Tough tablet has strength, endurance and (probably) enough speed for the field
- By John Breeden II
- Sep 24, 2013
While tablets are extremely convenient for mobile employees, government work often demands something a little tougher than the plastic that houses most consumer electronics. Tablets for government employees, especially those in the military or law enforcement, often need to survive high temperatures, freezing cold, dusty environments or the shock of being dropped and bounced around inside a vehicle.
The Algiz 10X from Handheld Group is an attempt to create a rugged tablet that can also deliver high performance in the field, regardless of the environment.
Physically, the Algiz 10X looks like a typical tablet, if a bit thicker than most. Its 2.9 pounds overall, so not very heavy. But it's 1.2 inches thick, not counting the rubber bumpers that protect the corners. It's also 6.7 inches long and 10.8 inches wide. One odd design feature is that the tablet's battery simply snaps into the back of the unit. This makes it hot-swappable, but it does not offer any extra protection. Still, it snaps in place solidly, and it didn't dislodge during our drop and shock tests.
For performance, the Algiz 10X ships with a 1.86 GHz Intel Atom N2800 processor and 4 GB of DD3 RAM. That's pretty good on paper — and likely good for just about any field application — but the Passmark Performance Test benchmark exposed both strengths and potential weaknesses. Its overall score was 216.4, which is on the low end for a performance machine. Most tablets we review these days regularly get scores that are up in the 1,500s.
The big difference between those models and the 10X is that the Algiz uses the Atom processor. We've never been big fans of the scaled-down Atom chipset. They do well in terms of low power consumption, but the performance just isn't there compared to Intel’s i-series chips. On the other hand, this is a tablet for the field, where battery life is paramount and no one is likely to be running CAD or 3D simulation programs. There were no business apps that the Algiz 10X, running Windows 7, could not handle. Just be aware that blazing fast speeds are not something a user should expect.
A weak area for the Algiz 10X was graphical presentation. It relies on an Intel integrated 3600 series media accelerator, which isn't even top of the line for integrated graphics. It does fine for displaying word processing files and business graphics, but anything 3D is almost out of the question. Most mapping applications worked in our testing, but rendering was painfully slow with more detailed datasets. What the Algiz 10X is able to render looks great on its 10.1-inch widescreen display, especially when set to the native 1,366 by 768 resolution.
It also has a resistive single touch screen, which means it will respond to either a finger or the included stylus. The touchscreen was pinpoint accurate once configured, and the high-brightness mode made data more easily readable when outside in the bright sunlight.
On the positive side, hard-drive access times are lighting fast, thanks to the 128 GB solid state drive. It's a safe bet that having a hard drive with no moving parts not only makes the tablet more rugged, but it also ensures that the storage medium isn't going to be any type of bottleneck to performance.
And of course, the Algiz 10X is great in terms of battery life, because the Atom chips sacrifice performance to gain in that area. In our worst-case scenario testing where we run a video constantly and disable all auto-shutdown functions, the tablet was still able to run for 4 hours, 46 minutes. Using the unit as intended would likely get users beyond the eight-hour mark, for a full day of use. And since the battery is easily accessible and hot-swappable, it can keep going if one battery charges while the other is in use.
The Algiz 10X has a several expansion slots, all neatly protected behind rubberized plugs that are impervious to water and dust ingress. Several of the ports are waterproof even if their hatches are open, which is a nice extra feature. It has two USB 2.0 ports (one of which is waterproof with its hatch closed), a 9-pin serial RS-232 port (which is waterproof even if open), a VGA out port (waterproof without the hatch), a microSD slot, an audio port, a 10/1000 LAN port and a hole to connect the battery to DC current for charging, which is waterproof whether the hatch is open or closed.
For wireless, the Algiz 10X has Bluetooth 4.0, 802.11 b/g/n wireless with WPA2. It also supports, as an optional feature, Gobi 3000 in either the HSPA+ 850/900/1900/2100 MHz band, the quad-band GSM Edge in the 1900 850/900/1800/1900 MHz band or CDMA EVDO in the 800/1900 Mhz band. There is also integrated u-blox GPS that is WAAS/EGNOS/MSAS capable, so navigation is covered out of the box.
We were a little disappointed that the Algiz 10X did not have a fingerprint reader, which would have allowed government workers to add the required two-factor authentication, along with a password, without having to install any third-party programs. Even many consumer devices are starting to ship with them, so it's almost a requirement for any mobile computer aimed at government service.
Where the Algiz 10X really shines is in ruggedness. It was absolutely a star as we ran it through all the MIL-STD-810G testing. This included 26 drops from up to four feet in the air onto two inches of plywood sitting over concrete. The device hit every single surface and corner and never even picked up a scratch, though the testing boards took a beating. One great feature was that none of the watertight doors popped open during the shock testing, and the pen stayed solidly in place in its backside clip holder. No tablet we’ve tested has ever been able to hold onto its attached pen throughout an entire bastion of shock drop tests, but the Algiz 10X easily did. The doors may be a little difficult to open by hand, but they stay wedged in place when needed, just like the pen.
We also placed the Algiz 10X into the GCN Rainforest Environment, where temperatures soar to 120 degrees Fahrenheit and the humidity level easily tops 90 percent. The tablet didn't mind at all, emerging after three hours soaked in condensation but operating normally. We even re-ran the benchmark just before removing it from the test environment and it got the same score as when working in an air conditioned, dry room, which is a real testament to the Algiz 10X's ability to vent heat and keep moisture at bay.
In terms of extras, there is a rear-facing 5-megapixel camera, which is fairly standard. However, it has a powerful LED flash that is nice for shooting in low-light conditions. Video can be integrated with the GPS signal, so that users who need to record anything from evidence to an endangered species can easily document the location.
Our unit came with an optional see-through carrying case that slipped over the monitor to increase the protection but without decreasing viewability. Other optional accessories for the Algiz 10X include a vehicle cradle that should work well inside any vehicle, even a military one with harder shock absorbers. There is also a charger for an in-vehicle set-up and a mount that would let the Algiz 10X be attached onto a pole.
As configured for our testing, the Algiz 10X was $2,849, a great price for a fully rugged unit that survived all the mil-spec testing and holds an IP rating of 65. Users who don't need lightning-quick performance, will appreciate the Algiz 10X because it can certainly survive almost any environment, or at least any that its human user could, and probably a few more. Government users might need to add some type of third-party security program or device to get two-factor authentication because there is no native fingerprint scanner, but with the money saved on the unit, that should not be much of a problem.