and other add-on features enhance Android's native capabilities, and a good range of connectivity options within a rugged chassis make for a compelling device. The tablet's SiRFstarIV GPS even managed to pick up four satellites when we were sitting a metre away from a large window.