Rugged tablets have a key role to play in vertical markets such as construction and utility companies, where robust hardware is often as important as solid software. We've recently reviewed a 10.1-inch Windows 8 tablet from Panasonic, the Toughpad FZ-G1, and taken a look at Getac's 7-inch Android-based Z710. Now we're putting a 10.1-inch Android tablet, the RangerX from Xplore Technologies, under the microscope.
The RangerX is heavy and bulky for a 10.1in. tablet, thanks to its tough outer shell. It weighs 990g (2.2lb), which is not far off the lightest fully-fledged ultrabooks.
The RangerX's white screen surround is pleasant enough to behold, although that's hardly relevant — you don't buy a rugged tablet for its looks. What will appeal, though, is the very solid backplate and thick bumper that surrounds the tablet on all four sides. This is considerably thicker on the four corners, as inevitably these areas tend to take more knocks.
The net result of this bumper and a rather thicker-than-normal backplate is a bulky tablet measuring 282mm wide by 183mm deep by 21.5mm thick. Compare this to Panasonic's 10.1in. Toughpad FZ-G1, which is 269mm wide, 188mm deep and 20.3mm thick. The 7in. Getac Z710 has a smaller footprint, but is much thicker at 27mm.
The RangerX meets MIL-STD-810G and is IP65 certified. No surprises there — both the Getac and Panasonic tablets mentioned above meet these standards, which are de rigueur for a rugged tablet (only the ultra-rugged category offers a higher level of protection against dust and water ingress, and better drop-protection). A magnesium alloy mid-frame provides additional protection for the chassis. Again this is nothing out of the ordinary for this sector — Panasonic's Toughpad uses the same construction element, for example.
It's important to note that these ruggedness certifications are far from bomb-proof. The IP65 rating, for example, caters for full dust-ingress protection, but doesn't certify the tablet against anything more than 'low-pressure' water jets: an IP67 rating would mean it could withstand immersion in up to 1 metre of water for 30 minutes, while IP66 would signify that 'powerful' water jets are no problem. It's not unusual for rugged mobile phones to attain IP67.
The screen is protected by the aforementioned corner bumpers, which are raised slightly to protect it from suffering if the tablet should crash to the ground. There's also the option of having an Armortech screen protector fitted at purchase time.
The RangerX accepts stylus input as well as touch, but the tablet's stylus management solution is far from ideal. There's no housing on the chassis itself; instead, the stylus is tethered by an expanding cord to an optional hand-strap with an elastic loop integrated into the palm slot.
This elasticated loop felt fairly secure to us, but over time, through the general rigours of everyday use, it could become loose. If you don't require the hand strap you'll have to find another way of carrying the stylus. It's also worth noting that the stylus lacks a button, making it a rather rudimentary device.
The RangerX's IPS screen has a native resolution of 1,366 by 768 pixels — less than the Panasonic's 1,920 by 1,200, but enough for viewing data without blocky text. It's designed for outdoor use, delivering 500 nits of brightness. An ambient light sensor above the screen will automatically control screen brightness — reducing it to save battery life when you move indoors, for example.
Viewing angles on the IPS display are excellent, and although the screen's anti-reflective glass is not perfect at reducing glare it does a pretty good job. However, it can be difficult to read the screen when outdoors on a brightly-sunlit day.
The RangerX runs on a 1.5GHz dual-core ARM Cortex A9 processor. This is supported by 1MB of smart cache, 1GB of RAM and a POWERVR SGX544 GPU. It's not the fastest choice for an Android tablet by some margin, but should be perfectly adequate for the kinds of workloads this tablet would be expected to run.
For storage, Xplore Technologies provides 32GB of eMMC-based NAND flash and up to 128GB of optional secure internal MicroSD storage. Further storage capacity can be added via an external MicroSD card slot.
Android fans may be disappointed that the version used here is Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). This is some way behind the Android curve (currently at 4.3, with 4.4 imminent) and means that some features are unavailable. Android has also been tweaked a little for this tablet, and the Play store is absent.
Connectivity, by contrast, is comprehensive and difficult to fault: dual-band Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n), Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, NFC and an FM transmitter are provided as standard, with mobile broadband (LTE) and a Gigabit Ethernet/Mini-HDMI-in module available as optional extras.
Our review sample had a smartcard reader under its own hinged cover, separate from any other ports or connectors, on the left edge of the chassis. The online spec sheet says this is optional, and the quick-start guide we were supplied with shows that the bay housing the smartcard reader is the same as the one for the Ethernet/Mini-HDMI-in module. This means you'll have to choose between extra on-tablet security or connectivity.
A second hinged cover protects all the remaining ports and slots: MicroSD, Micro-HDMI-out, SIM card, headset/microphone combo jack, Micro-USB 2.0 and full-size USB 2.0.
On the bottom edge there's a docking connector for an optional vehicle cradle that also supports other Xplore Technologies docks. The right edge houses the power connector is under its own small hinged cover along with volume, power and screen-rotation-lock buttons. There's a home button on the front of the chassis, beneath the screen.
There are two cameras: a 5-megapixel rear camera with a small LED flash and a 1.2-megapixel front camera with microphones to its left and right.
We found RangerX's 1.5GHz dual-core ARM processor a little slow, but this has to be interpreted in context. Users of this rugged tablet are unlikely to want to play the latest games or need ultra-fast responses to screen sweeps and presses. The performance level we experienced would probably be fine for field service engineers and other vertical-market users who need ruggedness first and foremost.
The tablet is powered by a removable 10,000mAh battery that Xplore Technologies rates as good for up to ten hours of life. We found it capable of keeping our review sample alive for a day between charges when running fairly lightweight workloads. However, if you make heavy use of GPS, Wi-Fi and/or mobile broadband you're likely to need an in-vehicle charging arrangement.
With pricing for the base specification at around £900 (inc. VAT, £750 ex. VAT) or $1,349, rising as you add optional tablet features such as mobile broadband and accessories like a vehicle dock (£124/$199), back handle (£34/$54) or shoulder strap/top handle combo (£74 /$119), the RangerX is no low-cost tablet. However, field workers should find this Android tablet robust enough, and if you compare it to the £1,500 Windows 8-based Panasonic Toughbook FZ-G1, the RangerX's price tag looks much more appealing.