The rugged device market is growing as both businesses and individuals start to understand how a durable device can help them with all kinds of mobility problems they face at work, in the enterprise and even at home.
Rugged devices have many benefits over their consumer alternatives. Of course they're more durable in the first place, which will mean less problems that need fixing which in turn means more up time for you business. They're also aimed more at business users, so have better product roadmaps, better and more focused support and also parts availability for when things do go wrong.
This article guides takes you through the basics of just what makes a mobile device rugged. We take you through the all the tests, what they mean and how to interpret them on the spec sheets you'll see whilst choosing your next rugged phone. It also tries to give you some tricks, tips and gotcha's along the way, gained from years of experience in this market.
By the end, you should have a really good grounding of ruggedness in general and why it's so important to a businesses mobile phone choice.
An ingress protection or "IP" rating tells us how waterproof and also how dust proof a rugged device is and comes with 2 numbers, for example IP68. The first number denotes how dust tight it is and the second how water proof it is.
The first digit in an IP rating is how dust proof a device is and this scale goes from 0-6. This test has been used for plant machinery for years and is actually a test to see if limbs or fingers can enter machinery at the lowest levels. For a rugged device, we're only interested in the top 3 levels, namely IP4x, IP5x, and IP6x. IP5x is dust proof, but only devices carrying an IP6x test rating is dust tight.
The second digit in the IP rating is all about water and like dust, we're only really interested in level IPx4 or above when it comes to rugged smartphones. Levels IPx4 to IPx6 are all about how "spray" of varying verocity can be withstood. Levels IPx7 and IPx8 go further by submerging a rugged device in water which is a far tougher test to pass due to the pressures exerted onto the device. Be aware that a level of IPx8 is actually user defined so check out the spec sheets for the description as it can vary.
If your device is being used indoors then IP waterproof ratings aren't a huge deal for you. However, the dust rating is always worth getting at the top level. IP65 is the new minimum we would recommend however, IP67 and IP68 are so common now that we would always recommend trying to find a device with one of those IP rating levels.
Not many mobile devices are actually damaged due to water. In fact they are pretty insignificant when compared to the damage caused from dropping a device.
The next most commonly used measure of ruggedness is the drop spec. This can come in a number of different test formats, designed to mimic all the different ways a mobile phone or tablet could be dropped. Here's some of the more common MILSTD types of tests that rugged devices are subjected to.
Rugged devices are dropped from a specified height. If using the MIL-STD benchmarks then this test should consist of multiple drops onto each side of the device.
Tumble testing usually consists of around 1000 short 0.5M drops in quick succession. Imagine you put a mobile phone into a tumble dryer and you won;t be far off what a tumble test is like! Unlike the drop test, this test is will create multiple scuffs and chips and also will deform the casings of the device to see if it will survive and some say mimics better what a mobile device will go through day-to-day.
Whilst not s MIL-STD test, the screen of any rugged or non-rugged device is always a weak point. Testing of the glass can be performed by dropping steel balls of known weights onto the screen and then compared to the control. We test all Raptor screens in this way.
Drop testing is not a "literal" test, it's best used as a relative measure of toughness.
In a MILSTD drop test you only need to drop 26 times and you can replace the device during the test up to 4 times!
In order for testing to be comparable and of any use to consumers, it needs to give consistent and variance free results. The MIL-STD 810 specification is a set of guidelines created by the US military that were originally for internal use in order to create a benchmark for supplying products to them. the rugged market has adopted milstd in order to test devices in a more meaningful way.
There are in fact lots of MIL-STD testing you can do, ranging from dropping devices, to salt resistance and even altitude testing. Some are relevant to rugged hardware, some not. As long as IP testing, drop/tumble and temperature specs are on the spec sheet then you're most of the way there.
Whilst MILSTD testing is a good benchmark for rugged devices, don't be fooled by too much hype. Many tests that you may see are simply not applicable to many devices and some tests can also be performed in different ways.
MILSTD testing is not a certification, but just a set of guidelines to follow. Many suppliers will have their own way of interpreting these so be sure to ask them how they do it!
Here at Raptor, ruggedness isn't just about testing, it's also about the design and suitability of a mobile device to your needs. A rugged smartphone perfect for one user might not perform so well for another. Here's what we recommend you look out for:
There's a trend for consumer phones to state they're IP67 or IP68, however this is not being totally honest about the IP test and the reason for this is an open USB connector is not strictly passing the particle/dust element of the test. If you're working in a dusty or dirty environment and that gets into your connector then it will cause you issues.
Is the rugged mobile device's case the right size to put into a bag or pocket? Does it have a grippy feel or hand strap that will proactively stop you dropping it in the first place and does it have certaion design flaws, such as an antenna that could be damaged in a fall?
Does the device have accessories that can help keep it safe like a case or glass screen protector? This will also give your device better resale value at the end of it's life.
is the device the right size and weight for your workers? If it's hard or tiring to use it will lead to frustration and possible increased damage.
Rugged devices are not all created equal. Some are clearly not as rugged as others and some go the extra mile to be inherently more rugged by design.
The perfect device for you, may be a nightmare for someone else. Always ask to see a loan device so you can play and get a feel for if it's right for you before you buy.
All the ruggedness in the world won't protect against users of your devices that are untrained, ill-informed or simply abusive.
We cannot tell you how many times 30 minutes with a customer or user has transformed their repair centre bills. Advice, a little training and some respect to your users will mean they look after the devices they're using far better.
Even great users might change a battery in the pouring rain, or put a device down repeatedly screen side down. Make sure that when you get advice from your repair centre, listen to it and update your users quickly.
Are your users using a screwdriver to get the SD card out, resulting in case damage? Do they use the holster provided and are they truly respecting the devices they use? Make sure your users are not mis-using your devices as this will reduce their life.
We've run a repair centre for years so we've seen it all here. No matter how rugged a device is, if you have bad users, they'll break it!
We give out a report on every device we repair with help and advice on abused devices. Of these we see a much fewer percentage come back for help.
All devices, no matter how durable, need a little bit of TLC in the form of a repair, refresh or update at some stage. We feel that the final piece of ruggedness is to ensure your supplier has a fast, efficient repair centre that'll put your devices back on their feet when they fall.