Despite outdated specs, NEC's ShieldPro is still one of the best offerings in the rugged tablet niche.
If you took a tank and a tablet notebook, and they had a child, the product would be the NEC ShieldPro N22A. It's just like a tablet, except big, heavy, black and armoured.
When we said heavy, we meant seriously heavy, at 2.5kg; the ShieldPro's weight surprises you when you first pick it up. In terms of toughness, the ShieldPro carries an IP55 rating, meaning it's protected against almost all dust, and against a "jet of water". It also has a drop distance of 90cm onto a concrete floor, and just in case we put this to the test.
If you took a tank and a tablet notebook, and they had a child, the product would be the NEC ShieldPro N22A.
Flipping open a military style black metal latch reveals the rugged internals. Inside you will find a dual-button trackpad and a keyboard — which is functional but just still a little uncomfortable due to its small size.
At the base of the display is a fingerprint reader, but we were disappointed by the absence of a webcam. The 1,024x768 resolution of the 12.1-inch display is also disappointing. Even a very cheap device like the Dell 12-inch netbook has a higher resolution display, at 1,200x800.
While the screen is low resolution, it is bright (750cd/m²) and LED backlit, meaning better battery life. It's also tough; NEC product videos demonstrate dropping a ball bearing into it from a height, and we had a go at bashing it around a little. There was also an ambient light sensor on our device, but we found no way to enable it.
One thing we like about the ShieldPro is its abundance of ports. Scattered around three of its four edges you will find three USB 2.0 ports, a VGA and serial port, 3.5mm headphone jacks and gigabit Ethernet. NEC even managed to squeeze in an IEEE 1394 FireWire port. Another nice feature is a multicard reader slot, which accepts all kinds of cards including PC cards, Expresscard/54 and SD cards.
Despite all these ports, the omission of an optical drive means installing software might be a pain.
The fact that our ShieldPro came with Windows XP SP2 is telling about how recently its specs have been updated. The latest version is SP3 and was released in April this year. Unfortunately, most of the exciting features of the ShieldPro are on the outside.
With an ultra low voltage Intel Core 2 Duo U7500 at 1.06GHz and 1GB of RAM (DDR2 667MHz), performance on this device isn't much better than a netbook. We use PCMark05 to benchmark laptops as standard, and the ShieldPro managed an unfortunate score of 2,266. So expect about half of the performance of an average off-the-shelf Intel-based notebook today.
Graphics on the ShieldPro is provided by the Intel Mobile 965 express chipset. This is one of Intel's older chipsets, its latest is the GMA 4500X which comes with the Centrino 2 platform. We used 3DMark06 to test graphics performance, yielding a score of 320, meaning almost any graphics intensive program will struggle on this machine.
We similarly find the absence of both draft-N wireless and built-in 3G connectivity disappointing. NEC assures us that is problem can be overcome by using an external 3G card that can be sealed from the outside using a cover, maintaining the notebook's toughness and waterproofing. However, adopting this solution makes the versatile multicard slot unavailable.
Storage is also an issue on the ShieldPro, the maximum hard drive size is 80GB, and our device came with a 40GB drive. On a more positive note, the HDD in the ShieldPro is encased in a shock resistant casing to be extra tough.
In order to test battery life, we set screen brightness to 50 per cent, turned off sound and played a DVD on loop until the machine went black. This gave an impressive result of just under six hours, an outstanding result. Our test is taxing; you can expect several days of battery life from this device off a single charge.
There are two products in the tough tablet category, the NEC ShieldPro N22A and the Panasonic ToughBook CF-19.
Put side by side, the two devices are almost identical. Both use the same processor, have the same RAM and maximum RAM, both have identical integrated graphics chipsets, both run Windows XP, both come with 80GB hard drives, neither have optical drives. And both devices had a three-year warranty.
Despite all the similarities, there are a couple of features that inch NEC ahead. Firstly, at AU$5,573 including GST, the ShieldPro is a little cheaper than the CF-19, which comes in at AU$6,000 including GST. Secondly, the battery is slightly larger on the ShieldPro, 6000mAh versus 5700mAh.
The ShieldPro is also larger and slightly tougher; bearing IP55 versus an IP54 rating, meaning it has more water protection. It's also larger; the ShieldPro has a 12.1-inch display versus the 10.1-inch on the CF-19. The one stronger point on the CF-19 is the presence of built-in 3G wireless.
Thus of the two, our choice is the NEC ShieldPro, which dollar for dollar is tougher, cheaper and larger. It's just a pity that neither device offers up-to-date specifications.